Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Pro" and con

Did you read Glen Rappold's response on Newsy Vents to the definition of a "pro" vent figure? Ouch! Out of respect, I don't want to create a debate on Clinton Detweiler's fine blog, but I'd like to respond here.

Glen correctly states that the professional standard for years has been 38-42" for vent figures. He also writes that "pro" figures CAN be smaller. But he goes on to say that if vent figures are built from toy figures (like my Charlies), they are only "semi-pro". He infers that these figures are not "original" or "one-of-a-kind". I beg to differ.

Glen does beautiful work using Mike Brose casts. I especially like his paint jobs and I have told him so. But I can more easily recognize Mike's casting than most folks could recognize Charlie McCarthy from my finished figures. In fact, each new figure I have created is a further departure from Charlie McCarthy than the last. I use the Charlie McCarthy dolls as armatures. Using MagicSculpt, I create a completely new face for each figure. Even the one I'm currently working on will end up different, even though I am actually trying to copy a character I previously sculpted. Why? Because I wanted to see if I could.

Regarding disclosure, I admit that I don't disclose in my Ebay copy that the figures are made from old Charlie McCarthys. Why? Because of the very derision cast upon such figures by other builders. If anyone asks, I'll certainly "disclose". But my figures (in my opinion) are as professional as any created by Glen Rappold or any other figuremaker. There are figuremakers who make better dummies than me, but I am not threatened by builders I admire. (And Glen is certainly one of those builders).

I offer a "Certificate of Authenticity" because I hope to establish a good reputation for my work, and because I hope that someday that certificate will be of more value than it is today. I also issue the certificate because my efforts (whether judged good, mediocre or bad) are an attempt at being artful. And third, I issue a certificate because it's FUN!

Just because one figurebuilder resculpts a Mike Brose casting and another chooses to resculpt a Charlie McCarthy does not make one result "pro" and the other a lesser product. My figures require untold hours of effort (I make about 10 cents an hour) and I do not have a crisis of conscience over the modest prices people pay for my handiwork.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

To PVC or not to PVC...

I came across a diagram for arms and legs made of PVC pipe connected by clevis and cotter pins. It looked intrguing, so I posed the question on ventfigures Yahoo Group. Alan Semok responded that he thought the approach sounded clunky. Not being conversant in PVC pipe, I went to the local hardware store and stared at it for awhile. I lifted it up, shook it, peered down the middle of it, and in the end decided not to decide. I also searched out clevis and cotter pins to poke at those, too. I definitely didn't like them. I did find some cool brass connectors that I thought would work (and look) much better.

I am investigating ways to build my own vent figures from scratch... that is... without using Charlies. And I'd like to fabricate as many of the parts as possible. I want to continue buying the Braylu bodies, control posts and the Mike Brose eyes. But I'd really love building my own limbs and heads. I don't, however, want to build molds. I like sculpting each figure in MagicSculpt. I'm in no rush to change, but I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for ideas.

Got any?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Going... going... wait a minute... GONE?

Charlie 5 (aka "Dexter") is completed. I usually post the photos and a "coming out" announcement with a link to Ebay. This time however, he was on the Ebay auction block for only an hour and he was bought by a guy in Chicago with a "Buy It Now". I form an attachment to the figures as I build them, and the 7-day auction usually gives me a chance to emotionally let go. Not this time.

At least you get an opportunity to view the little dude before he is shipped off to his mentor. Within a month or so, I hope to have Charlies 6 and 7 ready for their new homes.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The answer

Not surprisingly, Mike Brose recommends buying smaller eyes. Tearing into one of his beauties could risk a lousy outcome. The nice thing about Mike's eyes is that the holes above and on the back are pre-drilled and with precision. I don't have the precision power tools to duplicate that. So, I'll think about it. Charlie 7 doesn't have the same problem, so I'll proceed with him while I ruiminate about Charlie 6.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Eye yi yi

There's a famous phrase when building anything. "Think Ahead". Well, coincidentally, it's a "head" that I didn't think about. You see, I ordered my standard eyes from Mike Brose of Puppets & Props. (He makes gorgeous eyes). The face I've sculpted onto Charlie 6 has the eyes too close together. In other words, there isn't enough room inside the head for the eyes to sit side by side. I'd prefer not to re-sculpt the eye sockets because I really like the look of this little guy.

