2019 Year in Review.

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As we near the end of the year and the decade, we collectively glance back at the recent past and make an assessment. Good and bad, pros and cons. We live in strange and uncertain times, indeed, but we’re not the first — nor will we be the last — to think this. There is always beauty in bleakness, and when we seem to be halted by an impasse, creativity shows us a new path around the blockage. I don’t ordinarily wax poetic like this, dear Internet, but it’s just been that sort of year for me, filled with triumphs and sadness, beginnings and endings. This year, I lost my mother. At almost 90 years old, she led a full life and died in her own place surrounded by family which, when you consider it, is the best that any of us could hope for. I am saddened by this, but this sadness doesn’t paralyze me. On the contrary, it propels me forward. It underscores the brevity of our short lives, and the urgency to leave nothing undone. Things will definitely be left undone, of course, but that doesn’t stop us trying. I’m under no such delusion that my creative output as an artist will last much past my lifetime, but it’s never really been about the end product. It’s always been about the joy of making.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Papercut Puppets, one year after launch

January 2020 will mark exactly one year since I launched my Etsy shop Papercut Puppets. Well, um, technically it was a re-launch of my shop.

The backstory: my Etsy shop proudly displays the text since 2010, and this is certainly the case. I did create a shop on Etsy way back in 2010, shortly after graduating with my MFA in Visual Arts. I made a short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to sell my original art and lithographic prints online and abandoned the shop a few months after its initial launch. It lay dormant for over eight years, until early this year when I decided to give it another try. This time, I decided to go cheap and crafty with articulated paper puppets and paper dolls. A rather niche product, admittedly, but one which I felt I’d enjoy creating.

Now, if you regularly follow my blog, you’ll know already that my paper puppets are not your run-of-the-mill, rosy-cheeked cutesy toddlers, puppies, or kittens. In short, these aren’t your Grandma’s paper crafts. My Strange Girls series of paper puppets, for instance, includes a pair of conjoined twins, a doll with a parasitic twin named Myrtle (a reference to the 19th-century sideshow performer Myrtle Corbin), and a girl with a condition called hypertrichosis which causes excessive hair growth on portions of the body. Other puppets include butterflies, two octopuses, a mermaid, and toddlers with bird heads. All puppets and dolls have a vintage look, inspired by illustrations from the 19th century (though all are original drawings by me).

My custom, hand-made paper puppets and dolls celebrate the odd and beautifully unusual. Prices range from $6 for DIY downloadable paper crafts, up to $25-50 for pre-assembled puppets (Canadian dollars, eh).

https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/PapercutPuppets

 

Ottawa International Animation Festival 2019

OIAF Jen

Was delighted to have had the opportunity to visit the “biggest animation festival in North America”, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, late last month when they selected my short film Wunderkammer to screen in the Canadian Panorama program block. I was particularly delighted to see a still from my film act as the poster image for the entire program block (see photo above). I asked a random stranger to photograph me sitting under the monitor as we waited for the first screening.

The festival itself is fantastic, and well worth the visit for filmmakers and fans of animation alike. I credit this festival for selecting films that experiment and push the medium farther than most mainstream animation is willing to venture. There were a number of surprise “discoveries” for me at OIAF2019, and I plan to return for future incarnations of the festival.

Many thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for funding my travel to the festival.

OIAF canadian panorama

Wunderkammer Society’s Taxidermy Showcase in NYC, October 29, 2019.

I’m delighted to announce that my short animated film Wunderkammer will screen at the one-night only Beautiful & Bizarre Taxidermy Showcase happening in Brooklyn on October 29th. I can’t think of a more perfect pairing. Here’s the little blurb the event organizers wrote about my film:

 

What’s in the box? Madelaine’s cabinet of curiosities contained a collection of wonders to both delight and horrify. One day, a mysterious item in her cabinet captures her attention. A darkly-tinged fantasy that explores the erotic-grotesque. Intrigued? Find out more when we show Jennifer Linton’s short film, aptly titled, “Wunderkammer”! An official selection honoured at dozens of films festivals internationally, we are thrilled this independent animation, with richly textured paper cutouts and startling stop-motion, will welcome guests to our showcase! Tickets at https://bit.ly/2MwXwdm

“Maude the Victorian Spiritualist Medium” paper doll

This is Maude, a Victorian era spiritualist medium. She uses the gift of her mystic Third Eye to gaze upon the spirit realm to communicate with dearly departed souls. Occasionally during a séance, the contacted spirits will manifest physically in the form of ectoplasm, a whitish, gooey substance.
 
