The King of Finger Puppets

You’d think that in 10 years, I would’ve made a custom Elvis Presley puppet before now. I’ve talked about it with a couple of customers before, but things just never panned out– That is until earlier this month when I finally got the opportunity to create The King once and for all.

Lovely customer Judy was interested in an Elvis from either the “Jailhouse Rock” or “Aloha from Hawaii”-eras, and although that black and white striped shirt is super iconic, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create a felt and embroidered version of that classic bedazzled white suit.It was surprisingly difficult to find good detail photos of Elvis’ white suits (of which there were multiple, I discovered), but I did figure out that the red, gold and blue rhinestones in the “Aloha from Hawaii” suit were in the shape of an eagle. Who knew, right?When I’m creating a custom puppet, I usually start with a sketch based on source photos. I keep detail photos up on my phone or computer to refer back to as I work. If the expression is key– as it obviously is with Elvis– I’ll often do a “sketch” on a piece of scrap felt to get the details just right. You can see in the photo above a few of the tests I made to get that smirky, hunch-lipped sneer just right.Once the parts are all cut to size, I’ll start piecing together the body and sewing in details. For Elvis, this meant that crazy suit. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try to do the eagle pattern with the rhinestones, but I think the dots keep the spirit of the bedazzling. And the red lei was a must, of course. When in Hawaii, right?I’ve done a few puppets with microphones before. Because they’re so tiny and have to be free-standing, it’s tough to get much detail, but I decided that the finishing touch for Elvis would be to have a black cord coming from the bottom of the mic. I had to experiment a bit to figure out how to attach it at both ends, staying taught enough without pulling the arm in. With a little finessing, I’m thrilled with how much that small detail adds to the design.So, what do you think– a puppet fit for a King? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

 

Interested in a custom puppet of your own? Get in touch— I’d love to make it happen!

 

 

The Art of Natural History

My first love was drawing. I illustrated my first picture book when I was four, and all the way up through high school, kids were knocking on my door begging me to draw them pictures. Though I don’t draw nearly as much as I used to, it’s still an escape to pick up a pen and create something on paper that didn’t exist before.

I’m always drawn to contemporary artists and illustrators who use drawing in their work, and I was struck by the history of the practice looking at the work in the new book Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. We forget that before the camera was invented, drawing was the only way to visually represent creatures encountered on far-flung adventures, and show people the amazing variety of nature that exists around the globe. Not to mention the role drawings played in science as you were observing and recording discoveries.Looking through the illustrations from the book featured on Brain Pickings, it’s striking how contemporary some of them feel. The fish above have a Milton Glaser, 1980s feel to them. And the detail in the trilobites and horseshoe crabs featured below are so detailed, its crazy to think that that pattern and shading could be achieved by hand.The book is available now.

Via Brian Pickings.

 

Obama Puppet, Six Years Later

Barack Obama is about six and a half years into his eight years as president, but I was taken all the way back to 2008 with a post I was tagged in on Facebook the other day. That year my nephew was four and enamored with Obama (as many of us were). He decided that an Obama puppet was the one thing he really wanted for his birthday, and started lobbying me way back at Christmas to make this happen. His mom and I conspired to make him one to surprise him on his birthday in June, and he loved that thing.

She came upon the puppet while cleaning out his room last week. Barack looks pretty good for his age, don’t you think?

Barack Obama finger puppet

This was during my “fat puppet” phase, but beside the hair needing a little more gray in it, I’d say this design is still pretty accurate, wouldn’t you?

 

Blueprint Decorating

We attended an estate sale a few weeks back at the home of a man who turned out to have been an architect or engineer of some sort. His belongings included vintage drawing supplies– pencils, rulers, drafting tape– along with a few bins full of rolled-up old blueprints. I dug through a few of them and we eventually took home a huge black role with detailed diagrams for a mystery machine of some sort.

Our bedroom contains large swathes of wall that I have yet to really figure out. A few years ago I made an engineering print at Kinkos of a vintage photo of a giraffe from the Lincoln Park Zoo (the caption informed me that her name was Cleopatra) that hung above our bed. Best $6 I ever spent, but since the paper is thin, it took a beating through a few summers of fans blowing on it– not to mention mischievous toddler fingers– and fell down for good a few weeks back. I thought that the blueprint (or, more accurately, blackprint) would be a fun addition to the room. It’s tough to find affordable art that will fill such a large space, but the print may just do the trick.

Dogs on the Bed

Unflattering photos of our bedroom taken over by dogs and stuffed animals. This is the bed I’ve got of the drafting print giraffe before it fell off the wall for good.

I have yet to actually hang it up (story of my life), but in the interim I looked a bit on the internet for examples of how other people have incorporated blueprints into their decor. Pinterest was surprisingly light on examples (does that mean I’m a trendsetter?!) but Apartment Therapy had one post about the idea. All in all, I love the bright pop of blue that true blueprints offer, and think they add a fun, abstract element.

A really lovely example of framed blueprints. I wonder if they are the original plans for that house?

This black and white print is a little closer to the one we picked up.

