Sunday, December 26, 2010

String theory

Q: I was wondering if you sell or know where I can purchase the nylon string used for ventriloquist figures. I have a Maher Figure, he's nine years old and the eye-movement string is broken and others are worn. I can't find anything similar to the string in my area. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

A: I use Stringliner Pro Reloadable #18 Nylon Construction Line, 250’ (1/4lb. 155lb. test). I buy it at my neighborhood True Value hardware store. There may be one in your town, too. If not, it's available online at  I like it because it's strong and doesn't come unbraided when I'm handling it.

Hope that helps. Happy Holidays. - Kenny

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The good-bye look

These old boys are staring each other down for the last time. Mr. Winkle (left) is on his way to Australia to spread some cheer.  Mr. Fenster (right) will partner up with a youngster in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Fenster looks a little worried at mean old Mr. Winkle's scowl.  He's probably thinking "Good riddance".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sockets in the pocket

I covered the styrene plastic patch and lined the eye sockets all around with Magic-Sculpt.  Even though the left eye socket fit well, I used Magic-Sculpt to line the left eye socket so it matched the apperarance and size of the right socket. 

More to come later as I paint the head and fit the eyes with their springs and new prototype synchro bar (courtesy of Braylu Creations). 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New toy

I recently killed my Dremel.  Actually it was a Dremel knock-off made by Master Mechanic.  It lasted me 4 years and nearly 70 dummies, so I'm not complaining.  But to the point, I have a new toy called a Dremel Stylus.  It's great for doing clean-up work on new casts.  It allows me to be more precise than the larger pseudo-Dremel I exhausted.  I still need a larger Dremel (this time I'll buy a real one) for more heavy-duty grinding and such.  But I really like this new tool.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Patchin' it up

The hole I cut into the "Elmore" head now has a plastic patch.  I used clear Gorilla Super Glue.  I made sure it spanned the opening in a way that will leave ample room for the eye to fit and turn.  I'll devise a strategy to cover the patch with Magic-Sculpt so that there will be few seams (where the Magic-Sculpt attaches to the head).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Surgical precision

Considering the title of this post and the photo at right, I'm sure you're pleased I'm not a doctor... especially not your doctor. 

The "Elmore" head is being altered further to accept 1.5" eyes.  I have a spare pair of Mike Brose eyes that I plan to use for this feller.  The eye socket on the left was a perfect fit.  But the right eye socket needed more space to accommodate the larger eyeball.  I plan to install the eye tray and eyeballs, then close up the cut-up side of the head around the eyeball with Magic-Sculpt.

Like some mad scientist, I continue to experiment. (Cue the frightening cackle).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The real Santa?

I've made three Santa figures.  The first (on the left) was built last year.  The other two (middle and right) were made this year.  My goal was to make them as alike as I could.  They look very similar to me. 

But which one is the real Santa?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Takin' it to the streets

I've shown photos of young ventriloquist Kevin Barnett before.  Here's a new one of Kevin and his Kenny Croes figure "Kyle" working as street performers in Key West.  Kevin and his family were on a cruise stop in Key West, so Kevin must have decided to earn a few extra bucks while roaming the tourist mecca.

I'm particularly fond of this photo because I worked as a street performer for two years at Fisherman's Wharf in San Franscisco.  Street performing is fun and profitable.  It's an exciting performance experience to add to one's resume. 

I hope Kevin remembered to toss some loose change, a few dollar bills, a $5 bill and a Twenty in the hat before he started performing.  It's really important to "prime the pump"!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Fun with Mr. Fenster

This old timer will soon be trying to impress a ventriloquist.  He'll be on Ebay soon.  Need a goofy old guy to keep you company?

Friday, December 03, 2010


Clinton and Adelia Detweiler were very kind to include me among the recipients of this year's Maher Studios "A World of Thanks" Award. 

We are all in their debt for setting such good examples for us.  Their products, advice, and generosity of spirit are well-known.  To be given this acknowledgement from such respected and beloved practitioners of vent is an honor. 

Thank you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Altered states

My friend Buzz is always encouraging me to alter my cast heads to create new characters.  You know... make slight alterations by changing the shape of a nose, or making the cheeks bigger and rounder, or... making the eye sockets much bigger so they will accommodate 1.5-inch eyeballs instead of the smaller 1.25-inch eyeballs I typically use. 

So that's what I've done to the "Elmore" head in the photo. Who knows.  I may do something even more radical.  (Eeeeeasy, Kenny).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

make animated gif

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saint Nick will soon be there

I just shipped this completed Santa figure to an elf at the North Pole. (Actually he lives closer to Sacramento). Santa has a moving mouth, raising eyebrows, crossing eyes (for seeing who's naughty), and side-to-side eyes (for seeing who's nice).

