Sculpting puppet hair

 

Back in 2013 I spent some time modelling puppet heads in wax which I later cast in hollow resin. I was asked to make these for a stop-motion animation. I posted this short piece originally just to show the modelling method I’d worked out for the hair styles, but at the time I couldn’t show that much of the finished effect because of a ‘spoilers’ agreement. That’s not so much of an issue now so I’ve included some better photos at the end.

I wanted to try modelling with something different but .. honestly, I wish I hadn’t chosen wax now because it’s so ‘literal’ (see ‘Modelling wax’ in the Materials section, which has more info on the current work in the Worklog at the end). I’m more used to working with Super Sculpey which has a very slight rubbery quality which helps especially when smoothing edges. Wax doesn’t do any of that itself.

But on the other hand, because of it’s extreme softness wax is easily ‘impressed’ and can even be ‘sledged’ into shapes. Sledging is the traditional technique still used by some plasterers to create a run of moulding, such as a shaped cornice, directly onto the wall by running a profile shape along wet plaster. I wanted to use a combination of pressing and sledging to model the hair for the puppets.

carving the tool

This is the first attempt to create a tool for it. I used a short length of 1/2inch ramin dowel and sanded the top end down to 3 differently sized curves, using sanding dowels and files.

tools for carving

The easiest way of cutting small grooves in these end curves was to use a mini-drill with a thin filing bit.

cutting grooves

The 3 sizes would give some variety to the effects obtained.

shape

These are my first quick tests and more will follow.

tryout1

tryout2

Below is the wax sculpt of one of the heads almost finished, ready to be moulded for later casting. The tool worked fine generally but I found I had to work over the effects with a short-haired synthetic brush to soften any hard edges.
David Neat, wax modelling for puppet head, 2013
I had to model these hair bunches separately for casting and I also mixed the soft terracotta modelling wax with a harder one to give it a bit more resistance while modelling.
David Neat, wax modelling for puppet heads, 2013. Hair 'buns' separate for casting
David Neat, wax modelling for puppet heads, 2013
Above and below, the main character hairstyle .. somewhere around early 19th century. I painted the polyurethane cast with Humbrol enamels, which are very durable. The ringlets needed to be animated, so for these I painted wire garden tie firmly inserted and glued into drilled holes. 
David Neat, cast and painted puppet head showing hairstyle, 2013
The eyes were movable i.e. couched in sockets and moved by the usual method of inserting a pin into a drilled hole in the pupil. Shown here is one of four different versions of detachable eyelids! The mouth area was left blank because the mouth movements were going to be animated separately.
David Neat, cast and painted puppet head, replaceable eyelids, 2013
tx
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