Although I have many types of puppets in my shows, the hand, or glove puppet is the base style. It’s my favorite for the light comedic style of my shows.
In this series of photos you can see the complete process of casting the first side of a small head mold without the need for a containing box.
The female head on the left is pictured in this series. I sculpted the heads, and the casting and molding was done by myself and Roger Mara (I’m not in the photos since I’m taking them!). Roger installed the moveable mouth mechanism.
In the first step, the finished clay head is positioned horizontally and wooden spacer blocks are glued with hot-glue onto the casting board. The blocks will support the metal shims at the center point of the head. Note that the base of the sculpture stand is firmly screwed to the edge of casting board.
The first large tin shim is placed at the base of the neck. It is carefully cut with a “U” shaped opening to fit over the sculpture’s post. It should slice into the clay neck as you slide it over the post, so there is no leak spot for the plaster.
Here you can see that the rest of the shims have been added, and glued with hot-glue tacks, to the wooden spacers (this allows them to be easily popped free later). They have been carefully cut to fit the contours of the side of the clay head. They should come close to the edge of the head, but NOT cut into it. This would leave too big a seam in your mold and final casting.
Adding the clay dam seals the small gap between the edge of the shim and the head. Here an alternate color clay (blue) is used to help see what is happening. Also, it is useful that the different make of clay adheres a bit differently. It needs to be applied gently and with your fingertips, or a pressing tool like a tongue depressor.
This is the “islands” technique for mixing the correct amount of plaster to the water. You start with a tub of water and gently sprinkle in the Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal (a harder version of plaster often preferred by mold makers) in an even distribution all over the water. When you start to see “islands” appear (there is one starting just below the cup), then your water has reached the point of plaster saturation that is perfect for the job.
The plaster is gently mixed with a spatula to avoid adding air bubbles. Be sure to scrape the sides of the mixing container often.
You can also use your hands to break up any plaster lumps that didn’t wet out. Be careful not to introduce air bubbles.
At the point where you feel your plaster warming and getting thicker, the chemical set-up process is beginning and you need to time your next steps to make use of this.
At the point when the plaster is the consistency of heavy cream, the first plaster is poured onto the clay head.
Use fingers break up any small bubbles that can occur at the sharp edges around the dam.
The four domed-shaped clay pieces that create the mold keys are also seen in these photos. These are essential for allowing the two sides of the mold to accurately match back together for the casting process.
By this point the plaster has thickened considerably and can be carefully mounded up over the head. This allows you to skip the plaster containment box that may be needed for larger molds.
Here the plaster is being carefully mounded up while it is getting stiffer. Build to a point of sufficient wall thickness. This should be at least 4 inches thick for any point of the head. A broken plaster mold cannot be repaired –there is no glue that holds plaster!
In these last two photos we see the finished first side of the mold. After the plaster has set, the mold and head will be carefully lifted up and the metal shims and the clay dams and keys will be carefully removed.
The exposed plaster will be treated with a separating agent, usually dilute dish soap, and the back half of the mold will covered with plaster using the same techniques. A very important point is that eventually, when you are ready to cast, all grease and dish soap must be carefully cleaned off the mold, as these will clog the porous plaster and interfere with the casting process, which is a combination of absorption and chemical set-up. Do not drizzle dish soap directly onto the mold. Instead wash with a soapy water solution under warm running tap water.
Looks like a row of monster teeth! It’s actually a row of molds which will have their two halves tightly lashed together and will be fill with the hard version of latex, for a solid head. There is also a more flexible version of the latex available for larger, flexible heads. Fill to the brim and leave in for two hours (this may vary depending on the weather, so start with a test casting first). Top off every 15-20 minutes as the latex is absorbed into the mold.
At the end of two hours, pour the remaining latex back into its container and let the casting sit for 24 hours before removing. The material will remain slightly soft and if there is any slight undercut issues (can only be slight, however), this will allow you to extract the casting easily. This is also an easy time to sand parts of the casting, although this can happen later.
Here the various heads and hands have been cast, have dried, been sanded, and have received a coat of primer.
The painting begins….
The fun of building: adding ears, eyes, assembling the puppets, adding more paint details….
Some of the final puppets!