Puppet-making Process – the Soul of Water Puppetry
Puppet-making process is an important part in water puppetry because without puppet-making process, we will never have characters of water puppet shows.
1. EACH PUPPET REPRESENTS A TYPICAL CHARACTER OF WATER PUPPETRY
A puppet represents a typical character in the fairy tales which are used as the plot of a water puppet shows. Each puppet has its own posture, face, emotions and personality which makes the puppet different from others. The art of making puppets is a combination of traditional and imperial sculpture.
2. PUPPET-MAKING PROCESS
Nowadays, the shape of puppets remains nearly unchanged, but they are significantly bigger, about 30-40 cm high. It is very complicated to create puppets. To make a usable puppet, artist has to undergo many stages which requires the skillfulness and patience of the maker. The most popular material to make puppets is fig wood which is soft and light so that the puppet can be floatable.
There are 7 steps in making a water puppet:
Step 1: DESIGNING
This is the primary and basic step in process of manipulating puppets. The craftsmen start to choose wood (often wood of fig trees), cut it and create the raw wood panels. They will be designed differently, depending on the different characteristic of each character including: Uncle Teu, fairy, farmers, etc.
Step 2: BLOCKING
In this step, the puppet makers will measure to divide the proportion of each part of puppets, then fix wood into a raw block. A block of puppets is often divided into three parts including: one part from head to neck, one part from neck to belt waist and the other part from belt waist to feet. Depending on each particular puppet, the craftsmen will create different proportion in order to create exact block for each puppet.
Step 3: CARVING
Carving by hand is the most important step in puppet-making process. After being carved and cut entirely by hand, the puppet will be formed as a body. The image of puppets will be clearer. It contributes to bringing mind and soul to the puppets that the craftsman wants to create.
Step 4: SCRAPING
After physically forming the character by carving, the craftsmen use scraping machine and emery paper to make the surface of water puppet smooth. The more detailed the scraping step is, the more beautiful puppets become after being painted.
Step 5: Body Forming
Then, a black mixture of clay and Vietnamese lacquer is applied to the entire surface of puppets. It is repeated at least 3 times after the mixture covering the entire surface of puppets is dry. It aims to ensuring the endurability of lacquer that makes the next step more convenient.
Step 6: LACQUERING
After already having black body, the puppets are lacquered with red color and covered with a thin silver leaf. Next, they are covered with a layer of colorless land synthetic lacquer. Finally, the artists will polish and make the puppets more attractive by painting them Japanese lacquer.
Step 7: CHECKING PRODUCTS
The puppets are completed by polishing. Then, the craftsmen install mechanism and foam inside the puppets, check their degree of sinking and floating. Finally, the puppets will be installed with rods inside and launched to the stage.
3. OBSERVE PUPPET-MAKING PROCESS AT LONGLINK WATER PUPPET
At Longlink Water Puppet inside the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, the puppet-making process is displayed in details and in a right order, which promises to bring about real-life experience of creating and forming puppets for tourists.