We'd just finished the "knights in shining armour" puzzle, when I got the sudden urge to make one about Tarzan. Marianne liked the idea but wanted someone for little girls to relate to, so it became Tarzan and Jane: a happy family swinging through a pretty jungle filled with noble but friendly animals. |
It took some negotiating to resolve which version of Tarzan to use. Marianne thought my first sketches of the happy couple were way too sexy for the kiddies, being comic-book superhero hard bodies in skintight leather skimpies.
Marianne's concept of Tarzan was Johnny Weismuller, while I'm a disciple of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs books as illustrated by J. Allen St. John, who painted starkly raw scenes of the naked Ape-Man killing a lion with his bare hands, etc. Even though this puzzle was for kids, we both felt that the current Disney Studios version of Tarzan was too tame. We ended up with a Russ Manning (Dell comics) handsome guy Tarzan, and a Maureen O'Sullivan-like Jane.
Then we had to design the image. Since it was to be a jig-saw puzzle, there should be lots of stuff going on in the picture so that every piece gives a clue as to where it belongs in the assembled picture. We wanted a dramatic perspective to show how high up Jane and Tarzan were, to thrill the kids with their daring-do, and there simply had to be some African Jungle animals scattered around in the trees and down on the ground, so I found my vanishing point and filled in the blanks.
Just to program a little subliminal danger into the picture, the vanishing point is located right inside the open mouth of a hungry crocodile in the river way down below, which is where our casually fearless tree-swinging heroes would fall to if they should happen to miss grabbing one of those vines. But they never do-- look at Tarzan, floating hands free between vines, talk about confidence.
I assembled the "finished" drawing, which was actually just a stencil for the puzzle. Which I then traced onto a sheet of fine plywood, using a pencil-sharpened dowel and carbon paper. Then my part of the puzzle project was done for a while.
However, wanting to play with it some more, I scanned in the original drawing and colored it with Photoshop (as seen in the "Comix" section of this web site), which Marianne could refer to for coloring suggestions, if she wanted to.
Anyway, it's her turn now. Marianne paints over the drawing with water colors, filling in the background areas. The actual lines get covered up for now, but they can usually still be discerned lightly, to be redrawn later with an art pen as one of the last finishing touches. But before that can happen she must lay in all the shadings and light effects that give a painting dynamic and depth.
One of the most time-consuming parts is just filling in the background colors between everything, which has to be done before you get to the fun part of fleshing in all the characters and animals. Water colors are not so good for layering techniques, as are oils or acrylics (or Photoshop). But then again, being a hobby, consuming time is just fine if you end up with a work of art that pleases yourself and others. This piece of wood is supposed to end up being a hand-made work of art, rather than a mass-produced commodity.
Eventually however, Marianne has finally filled in all the blank spaces and is down to dabbing in little details, miniscule spots, shines and shadows. And then suddenly -- (well, after a sudden week or two, or months, it all depends) -- the painting is done.
What she has at this point is a nice little comic-book-art painting of Tarzan and Jane on a plywood square, which you could hang up on a wall if you wanted to. But that's not the assignment, since this is supposed to end up being a jigsaw puzzle, so there's a ways to go yet before the project is completed.
The next step is to spray the painting with a fixative-varnish to protect the surface and make it waterproof. Especially since all those cute little kids will be playing with the pieces in their grubby little fingers and voracious mouths.
Next comes the traumatic part: there's already a lot of time and artistic emotion invested in this little square of plywood, but now she has to destroy it -- by cutting it up into lots of bite-sized pieces and scattering them temporarily asunder. But Marianne has learned to be tough about this, gotta break those eggs to make that omelet, etc.
The outer edge must remain intact, being the frame for the puzzle, so she hammers a tiny nail somewhere inside the picture to make a tiny hole, through which she threads the thin blade of a hand-held jigsaw. Now she can cut the picture free from the edge surrounding it.
The now separate outer edge gets securely glued to a matching square of masonite, forming frame and backing plate, a dish for the puzzle pieces be laid into. The finished product can therefore be displayed and transported around as a neatly assembled unit, rather than just jumbling all the chunks into a plastic bag.
Once the center part is free in her hands, she can saw squiggly lines back and forth the whole thing so that she ends up with 50-80 reasonably equal puzzle pieces, depending on the size and complexity of the drawing. It's best if they're neither too big nor too small, of course, there should be an artistic harmony of shapes, which she's developed a feel for. For this project she ended up with 80 pieces.
All the edges are sanded smooth, each piece is then shellacked and dried, as is the backing plate. Except for fixing any little flaws here and there, the puzzle is now ready to be reassembled into the original picture again.
And there it is: just like before-- well, except for all those squiggly grooves running through it everywhere. But that's the nature of a jigsaw puzzle, so they're actually kind of cool.
Besides, now you can play with it!
Ideally, the puzzle will be neither too easy nor too hard for someone to assemble, whether kids or adults. It's no fun if there's no challenge. This one ends up being a little tricky, with so much green and brown in it, but there's at least some kind of clue on every piece. The acid test was that we had fun assembling it ourselves!
So what now? What shall we do with it? The other puzzles Marianne has made have ended up in various Kindergartens, a doctor's waiting room, some have become gifts to friends and families with a kid or two. We don't know where Tarzan and Jane are going to end up yet.
Of course, most are never meant to be sold, which is just as well, since I don't think we can afford to go into business doing puzzles. That's not why Marianne makes them anyway, she just likes to.
And the finished product is revealed below:
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