How to Make a Life Size Puppet

Written by sylvia branch
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How to Make a Life Size Puppet
Life-size puppets are often seen in parades. (witches image by kds from Fotolia.com)

Life-size puppets make a big impact. Create any character your imagination can conjure up and then make it come to life. Puppets entertain and capture people's attention. Debut your creation at a child's party or a parade, or take it to cheer up patients in a hospital or nursing home. Life-size puppets can be made in an art class, and then have the artists put on a special show for the school. You can also make a sports mascot or a silly cheerleading team out of puppets to surprise the fans at a school sports event.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Brown bags, newspaper or other scrap paper
  • Masking tape
  • Pot
  • Cornstarch
  • Water
  • Fan
  • Acrylic paint
  • Gesso
  • Clear polyurethane
  • Brushes
  • Dowels
  • Scraps of wood
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Cloth or clothing
  • Old backpack
  • Cloth-backed adhesive tape
  • Gloves or mittens

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Sketch out possible designs for your life-size puppet. Determine the overall effect you are looking for, whether it is scary, funny, weird or lifelike.

  2. 2

    Cut out an oval piece of cardboard approximately 2 inches larger than the size of the finished puppet head. Make 1/2-inch cuts into the sides of the oval all the way around. These slashes should be every 1/2 inch. Make a cut three-fourths of the way to the centre of the oval on each side. These two marks should start three-fourths of the way down the sides and angle up to the centre of the oval.

  3. 3

    Pull the tabs back to round out the flat piece of cardboard. The angled cuts will help when pressing out the centre of the face. Wrap the whole piece with masking tape to hold it in place.

  4. 4

    Add facial features with crumbled newspaper or other paper scraps. If you want extra features, like antennas or large ears, cut them out of cardboard and flesh out with crumbled newspaper. Use generous amounts of masking tape to hold it in place.

  5. 5

    Make a cornstarch paste. Bring a gallon of water to boil on the stove. Reduce heat and mix in 2 cups of cornstarch. Mix until it is smooth and thick.

  6. 6

    Tear scraps of paper into 1-inch strips. Dip them into the cornstarch paste. Pull strips out one at a time and lay on your cardboard face. The strips can be pulled through two of your fingers in order to remove the excess paste.

    After applying a couple of layers, let it dry in front of a fan. Wait until it is completely dry before applying the next coat. You will need several layers of papier-mache to make a sturdy puppet head.

  7. 7

    Pull out the cardboard and paper structure once the face is completely dry. Carefully cut into the cardboard and tape, and start pulling out wads of newspaper. Some can be left if you think removing it will compromise the shape of the puppet head.

  8. 8

    Finish your puppet by applying paint. Start with three or four coats of gesso for a smooth finish. Lightly sand the gesso between coats, but do not sand the final layer of gesso. Apply acrylic paint and then spray with a clear polyurethane.

  9. 9

    Add supports to the back of the head. Place a piece of wood horizontally in the centre of the head. Place a small block of wood on either side and screw the crossbar in place. Screw a piece of wood to this crossbar that is approximately half of the finished height of the puppet. The top of this bar should hit the top of the puppet head. You can add another block of wood on the outside top, and attach a screw here as well for extra support.

  10. 10

    Take apart a used backpack with a frame. Attach the stick that holds the puppet head to the frame with a cloth-backed adhesive tape. Cover the frame with used clothing or cloth to make the body.

  11. 11

    Add stuffed gloves or mittens to the end of two dowels. The dowels will be held by the puppeteer and are not attached to the frame. Cover the dowel with appropriate clothing, such as sleeves cut from a sweatshirt, or a cloth.

Tips and warnings

  • Life-size puppets need to be light in order to be manipulated properly. Only add as much material as necessary when designing.
  • Papier-mache is messy, so cover your work area with plastic sheeting or newspaper.
  • There is a lot of down time in creating a life-size puppet, so choose an appropriate place to allow for the required drying time.

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