I have written Mike Brose an email suggesting that I shave off some eyeball so that the eyes CAN sit side by side. I've asked for his advice on this, including the wisdom of using a Dremel for the "shaving".

He's probably horrified at the prospect that I would take a power tool to his beautiful creations. We'll see what he says.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

No pants

I really like the new 2T bodies from Braylu Creations. It's easier to find clothes that fit. The interior of the bodies provide more room for the hand. They're built well, too. As you can see, I need to buy some black slacks to complete the wardrobe.

Friday, December 15, 2006

On the Braylu site

Buzz James of Braylu Creations was kind enough to post photos of my completed vent figures on his site at I use Braylu bodies and posts to build my retro-fitted Charlies. If you ever decide you'd like to tackle building your own figure, Braylu Creations is a website you'll enjoy browsing.

Thanks, Buzz!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The guys

I just got back from doing a variety show benefit for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). I don't perform that often, but every now and then a friend will talk me into it. As I've mentioned before, I perform with a little grey stuffed dog named Chester. He's cute and has a bright red nose (Chester, The Red-Nosed Canine). Yeah, we sang a song with slightly altered lyrics. It turned out to be a great crowd pleaser.

As you can see, I have three guys currently under construction. The one on the left has all of the mechanics installed with cords connected. Next comes mounting on the post. The other two fellas are having facelifts. The one in the middle will be similar to "Ferd The Nerd", which just sold on Ebay. The character on the right is inspired by a Ray Guyll design I saw on Ebay.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Size doesn't matter

Clinton Detweiler solicited opinions as to what constitutes a "professional" vent figure. This was in response to an inquiry from someone who was looking to buy one, possibly on Ebay. Clinton posted a reply from Dale Brown, which I thought was far more insightful than my reply. I suggest clicking the Newsy Vents link on the left to read it. However, I thought I'd post my response here.

"I think a Professional Vent Figure typically will have a moving mouth, ball and socket head in a hollow body and often moving eyes. This can include dummies made from kits and professional figures made from toy figures. While 40-inch figures are more typical of "professional" figures, size is actually irrevelvant since dummies of various sizes can and do have professional attributes and may even have additional animations. In essence, a professional figure is one designed for character development and live performance."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ferd the nerd

Charlie4 (aka Ferd the Nerd) is now available for sale on Ebay. Here are some photos of the little guy.

Charlie5 has gone under the knife again (actually a Dremel grinder... ouch!). I think I finally have the face the way I want. He, too, will have moving eyes, raising eyebrows, and eye lashes.

I've started Charlie6. The facial sculpting has just begun. I wonder who will emerge?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Childhood Dreams

I sent this to Clinton Detweiler who writes the blog "Newsy Vents". He was kind enough to post it on his blog. I thought I'd share it with you, too.

"My love of puppets and ventriloquism began when I was just 5 years old. My first puppets were marionettes. But very quickly I became fascinated with Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney. On my 6th birthday, my parents gave me a 24" Jerry Mahoney and Paul Winchell's book "Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit". Within weeks, I was performing for kids at school assemblies. Within a few years I was given a Jerry Mahoney with the ball and socket neck, and then a rare Jerry Mahoney with moving eyes. (Boy... do I wish I had that Jerry today!)

In my mid-20's, I partnered up with actor-magician Harry Anderson in a street act in San Francisco. We used ventriloquism to collect money from the crowds. After Harry performed a superb 30-minute magic show (I did the music), Harry would pretend to hypnotize me. I would pretend to fall into a deep, bug-eyed comedic trance. Then I would start to sing a childrens song without moving a muscle. Instead of the crowd moving away from us when it came time to collect our "donations", they would be compelled to move in closer. Harry would stand next to me as I sang and collect the dollars, 5's, 10's and 20's they would drop into our church plate. Without a doubt, we were the best paid street act in San Francisco in the mid-70's.
Today, I perform with Chester, a small soft dog hand puppet. And like Clinton, I build hard vent figures. In fact, I've learned a great deal about the art of ventriloquism and the construction of vent figures from reading the Newsy Vents blog.

Ventriloquism has enriched my life and to see it continue as a practiced and cherished art form in this age of technology is truly a blessing."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Close to home

I'm circling third and about to slide into home with Charlie4. I need to touch up his face paint detailing (after a critique from my artist-wife). I also want to make a few adjustments to his wig.

