Welcome to the Kenny Croes Dummy Store blog, chronicling the adventures (and misadventures) of building professional ventriloquist dummies.
It features tips, tricks and utter failures. Please feel free to submit comments, critiques and helpful suggestions.
I'm finishing up Mr. Winkle for a client. After I assembled the eyes and temporarily installed them in the head, they squeaked when moving side-to-side in one direction. So pulled them out, took them apart, cleaned the parts and enlarged the offending axle hole. I reassembled them.
Side-to-side, no squeak.
I re-installed them in the head. Side-to-side, no squeak.
I attached the triggers to the headstick. I attached the cords to the eyes' synchro bar and to the rocker trigger.
One of the things I love about soft puppets are the eyes. They're usually very comical. So I thought I'd try combining this charming soft puppet attribute with a hard figure. I purchased these wonderful big eyes and attached them to a Mikey/Donnie head I've been working on. I'll use Free Form Air to fill the gaps on the sides of the eyes. I'll also use the stuff to rim the top of the eyes. I plan to add raising eyebrows, too. Throw on a cute wig, and I think I'll have a very funny-lookin' character.
I debated which material to use to seal the mouth cavity; Free Form Air, Magic-Sculpt or more PaperClay. In the end, I chose PaperClay, and I'm pleased with the results. The Styrene backstop worked well. I etched a thin line around the edges of the opening so it would be clear where to cut the urethane castings.
Next step is to glue the trap door to the back of the head, hide the seam, and then do the final touch-up sanding.
I spent the day "in town" running errands and buying supplies. (I never thought I'd live in a burgh so small that I'd refer to a neighboring city of 16,000 as "going to town". But there it is.)
I purchased dummy clothes, shoes and a wig at Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores, shipping peanuts, pulleys, springs, and these...hemostats. I actually own a pair, but they're rather short. I found these at the True Value hardware store. All three are longer than the ones I have. I've always wanted and needed a really long pair, so I'm pleased I found these for under 11 bucks. They'll come in handy when I need to poke, prod, or grab something deep inside the little fellas' heads.
I'm preparing my full-size Mr. Winkle sculpture for his journey to California. When he arrives at Braylu Creations, a mold will be made of him and castings rendered from the mold. I have to seal his orifices so the mold materials don't leak into his head. I've secured a Styrene plastic plate with Magic Sculpt on the inside of his mouth opening. It will serve as a backstop as I apply PaperClay atop the Styrene to neatly seal the cavity. I'll glue the trap door to the back of his head and disguise the seams. Then will he be ready to ship.
It's been awhile since I blogged about anything technical. Though I'm prone to share how I do things, I'm always concerned learned readers will think, "Jeez... THAT'S the way he does that? You GOT to be kidding!".
Nevertheless, here's me working on a 2T Uncle Earl jaw.
One cool thing about the 2T Uncle Earl jaw is that it can be mounted slightly more forward to give him a more obstinate look. Pushed farther back, it makes him look more clueless. In this case, I'm making him look slightly more obstinate, so I've shaved off some areas on the sides.
Also you might notice that the brass tube-ends on the jaw axle are marked. I always mark the left one with a black stripe and the other with two stripes. Keeps everything consistent until final installation.
Another Mannequin-American is headed out the door. He'll make his way east to entertain audiences in Massachusetts. He's a completed KneeBuddy character, "Mikey". But this time he comes with spiky brown hair instead of bright yellow. I hope he'll be a fun little guy to talk to.
My new "Mikey" figure's head is complete. I added the wig today. Tomorrow I'll prepare his clothes (slit in the back, etc.) and dress the little fellow. Then he poses for his official portraits, which will be forwarded to his new partner for approval (hopefully).
Braylu Creations sells these nice hands for the 2T figures. The feature I like best is they're already painted. They're hollow, so they're very lightweight. Today I attached a bunch to their muslin arms. I'm building the bodies for three 2T figures that are nearing completion. One may be ready to show you tomorrow.
My "Mr. Winkle" character was purchased recently by a doctor in Florida. You may recall he renamed him "Grandpa Gump". I received a call from the figure's new partner asking about removing the wig and trap door. He wanted to add a new feature to the old grouch. I gave the best advice I could and received the video below as a result. Now the cranky old coot has been renamed "Grandpa Gum" because he can perform a nifty new trick.
The good doctor attached a small balloon to the end of a tube-and-plunger assembly from a blood pressure monitoring kit. Pretty clever "operation".
Yeah, I know he doesn't look like much... yet. But I swear I have a vision. I did some initial sanding of the Free Form Air on his cheeks and nose. I placed the jaw in the head so it swings freely. Then, with PaperClay, I sculpted an upper lip that matches and meets his upper lip area.
And since my latex gloves were already wet with PaperClay, I did some final additive sculpture to my full-size Mr. Winkle jaw. I'll also do that final touch-up to his head. (Won't be long now).
