When I debuted my Louis CK finger puppet a few years ago I shared some of the behind the scenes process I go through in defining a puppet design in felt. With the release of my news designs this year, I thought it would be fun to share a bit more of how I settled on the look of my new Ruth Bader Ginsburg puppet.
I decided to try making a RBG puppet after the photo of her hugging Obama made the rounds post-State of the Union. Clearly she’d been in the news before then, and were I better about being ahead of the curve on the cultural Zeitgeist I would’ve thought of her as a puppet months before. At least I caught on eventually : )
Any design process starts with an idea, and though there are a million amazing people I could attempt to turn into finger puppets on any given day, the particulars of creating a puppet mean that not just anybody will work well 4″ tall and in felt. A subject has to have a distinctive look– hair, clothing, expression, etc. Clearly Ruth is a lady with a look all her own. Pulled back hair, oversized glasses, serious expression. Not to mention those elaborate lace collars over the black judges robe– those are the thing of a puppet-maker’s dreams.
So after the idea stage, and the let’s-think-this-through stage comes the sketching stage. I’m not really much a sketcher, to be honest. Getting things down on paper helps, but only to a point. A sketch can capture the details that I want to be sure to include, but I find that it’s important that I try sewing a new design pretty quickly. I refined my drawing to Ruth a few times, along with some of the other new puppets I was considering, and then got to work.
My first attempts at sewing a new puppet tend to be a lot like sketches. Sometimes I get lucky and a design kind of flows out nearly complete, but more often I’ll do a few versions, revising details and adding and subtracting elements until I get something that feels right.
With the RBG puppet, I did four revisions on her face before I was happy with how she came together. Each of those four is pictured below. In the first round, I had the long, narrow face, but her forehead was too square, and her glasses weren’t exaggerated enough. The second attempt you can see I liked more, because I finished the entire puppet. Sometimes it’s not until the very end that I can really step back and see what’s working, and what’s not. In this case, the face was a little too wide and the glasses still weren’t right. Her expression was also a bit too blank.
The third version finally felt like it was coming together. The eyebrows added the sternness I was looking for, and finally the glasses are right– rounded frames, and bigger. You can see I only did one cheekbone because I knew that I liked where it was going and didn’t need to do any more. Bu the face was still a bit broader than I would’ve liked, so I started over one more time and finally got it. Final Ruth: narrow face, slanted eyebrows, giant, rounded glasses, angular cheekbones, and now the filled out robe, lace collar, earrings and taller hair. Voila!
Of course there will always be variation when I’m actually making a full batch of puppets. Some will be thinner, some a little thicker. Some will have taller hair, some shorter, some bigger collars, some bigger glasses. But having that first version that I’m happy with gives me something to work off of from then on.
It’s a process that I’ve refined over the last nearly 10 years (sheesh!) and it works well for me. It really is like drawing tiny little caricatures with thread and scissors every single time. Luckily, it gets easier after the hundreth or so ; )
Notorious puppet RBG is available in my shop now! Perfect for all the important rulings you need to make in your life.