How to Make Hand Shadow Puppets

How to Make Hand Shadows

Young Girl Having Fun with Hand Shadows
(Source: Young Girl Having Fun with Hand Shadows(Source: ©Kryzhov/Depositphotos.com)

Shadography was a popular amusement throughout the Victorian Era, and it was enjoyed in the early 1900s before electric lighting and newer forms of home entertainment became popular.

If this vintage art form is new to you, then watch the short YouTube video below for a demonstration on how to make shadow animals with only your hands and a small light source.

My elderly aunt once shared with me her recollections of a visitor to their farmhouse one evening during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The young man had come off the railroad tracks begging a meal, and he entertained the entire family by showing them how to make hand shadows. He had sat in front of a coal oil table lamp, and the shadow puppets were skillfully presented on the kitchen wall.

The old fashioned oil lamps and candles simply gave off better shadows than today’s bright light bulbs that tend to illuminate the entire room.

Light Source

The sharpest shadows come from a small, bright light source. A single lighted candle was favored by the Victorians, but a small flashlight, or a small 5-watt, clear appliance bulb can also be used to good effect.

Just keep in mind that the light source must be small and bright enough to throw a clearly defined shadow in the darkened room.

Screen

Simply use a white or very lightly colored wall for the screen. A white sheet hung over a door can serve the same purpose. As an alternative, a white sheet can be suspended in an open doorway to permit the audience to sit in a darkened room in front of the screen while the performer remains in the room behind the screen.

How to Make Hand Shadows by Félicien Trewey

Félicien Trewey Performing the Shadowgraph
(SourFélicien Trewey Performing the Shadowgraph(Source: Open Court Magazine, 1904)by Félicien Treweyby Félicien Trewey

One of the greatest performers of Shadowgraphy was the French entertainer Félicien Trewey (1848-1920). He learned how to make hand shadows as an art form, and he perfected many popular hand shadow animals that other entertainers copied and added to their acts.

Though greatly skilled in mime, balancing objects, and legerdemain, the “shadowgraph” in Trewey’s performance surprised and amused most. His amazing measure of dexterity was described as “Treweyism.”

“The Art of Shadowgraphy: How It Is Done” was published around the time of Trewey’s death, and it contains a wealth of instruction for anyone wanting to learn how to make hand shadows. The how-to illustrations and instructions below are excerpted from Trewey’s book:

How to Make Hand Shadow Puppets

The following eight positions of the hand and fingers being exercised, will give to the beginner very valuable assistance. Figs. 1-8 below.

Hand and Finger Exercise by TreweyHand and Finger Exercise by Trewey

The most convenient distance of the light from the hands is four feet, and about six feet from the hands to the wall or screen on to which the shadows are to be thrown.

It will often be found necessary, in order to gain a desirable effect, to turn the hands a little to the right or to the left.

The amateur should be careful to cover any mirror in the room which would reflect the light and cause two shadows.

How to Make Hand Shadow Puppets by TreweyHow to Make Hand Shadow Puppets by Trewey

Fig 9 — The Rabbit. Many works have been produced to explain and illustrate “Shadows on the Wall,” and almost invariably have begun with a rabbit. If there be any who do not know how to perform this, a glance at the illustration will suffice to instruct.

Fig. 10 — The Swan.

Figs. 11 and 12 — The Wolf was performed by Campi and Frizzo, but…

The Rabbit, the Swan, and the Wolf by TreweyThe Rabbit, the Swan, and the Wolf by Trewey

Fig. 13 — The Elephant, and

Fig. 14 — The Bird, and

Fig. 15 — The Cat, were perfected by Trewey.

The Elephant, the Bird, and the Cat by TreweyThe Elephant, the Bird, and the Cat by Trewey

Fig. 16 — The Old Man

Fig. 17 — Perfect Nose

Fig. 18 — The Countryman, and

The Old Man, Perfect Nose, and the Countryman by TThe Old Man, Perfect Nose, and the Countryman by Trewey

Fig. 19 — The Grimacer had been performed by others, but

Fig. 20 — The Volunteer, and

Fig. 21 — Robinson Crusoe were Trewey’s inventions.

