Shadow Puppets and Sketchbooks

So, UAB offers a series of pop up studios every semester or so and anyone in the community is welcome to attend. (And they’re free!)  I hadn’t heard of them before, but I signed up for two, which I attended last week.

Monday evening was a shadow puppetry workshop. I was aware of shadow puppets mainly 20160418_163934via Mary Robinette Kowal’s amazing book trailer for Shades of Milk and Honey. The instructors were fantastic–very enthusiastic, and very informative. They laid out a few basics, showed us a few ways to articulate joints, and then let us have at it. It was a two hour workshop, but I could easily have kept playing for longer. The stage is easily made at home with a cardboard box, wax paper or vellum, masking tape, and a light source.

20160418_184728I made a bird out of cardboard, lace, wire,  and brads. I’d articulate the wings differently next time, but as the instructor pointed out, the best way to learn these is by diving in and making a puppet, coming up with solutions as you go. (Much like writing, in fact.) The bird is not much to look at in the light, but I was very pleased with how it looked against the stage. I was also charmed by the trees–they’re just sprays of baby’s breath taped to the hills. One of the other participants made a dog and covered it with frayed burlap, which made very convincing fur when backlit. Part of the fin was thinking about how the light would affect the shapes, in addition to problem solving the articulation. This is something I’m looking forward to playing with some more.

The second workshop was about sketchbook prompts. I wasn’t sure what to expect from 20160425_111132 (1)this–maybe a lifedrawing session–but it turned out to be more conceptual: ways to generate ideas and explore shape and color. To loosen up, we started out by drawing a series of pencil frames and tracing rubber bands dropped randomly in them, then repeating the exercise with our non-dominant hand. You could do this with shadows from plants, a tangle of yarn, coins, anything. I like starting with the frames, too. You’re not worrying about the whole page, just this one little thumbnail.

20160425_111143Then all the participants generated a list of prompts with the theme “first”: first breath, first word, first friend, first loss, first love, etc., and then with thick markers and as quickly as possible generated a series of non-representational symbols for those words. I found that I started building some of the symbols as a narrative of sorts. I made a symbol for step and a symbol for friend, and then used both of them together as the symbol for pet (because my dog is my walking friend.)

We also got glue, brushes, and torn up magazine pages, which we then used to make 20160425_111157thumbnail collages (top row). We then did contour drawings of the collages, then used watercolors to paint them. With more time, you could keep going on iterations: a black and white drawing of the painting, zooming in on one corner and then drawing or painting that, using a copier to blow up a thumbnail and paint it on a larger scale, using it as the basis for a color print–different ways of iterating the artwork until it no longer much resembles the starting point.  The final exercise was another iteration: a mind map from the starting point of M&Ms (the instructor gave us each a pack for inspiration and snacking.) The idea was to take whatever was the oddest point you got to from the starting point of M&Ms and then use that as a starting point for another mind map. This is a way of easing your brain into topics you might want to paint (or write) about–starting with something inconsequential and finding something meaningful and interesting to you by sneaking up on it sideways.

Both of these sessions were great, and I’ll keep an eye out for future ones. It’s great to step outside of routine and try something different, and these gave me plenty to think about in addition to just being fun.

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