Charlie5's face has been re-sculpted. This will be the first time I've altered the jaw to accomodate large upper front teeth. I had to cut the opening below the jaw so the mouth would open wider. I also added some MagicSculp to the lower corners of the jaw opening to lessesn the distance between the neck and jaw. It worked pretty well.

Soon Charlie4 will be on Ebay and Charlie5 will be nearing third base. Meanwhile, Charlies 6,7,8,9 and 10 are all in the dugout and ready to change identities.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Constant innovation (frustration)

Charlie5 is requiring some different approaches to mounting the eyes. While the dual platform approach worked well with Charlie4, I may have to go to brass rods for axle posts secured to the upper head (above the eyeball) and lower platform (below the eyeball). It's because the altered jaw interferes with the screw and nut axles. All this is very clear and interesting, I'm sure. Suffice to say that I work through my innovations (read "frustrations") by blogging. That's why I usually include pictures as often as possible... to make it a little less boring for the reader. (Sorry. No pictures this time)

Sunday, November 19, 2006


No. They're clones. But they won't be for long. I can't seem to stop the madness!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

If I had hair, I'd be in curlers

Charlie4 is nearing completion. His mechanics are installed, springs and all. Today I molded his eyebrows onto the brass armiitures. Instead of using fleece material, I decided to go with hard eyebrows molded with MagicSculp. I used a sheet of wax paper to keep the MagicSculp from sticking to the forehead.

I also intend to use a hair wig rather than a fleece wig. I personally like the curly fleece wigs, but I think the buying public prefers the hair. And I'm making Charlie4 for a ventriloquist somewhere in the world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Veddy, veddy interesting

Today I received the Charlie vent figure I bought on Ebay that was rebuilt into a pro-style dummy. I believe it was constructed by a regular Ebay seller, though I did not purchase it from the builder. I was anxious to see the product to compare Charlies.

I learned a few interesting tricks from examining the dummy. His eyes are not round eyeballs, but rather cylinders with painted-on irises. The spring connections on the jaw are in different places than mine. One end of the spring is attached to the lower jaw connection and the other to the interior base of the neck. Also, I saw how the wig was cut to fit. All helpful observations.

The body is larger than the Braylu models I've been using. However, I think the new ones I'll be ordering from Braylu will be larger. I'll measure this dummy and send the measurements to Braylu.

It's great to see someone else's work.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Making vent figures can be a grind

While I am quite pleased with the face of Charlie4 (pictured below), Charlie5 still looks weird. So tonight I am pulling out the rotary tool grinder and remaking his upper lip. No pictures, but believe me, he needs it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A goofy guy

Here's a look at Charlie4. I just installed the eyes. You also may notice he has eyelashes. This is the first guy of mine to have 'em.

Charlie5 just underwent an entire face remodeling. My initial face design turned out rather odd. The new one is better. You'll get a look soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Here I go again

Over the weekend, I bought three more old Charlies on Ebay. My discussions with Buzz James at Braylu about production of a slightly larger body reinvigorated my vent-building momentum.

I also purchased a used pro-Charlie built by a fellow who also re-builds Charlies and sells them on Ebay. I'm excited about that because I'm curious about his methods. I hope to learn a new trick or two, especially about mechanics. This builder doesn't alter the Charlie faces very much. But he installs moving eyes and repaints the faces. He also does raising eyebrows, but I don't believe the one I bought has them.

Meanwhile, I'm in the head-painting phase of the two Charlies in production. As soon as that's done, installation of mechanics begins.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another discovery

Getting the eyes mounted correctly and evenly has been a real challenge. I've taken great pains (with the emphasis on "pain") to get the eyes well-seated. Today, I discovered an excellent and easy solution.

I cut small individul platforms for each eye. Then, I place a second platform spanning the width of the head interior. I mount it on the plastic upper interior portion of Charlie's original mouth area. Then I place each individual eye platform (with eye attached) on the lower full-span platform. The eyes seat beautifully and evenly. What a cool deal!


