What a treat it was to have been able to talk to Jim Parkyn, whose thumbs and fingers have moulded the faces I’ve watched on TV as a child and now as an adult! Jim’s a highly skilled model and puppet maker best known for his work on things such as “Wallace and Gromit”, “Chicken Run” and now for his Instagram streams of “Community Clay Time”.
It’s here that he demonstrates how to make plasticine models in real time before our very eyes. Viewers send him comments and pictures of their masterpieces for him to share with the world. He can make just about anything! (Interview with Amy Baker.)
Image from instagram @jimparkyn
Could you tell us a little bit about your life as a puppet maker and how you got into it?Well! It’s been a long time. I have been working in animation for 22 years now as a freelance model maker and have worked around the country for various studios, including Aardman Animations. Over the years I have worked on Chicken Run, Robbie the Reindeer, Wallace and Gromit, Pirates in Adventure with Scientists, Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep, as well as several small series and a string of commercials.
I am now a senior model maker and Aardman Ambassador, as well as running my own very small studio. In recent years I have worked more in the live circuit, running workshops at schools and universities, festivals and corporate team builds and teaching at the Aardman Academy.
I know Community Clay Time has been valuable to so many people and families in the lockdown period (including me!). What were your reasons for starting that up?
The reason I started community clay time was finding that, faced with no work and being in lockdown, I really missed putting on a show every day and how much I enjoyed sharing what I do and teaching those skills to others. When faced with what to start with, I thought the reason we are all still here is because of the virus, so let’s start there in a fun and not threatening fashion. Rainbows seemed a natural second step as it was something different to put in your window and a visible encouragement to people as they pass their neighbours houses.
Community clay time has been such a comfort for me. It provides me with structure in a fractious time which I had lost. I have daily interaction with the audience (albeit written on a timeline), which is encouraging and a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be doing what I do, and is also an artistic challenge to create something new every day that people will want to make.
What sort of role do you see arts and puppetry having in the community?
I think that this is an interesting time for the arts and especially puppetry as both seemingly are reliant on a physical audience. There is a new challenge to find a platform for your story or message and this could be seen as a brave new world of new and exciting avenues for expression.
Puppetry is such a brilliant medium for telling stories and communicating in a way that is unlike any other. There is a level of interaction between the puppet and the audience that is unique and the challenge now is how to have that using new technology and ways of performing. I am excited at the prospect of seeing new projects and how we might share that with a larger audience despite the social distancing.
Is there a project in your career that has influenced you the most?
The very clear influence for me throughout my career – and is certainly manifest in Community Clay Time – is Creature Comforts. The simplicity of concept and the purity of the concept is still compelling and something that I return to time and time again. I think I just like making funny animals!
Do you have any special hobbies that keep you sane whilst being locked down?
I have re engaged with some old projects I had neglected through workload previously. So I am print making, wood carving and foraging the abundance of wild foods popping up all around us at the moment when I’m not pushing plasticine. I’m not sure they are special hobbies but they are certainly a stabilising element in this time.
Wallace or Gromit?
Join Jim each day at @JimParkyn on Instagram to learn how to make a variety of curious creatures, selected at random on a weekly basis! You can also learn more with Jim and other professionals with courses from the Aardman Academy. Find out more on Aardman’s website: https://www.aardman.com/course/