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Short Cuts in Making Properties for Marionette Shows

Short Cuts in Making Properties for Marionette Shows
by Florence Fetherston Drake
Popular Science Monthly, May, 1936

For making properties for a marionette stage there is nothing better, simpler, or quicker than paper modeling. Anything from a bird to a large dragon, from a teacup to a throne, can be imitated in this material. The cost is nothing, and the tools required arc few.
This method can be combined with the paper-pulp process fully described in a previous article in this series (P.S.M., Jan. '36, p. 57). The equipment necessary is two piles of newspaper, one of white and one of colored sheets, a bowl of thin wallpaper or flour paste, another bowl of water, and a soft flat brush large enough to paint the paste on quickly. The advantage of using alternate white and colored paper is that you can determine how many layers have been applied. Some kind of support is needed for the wet paper while it is being built up. One plan is to build up a rough armature or skeleton of folded paper, metal, or cardboard, which acts as a support for the object being made. Later it can be removed or not, as desired. The chairs and bench illustrated were made in this way, the cardboard and paper skeleton being retained. Another idea is to use bowls, trays, bottles, boxes, and the like for the foundation. jars for an Aladdin setting may be made in this way over jars of appropriate size and shape as shown in Fig. 1 of the drawings.

The moist paper can be made to take the shape of any object upon which it is placed. By laying on other strips of pasted paper, the shape will be retained. it forms a stiff substance like cardboard. When dry, the whole is easily removed from the mold. Should the objects used as a mold be of a shape from which the shell cannot be removed without breaking, it may be cut where necessary. These cuts should be made when only two or three layers of paper are in place and when the paper is perfectly dry. Lift it from the mold and carefully join the cuts with pasted paper; then make the shell as thick as necessary, adding perhaps three more layers.


To make the jars needed in an Ali Baba scene, for example, you will require a vase of simple shape about 10 in. high for 12 or 15-in. puppets (sec Fig. 1). The newspaper is torn into pieces about the size of the thumb joint. Have a pile of white and one of tinted newspaper so they may be pasted on alternately. Turn the vase upside down and cover the bottom first, working down. The first paper layer is applied wet, but not pasted, so that it will not stick to the shell when it has to be removed later, and it should cover the entire form. Now, with the tip of the paste brush, lift a bit of white paper and apply it to the base of the jar, pasting it lightly. Add another piece overlapping the first, and continue until the entire surface is covered. Start again, this time using the colored paper, and cover the entire surface. Be sure the paste goes on the piece of paper already on the jar. Other dry pieces are added and are brushed with paste when in position until three layers have been applied. It should then be set aside to dry thoroughly, after which it is cut in several places and removed from the mold.

Several other layers are pasted on; three or four should be enough. When dry, the edges of the jar are trimmed and sand-papered. If a rim is desired, it can be made by using a soft, heavy cord, pasted in position around the top. Finally color with red and brown poster paints to give an Oriental effect. Shellac if you wish, though this is not essential. When using these jars, attach them firmly to a plank or to the floor, or weight them with sand.



How to make a chair from corrugated board. Benches are similarly prepared

Chairs and garden benches may be made of corrugated pasteboard, then covered with three layers of pasted paper toweling and 'painted (see Fig. 2).

Molds, when needed, may be articles found around the house or shop, pans or plaster forms, or they may be built of clay, wax, or soap. For larger objects, the frames may be made of cigar-box wood. Balls of paper tied together work out well for certain forms -- a pumpkin for Cinderella, for instance.

It sometimes happens that small objects should be hollow, in which case bags of sand are used, the sand being emptied when the article is finished.



Goose for the circus scene at left. The backdrop is white, with strips and disks of bright red muslin sewn on. The clown is able to give a ball-juggling act

In making animal heads, full-size drawings should first be made, showing front and side views, as was described in an earlier article on making marionette heads. Paper is then crumpled into the general shape and tied. After binding strips have been pasted on to hold the mass, the paper and then the fabric (usually Canton flannel for animals) is pasted on. The goose in the circus set illustrated in one of the photographs was made in this way. To make the neck flexible, small spools were strung on soft cord and inserted in the throat as in Fig. 3. No paper was pasted here: the Canton flannel over the spools forms the head and neck. Legs are of dowels or wire; web feet and bill of wood colored orange.


Wooden furniture is easily constructed from cigar-box wood, cheese boxes, or thin plywood. Use a coping or jig saw to cut the curved portions (Fig. 4). Toy furniture from the five-and-ten-cent stores may be used if of the right proportions, but not otherwise. Actual chair seats are about 17 in. high and table tops 30 in., so if your puppets are 12 in. tall, for example, which is approximately one fifth adult size, these small sets should be scaled accordingly; thus one fifth of 17 is approximately 3 ½ , which should be the height in inches of the chair seat. Sizes of bureaus, fireplaces, bookcases, and other pieces should be calculated likewise. Do not bother with small fractions; keep to the general ratio. When using figured fabrics for curtains or hangings, be sure the design is in scale.