I've successfully built brass levers in the Braylu-manufactured posts. It wasn't too difficult. My only concern is control placement. But gouging the slots, cutting the brass and drilling the appropriate holes was easy. I just need to do a little clean-up sanding and they'll be ready to go.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Showing my metal

With Charlies 4 and 5, I want to replace the wood dowel levers with brass. Last night, I successfully gouged a slot for a brass lever in the Braylu post without ruining it. The slot was a touch wide, but I think I can remedy that with a little MagicSculp. I also fashioned a brass lever, though I think it may be a little too long. I'm nervous about shortening it because I'm concerned that the radius of the lever might not be wide enough to pull down the jaw. I think I'm fretting over nothing, so I'll probably shorten it by a quarter-inch or so. I used a very short length of brass rod as an axle for the lever. Worked pretty well. I think the brass levers look much more elegant than the wood dowel levers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I have been in discussion with the fine folks at Braylu about a custom-designed body for my Charlie projects. The Body30B, which I currently use, is a little small inside for folks with large hands. Buzz at Braylu told me that he could design and produce a body that has more depth and that might better fit 2T clothing.

Understandably, I'd have to purchase 5 or more at a time to make it a worthwhile project for him. But as I told Buzz, that means I'd have to make 5 more! Oh my gawd!

I am so impressed with the Ventriloquism community. The suppliers and builders with whom I have communicated have all been so helpful and supportive.

Oh yeah... and I got my first Ebay bid for "Poindexter"!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Charlie4's eye socket

A new discovery

I tend to obsess about the mechanics, but my most recent discovery is in facial scuplture. I figured out a way to make really cool eye sockets. The Mike Brose-produced eyes fit beautifully and the shape of the eye sockets are much improved.

I cut out a much larger area in the upper portion of the eye socket. I use a ping pong ball as a stand-in for the real eye. Then I fill the upper portion of the eye socket inside the head with MagicSculp to envelope the upper portion of the ping pong ball for a snug fit. Then I push some of the MagicSculp forward through the eye socket to form an eyelid. The result is a perfect fit for the eye and a very cool-looking eye socket. (Photos to come).

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Then there were 2

Charlies 4 and 5 are moving forward. I especially like the way Charlie 5 (on the left) is developing. His face makes me laugh. I seem to be moving faster with these two.

One thing I'm thinking about (which is sure to get me into trouble) is figuring out cordless mechanics. There are a couple of approaches in The Fred Project for eye movement. I think there's a method outlined for the mouth in Mike Brose's book "Figure Making Can Be Fun". I haven't come across a cordless eyebrow method, so I'll have to think about that a little more. The thing is, I don't want to get into soldering, so cords may, in the end, be the path I take. However, I am going to at least move to brass levers rather than the wood dowels I have been using.

No Ebay bids on "Poindexter" yet (previously known as Charlie3). I put a $199 starting bid on him. I have 11 Watchers so far. We'll see what price the little feller fetches.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dummy for sale

At last, the little guy is finished. I learned a lot with this project. However Charlie 4 and 5 will present new challenges, I'm sure.

I've listed "Poindexter" on Ebay. There are more photos of him there, so take a look if you get a moment. One thing is for sure, this fella got a lot of attention along the way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Signed and sealed

But not yet delivered.

I have sealed Charlie3's head and tonight the wig goes on. The head and post inserts easily into the body. His controls all work, though I am always at a slight disadvantage when testing them. You see, I am a lefty and I make the controls for a righty. Due to a birth defect, my right index finger does not extend, so I can never smoothly manipulate the controls myself. But I set them up the same way I see them positioned on Maher (Detweiler) vent figures, so I trust my buyer will be comfortable with them.

Next comes detail face painting (shading, etc). Then he'll be listed on Ebay.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I'm better now...

So sorry for the hissy fit, but I screwed things up pretty good on Charlie3. After quiet contemplation, I finally figured out my mistake was not fatal. Here's what happened.

I had all of the mechanics with string connections done. I attempted to put the head on the body when I discovered two things. First of all, the controls on the post made it almost impossible to get the post through the hole in the shoulders. I finally got them through, but what a hassle! After I managed to get the head on the shoulders, I discovered that the mouth and eyebrow cords were getting caught up in the hole when I moved the head around. I had drilled the holes too far from the post. The reason that was a big bummer was that it would be impossible to re-tie the cord to the jaw piece because access was impossible. Oh, I was pissed off!

As I said, I finally figured out what to do. I took a saw and cut the post/lower neck away from the rest of the neck. I had to cut all the cords from all of the mechanics, drill new holes (in the proper place), fill the old holes, and do some paint touch-up. I will have to re-tie the cords (now easily accessible), and re-mount the head on the post. More apoxie and paint... and I'm back to where I was before I screwed everything up.

I'll also put the eyebrow lever on the same side of the post as the eye/jaw levers so that insertion through the shoulder hole will be easy.