Color to die for, right?

I’ll keep you posted if we do ever get around to hanging ours and take photos without random laundry and dogs in the picture ; ) 

 

Pack It Up, Part 2

Last week I shared a bit about how I package up orders, focusing on the outside of the packages that I send. It may seem like a super micro aspect of a small biz to focus on, but when your main contact with a customer is through the mail, things like the envelope, the packing tape, heck– even the address, do really matter. In this post I’m focusing on how I package my puppets themselves, and how orders are packed up for shipping inside the envelope.I’ve always tried to make environmentally responsible choices with my business, and with that I try to avoid using materials that aren’t sustainable. This led me to avoid packaging my puppets in plastic bags for a long time. (Though I did experiment with compostable bags, I was never very happy with their durability.) I figured out quickly that in a retail setting, a plastic bag is a necessary evil for an item that can be damaged by too much handling, but for a long time I held out and didn’t use bags on puppets I sold online. For the first five years or so of running things, I sent puppets “naked,” wrapped up in a sheet of vintage pattern paper tissue, and then added baker’s twine into my shipping repertoire five or so years ago (I’m still using the same cone of it!), tying the order up in a little paper bundle.
wrapped package and envelopeBack in 2008, I happened upon a box of vintage yellow cardboard tags in a dusty fabric store, and was inspired to use them to add notes to my packages. The tags were the perfect option becasue the hole at the top was perfect for attaching with baker’s twine. The tags were a fortuitous discover in more than one way– the yellow color also helped inspire my rebranding a few years back.Online Order Packaging and BrandingEventually I decided that it was time to up package game, and having some puppets that were bagged or retail and some that were loose for online orders was taking too much time to keep straight. I decided that all puppets would be packaged, regardless of where they were sold.

Around this time, I also had a brainstorm about the tags I used in my puppet packaging. For a long time my puppets were in bag-and-topper style packs– a bag at the bottom and cardboard topper folded and stapled at the top. I used to purchase the toppers printed five or six to a page, then cut, score and staple them myself. I can tell you that this was far from my favorite job, but it got the job done.In addition to being way too labor intensive, the cardboard toppers didn’t lend themselves so well to display. Behind the puppet was a clear bag, meaning that there often wasn’t a great background to show off the puppet itself. And while the topper could hung with a clip for display, more often than not I would get puppets returned from retail shop with a hole punched through the top, which would end up getting worn, ripping, and generally looking sloppy.Old Puppet PackagingI finally had the brainstorm that the proportions of my puppets would display perfectly against a standard 4×6″ postcard, and there were bags that came with a retail-ready hang hole that could hold them both. I started sketching out ideas for a card that could serve as a background for the puppet. My original design (pictured below) allowed the name of the puppet to be written at the top, but that proved problematic since certain designs are taller than others. I eventually settled on my current layout, which features the puppet’s name written vertically along the side. This backer makes use of the negative space around the puppets, and packs them into a slick little packs, safe and secure for retail, and presenting nicely as a gift.DSCF7323I still pack up each order with baker’s twine, though the tissue paper wasn’t really necessary for protection once the puppets were enclosed in a bag with the cardstock backer. I still attach a yellow tag to each order with a hand-written note, and to the note I now also attache a 1″ button of the puppet that they purchased, or for the few that I haven’t made a button for, a few stickers.

I used to sell the buttons individually through my shop– and do still sell them at in-person events– but I decided that they worked better as freebies within online orders. Since my puppets are most often bought as gifts, I like that the button gives the buyer the option to add it onto their friend’s present, or– if the character is someone they love, too– they can keep the button for themselves. Either way, that little freebie keeps on advertising everywhere it goes, and works as a conversation starter.

So there you have it– everything you may (or may not) want to know about how I package orders. Each decision has been thought through, pros and cons weighed, and ultimately decided on to give the buyer the best experience I can possibly create when opening up their order.

So, over to you– have you gotten a package from me? What did you think? What are your favorite tips and tricks for sending online orders, or the best ones you’ve ever received? I’d love to hear!

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 of this packaging series.

“I Do As I Please”: The Paintings of Martha Rich

I don’t remember how I happened upon Martha Rich‘s work, but I am so glad that I did. Her paintings are bizarre and funny, thoughtful, unexpected, mysterious. Everything exists in a world of flat, bright colors, and snippets of conversation. Her work features rebellious talking animals, women with blank expressions or plastic smiles, speech bubbles abandoned and out of context. Rich wrote that she learned early on of “the absurdity of life and to laugh at it,” and that sense of humor comes through loud and clear in her work.

She is both a fine and commercial artist, and has also experimented with low-cost original works, from $20 post-it notes to a series of $100 original paintings. It’s refreshing to see an artist making her work so accessible, and embrace sharing quick, sketchy pieces, in addition to more complex works. She wrote in her artist statement of “insignificant moments that accumulate and become something significant.” The simple moments and one-off jokes in her paintings do just that– collect moments and objects that might otherwise be overlooked and turn them into something worth hanging on the wall.

More of Martha Rich’s work.