In the days when I was making puppets instead of editing the Puppetry Journal, I had a low-grade obsession with the search for the perfect puppet making materials and methods - to find something no one had ever thought of. I experimented with white glue and dryer lint, and once suggested (out loud) that Instant Mashed Potato flakes could be mixed with a bind agent to make a good modeling compound. Someone talked me out of it, which was probably a good thing. I never made the goal, but the fun was in the chase.
So when I opened up Michael Brose's book on vent figure making, I felt like I had discovered the secret book of all knowledge - like peeking into the sorcerer's book of spells and incantations. In its 200 pages this book covers all the steps involved in the creation of ventriloquist figures, from planning through, sculpting through mold making, casting, painting and finishing.
What boggles the mind is the depth of the information and instruction. For every stage of production, Mr. Brose provides several alternative methods: you can sculpt in clay (several kinds) but how about wax and foam; you can make a mold in plaster (one-piece, two piece, multiple pieces) but how about silicone rubber or fiberglass. And so on. Mr. Brose deals with each process in such clear and practical detail that you quickly realize everything in the book comes from years and years of experience and work by a man who has totally immersed himself in a craft that he obviously loves.
Here's the puppeteer connection: all the processes used to make vent figures can be adapted to puppet making. Mr. Brose-who, I am proud to say, lives in Minnesota-says in his introduction that the book is intended for the beginner, the intermediate and the professional. And I think that promise holds up. For the beginner, his language throughout is clear, conversational and encouraging. He explains things well. He occasionally offers the kind of advice that keeps beginners from getting in over their heads, and also offers tips about avoiding mistakes and pitfalls, or cautions about using materials safely, advice useful to everyone.
For those with more experience he deals with some pretty high-level materials and techniques. It is clear that everything he tells and shows us comes from real experience, acquired over many years in the shop, and lovingly put together in this book. Each process is illustrated with very clear and useful photos and drawings. The last few pages of the book are a guide to purchasing materials.
Mr. Brose points out something that puppet makers understand as well as vent figure makers -that you tend to settle on a method you like and then generally stick to it. But sooner or later you may become curious about what else is out there. For that reason he calls this a "progressive" book. It holds choices that are available to you when you're ready to move on to something new. This book would be a great reference work for the workshop of any vent figure builder or puppet maker.
Though I have searched in vain for any mention of mashed potatoes.
Paul Eide - Editor of the the Puppetry Journal