Erika and I clearly love weird art, and so when she suggested we take an 8-week long puppet-making class - I was still pretty dubious. But then she showed me the instructors work, and I was 110% convinced. Johanna Winters makes these grotesque, oversized mask heads, and learning how to do THAT sounded awesome.

These giant masks will be used in a theater production (for children!) at the Lawrence Arts Center, so Johanna art directed our process, but we all got to make what we wanted too.

And so far, it has been! Here’s the process, which really anybody could do at home.

Puppet 1

The first step is molding the frame with chicken wire. This doesn’t have to be very precise; you’re going to do a lot of adjustment later.

Then you cover the chicken wire with layers of cheap newsprint, using 2” masking tap to seal it in. You wrap the in and outside of the mask, making sure that every square inch is covered with tape. It took a couple of rolls.

Rather than a straight bucket, I tried to build out a skull shape, so there would be a protruding jaw.

Puppet 2

Mixed results. But it kind of works.

Then, once you’ve got a solid base, you add features. Johanna showed us her usual method for eyes, noses and lips - I gave mine a big beak too.

Puppet 3

Pictured: before and after adding lips and ears. The nostrils are extra big because they become the holes the performers will see out of.

The next step is painting. Johanna likes to start them all out with an orc-gray undertone, and then dry brush (the term of art is ‘scumble’) on a lighter gray-blue color. Then a little reddening touch around the eyes, nose and lips, and you get THESE MONSTROSITIES.

Puppet 4

I love them. That’s Erika’s creation on the right here.

We also are adding hair! Mine has some wild eyebrows and ear hair.

The Sea Hates a Coward