Meanwhile, here's a first look at Charlie4. The most enjoyable part of building vent figures is creating a unique new face. By the way, I have switched from ApoxieSculp to MagicSculp. The latter is easier to smooth and sand.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

There are days....

I don't want to get into the gory details, but there are days when I wish I'd never started this vent-building. I'm sure I'll get over it, but right now I'm rather discouraged.

I'm beginning to think my sanity would be better preserved if I used Mike Brose's professional heads rather than retro-fitting Charlies. There are so many little complications that require solutions.

I seem to solve the issues, but there are days...

Sunday, October 15, 2006


The eyebrow mechanics have been built successfully. I cleaned up all of the string knots, drilled the holes for the levers, and glued the head to the post. I still have some tweaking to do, but everything works.

Next comes some ApoxieSculp to seal the head to the post. I'll hook the strings to the levers. Then comes the final detailing... eyebrow covers, wig, eyelashes, and facial shading.

The cool thing about this fella (as with his predecessors), I have learned several new tricks.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The eyes have it... the eyebrows... almost

I have made self-centering eyes. My method worked! Near the very back of the head, I attached a brass crossbar with a loop in the middle to attach a centering spring, which is attached to the center of the synchro-bar on the other end. Works!

The eyebrows, however, still have a ways to go. The mechanism is sound, but the string organization isn't quite figured out. Instead of using pulleys above the brow/spring connections, I just installed a brass bar. The smooth surface of the brass bar seems fluid enough for the strings to pass smoothly as they lift the brows. But I still must figure out the best way to connect the two brow strings to a single string, and then avoid all of the other mechanisms as it passes down the neck. I think I can do it, but I need a little more head-scratching. (My head... not the dummy's).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So why am I bending the rod AFTER I insert the rod?

Okay. Here's why. On the inside if the head, the brass rod comes through the tube and turns a 90-degree angle. At the end of the rod (inside the head) the rod is pre-bent into a tight little curl so that a spring can be attached. After the curl is there, obviously the rod won't go through the brass tube. Only the eyebrow-end of the brass rod can go through the tube... but not if it's bent, too. So I have to insert the straight portion of the eyebrow rod through the tube and THEN bend it to conform to the forehead (without busting the tube). That's the part that failed the first time with the little plastic tube. My hope is that the long brass tube will survive the bending.

By the way, I still haven't decided whether to attach soft fabric or a hard sculpted eyebrow to the eyebrow rods. That could be another story (disaster?) in the making.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Okay... how 'bout this?

After my failed attempt to build raising eyebrows, I have another idea.

In my first try, I ApoxieSculped a 1/4"-long plastic tube into the forehead. But when I inserted the brass rod and tried to bend it around the forehead to form the eyebrow, the small plastic tube broke away.

This time I cut a 1-3/4inch brass tube and ApoxieSculped the crap out of it through the front hole and into the head. I hope when I insert the rod into the tube next time, I can bend the brass rod against the forehead without breaking the brass tube away from the inside of the head. With all of the ApoxieSculp I used, it should hold.

I also have a strategy to keep the mechanics and strings from interfering with the eye and jaw mechanics. We'll see!

I've also started Charlie4 and 5. Charlie4 will have a new twist. I have cut out the top of the jaw piece so that bigger upper front teeth won't prevent the mouth from closing. I've also had to file away about 1/8-inch away from the opening in the neck where the bottom of the jaw clears. In this way, the mouth will open wider. But I'll have to add about 1/8-inch to the bottom of the jaw so it will seal the neck opening when the jaw is closed.

Following ANY of this?

I think this vent-building is becoming obsessive. I now haunt fabric stores and prowl toddler clothing sections at Goodwill. I'm sure the clerks wonder about me. Heck... I wonder about me!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stuck again

He's got eyes that move and are ready to be self-centered. But the moving eyebrows have me stumped. I think I just need to re-think the mechanics. I'm almost there, but not quite. In any case, here's the latest look. Also, I added batting to his body and shoulders. It thickens him up a bit.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Holes in the (fore)head

Now I'm committed. I've drilled holes on the forehead for raising eyebrows. I bought some cool little hard plastic spacers to insert in the holes. The spacers are actually tiny tubes. I also used them in the far left and right sides of the jaw mounts inside the head. The axle rests inside the spacers.

I also bought some 3/32" brass rods from Hobbytown USA. I'll use them for the eyebrows and mechanics. Looks like there will be room inside the head for all the works. Very exciting!

