As part of our job making custom puppets to order, we quite often get asked to make celebrity puppets. We did these four caricature puppets recently based on four American political figures: a George Bush puppet, a Barack Obama puppet, an Arnold Schwarzenegger puppet and a Dr Phil Puppet. They’re all handmade talking puppets.
I really enjoy making caricature puppets, especially of figures that everyone recognises. It’s a challenge to work the puppetry mechanisms in whilst thinking about keeping the facial features recogniseable.
George Bush Puppet
The George Bush Puppet boasts a tiny suit jack, bushy eyebrows and a very distinctive nose! A big chunk of my time as a puppet maker seems to be spent cutting out and shaping endless different noses, and no two are quite the same. People often imagine ordering a custom puppet is a build a bear style process of choosing lots of bits and having them put together. But in fact, every single component is made to order in the studio. For each one of my custom puppets, I make an entirely new foam head templete, a new nose, new eyes and new eyebrows, just by looking carefully at the picture and drawing them out freehand.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Puppet
Some of our custom puppets have simple round head structures, whereas others, such as this Arnold Schwarzenegger puppet, have a more complicated facial structure. In these cases I spend a long time sculpting blocks of foam and shaping the fabric around them.
Barack Obama Puppet
Possibly my favourite of my celebrity puppets so far, the Barack Obama puppet looks the most approachable!
Dr Phil Puppet
People often want to incorporate text or a logo on the puppet. We personalise puppets with transfers, and this Dr Phil Puppet boasts the slogan “Dr Feelgood.”
Donald Trump Puppet
Our talking puppets are available as half body puppets (as in the first four examples) or full body puppets such as this Donald Trump Puppet. The half body puppets are slightly cheaper and are just missing the legs. Our full body talking puppets include real shoes. I spend ages looking around shops for the closest match to the picture you supply.
This week is Leith Festival! There are lots of fun and varied events happening all around Leith, so be sure to check the programme, which you can find here: http://leithfestival.com/ At Leith Toy Hospital we’re running lots of fun teddy hospital events – a drop in toy repair clinic EVERY DAY, a teddy fur cleaning workshop and a teddy bear’s pic-nic on Leith Links.
Teddy Hospital Drop in Clinic
Every afternoon, 3-6pm, Monday 11th- Friday 15th June, here at 64 Constitution Street. We are doing 30% off on all repairs this week! Just bring your teddy or soft toy through for a chat about repair options and we’ll do small repairs while you wait.
Workshop: How to safely clean your favourite teddy
We’re doing a workshop about how to safely clean your teddy’s fur. We’ll be working with foam and various brushes to get rid of stains and discolouration and get the fur back into good condition, without damaging the toy. Bring along a teddy thats looking a bit grubby. For all ages, children must be accompanied by an adult. There is only space for ten people, so get your ticket now from our eventbrite page: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-to-safely-surface-clean-your-teddy-tickets-46710640784
Everyone is welcome at our free teddy bear’s pic nic. We decided to have it in the workshop because the weather is horrible!
Bring along your teddy, your family and some Pic-nic food to share and come for a chat. Everyone is welcome, ages 0-100!
If teddy has any ailments we’ll do free “consultations” and chat about possible treatments at the teddy hospital.
You don’t need a ticket for the pic-nic, feel free to just stop by. We can fit about 20 people in the studio on a first come first served basis.
Leith Toy Hospital
Click here to find out more about Leith Toy Hospital and the bear repair services we offer.
There are two ways we make puppets with movable hands, arm rods or hand pockets/ arm sleeves. Arm rods only move the arms, whereas arm sleeves allow for movable hands and fingers. Arm rods attach to the arms and you can use one or two at a time, with a bit of practice. With our arm sleeves, the hand comprises a glove which you can put your hand inside and work the fingers.
Puppets with living puppets style arm sleeves
If you’re looking for really good control of the puppet’s hands, try our living puppet style arm sleeves or hand pockets. They’re super easy to use because it’s just like moving your own hands. It makes the puppet really life like, and allows it to do all kinds of things like sign language, picking things up, playing musical instruments and more!
Custom Puppets with one movable hand/ arm sleeve
The puppet has one or two gloves for hands, so you can use one of your hands to operate the mouth and the other to work one hand. It’s great for gesticulating while talking and makes the puppet much more convincing. In the video above, the puppet has one movable hand and is being worked by one person.
Puppets with two movable hands
Alternatively, two people can operate the puppet together, one person can do the mouth and the other the hands. Below is an example of a custom puppet with two arm sleeves, operated by two people. This is great for sign language puppets!
Let us know if your hands are particularly big or particularly small when you place your order, we will make sure that the puppet arm sleeves fit your hands.
Pablo the puppet (above) also has blinking eyelids and movable eyebrows! You can find out more about these optional extras here, or hang on for next Monday, when I will talk in more detail about blinking eyes and how we do them.