And at just 34-inches tall, he's small enough to fit down anyone's chimney.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Staring contest

These little fellas are headed in very different directions. Mr. Winkle (l) is about to embark on a long journey to his new home in wintry Norway. Donnie (r) is going south to The OC (Orange County, California) where the weather is almost always sunny and warm.

I think their respective dispositions are well-suited to their destinations.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Santa 2010

The first of two Santa Claus dummies is almost finished.  I still have to assemble the body, size up the Santa hat, and dress him in his Santa suit. 

Ho, ho, ho!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Get a glue

What you're looking at is the inside of a figure's head.  The cords are attached to the eyebrow-raising mechanics.  I tie some kind of double knot (I never earned my Boy Scout knot tieing badge, so I don't know the name of the knot).  To make sure the knot never comes untied, I douse the knot with Elmer's Glue.  The glue dries to create a hard protective shell around the knot. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh, Donnie boy

This li'l cowpoke (now fully-dressed) is hankerin' for a homestead. 

He's a-settin' on a fence post on Ebay

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In my BVD's

My Cheeky Boy character (now with buck teeth) is about ready to make his debut on Ebay.  But I haven't chosen his wardrobe yet.  So until I do, he's in his "altogether".  He looks a little surprised I pointed the camera at him. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Behind the eyes

Now the synchronizer (with coat hanger loop) is attached to the springs, which are attached to the back of the eyes, which are attached to the eye tray, which will be placed inside the dummy's head. 

The eye hooks on the side of the eyeballs are for attaching cords, which will be attached to a lever, which will cross the eyes when pressed down. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hangin' in there

My dry cleaner is one of my suppliers.  What does he supply?  Coat hangers and plastic bags.

I use the coat hangers to make the loops in my eye synchronizers.  Rather than use expensive brass, I cut the coat hangers in 3-inch lengths, mark the center, and bend them around a metal punch secured in a vise.  Then I dip the ends in water, apply some Gorilla Glue, and insert them in the pre-drilled holes in the plastic synchronizers (which are custom-made for me by Braylu Creations). 

The plastic bags? When I collect my dry cleaning, the shirts are draped in clear plastic.  I save the plastic bags and re-use them to cover my figures for shipping.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Santa's helper

I'm building another Santa Claus figure for a client. He admired the Santa I built and sold last year and special ordered a St. Nick for himself. So I had to check my archives to see how the heck I made it. Fortunately I take lots of photos and even a video of every figure I make.

Santa is a conversion figure made from a Charlie McCarthy vent doll. I apply Magic-Sculpt to the forhead, eye sockets and nose to create a new face. Unlike working with molds and castings, I have to visually try to duplicate what I did last time.

We'll see how close I come.

Dickens 1992-2010

Dickens... takin' a nap a few years back.

Dickens Croes, our 18-year-old Tabby cat passed away in the night.  He had been fading away over the past month, so it was no surprise.  Mercifully he lost the ability to walk only on his final day on the planet.  As Dickens’ health declined steeply in the past month, it seems he didn’t understand why he wasn’t able to do the things he was used to doing.  It’s difficult not being able to tell him why.  I wanted to tell him we are all made from the same elements as the stars, and eventually we are all reclaimed by the stars.  So we carried him upstairs to our bedroom last night, placed him on a large comfy pet pillow, and there he quietly went to sleep forever.

He came to us in 1992. He was born the runt of a litter at a neighbor’s house.  He had been neglected. He was weak and covered with fleas.  He was only a few weeks old and so small we could hold him in the palm of our hand.  Joyce rescued him one night very late.  She carefully bathed and combed the shivering little creature.  She placed him in a box with a soft warm blanket in an empty back room.  I still remember the next morning when Dickens shakily emerged, walking toward me down the hall, meowing his adenoidal purr (which he never lost). It’s amazing he survived the first night.

