Artist Corner – THING’s ain’t what they used to be! – Richard Johnston

In the 1991 film ‘Addams Family,’ the peculiar family’s pet was a disembodied hand called ‘Thing.’ It was achieved with a clever mix of a performer’s real hand and computer effects and works very well on screen. I wondered if I could create a similar sort of illusion but for a theatrical performance instead of film. So, I started to design a hand shaped glove with a hole in the back of it, so a performer’s real hand could be inside controlling it. The performer’s arm would be hidden by a black fabric sleeve and the background would also be black thus, hopefully, giving the illusion of a severed hand, moving around on it’s own.

I constructed an aluminium wire skeleton, begun adding plasticine on top and using references photos of a hand in the right position, started sculpting the shape. It took me a couple of weeks to get the right shape and I over emphasised the wrinkles on the sculpt, planning that it would only really be seen from a distance and would need to be larger than life. I used old dental tools, an old fruit knife and a rubber washing up pad to try and get the texture right. I was experimenting as I went along!

I then made a three part plaster mould and once cured, I cleaned out any plasticine still left inside the inner surface. Once the mould was put back together and sealed, I then poured in liquid latex and left it to form a fairly thick skin over 6 hours or so. Eventually, the skin dried and I was able to undo the mould and pull out a latex, hand shaped glove. I produced three gloves in all and experimented where best to put the hole for the performer’s hand. Then I used a combination of rubber glue, Heptane and oil paints to colour the hand and soon, ‘Thing’ had come to life!

Even though it’s a severed hand, I didn’t want it to be too gruesome! But the concept was proven and generally speaking was a success. I had never created anything quite like this before and even using the combination of Heptane, rubber glue and oil paint was all new to me too.

Experimentation is the only way of starting an idea and having learned from my mistakes, I hope to have another go and improve upon it next time!

Instagram: @swd_designer
LinkedIn: Richard Johnston
07910 002537

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