Custom Built Hand and Rod Puppets
Arm rods easily attach and detach from you puppet’s arms using elastic bands. With a bit of practice, you can move one or both of your puppet’s arms while moving the mouth with your other hand.
Here you can see an example of one of our custom likeness puppets with an arm rod.
We had a tragic case come into Leith Toy Hospital recently, of a sweet little stuffed bunny who had been mauled by a dog. He was all full of holes, and his arms were nearly chewed off. He required urgent care to be put back together, and ended up with a dashing new suit into the bargain!
When Big Ted came into the Leith Toy Hospital he was in very sad shape. He’s been in the same family for three generations, since 1940! He was showing his age a bit, as he was missing his nose, mouth, and an eye, and looking slumped over and under-stuffed. The bottoms of his feet were coming apart and his stuffing was showing! His ears were worn through, and his old yellow cardi wasn’t doing him any favours either. Big Ted needed a full makeover!
Picture to Puppet’s Talking Puppets Make the Scene
At Picture to Puppet, we are always very proud when we build a puppet who goes on to do great things! I was somewhat loth to part with this lovely cuddly baboon puppet, but it is great to see that he is now a highly successful DJ, and he is the first of our talking puppets to have his own mixing deck!
We went to see him on Friday and it was great! We felt like embarrassing proud parents at the school Christmas play. We took lots of pictures and a video:
Along with his friend and fellow DJ Pete (AKA Wuh-Oh), Baboon loves experimenting with time signatures, dabbling in quirky chiptune, fusing jazzy rhythms or sampling whatever takes his fancy.
Thanks to Pete’s careful tuition, he has even become an accomplished pianist, a fantastic feat for a baboon. He plays synths and keys live on stage and, most importantly, he makes dance music that gets everyone at his gigs dancing, including himself. He’s even been on Radio Scotland!
As a follow up to last week’s post about puppets around the world, this week we’re going to take a brief look at the history of puppets in the Western world! From Ancient Greece to the Muppets, puppets have taken all sort of forms and entertained all levels of society. There have been famous puppets like Punch and Kermit, and many more whose names are lost to history. Picture to Puppet is part of a varied and illustrious heritage, as you will soon discover!
Some of the earliest surviving puppets come from Ancient Greece and Rome. These jointed clay figures were found in children’s tombs and appear to have been used as toys. Puppets were also used for public ceremonies. Herodotus described a festival of Dionysius (god of wine and debauchery) in 445 BC:
“The rest of the festival of Dionysius is ordered by the Egyptians much as it is by the Greeks, except for the dances; but in place of the phallus they have invented the use of puppets a cubit long [45.72 cm] moved by strings, which are carried about the villages by women, the male member [phallus] moving and near as big as the rest of the body.”
Ancient puppet shows were definitely entertaining!
The earliest known drawing of puppets in Europe is from 1170, in the Hortus Deliciarum (“The Garden of Delights”) by Harrad von Landsberg, in Strasbourg. The text accompanying it says, “In ludo monstrorum designatur vanitas vanitatum,” which roughly translates as, “Playing unnatural things indicates vanity of vanities.” So this is actually a depiction of puppetry as a frivolous and vain pursuit. I think I’ve found Picture to Puppet’s motto.
From references in artwork and writing, we know that puppets were used for amusement and telling religious stories around Europe in the Middle Ages, often being carried around by travelling entertainers. The 14th century “Romance of Alexander” has a margin illustration of a puppet booth.
300 Years of Punch
In 1662 diarist Samuel Peyps wrote about going to see a puppet show in Covent Garden featuring an Italian marionette character called “Pulchinello,” who would become known in England as “Punch.” This comic character proved to be an audience favourite, as Johnathan Swift observed almost seventy years later:
“Observe the Audience is in Pain
When Punch is hid behind the Scene,
But when they hear his rusty Voice
With what Impatience they rejoice.” A Dialogue Between Mad Mullinex and Timothy, 1728
In the 18th century, puppet shows were fashionable entertainment. They featured elaborate sets and commentary on current events, with marionette or shadow-style puppets. However, in 1773, the opening night audience at the ‘Primitive Puppet Show’ The Handsome Housemaid rioted because Punch did not appear as a character.
By the 19th century, low-budget travelling shows were once again the most common form of puppet entertainment. They became particularly popular at the seaside resorts that started to flourish in the late Victorian era. Punch and Judy shows had become iconic by this point, as depicted this 1887 engraving, and continue to entertain holiday-makers to this day.
The 20th century saw efforts to revive and further develop puppetry traditions. The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild (which Picture to Puppet belongs to!) was founded in 1925. The London Marionette Theatre was the first to broadcast puppet productions on television, in 1933.
Puppets have been an important part of children’s television shows ever since. The most famous example has to be the Muppets, created by Jim and Jane Henson in 1955. The Muppets appeared on the American children’s TV show Sesame Street in 1969, and had their own show in the 1970s. There have been a number of Muppet feature films , and Jim Henson also directed and created puppets for cult classic Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.