Monday, October 02, 2006

A look at my progress

The jaw has been apoxied in place. The axle is made of brass. It rotates on a brass tube apoxied inside the jaw. Now I'm studying the raising eyebrow mechanics. My biggest concern is that there won't be enough room inside the head. I'm considering a set up that's a combination of Mike Brose's approach and that of Al Stevens.

First, I've got to find some 3/32 brass rods. My local hardware store is out of stock and I'm not sure they care. I may have to order online.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


I just bought an old Goldberger Danny O'Day on Ebay. I've only worked with Charlie McCarthys, but I've always wanted to rework a Danny O'Day. I'll get my chance soon.

I've started prep work on Charlies 4 and 5. Charlie3 is nearing completion of the initial face-painting phase. His eyes have been outlined, his upper and lower lips and teeth have been painted, and his flesh-tone paint job is completed. Next step is mechanics installation.

I'm studying the eyebrow animation instructions in Mike Brose's "Figure Making Can Be Fun" book. I don't have the concept down yet, but I'm getting closer. I really want to add that to Charlie3. Keep ya posted!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The body

I continue to make slight improvements on my vent figures. Inspired by Clinton Detweiler's methods, I've added fleece lining to the inside of the body cavity. I think this will make the hand more comfortable as it moves and manipulates the little fella's controls.

I use wood torsos by Braylu. The 30-inch variety has no dowels or semi-hard covering on the chest portion of the torso. So I use a sheet of white styrene plastic secured with staples to cover the chest area. This seems to work pretty well.

I'm also creating more templates. While each character is very different, there are still common techniques and measurements. I'm getting a little smarter about this vent-building.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The work resumes

Now that I'm home, I've resumed work on Charlie3. I sanded down some laugh lines, smoothed a few bumps and tried something new. I molded eyelids in the eye sockets. I plan to add eye lashes.

I also went shopping for supplies. I needed more disposable latex gloves, some bolts, nuts, washers and miscellaneous doodads. I'm going to definitely make Charlie3's eyes self-centering. I am also still considering tackling moving eyebrows, too.

While in France, we visited the Montmartre rag district. I bought a half-meter of reddish brown fake fur which I plan to use as wig material.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Burglary

Joyce and I went to dinner the evening of Day 6. We had decided to go to the cafe at the corner for the second night in a row. As we were sitting there at dinner, I saw a rat run across the floor a few tables behind us. It must have been an omen. Because there was a rat in our room at the same moment burglarizing our stuff. We lost the laptop computer with which I was blogging and emailing my travelogue home. The thief also took our digital camera that already had over 300 Paris photos. The only pictures we have are the ones on this blog and a few others that were emailed to friends and family. The burglar also swiped a bag of souvenirs we'd purchased for friends, family and work colleagues.

My first reaction to the robbery was "I wanna go home... now!" But we were booked the next day to travel on the TGV, France's bullet train. Our destination was La Tortiniere, a small chateau hotel in the Loire Valley. It's right out of a fairytale. It overlooks the most amazing vista of hayfields, a lovely French village with an ancient church. We reserved a room for the night.

We arrived early that day and took a walk on the wooded estate. The ground was covered in wild hyacinth. We had wine on the terrace overlooking the valley. They serve a sumptious 5-course gourmet dinner in their dining room. The next morning they bring you breakfast in bed. It was truly a four-star experience. By the time we left to go back to Paris, we were back in the spirit of the vacation.

We're home now. We saw more Paris sights including museums, churches and Versailles. We walked a lot! It was an amazing trip with a little bit of everything. It's good to be home, but Paris was truly wonderful. The photos of La Tortinere are from their website. I'm sure they won't mind me sharing them with you.

Paris-Day 7

Well, just when we were feeling so comfortable... we were robbed. That's why no blogging 'til now. My laptop computer was stolen from our hotel room. More later.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Paris-Day 6

The Luxembourg Palace was the highpoint of the day. The palace dining room was certainly ornate. Makes ya want ta invite a few folks over for supper. Currently it houses the French Senate. The President of France apparantly lives there, too. Perhaps he wasn't home because he didn't answer the door.

We also shopped for souvenirs and crossed a few names off the list. We stopped for a hot dog French style. Basically it's two weiners in a giant baguette smothered in melted cheese (good cheese-good weiner). That with an Orangina and you got one happy tourist (actually two... my wife had one, too).

