Marionettes: How to Make and Work Them

Marionettes: How to Make and Work Them

by Helen Fling

Paperback(Revised, New TOC)

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This is the complete book of marionette craft — from making heads and constructing bodies to stringing the marionettes on one- and two-hand controls, operating the marionettes, and putting on your own shows. Four books by Helen Fling have been brought together to make this volume. Their wealth of illustrations, tricks, helpful hints and solid, easy-to-follow advice will go far toward making your performances successful, enjoyable, and creative.
In the first section, full details are given on making puppet and marionette heads — creating them, molding them, casting them, making them out of plastic wood and pâpier-maché, painting them, and adding character details such as noses and wigs. The second section tells, in equal detail, how to make hands, feet, legs, arms, and bodies with a variety of methods for joining the parts together, taping, painting, finishing, and placing screw-eyes for mechanical perfection. The third section shows how to construct marionette controls, how to string your marionettes, and how to manipulate your controls for the movements, postures, gestures, and tricks. Costume and character details are also covered. By the end of this section both you and your characters should be ready to perform. The final section covers the details of marionette show production — building a stage, lighting, scenery, sound effects, curtain-drops, and presentation. One complete play, with full details on stage props, marionettes, and background, is included. More than 400 helpful illustrations show every step of marionette craft from conception and construction to performance.
Beginners will find this book to contain everything they need to know to construct marionettes and present their own shows. Puppeteers will find the chapter on head-making equally suited to their craft. Those who have some experience with marionettes will find the sections on tricks, alternate procedures, and professional methods to greatly increase their abilities to build marionettes and create a variety of new effects and successful marionette performances.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486229096
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/30/2011
Edition description: Revised, New TOC
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 763,710
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt


How to Make and Work Them

By Helen Fling, Charles Forbell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1973 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16899-9


Making Marionette and Puppet Heads


Note. First make an armature.

1. 1½ inch dowel sticks for upright of armature. Bore 1½ inch hole in center of block of wood 6 inches square.

2. Armature completed, ready for modeling.

3. Procure a pound block of plasteline which is most practical for all purposes of modeling.

4. Whittle a couple of sticks shaped like above for modeling tools.

1. Mount on and around dowel stick the plasteline in general shape of an egg and about the size of a 3½ inch head minus the neck.

2. Begin by using thumbs, pressing in to make eye sockets.

3. Add portions as required for nose, chin, neck, brows, etc.

4. Refine lips, eyes and general shape of head, remembering bone structure underneath.

Note. Ears are not necessary if hair or hat will cover, unless needed for characterization.

1. Note proportions of normal head.

2. Note exaggerations of features with same relative proportions.

3. Convex profile denotes action.

4. Concave profile denotes patience.

5. Large top head denotes mental type.

6. Large lower head denotes physical type.

7. Long narrow head, easy going.

8. Wide head, combatative.

9. Combination profile, plodding.

1. Note dimensions—nose 1/3 of head.

2. Note ear and nose position—ear center of head balance.

3. Perspective of 1 and 2.

Note. Most beginners fail to have forehead and back head development to models. The proportions of the normal head should be followed closely as a basis to work from in character exaggerations.

1. Eyes generally larger than normal except when necessary for squints and frowns, according to character wanted.

2. Get much character in nose.

3. Important feature to work out.

4. Make ears large.

5. Give feeling of bone structure of head.

Note. All features generally exaggerated as in cartoons, avoiding undercuts.


1. Coat entire head with thin layer of vaseline.

2. Have ready 1 pint of plaster of paris.

3. Bowl or pan 1 qt. size 2/3 filled with cold water.

4. A cardboard box 4 inches wide, 6 inches long and 4 inches high.

5. Draw line all around head with stick to divide front half from back, and place gently inside so as not to disturb or mar the shape.

1. Fill pan 2/3 full of water and sift 3 cups of plaster of paris slowly into the pan of water, and when it stops bubbling, stir until it is of the consistency of very thick cream.