Dickens loved to have his head petted (though he drooled copiously while we did it).  He begged like a dog when we cooked.   He once swallowed a needle and thread, resulting in midnight emergency surgery at a vet hospital. Dickens was a timid and clumsy jumper.  But still he had the moxie of his father, a big tough Tabby that used to perch on our back fence.  Our Dickens had many of the annoying habits and instincts cats possess.  We loved him for it.
When Dickens joined our household, we lived with a 60-lb. black lab named Sam.  Sam had been cornered and clawed by a cat in his earlier days. Sam was at first deathly afraid of Dickens, even though Dickens was the size of tea cup.  But as Sam and Dickens grew up together, they became best pals.  Sam and Dickens would roam the cul-de-sac side by side.  Dickens would feel particularly tough since he had a big black lab as a protector.  They would wrestle and tumble.  Dickens would attack Sam’s haunches like he was a lion bringing down an elephant.  When Sam finally passed away 12 years ago, Dickens lost his favorite buddy.
Dickens will always be in my heart.  His presence was a part of my day every day for the past 18 years.  I’m going to miss the little fellow.
Now he's back with Sam, roaming the stars.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Say "Awww"

I just finished the interior of the jaw for the full-size head I'm building.  I did the teeth and tongue today.  I'm inching ever closer to completing the big fella.  The next major sculpting task will be the ears... always a fun challenge.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Friday, October 29, 2010


Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst of Ventriloquist Central took notice of my blog series "How To Be A Ventriloquist".  Fortunately they liked it. Dan and Steve asked if they could reprint it in the Ventriloquist Central Articles of Interest section on their website.  Of course, I was honored to have it included. 

So rather than sift through my blog to gather all 10 lessons, Dan and Steve have reprinted them all in one place for easy access.    CLICK HERE TO GET TO IT.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In control

The photo on the left shows the brass rod emerging from the slot in the PVC pipe controller at a 90-degree angle.   Notice the Magic-Sculpt just inside the slot securing the brass tube. A jigger handle will be attached to the brass rod.

The photo on the right shows the top of the PVC pipe controller.  The brass tube and rod emerging from the pipe runs down the length of the PVC pipe.  Again, Magic-Sculpt secures the pipe at the top of the controller.  Eventually, the top part of the rod will attach to the eye mechanism inside the head to control the side-to-side eye movement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The hole thing

I really like the PVC pipe controllers from Braylu Creations.  From photos left to right, here's a description of what I do to prep them for my figures.
  • Front: I cut a 3/4" slot.  A brass rod, bent at a 90-degree angle, will protrude from that slot. The rod will control the self-centering eyes.
  • Side: I drill a hole on the side, from which will emerge one of the cords controlling the jaw or eyebrows.
  • Side: I drill another hole on the side, from which will emerge one of the cords controlling the jaw or eyebrows.
  • Back: I drill a large hole near the top from which will emerge the cord that controls the crossing eyes.  The three smaller holes in the middle area accept the screws and washers that mount the triggers. The larger hole at the bottom is where I loop an elastic band that will attach to an eyehook at the bottom of the body to secure the head.
  • Top:  I run a brass tube and rod down the length of the PVC pipe to control the self-centering eyes.  The rod, as I menbtioned, will protrude at a 90-degree angle from the slot.  I use Magic-Sculpt to cement the brass tube and rod contrller to the top of the PVC pipe.  The small holes drilled in the top and side act as anchor holes for the Magic-Sculpt.   One of the tiny holes located farther out will accomodate a small brass eye hook to which a spring will be connected.  The other end of the spring will attach to the jaw.   (Note: I also apply Magic-Sculpt to the inside of the PVC pipe just above the slot to secure the lower portion of the brass tube and rod eye control). 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The pain in Spain

Clifton, a consistently cantankerous old codger, is on his way to Spain.  He's sure to be a pain in the neck when discussing most subjects with his new partner.  If I get photos of the two, I'll post them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The evil eye

So, I'm painting eyeballs.  I use 1-1/4" wood knobs. I'm manufacturing 5 pair.  I'm no math genius, but I think that makes 10 eyeballs.    So I drilled holes for the axle and the spring.  Then I painted a coat of primer.  I let them dry.  Next day I painted my first coat of white acrylic paint.  Lookin' good.  After the first coat dried for 24 hours, I painted the second coat of white acrylic paint.  Now they just have to dry.

Wait a minute... what's that on the floor next to the drill press work bench?  It's a wood knob.  It's an unpainted wood knob.  It's an UNDRILLED WOOD KNOB! 

I count the number of drilled, primered and painted wood knobs.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The jaw bone's connected

Well, only temporarily connected. Still more work to be done.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Put some teeth in it

For the first time, I put some buck teeth in my Cheeky Boy head. I think it will make him look even cuter. I used a little Magic-Sculpt to make the teeth. But first I ground away some of the underside of his upper lip area to make sure the jaw will close behind the teeth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Complaining Codger

"Clifton" would like to find a nice comfortable home for his golden years.  Not that he'll express any gratitude to you.  He was born to complain, confound and carry on without mercy.  To get a better look at this obstinate octogenarian, swing on over to Ebay.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A friend indeed

I always love getting photos of ventriloquists with their Kenny Croes figures.  In this case, Carter (the ventriloquist) received my Stanley conversion figure as a gift from his family.

