Artist Corner – The Wonderful World of Props – Christopher Sutton

When someone asks what exactly I do, and I respond with ‘Prop Maker’, more often than not I’m met with a slightly nonplussed semi absent minded kind of expression. One that if you were to see out of context could well be mistaken for that of bemusement or in extreme cases, the lack of all comprehensive brain function entirely. The truth is though that to attempt to define ‘Prop Making’ you really are opening up a whole can of worms. From puppets to model making, to displays and stage props, the list is ever growing and seemingly never ending. In this article I hope to sum up exactly what I personally see as the broad definition of a ‘Prop Maker’ broken down in terms of the key principles and thought process that goes into each and every build.

When someone approaches me about a commission it could essentially be anything. In the past I’ve hand made parts for vintage cars and more recently, built a replica of ‘Robin the Muppet’! My first impulse is always to find a way to connect and engage with the object, more often than not in my world that’s very easy, with my love of film and TV, making cinematic replicas etc is an easy thumbs up. Sometimes though this connection and therefore drive can be found through the process of design or my wish to excel my knowledge in a particular build process and have an excuse to forward my understanding of the given materials involved. Often this connection can lead to the understanding of how to get a project to the finishing line in the best way possible and enable me to really engage with the research.

Twenty Wood Turned Cork Trophies in the process of being made

Before setting sail on any build the main thing is to really get stuck into the research. This could be about a particular design aesthetic for example, or the best way to go about constructing the piece and the workability of any given materials involved. This step can actually often take up the greater majority of a commission schedule, but once that framework is in place and I know with as much certainty as I can how each step will progress in turn, the pressure can really ease off and the creativity and confidence is able to drive me forwards. This can also free up mental space to contemplate any unforeseen issues that can arise and find the solution with a much clearer head. The more I find myself aware that the goal is not just to be a good maker, but a researcher and planner, the more I find I’m able to understand the scope of a build and how I’m to go about it.

In order to have the ability and confidence to take on such a broad scope of jobs it’s important to have enough knowledge of past experiences in any given area to fall back on. This stands as a foundation for which avenues to explore in terms of the construction methods and best ways to approach the task altogether. In the early days jobs definitely seemed much more daunting, but I’m now lucky enough to have had the chance to work on such a large and exciting array of jobs and with specialist equipment that my initial instincts can usually grasp where exactly I should start my investigations and planning for how to best reach my end goal to meet the client’s wishes. When a build is particularly perplexing, through prior experience to even understand the most basic line of inquiry to begin planning, I can usually find where to start which ultimately helps me reach my goal. Another positive outcome from this is that in the future the experience gained will be added to my forever growing arsenal for later projects and provide even more of a broad skill set.

A full size replica ‘Wicket the Ewok’ from ‘Star Wars’

To sum up, in my opinion the job of a ‘Prop Maker’ isn’t one that can necessarily be rounded off and explained in just one sentence. It covers such a huge spectrum of skills and creativity that very often don’t quite fit into a clean definition. To me any maker that can approach their project with an open mind and certain way of thinking could be called a ‘Prop Maker’, no matter what level that is on, profession or otherwise. I think it’s very important to find that connection with the job no matter what that may be, and help get it done just right. To this day, every single project that leaves my door I truly feel I have engaged with wholeheartedly and become passionate about. Researching the task to its fullest also helps grow confidence during the build that frees up the mind to overcome any difficulties that will inevitably arise. Finally, the greater the backlog of experience the more easily the starting point can be found and more knowledge will be gained to be utilised when the proper time arises.

In the future when people pretend to understand what I mean when I say ‘I’m a Prop Maker’ with a little half hearted non for courtesy, then proceed to ask what I’ve acted in lately or what camera equipment I use (yes this has happened!) I may have some sympathy, it really isn’t completely public knowledge what exactly it means to be a prop maker and the definition is ever growing, expanding and to me truly exciting. When those people need someone to make a model of the surface of the moon, a fully articulated whale skeleton or even life cast their own head, I’ll know I’ve always got an ace up my sleeve…

Hand machined ‘Sonic Screwdrivers’ from ‘Doctor who’ two designed by myself
Main Photo: A replica puppet of ‘Robin the Muppet’ from the Muppets

Instagram: christopher_sutton_props
Phone number: 07412 159179

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