The Clover Show

My Dad was the guidance counsellor for a whole bunch of schools in northern Manitoba when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, he’d bring me to different schools to perform in a puppet show with him.

I was a raccoon named Rehoboth, a cat, a beaver, and a bear. The puppet show was about important kid things - not being a bully, not doing drugs, what to do if you get sad... there were even songs in the shows sometimes. I have no idea if they were actually part of the show, or just me erupting into song because it seemed like the right thing to do.

I'm in my 40s now, and I finally made a puppet and wrote a song and got on stage to see if being a puppet is as fun as I remembered it being. It totally was. :)

(Thanks Dad).

What Next

If you know me at all, you probably know that I suck at doing things half-assed. I wasn’t satisfied just being in a live puppet show; I also designed and hand-sewed the puppet, wrote the song, made a karaoke style video so the audience could sing along, and produced some merchandise in the form of enamel pins. I did not do these things in a sensible order, either.

It took the better part of a year to do everything, and now that I’ve performed with Clover I want to start making regular videos with her. My plan is to continue workshopping her character by recording short videos for my friend’s children. (If you want me to make a video for you, contact me).

I still haven’t figured out how to properly light a green screen, my microphone is not ideal for this, and building the puppet so my hand goes in at the base of her neck wasn’t the greatest plan, but I still think this is a pretty great hobby. I’m going to keep working on it, and I’ve registered theclovershow.com especially for this project.

Designing the Character - 1 month

Clover started as a simple vector design that was just a head. I used the final design as my personal avatar for a few months to see if I’d get bored with the character, or if I’d want to continue developing it after looking at it for a while.

Clover_Early_Designs.png

The initial design was intended to have a really earnest, excited vibe. At the time, this was the opposite of how I was actually feeling, but it’s a pretty big part of who I am normally, and I thought it might be fun to develop a character who’s always super excited and eager to explore the world.

After a few months of staring at this face, I still liked it. When I ordered some enamel pins from True Metal Works for my company, I ordered some Clover pins at the same time. This was a bit of a process, since the design wasn’t intended for pins, and making the borders a similar dark blue involved actually coating the metal with paint. The result was pretty amazing, though.

 The pin on the right is the old logo for  Lumo Play , my software company.

The pin on the right is the old logo for Lumo Play, my software company.

Once I was committed to the character, I drew the rest of the body, and used the project file to learn the basics of Adobe Character Animator. Here’s a short video I made using audio provided by friend Bradley and his son.

When I started working on the character, it was much younger, and gender neutral - I still may revert to a non-binary character, but in my mind she’s female at this point.

Naming the Character - 5 minutes

My Dad chose the name Clover, even though he doesn’t remember doing it. As a child, Watership Down was one of my favorite books, and Clover is one of the few female characters (she escapes from Nuthanger Farm with Hazel). Maybe Dad subconsciously remembers me pretending to be Clover when I was a kid. I definitely spent a lot of my childhood being a rabbit.

Making a Puppet - 3 weeks

I wanted to make a puppet for this character long before I knew I would be on stage with it. Puppets have always fascinated me, and I’ve wanted to create some kind of linear children’s content for a while. The freedom afforded by puppetry and the possibilities for interesting narrative combinations when combining live action and animation made me want to have both a live puppet and an animated 2D rig as options.

My friend Rylaan told me about an event in Winnipeg called Puppet Slam, so I signed up to do a solo performance during my next visit home. This was an amazing forcing factor - not only did it give me a deadline to get the puppet finished, it also gave me a timeframe to plan a first performance, and the initiative to practice.

The main resource I used was Adam Kreutinger’s youtube channel; this guy knows literally everything there is to know about building puppets, and he’s a great teacher. The first video I watched involved making a form out of clay, covering it with masking tape, and using the flattened masking tape to make a fabric pattern.

I decided to skip the clay form and just carve the head directly out of foam, and use the actual foam to make the fabric pattern. Turns out this wasn’t a great plan; masking tape doesn’t stick to foam all that well, and making the head out of solid foam means the puppet’s a lot heavier than it probably needs to be. But for my first puppet, I think it turned out pretty well.