If you own a Kenny Croes figure, please send along a photo of yourself with your knee pal.  I'd be honored to share your story.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I've written before about the young man in the photo at left. His name is Kevin Barnett.  I made his little friend Kyle.  Kevin performs with Kyle, attends the Venthaven Convention, and sees shows by famous ventriloquists whenever he can.  He caught Terry Fator's wonderful show recently and went backstage to meet him.

Someday in the future, some aspiring young ventriloquist may be posing backstage with another famous ventriloquist... a grown up Kevin Barnett.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Have mouth, will argue

"MR. WINKLE" is now spoiling for a fight on Ebay.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I ain't got no-body

Well... actually he does.  And a nice one at that.  He's even wearing a brand new suit.  But I digress. 

Thought you might like to take a look at how I set up my controls.  I use a hollow PVC pipe design from Braylu Creations so I can run the mechanics down the center.  The nifty triggers for the jaw and eyebrows work smoothly and are easy on the fingers.  The jigger controls the left/right eye movement.

I run a brass tube and rod up the PVC pipe secured to the pipe interior with Magic-Sculpt.  Then I shove a length of ethofoam tubing, folded in threes, inside the PVC pipe from the bottom.  The expanding ethofoam also secures the lower portion of the brass tube and rod where the rod and jigger exit the opening in the PVC pipe. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Our debt to Detweiler

Few have done more for the proliferation of ventriloquism around the world as Clinton Detweiler. His blog, Mr. D's Daily, is a staple for ventriloquist blog readers. Clinton's "Maher 30 Lesson Course" has educated untold numbers of ventriloquists through the years. He's probably made and sold more figures than anyone in history. I have learned so many things about making figures by reading his blog posts. So I was honored when he asked if I'd like one of his famous "Smiley Face" Pocket Puppets and the accompanying "Five Dummy Dollars" coin.

I received it in the mail today, Clinton. Thanks for everything you do for the art of ventriloquism and its artists. I'm smiling as big as the Pocket Puppet!

Monday, September 06, 2010


Mr. Winkle
This obstinate old cuss is ready to spread joy with the help of a very patient ventriloquist.  After all, any future partner will be apologizing for this octogenarian's snide comments about almost everything and everybody. 

I hope somebody buys him anyway.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

No head for figures

It's a little ventriloquism humor. (Yeah, I know... very little).

Actually, I thought I'd pass along my vent figure body prep.  I buy my arms, legs and hands from Braylu Creations.  Owner Buzz James always marks the center spot on the lower interior where I screw in an eyehook for control post attachment.  Then I staple the legs onto the wood body. My exterior padding is a foam pad made for campers to cushion their sleeping bags.  I cut several 8"x12" rectangles and staple each one to a body. 

Next comes the shoulder padding.  I use a soft fleece material, soft-side up, on the shoulders.  I cut an "X" over the hole for the head.  I glue the padding onto the shoulders with Elmers Glue.  Then I staple the arms in place (with hands already attached).  The last step adds a foam covering over the soft pad on the shoulders (the same material as the body wrap).  Before I staple it in place, I cut a large hole for the head.  After stapling it, I cut away the shoulder foam in the areas in the front and in back of the hole for the head.  Finally, I stuff a 2-inch length of tubular ethofoam (used for home repair insulation) between the soft pad and the foam shoulder covering to give the shoulders a rounded appearance. 

I don't pad the interior.  I figure folks can add their own padding or not depending on their preference. (I prefer no interior padding). 

And that's how I turn a 'nobody' into a 'somebody'.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A lout with gout

Another Mr. Winkle is about to rev up his mean machine. All he needs is a couple more days, a little glue, a touch of paint, and a rim of hair. Then his incessant complaining will begin.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grabbing the limelight

"Ricky" is now up for grabs on Ebay.

Ready for action

This little guy is dressed in his Sunday best in hopes of impressing someone.  He'll soon be available on Ebay for the winning bidder.  He's a take on my "Henry" character, but because he's a redhead, I'll call him "Ricky" for now.  But whoever decides to make him his partner wins renaming rights, too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The boy to annoy

He probably looks forlorn because he's lonely.  That's why he's listed on Ebay. If you can provide a little companionship, then click on the link and place a bid.  There's more information about him there.  I'm sure he'll repay your kindness by being totally annoying in public everywhere you take him.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coloring on the lines

Now that I'm back home, I'm busy in my workshop.  I've painted my grouchy old guy with an Afro skin tone and enhanced the wrinkles with a darker color.  I also painted the lips with a lighter pink color.  I still need to thin out the darker lines in the lips by repainting the pink color around the dark lines.  In fact, that partially describes my method of painting wrinkles. 