2. Fill box half full of the mixture.

3. Deposit head in mixture, face up, until submerged to guide line around head. Leave undisturbed until mixture hardens.

4. Put vaseline coated marbles half submerged in each corner to become register locks.

1. Shows method of placing head sidewise to avoid undercuts in case of long nose, pointed chin, etc.

2. In this case draw lines around head from forehead down nose to chin and back of head.

3. After coating surface of hardened plaster with vaseline, fill up rest of box with more plaster of paris mixture. If nose should protrude, pile extra mixture to cover completely with about ½ inch to spare.

4. When all is set and hard, tear off outside of box.

Note. Cast will get warm in the process. When cool, it is set.

1. Gently tap and pry open with chisel or kitchen knife, placing small damp piece of cardboard used as wedge.

2. Pull parts apart and take plasteline head out. (Save plasteline to make other heads later.)

3. Shellac inside of cast to preserve.

4. When dry, coat with thin layer of vaseline.

1. Have ready your modeled head in plasteline.

2. Place heavy thread all around your model, dividing the head in half, being careful that the thread is pressed into the model, leaving the two ends of the thread exposed and free.

3. Mix plaster of paris mixture to the consistency of cream.

4. Dip the model carefully into the mixture so that all parts of the model are covered without disturbing the thread.

1. Blow on the head to distribute the mixture into all crevices. This is to prevent bubbles and air holes from forming. Repeat this process.

2. As soon as the mixture is a little thicker, begin to pile it over the model until the covering is two or three inches over all.

3. When the cast has become firm, but before completely hardening, grasp both ends of the thread and pull upwards carefully.

4. This will cut the cast and divide it into two halves, when it is ready for the paper-mache or the plastic wood process.


1. Have ready plastic wood, water and your thumbs.

2. Press plastic wood firmly into cast so as to fill every crevice and wrinkle, first moulding a plastic wood shape or pancake with wet hands. This prevents sticking. Head will be hollow.

3. When putting plastic wood in cast, allow a little to be built above the top surface of cast to afford the joining seams.

Note. Soak casts in water 5 minutes before starting to put in plastic wood.

Note. Tie two finished halves together, and soak in water over night.

1. Gently pull head out, and allow to dry.

2. Bore small hole just above where ear would be and place wire through, making loops of ends of wire with sharp nosed pliers.

3. Finished head ready for drying and hardening.

Note. Wire may be placed in head before putting parts together. Be sure the cast is perfectly dry before boring hole.

1. Tie string in loops of wire and hang up on safe nail somewhere.

2. When completely dry and hard, sandpaper surface until smooth, first with very rough sandpaper, finishing with very fine, being careful not to destroy character.

3. If small imperfections show up, more plastic wood can be added to correct same, and sandpaper again.

Note. If head is put in hot water at once while mending, plastic wood will not shrink.

Note. Have ready piece of doweling, glue, screw eye and a wood rasp.

1. Shape one end of dowel with pen knife and wood rasp to make a half cone and put screw eye in center after dipping the point in glue to insure against pulling out.

Note. Screw eyes will not hold in plastic wood unless glue is used.

2. Shape inside of neck to fit wood core with knife and sandpaper.

3. Smear core with glue, push up into head and lay aside to dry.

1. When glue is dry, put more plastic wood around edge so as to form half cone which will fit into shoulders later.

2. Head is now completed ready for finishing.

Note. Gesso treatment. See page 37 for details. Also pages 38-39 for paint and finish details.

Note. Wire may be used for neck by making loops and filling in necks with plastic wood, if screw eyes are not available.


Note. Paper-mache is a much less expensive and better method of moulding heads. Have ready white paper napkins, pieces of strong wrapping paper, bowl of water, and wall paper paste, saucer and your cast.

