Some weeks ago I was in my favorite cafe, Let Me Be Frank (South Melbourne). They had done some renovations and I immediately noticed that one of my favorite quirky decorative items was missing. Usually, hanging upside down from the ceiling you would see a cool ken doll with an affro (at least that's what I assumed he was) bearing a strong resemblance to the cafe personality, Eddie. When Eddie came over to say hello, I asked "Where is your Eddie doll?". He frowned, "Someone stole his head". I was appalled! Eddie then went on to explain that the doll had been specially made for him as a prop for an advertisement he starred in, the Maxibon Maxiblokes! (see link below). Needless to say, this was a pretty special item. I offered to build him a new head and he graciously accepted.
Working on this alongside many other projects, it naturally took some time. I began with a clay model. My plan was to work with fairly minimal features, but aim for something a bit more expressive than the blank ken doll face of before (note: it was not a ken doll, just the easiest way to describe it). Once the clay model was complete, I layered papier mache on top to form a light structure. A technique I learned while studying at the London School of Puppetry, you use around 5-6 layers of paper and glue, then bake the piece in the oven overnight at around 50 degrees.
I awoke the next morning to a nice surprise. Usually, you have to cut the piece open to scoop the clay out and then glue the pieces back together, papier mache over the cut line etc. etc. But, with the type of clay I was using (will find the name later for any interested parties), the clay simply melted out overnight leaving a clean, empty shell. Perfect! I did have to scrape all the gooey clay off the bottom of the oven, but lesson learned for next time.
And in fact, the next time would come a lot sooner than expected. I had somehow managed to get the proportions of the little head well and truly wrong. As little as it was, it was far too big for the body. I set to work making another. Same process, but this time with a baking paper lined tray to catch the excess. Well, I'll be darned... I did it again. This head was the right size for the body, but too wide to be Eddie. What is it they say? Three strikes and you're out? Well, thankfully my third attempt worked out perfectly. Well, close enough anyway. I often find, and strongly stick by the idea that; it is the accidental imperfections that can really make a character. Though building three heads was time consuming, it was excellent practice for me. Plus, I now have two little heads to use for my own creations. What will they become? Only time will tell.
After head number three came out of the oven, it was time to sand. And sand. And sand. And sand. Sanding takes a lot of time people! Finally with a relatively smooth finish, the really fun part arrived: the face. My partner Ted Adair is a fantastic sketch artist, who spends a lot of time drawing his own comics. I therefore decided to ask Ted if he would design the face. His particular style I thought, would compliment the doll really well, making him kind of cartoon like and fun. Based on a photo I had taken of Eddie, Ted drew up a plan; first on his tablet and then on the head itself. Using acrylic mixed with PVA, we painted the face and I was quite pleased with the outcome. The next challenge was the hair. It is surprisingly difficult to find a black foam ball to create an affro for a tiny head! Who knew? Eventually I found what I was looking for in a circus supply store; some kind of magic trick that included four black soft foam balls. Good enough! After hollowing out and gluing on one of the foam balls, I finished off by painting a more defined hairline around the face.
This little side project was worked on sporadically between other jobs, and so it was always an unexpected surprise when I got to go down in to my workshop to work on "Eddie's Head". Ted dubbed the project "Eddie Head Stadium", a pun that will perhaps only be relevant to those of us here in Melbourne, but one that made me chuckle every time. A small job with no deadline and little pressure, I had a lot of fun with this one and actually found the process quite therapeutic.
And today, after several weeks, I finally dropped off the updated Eddie doll to the man himself. Eddie laughed at the expression on the dolls face and seemed genuinely pleased with how he had turned out. The rest of the staff at the cafe seemed to like him too! I even scored a free chai latte! And so little Eddie Head Stadium sit's perched high up on a shelf at Let Me Be Frank. When asked if he would suspend this Eddie doll upside down from the ceiling as before, Eddie said he will not: "I'm keeping this one safe".
For more about Let Me Be Frank visit: https://www.facebook.com/lmbfrank
For more about Ted Adair visit: http://tedadair.com/
To see the commercial that earned Eddie the doll in the first place, see: