Bird Mcdermitt Hand Puppet
This sour-faced bird has a movable beak with which he pronounces his prophecies of doom.
His body can be made out of any old speckled rag and bit of feather lying around the
house. His head can be cast in plastic wood or in papier-mache. The overcasting in
papier-mache explained earlier results in a loss of some detail, as the paper is built up
over the model. But by casting the papier-mache inside a mould, as with plastic wood, you
can retain most detail. However, papier-mache has to be cast in a more complicated mould -
a shim cast mould.
Making a Shim Cast Mould
Shims are anything which divide; in this case, strips of plasticine. Divide your plasticine model head by drawing a faint line running through the center of the features and down the center of the back of the head as in A. Prepare strips of plasticine about 3/4 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick. Apply these strips along the line you have drawn so that there is a small, upright wall of plasticine running all the way around the head like a crest, as in B. Now lay the head on its side in a nest of soft paper. Take another long strip of plasticine and run it around the dividing crest so that it forms a sealed trough, C, that will contain the plaster. The neck of the plasticine model should stick out free of this trough at the bottom. Now heap plaster into the trough, making sure it fills in against all the features. Build up the plaster so that it covers the entire side of the head, D, then smooth it off a little on top so that when it dries and is turned over, it will sit flat. When the plaster is dry, turn the mould over and remove the plasticine dividers to expose the 3/4-inch plaster shelf or margin, E. With a pointed knife, scrape this shelf until it is flat and smooth, then into it dig three holes, F, about 1/2 inch deep: one opposite the chin, one over the top of the head, one opposite the back of the neck - all in the center of the margin's width. These holes will line up with lugs and keep the two halves of the mould in line when the other half is poured. Put a little collar of plasticine around the bottom of the neck, G, so that the neck again thrusts free. Grease the surface of the margin or shelf thoroughly, making sure to get a good coating down into the lug holes.
Now pour plaster over the head and scrape it clean where it runs over the edge of the shelf so that the dividing crack between the first and second halves of the mould is clearly visible, H. Pack the plaster up over the head, covering it completely. When it is dry, tap the mould gently in a number of places around the crack and pry the two halves gently apart. Remove the plasticine. Fill any inside bubble holes with plaster, smoothing the patch with your finger. The two halves should fit snugly together, I, the lugs of the one half fitting neatly into the lug holes of the other, the only opening being where the neck of the model thrusts out. You now have a cast that can be used for casting papier-mache, celastic, latex or plaster. It can be used again and again, if you take care of it. Store your casts carefully in boxes with shaving or paper excelsior cushions. Many puppeteers use the same mould for a number of characters, counting on painting and dressing to add the required character differences.
Shellac both halves of the shim cast mould and allow it to dry well. This time you might add half a teaspoon of alum to the cold water papier-mache paste for added strength, mixing it in thoroughly. In addition to the strips of newspaper, you might use strips of finer paper, such as that used in Japanese crepe napkins. This is not absolutely necessary, but will give your heads a finer outside finish. Do not grease the mould. Pass the strips of finer paper quickly through clean water, then paste them lightly on one side only and press them into the mould with the pasted side up. Make sure the- paper lies perfectly flat without creases or bubbles and that the inside surface of the mould is covered completely. Allow the paper to overlap the top edge of the mould about 1 inch all the way around, as in A. Give the first coat of paper a thin coat of paste. Add another complete layer of the thinner paper exactly as you did the first. Make sure it is thoroughly pressed into the features to get full definition from the mould. Now draw the strips of newspaper through the paste mixture and begin to lay down your third coat. This time omit the 1-inch overlap over the top edge of the mould.
A thin coat of paste will flatten it smoothly against the head. Allow the exposed half of
the head to dry until it holds shape. Remove the head from the mould and rest it on the
drier side and allow it to dry thoroughly all over. To further strengthen it, you can
paint it with a final thin coat of paste.
Making a Movable Mouth
To make Bird's movable beak, overcast a papier-mache" lower jaw, cut a hole in the head to receive it and rig it as shown. The beak is controlled with the tip of the finger inside the puppet's head. A good deal of experimentation and practice will be necessary before you will discover the proper rigging to fit your hand and perfect the method of moving the mouth, but in the end, you'll have a talking bird!