Oh yeah... and we thwarted a pickpocket on the Metro. He tried to "help" Joyce with a malfunctioning Metro gate. However, I think he was actually keeping the gate from working. He came up behind Joyce and wrapped his arms around her as she tried to push through. I had already gone through a gate and I turned to see his hand reach into her purse. I yelled at him to get away and he backed off. Fortunately, Joyce's purse was well-zipped so he couldn't filch anything. Joyce made her way through the gate and the pickpocket took off down another passageway. Close call.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Paris-Day 5

While we try to speak French as often as possible, the French instantly know we are Americans, so they switch to English. It seems nearly everyone is bi-lingual. Communication is no problem. Also, the Parisians are polite, helpful and generally against all negative stereotypes. Like any big city, they are on the go, but quite cordial.

We have mastered the Metro and get around the city very easily. Except last night. We went on an elegant dinner cruise down the Seine. By the time dinner was over and the boat docked, it started to pour. Joyce and I walked briskly through the rain next to the Eiffel Tower. The 990-foot tower was lit up and the sky flashed with lightening and thunder. Quite an experience. By the time we made it to the Metro, we were soaked (and "likkered up" from the wine at dinner). A couple from Long Beach asked us for help with the Metro. Since they were headed our way, we suggested they tag along. Well, we got on the Metro going the wrong direction. Fortunately, the couple took our mistake in stride. (It's actually easy to get turned back around).

Today was Louvre day. We spent 7 hours touring, which was plenty. We didn't see more than we did see, but 7 hours satisfied our Louvre curiosity. Joyce and I split up, so we both got to see our favorites. We'd rendezvous (hey, that's French) every now and then to share. Among the highlights... the Mona Lisa, Venus De Milo, Egyptian mummies, Napoleon III's Louvre apartment, Greek and Roman statues and oh so much more.

Tomorrow is undecided. Maybe Versailles. Maybe shopping for souvenirs. Tune in tomorrow and see!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Paris-Day 4

We started the day with breakfast here at home. Baguette, cafe au lait, jam, cashews and more cafe au lait.

We decided to hit the train station and buy our TVG bullet train tickets to Tortiniere. It's a cooking school in a chateau tucked away in the Loire Valley. We visit on Sunday and will stay the night in one of their Hansel and Gretel cottages.

After buying tickets and figuring out how to get on the train, we toured Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church that I thought was even more impressive than Notre Dame. It's brand new by Paris standards. Sacre Coeur was built in 1870. Notre Dame was started in 1185.

After that, we walked the street of Montmarte, now lined with souvenir shops and huge fabric stores. I bought 1/2 meter of reddish fake fur to use as wigs on vent figures. (There. Something referring to ventriloquism).

Tonight we embark on a dinner cruise down the Seine. We leave from a port next to the Eiffel Tower, which should look breathtaking by night.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Day 3

Today I just couldn't get started. Joyce and I awoke at 3:30am. We couldn't get back to sleep, so she read Paris history aloud. I fell deeply back to sleep, but she never did. She woke me up at 8:30am. She'd already gone to the French bakery for pastry and a baguette for breakfast. By the way, the Parisians have this pastry thing down pat. We ate together, drank cafe au lait, but I just couldn't wake up all the way. So she decided to go to the Medieval Museum while I slept some more. She got back at 12:30pm, and I finally got up. We toured the French War Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. VERY impressive.

We're very adept and traveling on the Metro. But touring Paris still requires beaucoup walking and my feet are aware.

Now we're back at the apartment and she's asleep. And I'll probably be up 'til midnight.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day 2

Today we toured Musee d'Orsay. We saw lots of sculpture, which I enjoyed because I've been doing a little sculpting myself. Sort of. Y'know... vent figure facial features. (Okay... not the same thing).

We also saw many famous paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Carrierre, Monet, Pisarro and more I can't even name. The Musee d'Orsay is housed in a beautiful 19th century train station that was saved from demolition in 1973. It's a spectacular venue for art and sculpture. And people-watching is just as entertaining.

Lunch was in the elegant Musee d'Orsay restaurant. The ornate ceiling and chandeliers were magnificent.

The Eiffel Tower adventure has been postponed for a day or so. Maybe tomorrow.


Here I am standing in front of the Arc d'Triomphe. We've been in Paris for a day. So far, we've seen the Conciergerie, a medievil prison that hosted Marie Antoinette before they lopped off her head. We toured Notre Dame and the Deportation Monument.