1. Mix enough wall paper paste in saucer with water to form a paste of the consistency of thick cream.

2. Tear—do not cut—paper napkins in very small pieces.

3. Smear paste on pieces of paper with fingers.

4. Place small pieces about the size of thumb nail overlapping and press down smooth until one layer overall of inside of the cast.

5. Tear up wrapping paper in small pieces and place in water.

6. When well soaked, squeeze out surplus water.

7. Cover this with paste, working it well into the paper.

8. Place in mould same as first layer, and use at least six layers of this.

Note. Alternate layers of different colored paper, help to check on number of layers.

1. When halves are dry and hard, trim the edges so that they fit together perfectly.

2. Place wire inside before putting together the two pieces.

3. Anchor to insides with paper-mache. Place small pieces of paper-mache to front half of head, always overlapping edges.

4. Press back and front part of head together and smooth down pieces of paper-mache so that both halves stick together. Keep adding more paper-mache until all is strong and smooth. Also add some paper-mache to inside of head as far as you can reach. Allow to dry.

Note. Ears may be modeled on after head is dry, but usually not necessary, as hair, etc. cover them.

1. When perfectly dry and hard, put core of wood as described in plastic wood neck, using piece of dowel, screw eye, glue, etc.

2. Finish off head by placing paper-mache over edge of neck down to screw eyes to make a smooth cone shape.

3. Use very fine sandpaper to smooth entire head.

4. If any defects are noticed they can be fixed up with more paper-mache and building up to sufficient hardness and thickness.

Note. Hardness and thickness may be determined by holding up to light.


After head is finished and ready, it must be given a preliminary coat of paint of water color or oil as a foundation complexion. Shade used will be determined by character. Oil colors are best, but it is necessary to dull the finished head with very fine sandpapering. Water colors or tempera may also be used.

Note. Procure white, black, scarlet vermilion, new blue, chrome yellow, light veredian green, burnt sienna, and brushes. Brushes necessary—small liner, larger brush for flat surface, and a stippling brush.

1. White, some yellow.

2. Same as Chinese—add very little burnt sienna to lean toward tan.

3. Burnt sienna—add black or white to darken or lighten.

4. Burnt sienna with white and very little red to lean toward pink.

Note. Turpentine and dryer. Have ready a small amount of each.

1. White, slight yellow and enough red to bring out flesh color.

2. White with little red and enough burnt sienna to give a copper color.

3. Burnt sienna with a touch of pink and yellow.

4. Same as Indian with a little black.

1. Same as Caucasian flesh tint with little burnt sienna added.

2. Same as Italian with a deeper tan effect.

3. Same as Caucasian only a straight pink, no yellow.

4. All white.

Note. On clown and ghastly witches, etc. a phosphorescent effect helps.


1. Eyes, eye-balls should be underlined.

2. Lips, lip modeling must be clearly defined with paints.

3. Stipple to spread color gradually and to blend.

4. Wrinkles, emphasize with thin lines.

1. Shellac eyes and lips to liven up expression of face.

2. Eyelashes lined out of wool or silk glued on to lids.

3. Eyelashes made of bias cut buckram and glued on and then painted.

4. Fur strips glued on to lids.

Note. Eyelash effect can be had with carefully painted lines.


1. Sew yarn on to tape. Tape to be as near color of yarn chosen as possible. Glue to head.

2. Yarn glued directly to head and dressed later, such as curls, braids, buns, etc.

3. Yarn sewed first on a fitted cap and cap glued or tacked to head.

4. Shredded rope, yarn or crepe hair glued on and trimmed for beard.

1. Fur may be cut to shape and glued on head.

2. Hair may be painted directly on to head, especially when it has been indicated in the original model.

3. Human hair wigs may be used but not recommended.

4. Frayed rope, silk floss or crepe hair is a good substitute for human hair effect.


1. Should be forceful–emphasize strong jaw–nose small and funny, weather-beaten–eye that seems to be taking everything in.

