It is now three years since I accidentally started Picture to Puppet. On the rare occasions that I stop long enough to think about it, it’s funny to think that, without even really meaning to, I’ve gone from having never having made a puppet to being a full time puppet maker having made over 2,000 puppets for companies, organisations and individuals in 9 different countries and employing 4 people. It’s very puzzling.
It is 3 years since I had my first ever puppet commission, from my friend Adam, for this friendly seamonster. Before that, I had never made a puppet before or even given puppets much thought. Who knows where I would be now if Adam’s nephew hadn’t liked seamonsters? Driving a forklift truck or maybe repairing microwaves? I have no idea.
I went on to make a couple of puppets for friends and friends of friends, alongside working part time in dressmaking sweatshops. But the first time I realised I had stumbled across a viable business model was when La Jolie Ronde, a primary language resource developer, asked if I might make them 50 puppets of their cat and mouse characters. It must have been a leap of faith for them at the time to hire me as an inexperienced puppet maker with very little in my portfolio and I am very grateful for this – and for providing the small amount of money that enabled the business to get off the ground. They became my first repeat customer.
Although I spent most of my year out underemployed and impoverished, it finally picked up and I was flooded with bulk orders from companies – just in time for me to start my final year at college! Which was a nightmare – I worked on my degree in college all day and at home on my business all night, and tried to conceal it from my tutors.
When I finished college, I decided to give full time puppet making a shot, and oddly enough, I haven’t been out of work for a day since. Although at first they did take ridiculously long, and I would make each commission 3 times over before I actually sent it to the client, it isn’t really like that any more, and turnover has so far been doubling every year.
My favourite thing about the job is that every day is so different. Sometimes I might work on one bespoke puppet for a week or more, whereas other times I’ll be powering through hundreds the same. Sometimes I’m drawing and designing, sometimes I’m trawling the local charity shops for tiny shoes and shirts, or phoning around factories in Korea trying to find 3cm mauve and yell0w striped long pile fur.
Some highlights and lowlights worth mentioning are:
- Someone phoning me up (when I was in hospital and totally high
on painkillers) and
asking me to make all the puppets and costumes for a children’s TV show.
- Making 440 sock puppets for a B&Q advert.
- The client who was so displeased with her puppets that she jumped up and down, screamed and threw things at me.
- Being asked to make a pair of anatomically correct poseable sex ed dolls
I am very grateful housemate Robert for his mine of hand web tips without which I doubt I would ever have got a single commission. I also feel that all my other long suffering housemates over the years deserve a mention for their stoicism and patience as various rooms in the house turned into factories or photography studios. On coming home they might be met by anything ranging from crates of eyeballs to half-constructed sex dolls, eight foot foam monsters or glue explosions on the ceiling.
Also to my wonderful musical friends who have helped with endless patience to make videos and photos and smiled angelically through the can-you-just-crouch-like-that-for-half-an-hour-with-your-head-hidden-behind-the-piano-and-the-puppet-at-just-such-an-angle.
So here’s to many more years of surreal commissions, dotty clients, puppet music videos, all nighters over the sewing machine, buying the local charity shops out of babies’ shoes and goodness knows what else.