Being a former web developer and seeing the horrific (and unnecessary) layoffs in the tech industry lately, I’m constantly reminded how lucky I am to have stumbled into puppet building as a viable career option. If you’re curious how I arrived at this unusual job, you may like to listen to Episode Zero of Pixels and Puppets.
Among the many things that sets this work apart from any others is how personal it is. Even though I’ve built literally hundreds of puppets at this point, each one still feels special. They have to. That’s what they are. A good puppet is many things, but among them is a sense of life and personality even when not being performed, and in order to achieve that, you must put care into it. While I certainly have builds and designs that are favourites, they all have affection and joy in them. That’s among the things you get from a handmade item that you can never get from something mass produced in a factory somewhere.
The “product” I sell is more than just the physical object and whatever technical skill it takes to build it. It’s the personality, attention to detail, and little design nuances that give it the spark of life – and that is something you just need to develop a feeling for. It can’t be taught in a mechanical way.
All this amounts to a business that only succeeds if it’s personal, which is quite an alien concept in today’s hyper-Capitalist society. There’s no marketing team (other than Gus) standing between me and my clients trying to put gloss and spin on things. Clients can become friends, together we’re building a little community (join the Discord), and through that we’re building a little pocket of good vibes that we can relax in.
Part of that is me being open about things like metrics and numbers. I don’t try to pretend a level of success I don’t have. I talk openly about podcast numbers, and how I need to prioritize shop builds over commissions because that’s what keeps the lights on. Being transparent about those things fosters a sense of trust and goodwill. I don’t just want people to buy puppets from me, I want people to feel good about buying puppets from me. And I want people to feel good about being a part of the Operation: Puppet community even if they never buy a puppet from me, because the fabric of the whole thing is based upon putting something positive in the world. The only reason there’s a shop in the first place is it allows O:P to keep going, not the other way around.
Ultimately puppets aren’t important. They’re silly, frivolous, and goofy. But that’s why they’re so personal. Under the fleece and fur and ping pong balls, they remind us that play, imagination and fun is part of life, and required to retain our empathy and human connections. For the first time in my life, I’m proud of what I do for a living and look forward to my job. Plus it’s super cool.
Coffee. All the coffee.