Somehow we thought that we'd see someone we knew in Paris. And so we did. My cousin Bob and his wife Marcy leave Paris today, but we were able to hook up for dinner last night on the Champs d'Lysee. We had a great time. I hadn't seen Bob for nearly 20 years. We grew up together in the same town, so it was fun catching up with his side of the family.

Today, we scale the Eiffel Tower. (Actually, there's an elevator). We're going to the top and I'm scared of heights.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Paris tomorrow

Eugene to San Francisco... San Francisco to London... London to Paris. Sounds cool, huh? I'm just finishing up a few work chores here at the TV station. Then it's home for gathering up the stuff... then we drive to Eugene. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Tonight we'll stay with some good friends. My buddy Raye has a Rockabilly band called '56 Pontiac. They're playing tonight as part of a festival called The Eugene Celebration. So we'll be up late.

Tomorrow at 4:44pm we're off. Eugene to San Francisco... San Francisco to London... London to Paris.


Monday, September 04, 2006


The first coat of paint always reveals the flaws. Bumps, holes and odd sculpting choices become more apparent. In this case, my laugh lines look like "facial features from Alien"(to quote my wife). Okay, I admit that I have occasional difficulty translating two dimensional images to three dimensional sculptures. My sculpted laugh lines around the eyes do look wierd, but can be repaired with a little grinding, sanding and "re-interpretation".

Meanwhile packing for Paris continues. New guidelines for carry-on baggage size have derailed the plans a bit. If one flies out of London, carry-on baggage can't be larger than 17.5"x13.5"x6.5". Our last leg to Paris is a short flight from London, so that means very small carry-on. My wife (who packs more to spend an hour at a friend's house than most people pack to spend a week) will be severely tested.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Next week, Paris

My vent building may be delayed a couple of weeks beginning next Saturday. My wife and I are leaving for a two-week stay in Paris. it's my first time visiting Europe. My wife lived in France as a child, so it will be a return trip for her.

I plan to bring a laptop computer, so I will probably blog from my hotel room in the evenings.

Meanwhile, my Charlie3 project moves ahead. As is my pratice, I have substantially altered the Charlie McCarthy face. His nose will be larger and more upturned. The cheeks are fuller and dimpled. The chin will be elongated and the lower lip will be much fuller. I've also put laugh lines in the corners of the eye sockets. The eye sockets are more round and cartoonish. And his ears are big and floppy. I think he'll turn out well. I'm nearly to the painting stage.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sad to see him go

Progress continues on Charlie3 (pictured left), though some of the wind has been taken out of my sails. I sold Charlie2, but he sold for only $183. Not what I'd hoped. It's not so much the money. I've made back the hard costs and made a small profit (not counting labor... but hey, it's a hobby). It's just that I've taken a shine to the little guy and I hate to see him go for so little. The sentimental value has exceeded the monetary gain. I didn't expect that.

My consolation is that I could probably duplicate him. I have extensive photos. I may make a clone just for my own collection.

I'm trying to figure out what the market values most. I think he looked much cuter than many of the vent figures I see on Ebay that garner higher prices (although I may be deluded in thinking that). But he didn't have self-centering eyes and no other animations. Maybe that's the deal. In any case, I plan to make the eyes self-centering on Charlie3, and I may do raising eyebrows if I can figure out the mechanics and control issues.

I'm gonna miss the little fella.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Back to the beginning

Here's how it starts. Well, actually it starts with a winning bid on Ebay. But then the Charlie arrives and I start rippin' and tearin'. I've taken off the top of his head and sawed off the middle of his face. Yeah, that's a popsicle stick where the bridge of his nose used to be. Believe it or not, this is how I begin. Hopefully, the finish will be much more attractive than the photo you see here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I'm not sure you can tell the difference with the photos, but I successfully detailed the face of my Charlie2. Even my wife said I did a good job.

He's now for sale on Ebay . And I started work on Charlie3 today.


I shot these photos tonight of Jackie, my vent figure I crafted from Mike Brose cast parts. I used his Fred head, Bright Blue eyes and body. The legs, arms and hands came from Braylu. I followed Al Stevens' Fred Project and referred to Mike Brose's book "Figure Making Can Be Fun" for guidance and inspiration. I still refer to Mike's book as I design and build the Charlie projects.

Jackie's precocious personality is beginning to emerge.