Morning Coffee Blog: Patterns

23 Jan

Generally speaking I try to keep these blogs on an upbeat tone, but today we’re going to talk about a little something that, as the kids say, “really grinds my gears”. In the end I hope it will provide insight.

One thing I try to do with Operation: Puppet is make it friendly and welcoming to newcomers in puppetry and puppet building. It’s a niche hobby, and its health depends on new folks coming onboard. With things like my old Puppetry tutorials and the build streams, I want to be a place for non-pros to come and feel comfortable learning.

There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed with new builders, and it’s a powerful hunger for patterns. There’s a sense that with the mountain to climb, it’s having patterns that will get you there. I know this because I felt it myself when I started. Patterns feel like magic. They feel like the keys to the kingdom. If only you had the patterns, you could make anything. In a sense this is correct. A large part of professional puppet building is having a library of patterns to draw from, and any builder is continually adding to or altering their collection.

And this hunger leads some new folks to, shall we say, not consider the etiquette of the situation. Every now and then someone new pops up on a Social Media post I’ve made, and straight up asks me to give them patterns. For a professional builder who makes a living from their craft, this is the equivalent of going to a restaurant, walking into the kitchen, and asking the chef for their recipe book. Any builder’s patterns are something they’ve put a lot of labour into, and are highly personal. One of the reasons I can build at a quick pace is I’ve spent so long prototyping and patterning any given model. My way of dealing with this is usually to send people over to the good folks at Project Puppet, where you can find a range of beginner-friendly patterns at very reasonable prices.

4 of the 7 iterations of the Smols

But here’s a deep dark puppet building secret. Don’t tell anyone. This is even more Top Secret Eyes Only than the Henson Stitch. Shhhhhhhh….

Patterns. Are. Easy.

There are a multitude of ways that you can create patterns, but the only one that seems to have filtered out to the wider world is the rather complex method of clay maquetting, and I suspect this is one of the reasons pattern creation seems so inscrutable. But that’s not the only method.

I decided to tackle the issue by starting the Build Streams, beginning with the process I use for freehand drawing a puppet pattern from scratch. In this series I hoped to, as the saying goes, teach them how to fish. Being a great believer in Open Source, I suppose this was my way of creating an Open Source puppet pattern, or rather, teaching the code to make your own.

The important thing isn’t the pattern. The patterns are the end result, not the beginning. It’s far more important to develop technique, learn tools and materials, and understand the process. After that, patterns are, as the word indicates, just a guide to follow for repeated results. Patterns are a reminder, not a golden rule.

I think in future whenever I get someone asking for my patterns, I may just send them to this post. I hope it doesn’t sound too confrontational, that’s not my intention, but hopefully it will help people to just relax about patterns and focus more on the things that will actually make you a better builder. Having patterns won’t do it. Making puppets will. Heck, actually making anything will give you build skills more than a huge library of patterns.

And now, dear Monday, coffee.

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