Like always, I have several balls in the air. Top priority today is moving Mikey along for a client. This will be the first one I'll make with wild brown hair (still to come). Today I worked on synchronizing the eyes' back springs. The jaw actually hasn't been permanently installed, but I placed it in so he'd look good for the photo.
I also did some control stick work on a Mr. Winkle for a customer. Prepping a 2T Uncle Earl head for another client is also on the list.
In between I want to complete the jaw on my new full-size Mr. Winkle. The head has been sanded and I think he looks pretty good. I have a few small touch-ups, I need to seal and hide the trap door, then seal the mouth cavity for mold making.
Next ground-up sculpting project will be a 2T goofball for future "Otis the Moonshiners" and other clueless characters.
This will be the last "Otis the Moonshiner" made from the Elmore head. The casts are getting too gnarly and require far too much work to get ready. I may build an Otis using a Cheeky Boy. That might be fun.
This rendition was a special order. As my customer requested, his right eye is fixed for a cockeyed look. And of course, he comes with a bottle of Otis' genuine homemade hooch.
Q: "Hi Kenny, This is Michael F. again. To refresh your memory, I bought Mr. Fenster from you a couple years back and you inspired me to construct my own figures.
I have since built 4 with the help of my wife. I call my latest one "Jack". He has moving eyebrows, self-centering eyes and a serious attitude problem. Toby took pictures and included them with the email. She would like advice on how to paint the blush on the cheeks. And what type of paint do you use?
Thanks for all the inspiration!"
A: Your figure looks great. You and Toby are a good team. Glad you're having fun building these comical characters.
Regarding blush, I mix Cadmium Red acrylic paint into my flesh tone. How much red is up to you. Then I dip my stipple brush into the paint and dab it onto a paper towel until the brush leaves a tiny speckle pattern. Next I dab the stipple brush on the cheeks. I start in the center of the cheek and work my way out. The paint gets lighter as I work toward the edges. The great thing is that if you mess it up, just repaint the cheek with flesh tone and try it again. Keep up the good work!
My full-size Mr. Winkle model is nearly complete. The jaw works well. I have to close and seal the trap door. There's some minor tweaking to do before sanding starts. I suspect he will need more jaw and gap work after sanding. I'm learning it takes along time to design and mold a new model. But it's one of the most gratifying things I do. And the most fun.
I haven't heard back from the client mentioned in my last post. I sent him the two photos below. I think I may have scared him off!
Speaking of scary, one of my other projects is moving along. I've completed the cheeks and nose (minus nostril cavities). I also worked up an upper lip. I think the lower lip will overlap the upper lip oh-so-slightly on the right side.
I hollowed out the eye sockets, but they still need beaucoup work. Because this might end up a model for a new 2T character, I'll switch from Free Form Air to PaperClay. Originally it was thought this would be a finished figure, but now we think he might have potential.
Today was one of my "dirty" days in the shop. I spent most of the time prepping two heads, which gets real messy. Thank heavens for the ShopVac.
I have a client who wants a wild and crazy figure. Lots of color and goofiness. I don't draw well, so I make composite mock-ups using Photoshop. During my back-and-forth with the client, he said he'd like a character somewhere between my "Mikey" figure and Jeff Dunham's "Peanut". So you're looking at the first rough draft I sent to him for review.
"He arrived (in Australia). Tim
loves him. He is in great shape and in good hands and is happy in his new
home. The dogs find him a little strange
and I am scared of him, as is our Filipino housekeeper who is terrified." -Janet S.
Q: Sir, I would like your
suggestion on the color of paint to use for the dummy face. I want him to look
as lifelike as possible. I would appreciate your input on this . Also, would
1.25" eyes fit the sockets of a 3T head? Thank you. - J.D. A: I follow the suggestions in Mike Brose's book "Figure Making Can be Fun"for Caucasian flesh tone. I start with Titanium White. Then I add Burnt Sienna until it gets a darker, rosier color. Lastly I mix Naples Yellow until it looks right. Some folks prefer a yellower tint, others a rosier tint.
I generally darken wrinkle lines with Raw Umber. Then I stipple over the lines with the flesh tone darkened slightly with more Burnt Sienna and/or Raw Umber.
For rosy cheeks, I use my flesh tone mixed with some Cadmium Red. Then I stipple it on the cheeks and sometimes the nose.
Everyone has a different take on the color scheme, so experimenting with the color blend is worthwhile. Remember that acrylic paints dry slightly darker than the color in the jar. Painting the head is one of my favorite tasks in figure making. So have fun!
Finally, I recommend 1.5" eyes for a 3T head. The 1.25" eyes will probably be too small.
I've been away for a few days. But while I was enjoying a brief respite from dummy makin', I received this nice note from a recent customer.
you very much. I love your work. I have named him Grandpa Gump from
the Everglades." - Dr. J.M.
Seeing as my Mr. Winkle character is never happy, I wonder if his new partner meant "Grandpa G-r-ump". Either way, I'm always pleased when one of my little guys finds a good home.