01 Carved Head.JPG
02 Carved Body.JPG

Because of the way the head was carved, the entry hole for my hand had to be at the back of the head rather than through the body if I wanted to avoid the entire body flapping every time I opened the mouth. To accomplish this, I finished applying fabric to the head and the body separately, and attached them together at the end.

03 Adding Fabric.JPG
04 Sculptey Party.JPG

The teeth and eyes were made from Sculpey Polymer Clay, painted with acrylic paint, and varnished a few times with a spray on furniture varnish.

05 Final Puppet.JPG

Once Clover was complete, I started practicing with her.

Writing a Puppet Song - 3 days

I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid, but I’ve never written one for someone else to sing.

This is what writing a puppet song is like. Without knowing much about my character’s opinions or history, I had to write something she could sing in her own voice.

I started workshopping the character while she was still a detached foam head, which was weird, but also necessary given the time constraints.

Clover seems older in puppet form than she is in cartoon form, but she’s still pretty young. She’s basically a tween, but owing to rabbits kicking their kids out at a young age, she’s on her own for the first time. Like me, she’s been thinking about her family a lot. She’s more interested in things like Big History and physics than pop culture, fashion, or age-appropriate children’s entertainment. Despite that, she’s got a sort of naive and earnest charm that actually makes her a bit younger mentally than other rabbits about to enter puberty.

I wrote a lullaby for her to sing; something fatalistic but weirdly uplifting that a prey animal might sing to it’s statistically mostly doomed offspring. The overall theme is to enjoy life while you have it because it’s short and the end is unpredictable, unavoidable, and often comical. Here are the complete lyrics:

Lullaby for Quarry

I have a story that I would like to share with you

When I’m afraid, or when I’m feeling kind of blue

I just remember a song my mommy sang to me

So listen close, this is my whole philosophy


Might as well enjoy life

One day we all die

Lots of things can kill you

That’s what mommy said


Cars and plague and poison

Lightning and trans fats

Smoking, quicksand, drowning

Someday you’ll be dead


No need to worry about your family or your friends

Heat death will take it all; everything ends


You’re part of a great amazing mystery

Stop worrying why and sing along with me


Let’s all sing together

‘til something kills us

There’s no point in crying

Bears and guns and snakes


Earthquakes and volcanoes

Oil spills and knife fights

Cannon balls and spiders

Terrible mistakes


Alien invasions

Hurricanes and hitmen

Evil supervillians

Someday you’ll be dead


Might as well enjoy life

One day we all die

Lots of things can kill you

That’s what mommy said

I wrote the entire song in Ableton Live while flying from Montreal to Portland. I was on my way to XOXO 2018, which is an experimental festival for online creators. Throughout the festival, I’d slip off to work on the track and practice singing the words. The puppet was still a foam head at this point, so the song and the puppet were kind of developed together.

Performing Live - 3.5 minutes

I arrived in Winnipeg the night before the performance. The other performers had been working and practicing together for a while, but Curtis Wiebe, the artist who organizes Winnipeg’s puppet community and produces Puppet Slam, agreed to let me do a standalone performance.

I sent Curtis email updates as I worked on my performance, so he was aware of the progress and concept, but I didn’t really know too much about what the other performers would be doing until the night I arrived. We took turns presenting each skit the night before the show, and we did a dry run before the final performance, which was pretty cool, but I was still extremely nervous.

 Clover backstage at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg

Clover backstage at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg

The nice thing about Puppet Slam is that it’s kind of a mix between planned performances and improv, and the community is really supportive, so being nervous wasn’t a problem.

In the end, I wish I’d practiced more, (I overdubbed the final video with a pre-recorded version of the song because I didn’t remember to stay in the character’s voice very well onstage), and I also wish I’d worn a completely black suit. There were a few available, but I had problems reading the lyrics through the hood, and still hadn’t memorized the song. Even black gloves would have been a bit better.

Clover 06.jpg

Considering it was my first time performing onstage with a puppet, and that I invented the character, made the puppet from scratch, and wrote an original song for her, I think it went really well. I’m going to continue exploring Clover’s world and see where it takes me.