Size of doll: 7 3/4″ high x 4.5″ wide (at base).
 

Animated GIFs

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GIF I made of my “Bessie & Bettie, Conjoined Twins” puppet.

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Mermaid paper puppet, in action.

While the image quality of the GIF is dubious at best, their ubiquity on the Internet cannot be disputed. In other words, the kids these days love these.

Free feel to grab these and place on your Tumblr site, or wherever you see fit.

Playing with paper puppets

 

In addition to teaching and making art and animated films, I like to make and sell articulated paper puppets for my Etsy shop. Think I just enjoy the straightforward, playful simplicity of puppets and paper dolls.

I recently made this short stop-motion video “commercial” to promote my shop — but, honestly, I just wanted to get some of these puppets under camera to see what I could do with them. Their range of motion is limited (most of the heads don’t move), but I was up for the challenge.

The music is just some royalty free loop I downloaded from Soundsnap.

Experiments with phonotropes

Sorry for the weird aspect ratio of the video. Shot on my smartphone. If you’d prefer a video that you can make full screen, try this. 

Hello, gentle readers. I’ve had a busy couple of months working on various art projects in my studio, so I felt that a blog update was long overdue. One of the projects that has kept me occupied lately is the creation of an animation device called a phonotrope.

What is a phonotrope, you might be wondering? It’s a contemporary update to a zoetrope, a 19th-century pre-cinema animation device consisting of a cylinder with vertical slits and a sequence of still images placed inside. When a zoetrope is spun rapidly, a viewer can peer through the slits to see the animation. These devices were very popular as toys and entertainment in the era prior to the advent of moving pictures on film.

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The phonotrope works on a similar principle to the zoetrope, but replaces the cylinder and vertical slits with a record turntable, lights, and a video camera. A polar grid is designed with a certain number of frames, and a sequence of images is printed onto this grid. The grid is rotated on the turntable at a certain speed, with the animation made viewable when seen through a video camera set at a specific frame rate — the animation cannot be viewed with the naked eye. Other phonotropes have used a strobe light in lieu of the video camera to make the animations viewable, but I’ve found my images appear much crisper and clearer with the camera.

Now, your goal with the phonotrope is to first find the “correct” number of frames so that the image will appear relatively static or stationary when rotated on the turntable at a certain speed. Since I’m the least likeliest person to ever figure something out using math, there was a lot of trial and error with this part of the process. After a few trials, I discovered that I could stabilize an image at the 12-inch mark using 32 frames. If I had less than 32, then I would see the animation working but the image itself would drift forwards or backwards on the turntable. With 32 frames, your image area is quite small — 1.158″ wide, to be precise. This very small space created a design challenge, but I reasoned that my images could be as tall as I wanted if I oriented them vertically, hence the vertical rings of printed paper for my phonotrope.

Polar grid example

Polar grid I created in Adobe Illustrator.

Since the 8-inch diameter circle is closer to the axis of rotation (the centre of the grid), it rotates at a slightly faster rate than the images at the 12-inch diameter. Therefore, I required fewer frames (16 frames rather than 32) and each frame could be slightly larger (1.5″ wide). You’ll note that I had a circle marked out at the 6-inch mark. I had a third ring of paper planned (at 16 frames) but abandoned it for design reasons. Incidentally, images with high contrast definitely work best for this medium.

Phonotrope 16 frame scale small

The flattened out artwork for the 8-inch, 16 frame animation loops. The drawings were done by hand with pencil & paper, scanned, tweaked, and coloured in Photoshop.

Here are the specifications for my phonotrope:

  • Two rings of vertical paper, one 12-inch in diameter and the second 8-inch.
  • The 12″ circle has 32 frames.
  • The 8″ circle has 16 frames.
  • The phonotrope is rotated on the turntable at 45 rpm.
  • The smartphone video used to capture the animation is set at 12 fps.