To enable quick scene changes to be made, it is well to arrange the properties beforehand on boards cut to fit the stage floor, as shown at the left. The drawings above illustrate the method of molding with paper


The trees in this scene are flat disks with green paper pasted on, and the pool is merely a sheet of tin. The bird bath is made of box lids, a reel on which cotton had been wound, and a round mirror

The trees shown in the photograph of a formal garden set are flat disks covered with green paper pasted on and lined with darker color, and a few rosette flowers are added (see Fig. 5). The decorative hedge foliage is made in the same way.

An irregular circle of sheet tin (Fig. 6) forms the pool in this set. It is outlined on the edges with small stones, pebbles, and thin green moss. The fountain is made of various shaped boxes and reels glued together, all silvered and draped with Christmas tree tinsel.


The bird bath consists of two round box lids glued together on a cotton reel, then covered with pasted paper and painted (Fig. 7). A round mirror set in the bowl resembles water and reflects the paper birds.

The coloring of this set is brilliant. The trees, leaves, and hedges are sapphire blue outlined in black; tree trunks, violet; flower rosettes, cerise; all against a silver screen background. This threefold screen is covered with Chinese silver paper. Put paste on the screen, not on the paper, to prevent the screen from being pulled out of shape.

Stained glass windows, which are often necessary for settings of certain periods, are easily made of architects' tracing paper. If the outline of the design is painted with waterproof ink, the colors can be added in the spaces. The black ink outlines give the appearance of leaded glass.



The trunks of palm trees may be made by wrapping 2-in. wide tan crepe paper around mailing tubes, and the leaves imitated with green paper and wire

Palm trees (Fig. 8) are made with paper tubes for trunks, a cork being inserted in the top. A 2-in. wide strip of tan crepe paper is wound diagonally around the tube. A dozen or so wires are cut the length of the leaves, and long slashed leaves of green crepe paper are folded over and pasted on the wires, the ends of the wires are pushed into the cork, and the leaves are then bent into the required shape. Another cork can be pinned to the floor of the stage and the tube trunk slipped over it.

Peach trees are made of branches dipped in glue and then rolled in wheat flakes, dyed pink. Care must be taken, however, that they be placed where puppet strings do not catch. Yew trees are constructed of sponges, dyed green.

In the diagram marked Fig. 9 is shown a working fountain that requires only a cake tin, a funnel, and a length of rubber tubing put through a hole in floor.



Diagram showing how to arrange a fountain that will surprise the audience by working


A suggestion for a bookcase. The backs of the "books" are painted to resemble bindings

Fireplaces, are of many types. A red bulb on an extension cord let down the chimney gives a satisfactory effect of fire, and can be used between logs or among chunks of coal.

Figure 10 illustrates the construction of bookshelves. To fill them, cut strips of corrugated pasteboard 1 ½ in. wide and as long as the case and apply with the grooved side out. Paste paper toweling over the corrugations, pressing it down between them, first in consecutive grooves, then skipping one, two, or three to represent book backs of different thicknesses. Paint in gay reds, greens, and other colors.

Old-fashioned rag rugs are easily imitated by marking the design with crayons on coarse sandpaper. The same idea can be used for over mantel pictures.



Stained-glass window and iron grille. The grille was cut from paper as in the drawing

Grilles in church windows, ornamental ironwork for side lanterns, and the like, are cut from paper as illustrated in Fig. 11 and in the photograph of the church set.

In representing metallic surfaces, do not cover them with metal, but paint the objects brown for gold, gray for silver, blue-gray for steel, red-brown for copper. Then apply metallic paint for the high-lights only. Scrumble high-lights over a dark base. For objects of this type, papier-maché is best, shellacked before painting.

A stock outside scene maybe given variety by introducing a house, which will greatly change the effect. Window boxes are charmingly effective. Glue a long cardboard box, cut in half, under the sill; then fill it with wax or soap in which to stick the wires of artificial flowers. These, like all else, must be kept to scale.



This view illustrates one way to make a garden scene attractive. Note the window box. The foliage is genuine fern and paper moss

Pot-cover knobs make fine feet for bureaus, chests, and similar pieces. Large brass paper fasteners are satisfactory door knobs. Old-fashioned clothespins cut to suitable length may be used for bedstead legs as well as for other pieces. Miniature glass bottles make good lamp bases.

When stage furniture is made of cardboard boxes, choose cardboard that is so tough and firm it will bend readily without breaking. Passé partout binding is useful in this work. Always draw an exact pattern first, cut this out and lay it on cardboard, then draw around it. A piece of glass is useful on which to score the lines. Keep your knife sharp.

Commercial paste of the so-called "gluey" type is excellent, being easier and cleaner to use than glue and stronger than ordinary library paste. Many pieces can be held together with brass paper fasteners.






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