Charlie Tymms walks Bow Arts through the magic of puppetry, the importance of collaboration, and carving out space for artists to come together.
Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your practice
I am a puppet designer and maker which I fell into by accident.
Its not my fault.
The puppets did it.
But it is something I am really passionate about now, the combination of engineering, sculpting and storytelling. All my work develops through a collaboration, usually with a theatre director, on what part a puppet will play in the drama.
What are you working on at the moment?
This week I have started designing and developing a bird puppet so I am in that lovely sweet spot where everything is possible and nothing is overwhelming.
What’s the drive/motivation behind your work?
At the core of my work is a love for materials, making, storytelling through puppetry, and live performance. Key is finding character in the puppets and a desire to create a dynamic partnership between the materials, manipulation and action to bring a puppet to life.
What themes are you interested in?
The themes are not self determined as all my work comes directly from the theatre.
Who are your artistic influences/inspirations?
Early on I worked a lot with large warhorse type puppets usually operated by 3 or more people generally called rod Puppets. This type of puppet has become my core influence, and I love the fact that the movement of the puppeteer directly translates into the puppets dynamic action. The teamwork, choreography and fitness of the puppeteers necessary to bring a creature to life is a truly magical experience to watch. There is nothing quite like the thrill when you believe a puppet to be alive and conscious.
I love the fact that the movement of the puppeteer directly translates into the puppets dynamic action. The team work, choreography and fitness of the puppeteers necessary to bring a creature to life is a truly magical experience to watch.Charlie Tymms
How has having an affordable studio at Three Waters impacted your practice? And what is it you like about having your studio?
My studio is a haven of possibility, kitted out with workshop tools and equipment to enable me to make just about anything, so my practise has massively benefitted from these factors. It has very high ceilings so I can hang a puppet, is affordable, big and light. Plus there is a courtyard where I can test out puppet prototypes for action sequences, an essential part of my work. Geographically, Three Waters is great for me, both close to home and Three Mills, where a recent theatre project I have been working on were rehearsing. Inside, I enjoy the open-plan nature of Three Waters as you get to meet so many other artists of different disciplines which will hopefully develop into a strong artistic community. Its a great privilege to have so many creative people in one place.
What are the challenges you face as an artist/designer/maker?
Every project I complete always makes me want to develop further everything I have learnt, but there is rarely time in between events to enable this to happen. Theatre projects are often low budget so I have to work to very strict boundaries of whats affordable in time and materials – but these challenges can enable surprising creative solutions. The unspoken expectation is always to overdeliver which can mean exhaustion by the delivery date but this is something I’m working on to improve with better scheduling!
To date, you’ve had a number of studios with Bow Arts and have met countless artists along your studio journey. What do you think are the wider challenges that artists, designers and makers are facing at the moment?
One of the challenges in a studio facility in London is having a breakout space for the occasional bigger projects, exhibitions and more experimental installations etc. The Rum Factory had this facility and it was widely used by the studio holders. At Royal Albert Wharf, we negotiated the use of one of the commercial units to set up Art in the Docks. I am a founding member, and it is now a very successful artist-run space with all kinds of events and art exhibitions happening that can also act as a breakout space for large scale experiments.
At Royal Albert Wharf, we negotiated the use of one of the commercial units to set up Art in Docks. I am a founding member, and it is now a very successful artist-run space with all kinds of events and art exhibitions happening but also acts as a breakout space for large scale experiments.Charlie Tymms
From my experience of meeting artists, there is also a real shortage of spaces for hot work and sculptors using machinery or the more hazardous activities.
Affordability is key and that depends on how much work you are doing – so this will always be challenging, and Bow Arts are such an important support network to enable space to develop your practice. When times are hard opportunity dries up and I honestly don’t know how artists manage to survive. For people like myself, its the peaks and troughs of freelancing. I feel very fortunate to have plenty of creative work doing what I love, but it has taken me years to build up enough contacts to keep me going. I never for a moment take this for granted.
About Charlie Tymms
Charlie Tymms is a freelance puppet designer/maker working in theatre, film and the visual arts from her studio in East London. At the core of her work is the desire to create a dynamic partnership between the materials, character and physicality of a puppet. She particularly enjoys collaborating with directors, actors and a project team to find the most exciting/best outcome possible.
On a practical level she is a resourceful hands on maker with a wide range of technical skills giving her a fairly extensive knowledge of different materials and their application in puppet design. Through puppet making she has developed a keen interest in the mechanics of moving parts and the fine craft of engineering. She is very familiar with working alongside a director using a prototype puppet to rigorously test for subtle and dynamic action. In terms of scale, she has made puppets from as small as a mouse up to a 3m high figure, and has been extremely lucky to have worked alongside some of the best makers and performers in the industry.