Monday, 30 June 2014

Following breadcrumbs trail

The world of my childhood was filled with stories and legends. I was always fascinated by these tales, and yet terrified in the same breath. 

My grandmother narrated these stories with such gravity, I am convinced she believed very intensely in their truth. Her fairytales filled me with a fear of the wilderness. 

This fear manifested itself in the form of the mythical creature Omena Elghoula, to roam too near her hut or her well was to risk being Roasted for her dinner. I would panic as my grandmother told her tales, imagining Omena Elghoula stealthily approaching from behind ready to eat my flesh and add my bones to her macabre decorations. 

As I grew up I was able to weigh my childhood fear of  Omena Elghoula's danger against the reality of the world.

Omena Elghoula is one of the most memorable and distinctive figures in Egyptian and Northern Africa folklore. Omena Elghoula is a supernatural being who appear as a deformed or ferocious-looking woman with one glass eye that reveals the destiny of those brave... or fool hardly enough to enquire. She lives in a hut, cave or deep inside a well, and dwells deep in the wilderness. A many-faceted figure, Omena Elghoula may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out and may play a maternal role and has association with wildlife. She commonly appears as either a donor, villain, or may be altogether ambiguous. 

When I heard the call for participants at the Artlog for The Puppet Challenge with the theme "Folklore, Fairy Tales, Myth and Legends", I took this as an opportunity to bring the nightmare of my childhood into live.

This challenge allowed me to travel beyond my comfort zone as I decided to take the word "challenge" latterly using unfamiliar materials and even using colors...

Following fairytales and personal memories like a trail of breadcrumbs I found remnants of nearly forgotten stories, where the fairy tales of my childhood persist within my subconscious.

I didn't have a pattern or a design to start out with... I began by building up a face using air dry clay, a forgiving a material that I found pleasure working with as apposed to wood, once you make the cut its final, this material allowed me to experiment with shapes and curves without starting allover.

After I reached a satisfying result creating the face, I sculpted the body, hands, legs, and feet.

Once all her body parts were modeled it was time to add layers of papier mâché. In order to separate the modeling clay from the layers of papier mâché -clueless as I was- I covered her allover in oil which was almost disastrous as the clay absorbed the oil leaving the paper stuck to the modeling clay. But I was able to quickly recover my work before it was too late. I used Vaseline instead to cover the model which was perfect and I began to build up layers of papier mâché with small torn pieces of paper after soaking them with water and white glue. Unfortunately at this point I was wrapped up in work and white glue I forgot to take any photos!

After the papier mâché dried I carefully cut the face and the body in two half.

And there she was...

Initially I intended to paint color the eyes, but instead I used tiny glass balls after hollowing the eyes, and I made a base for the glass balls from aluminum foil to allow for light reflection.

In order to give the puppet a proper weight and solidity, I stuffed the puppet with a papier mâché clay that I prepared from torn pieces of egg cartons and white glue and I let it dry before I sealed the two half of the face and the body.

I used the feathers from an old feather duster for the hair... 

I attached the hip to the thigh, calf, and feet with wires and the nick, head, and arms with thick cotton rope...

Then she was ready for paint and I decided to use water and pencil colors. Now most readers of this blog know that I don't have much experience with colors, so needless to say I was quite nervous about this step, but I realize that Omena Elghoula have always been pushing the protagonist to take the path less traveled, to challenge, and conquer the fear within.. in that sense she was the right kind of evil.

 So, I held my brush and I started painting but I was not happy with my first attempt, so I wiped the paint with a wet sponge, I repeated that several times until I reached an almost satisfying result. I must say I was quite impressed -and lucky too- that the papier mâché was sturdy enough and didn't crumble under the wet sponge bath.

I used an old green scarf that belonged to my mother for a dress, hands and foot was covered with pieces of old torn lace that I found trapped between branches and twigs in the park, and I made her an ear ring from an old key chain ring after I covered it with gold paint.

I created  macabre ornaments, bones, mythical horned bird's skeleton along with some beeds made of camel bones, feathers, and bibles for her neckles. 

I made the control rod from an ivy twigs that I found in my morning wanders...

after I made the rod, I screwed  iron nails with hoops to the body and the control rod to attache the strings..

And there she was a haggard face and all.. Omina Elghoula

She is living now in a dark corner next to my drawing table, hung by nine strings among my fairytales books, twigs and candles. 

It hasn't been an easy process by far, while struggling with my skills, I was also struggling with self-doubt. I'm a master of unfinished projects and I was afraid the puppet would turn into another that I'd repeatedly put off, waiting until a time when I would create the best possible puppet, which of course, would always be 'tomorrow'! 
I have never made a puppet like this before nor have I ever worked with clay or papier mâché. Not to mention working in general without a pattern. I struggled a bit and I improvised all the way. I learned to be flexible  about how I work. And extensively made use of available and salvaged materials. As it turned out I've learned a lot from this challenge and I enjoyed every part of the process.

So many things I would have done differently but maybe that's for my very own next puppet challenge.