Hortense and The Leaf Bug

This month while juggling commercial and gallery work, I found some time to squeeze in a project, one my friend Toby would call, SoulCraft.

Let me back up. 

I want to make props and small things for stop motion films, and am still trying to figure out how that realistically fits into my life. This summer at ICON, I got to have coffee with a former artist who worked for Laika (who produced Coraline, ParaNorman, and the latest Boxtrolls). It was incredibly inspiring and as soon as I came home I started planning a little scene. It went through a number of changes, but in the end, I chose to base the theme on science. And while doing so, I dreamed up about a dozen different scientists working in their labs or fields. This is the first, called Hortense and The Leaf Bug, and she comes complete with her own poem, as botanists should. 

By nature and for nature
Hortense studied plants. 
She was a bright young botanist, 
With brown eyes that enchant. 

A thumb was never greener
Nor an eye so sharply keen
To examine all the flora
Not half the world had seen. 

Microscopes and old field notes
Beakers burst with growth
Brimming stacks of plant presses
Sealed Hortense’s oath. 

A nameless plant, unclassified
She devotionally sought.
To find rare life and give it life
To catch what wasn’t caught. 

Her discoveries, she would find
Were those already found.
Some other botanist triumphed,
Now sitting, smiling, crowned. 

Traditional plant taxonomy 
Hard to articulate, 
Words like Lacrosoma Goopulus
And Finnitrungulate.

Glorypsum Matatooshodom
Quental Floridome
Raznapapa Guzenfilme
Trandoopus Rectisome

The words were all ridiculous
So Hortense planned a plan: 
To name a plant after her dog
Whose name was simply, Stan.

One night she found a little leaf 
On a stick inside her lab.
It hadn’t been collected,
It wasn’t organized or tabbed. 

Upon closer inspection
The leaf looked rare indeed. 
It had a lump upon it’s point
She couldn’t pin it’s breed. 

Could this be the very day
Her dreams would blossom true?
She opened up her notebook 
And her hand, it fiercely flew. 

An oval leaf patterned with veins, 
And a knot with two dark spots.
Two shoots protruded from the tip
Of the pointed little knot. 

Strange that this plant should have
Not just one stem, but six. 
And they all seemed bent in unison, 
each one resembled sticks. 

‘It’s Stan!’ she thought, ecstatically,
‘I’ve classified a plant!’
It seems that entomology 
had missed her by a slant. 

To report her new discovery, 
She phoned The Institute, 
But the woman on the other end
Laughed into a dispute. 

This specimen you’ve got on hand
Is not a plant but thief.
It’s stolen the identity  
Of a green and veiny leaf. 

Hortense was rightly mortified, 
Ambition caused her blind. 
She’d been so focused on her plants
No room for bugs in mind. 

She looked upon the leaf bug, 
Who didn’t have a name.
“I’ll still name you Stan,” she said, 
And so her triumph came.


The instruments were made from from doll house fish bowls and kitchen containers. I don't know how to make my own glass. Yet. The tray is a copper plumbing piece, and the beakers are cut from a hairspray bottle tube. The beaker holders were found at a salvage place. The microscope is made of a super glue cap, nails, weird hanging devices, and a couple of old earrings I cut up and repurposed. The little jars are tubing with gold tacks, and the instrument in the back is a bulb sitting on a lightbulb end, which was rusted and painted gold. 

The plants! The cactus is made from clay and actual wire pieces which makes it very prickly. The queen anne's lace is made from some weird cotton bally thing I had, paint, and the leaves are cut paper. The pink plant is made from a stick and clay, and painted in acrylic and is sitting in a copper plumbing piece. In the back is a wooden vase with paper leaves. 

Botanical Posters! The one on the left is fashioned with toothpicks and string. They are both done in acrylic. 

I got to use my skills from Mr. Dorman's 9th grade biology class here (which I LOVED) and I made a teeny drawing of plant cells. But this leaf is not a plant! So these cells would be organic. None of this matters.  Ok. The book was made from paper and cardboard and the little pencil is made from a carved match and tinfoil and acrylic paint. 

Hortense is made from grey firm sculpey and painted in acrylic. Her body is made from tin foil, tape, and fabric - I know - super professional. I am still figuring out how to sew clothes, so I did the best I could with the shirt, and my dear mother sewed the lab coat because she's a genius AND a sweetheart. 

My next goal is to figure out better armatures and learn how to sew on a small scale. It'd be great to animate these but I have to figure out how to actually make the puppet stable. 

Here you can see the size of Hortense. You can probably also see that I hadn't showered and had hardly slept that week. The piece was all set on some old metal tins and drawers I had laying around. It was a shotty set up and I knocked over things multiple times. I do dream of actually working in a studio someday with secured sets and puppets that don't fall over. *sigh*

I would love to get to these projects more often - it's been a whole year since my last little set. Ah well. Dreams. SoulCrafts. We need them. If I can find the time, more scientists will be coming your way.