My childhood crush on Jim in Muppet Treasure Island may explain why I now work in a puppet studio…
21st century and beyond
The Muppet characters have now become celebrities in their own right. Kermit, the original Muppet, has achieved what is perhaps the 21st century’s highest honour by appearing in multiple memes!
And today, Picture to Puppet is creating puppets for the modern world! We make likenesses of people and animals, celebrities and pets. Our puppets are used for teaching, entertainment, and political commentary. We have yet to make a giant phallus, but you never know. It’s all part of the great and illustrious history of puppets!
Contact us with a photo, drawing, or idea, and we can make your puppet dreams come true!
Puppets are used for storytelling and entertainment all over the world. Every country has its own traditions, and puppets hold are significant role in the heritage of many different places. Here is just a short introduction to some famous types of puppets around the world…
Traditional marionette puppets are connected to the Commedia dell’arte tradition. They originated as a way to tell religious stories, but eventually the shows became too comedic and ribald and were banned by the church! In the 18th century, marionettes were popular with the aristocracy, and sets and puppet mechanics became increasingly detailed. Italian marionettes have influenced the development of puppetry traditions around Europe.
Kathputli are marionettes from Rajasthan, carved from wood and elaborately dressed and painted. They were developed by villages in the region for travelling shows, and eventually received royal patronage, which helped preserve the art form to the present day. The shows provide entertainment, but also the opportunity to discuss social concerns such as poverty and education.
Wayang puppets are used to act out stories, often Hindu religious epics. They can be flat cutouts or three-dimensional figures with joints, and are held up and moved with rods. The puppet master, called the dalang, is revered as a storyteller, philosopher, and spiritual guide. The puppeteer can operate several puppets at a time with the help of the ‘banana log’, a long piece of wood with holes that can hold up the puppet rods!
Mua Roi Nuoc are puppets operated in water, traditionally a flooded rice field! The puppets are made with fig wood that is dried and lacquered to be waterproof. They are moved with rods by puppeteers hidden behind a screen, giving the illusion of the puppet moving by itself on the water. Puppetry skills were traditionally passed down through families, and their techniques are still a closely guarded secret.
Bunraku developed in the 17th century in Osaka, and involves highly detailed puppets. The puppets are 2/3 scale figures with elaborately mechanised features, including moving eyes, mouth, and eyebrows. Each puppet requires three people to operate it! The puppeteers are visible on stage, but wear black in order to blend in to the background.
The Bread and Puppet Theatre Company, based in Vermont, creates large puppets that are part of performances focused on social activism. The puppets can be 20 feet tall and carried by multiple people. They are characterised by detailed, expressive faces, and abstract cloth bodies. The theatre company is dedicated to the principles of making art accessible, relying on many volunteers, and advocating for social justice and the environment.
Picture to Puppet is a world-famous puppet making business! We mostly make glove and hand puppets, but we’ve been inspired to try new styles by learning more about all the diversity of puppets around the world. We’re proud to be part of the incredible worldwide tradition of puppet making! Take a look at some of our puppets with the links below:
Picture to Puppet will try to meet whatever your puppet needs are, with custom puppets made to order.
We offer a variety of mechanisms to make your puppet come to life.
Leith Toy Hospital, located in Picture to Puppet’s studio on Constitution Street, is proud to serve any soft toys that are feeling poorly, or in need of patching up. Many places specialise in one type of toy, such as a doll hospital or teddy bear hospital. We open our doors to everyone. Whatever type of soft toy repair you might need, we will do our best to make it as good as new!
Teddy bear repair
Many of our patients are teddy bears who are well-loved and in need of repairs. These can range from stitching up a seam that has come open, to making a completely new skin!
This teddy bear came in needing some new stuffing and freshening up. He was sent home feeling much better, with a prescription for lots of hugs to complete the cure!
It’s hard to tell, but this teddy had a completely new pair of dungarees and cap made. We carefully stitched on over the originals, which were getting too fragile. We’re very careful to retain the original materials wherever possible, making only the changes needed to complete the teddy bear restoration.
Patients who come into the toy hospital will always go home with their expression and character unchanged. They’ll just be mended and looking at their best!
Soft toy repair
All sorts of soft toys come into Leith Toy Hospital for repairs. We’ve fixed up all sorts of creatures, from bunnies and bears to pokemon and unicorns.
This bunny needed a new nose and stuffing. Doesn’t he look much better, with a new ribbon bow as a finishing touch?
If you have a favourite soft toy in need of some repairs, let us know! You can send an email with a picture and we’ll give you a diagnosis, or just stop by the studio. We can often do simple repairs while you wait, so your child doesn’t even have to spend a night without teddy.
Get in touch to find out what we can do to give your toy a new lease on life.
Find out more about toy hospital pricing and previous jobs here.