First I paint the wrinkle with a slightly lighter color than the skin tone.  Then I paint a thinner line of color that's darker than the overall skin tone.  Then to make the wrinkles finer, I touch up the edges with the original skin tone color.  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Face to face

On our way back home to Oregon from Monterey, we arranged a visit with Buzz James, owner of Braylu Creations. I've been a Braylu customer for several years and we've emailed and Skyped many, many times, but never met. Glad to say Buzz is as nice and as gracious as they come. It was great to finally meet him and shake his hand in-person.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Size matters

A question from a reader:
Q: What size clothes do they wear? And is it without alterations?

A: My guys wear size 2T and don't require alteration (except for the
slit I cut and sew in the back for hand access). Also, sometimes the
shirt necks are a little big, but a paper clip or sewn tab tightens
them up.

Sent from my iPhoneo

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We are all unbalanced

Here he is again with 2 coats of paint.  His left nostril is higher than his right which gives him more of a snarl.  Also the left side of his face has more of a frown than his right. 

I think sculpting faces with uneven features gives the characters more personality.  Very few of us actually have facial features on one side of our mugs that are equal to the other side of our mugs. 

Keeps us humble.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Can dummies swim?

I hope you got a chance to read the post below "A dreamer and his dream". It might be a Paul Harvey "Rest of the Story". If you haven't read it, I won't give away the ending, though this little tidbit may rob you of its charm.  But first read the post and then come back to this post for the "rest of the story".


According to Wikipedia, the subject of the story eventually got tired of being the straight man while his dummy got all the laughs. So while on a troop ship (he was in the Army entertainment corps), he threw his dummy overboard. No more vent act.

That's one way to end a partnership.

I coulda been a contenda

He looks like an old prize fighter at this stage. He now has a coat of primer, so everything is the same color. It's a bit easier to see who he is, or should I say, is about to become. The addition of the furrowed eyebrows will make him look more like the persistent pessimist he's meant to be. Did you notice I added a big hairy mole on his right cheek?

Next step... first coat of skin color.

Okay, I'll try this

He looks rather frightening right now (and he may still look frightening when he's done), but I'm taking a tip from Buzz James of Braylu Creations fame to slightly alter the face of one of my cast heads to create a new character. In this case, I'm changing the nose and upper lip area of a "Mr. Winkle" head to make him a grumpy black character. We'll see how well my experiment turns out in the end.

More photos to come.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A dreamer and his dream

Note: This was emailed to me today. I thought you might enjoy the story as much as I did.

Let me tell you, Jesse hated this job. And you would too, I imagine, if you had to do it. Jesse was a chicken plucker. That's right.

He stood on a line in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling the feathers off dead chickens so the rest of us wouldn't have to. It wasn't much of a job.

But at the time, Jesse didn't think he was much of a person. His father was a brute of a man. His dad was actually thought to be mentally ill and treated Jesse rough all of his life.

Jesse's older brother wasn't much better. He was always picking on Jesse and beating him up. Yes, Jesse grew up in a very rough home in West Virginia . Life was anything but easy. And he thought life didn't hold much hope for him. That's why he was standing in this chicken line, doing a job that few people wanted.

In addition to all the rough treatment at home, it seems that Jesse was always sick. Sometimes it was real physical illness, but way too often it was all in his head. He was a small child, skinny and meek. That sure didn't help the situation any.

When he started to school, he was the object of every bully on the playground.

He was a hypochondriac of the first order. For Jesse, tomorrow was not always something to be looked forward to. But, he had dreams.

He wanted to be a ventriloquist.

He found books on ventriloquism. He practiced with sock puppets and saved his hard earned dollars until he could get a real ventriloquist dummy.

When he got old enough, he joined the military. And even though many of his hypochondriac symptoms persisted, the military did recognize his talents and put him in the entertainment corp. That was when his world changed. He gained confidence. He found that he had a talent for making people laugh, and laugh so hard they often had tears in their eyes.

Yes, little Jesse had found himself.

You know, folks, the history books are full of people who overcame a handicap to go on and make a success of themselves, but Jesse is one of the few I know of who didn't overcome it. Instead he used his paranoia to make a million dollars, and become one of the best-loved characters of all time in doing it!

Yes, that little paranoid hypochondriac, who transferred his nervousness into a successful career, still holds the record for the most Emmy's given in a single category.

The wonderful, gifted, talented, and nervous comedian who brought us Barney Fife was...

...Jesse Don Knotts.

Sunday, August 01, 2010