2. Clown must be jovial—roundness and fullness helps—spots, painted on face. Bring a supercilious expression a real clown has.

1. A hero type must be everything desirable, good-looking, strong, healthy—his features must be rather regular, inclined to the athletic sort.

2. Character to play the part of a bully must be made to look selfish, a wide head for combativeness, a turned-down mouth, heavy jowls, eyes rather close.

1. A judge, professor or such, to have high, intellectual forehead—to seem commanding—and to have an air of refinement.

2. The sailor is usually expected to appear carefree—ruddy complexion—usually smiling, squint eyes, and every touch that portrays an out-of-doors man.

1. A pirate may vary in type—combines the bully, the cop, the sailor, etc., except that he must be above all, hard-boiled—with a sabre scar and a black eye.

2. The simpleton is a sort of clown plus a foolish and weak expression —little chin—long nose—eyes that cast down-ward.

1. The devil must be sleek—his grin must naturally be devilish—his ears and nose must bring out his character without depending upon his horns. Red and silver mica cloth may be pasted on eyes to give shiny effects.

2. A queen, fairy, princess type, to bring out beauty. No exaggerations, except in color. Compared with all other marionette types these must be dainty.


Animals are often needed for plays and it is advisable as in some cases with human types to use a movable jaw. These heads must be hollow to allow for inside construction.

1. When your animal head is finished, and before it is painted, cut away the lower jaw carefully.

2. Add to this jaw a piece of wood, which must be weighted with sheet lead or lead weights at the back part. Cut away a small part of the neck construction just back of the jaw to allow for slight movement.

3. Replace the jaw and hinge it with a straight piece of wire through the sides of the head and through the wood. Fasten on to the other side just at the junction of the jaw.

4. The lead weighting will keep the mouth closed, but a string attached to the lead weight passed up through a hole in the top of the head will, when pulled straight up, allow the jaw to open. When the string is slack the mouth closes.


If after completing your marionette a very smooth surface is desired, an excellent way to produce this is to give it a gesso finish especially for the face and hands and exposed parts of the body.

Gesso is a finish composed of rabbit's skin glue and whiting. Soak 1 sheet of glue in a quart of water overnight, or about six or eight hours. Then heat and bring slowly to a boiling point. With a soft brush give object two or three coats of this glue mixture. Let it dry thoroughly. Then add a little of the whiting, keeping mixture very thin. Next, brush object with this. Then add a little more whiting.

Repeat this process a few times until desired surface is obtained. If a shiny surface is desired, finish with a coat of glue without whiting.


Procure a wooden palette or a piece of glass or an old flat dish to use as a mixing base. Squeeze a small amount of colors chosen onto this surface. Add a small amount of turpentine and dryer and begin to mix and blend colors to arrive at the proper shades needed, using medium size paint brush.

Use this same brush to put on first color coats.

Use smaller brush for shadows and lining. A stipple-brush may be made by cutting a larger stiff bristle brush straight across evenly, although such a brush may be bought at art stores. This brush is used dry and clean to blend colors already applied, as on cheeks and shadows. Be sure to clean all brushes after each painting operation, using turpentine to loosen paint, and then washing the brushes with soap and water, drying carefully and smoothing to points.


Procure a bag of wall-paper, or Fox, paste at any hardware store.

Use only a small amount at a time, mixing with cold water to a paste of the consistency of mayonnaise. This paste costs little and will give better results if not allowed to become stale.

If a small quantity of ordinary glue is mixed with the paste, one teaspoonful of glue to a teacup of paste, the resulting surface will be harder and stronger. Beat with a fork or spoon until very smooth. This may be applied with a brush or with the fingers.


Excerpted from Marionettes by Helen Fling, Charles Forbell. Copyright © 1973 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Making Marionette and Puppet Heads,
Making Marionette Hands, Feet, Legs, Arms and Bodies,
Stringing and Manipulating Marionettes,
Production and Stagecraft,

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