The Grimacer, the Volunteer, and Robinson Crusoe bThe Grimacer, the Volunteer, and Robinson Crusoe by Trewey

Fig. 22 — The Jockey, and

Fig. 23 — The Rope Dancer were invented by Trewey during a visit to the Alhambra (a palace, fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain).

The Jockey and the Rope Dancer by TreweyThe Jockey and the Rope Dancer by Trewey

At the same time,

Fig. 24 — The Boatman, and

Fig. 25 — The Fisherman were first produced.

The Boatman and the Fisherman by TreweyThe Boatman and the Fisherman by Trewey

Fig. 26 — The perfection of the Preacher.

Fig. 26a — Shews the mode by which the Preacher is performed.

The Perfection of the Preacher, and the PerformancThe Perfection of the Preacher, and the Performance by Trewey

The Animated Pantomime: Invented by Trewey

Fig. 27 — The Policeman is the “follower” of the servant girl. He knocks at the door, and the girl appears at the upstairs window, and after an exchange of compliments, the girl withdraws herself from the window and reappears at the door.

She gives to the policeman a drink from the bottle; and he, after wiping his beard, kisses her and retires.

The Girl and the Policeman Pantomime by TreweyThe Girl and the Policeman Pantomime by Trewey

Factoid

The Paterfamilias was the oldest male in a household, the head of a Roman family.

Fig. 28 — Then comes the itinerant musician, playing a doleful air upon the clarinet. Paterfamilias comes to the bedroom window, and motions the player away, but the musician derisively strikes up a lively tune, and Paterfamilias now makes his appearance armed with a long broom with which he thrashes him.

The musician still persisting, Paterfamilias next produces the water jug and pours the contents upon the head of the luckless serenader who quickly makes his exit.

The Musician and Paterfamilias Pantomime by TreweyThe Musician and Paterfamilias Pantomime by Trewey

It will be noticed that the little accessories, such as the helmet for the policeman, the broom, etc., are little articles which may easily be cut from pasteboard, and, where necessary, attached to the figures by means of an India-rubber ring fastened to the properties.

The water jug, however, must be an actual little vessel in order to contain sand, which when poured out, gives all the appearance of a flow of water.

The amateur, with perseverance, can achieve all the results set forth in this book, and with a little ingenuity may possibly invent others, and the amusement afforded will prove ample repayment for his labor.

How to Make Hand Shadows by Henry Bursill

Hand Shadow of a Camel by Henry Bursill
(Source: Hand Shadow of a Camel by Henry Bursill(Source: Hand Shadows by Bursill, 1859)

Henry Wayte Bursill (1833-1871) studied at London’s Royal Academy of Arts from 1854 to 1863 and became a noted sculptor, medalist, and modeller.

Shadowgraphy was Bursill’s longtime amusement and in 1859, he published “Hand Shadows to be Thrown Upon the Wall,” a small book that featured a series of his original designs. In the preface, he wrote:

“Some of my sketches were made years ago, others when a student at the Academy. Indeed, the Shadows have often been displayed on the walls of my studio, much to the amusement of fellow-students who would, I am sure, at any time bear witness to their originality.”

If you love the art of shadowgraphy, you will love Bursill’s book. It includes a collection of illustrations that reveal how to form figures of animals, birds, and people simply by using your hands to cast shadows.

Download Hand Shadows

Get secure instant access to your FREE PDF COPY of

Get secure instant access to your FREE PDF COPY of Henry Bursill’s 21-page book Hand Shadows that you can download and print out for easy reading.

Directions

Tell children that they will be making shadow puppets with their hands. 

  1. Have children work in pairs and invite them to think of shadow puppets they can make using one or both of their hands. Encourage them to make puppets that can move. 
  2. Have each child demonstrate his or her hand puppet in the mini theater. Then see if their partner can imitate his or her hand puppet.  

Video

A Pioneer SamplerA Great Living Book

This book is actually the inspiration for our making a shadow puppet theater! In the book, the Robertsons spend a cold winter's evening around the fire watching to Granny cast shadows on the wall as she tells a silly story about hobgoblins.

This is such a wonderful way to learn about the American pioneers. The book centers around the Robertsons, a backwoods family of nine. Engaging stories about their lives teach about the lifestyle of our American forefathers and mothers. Interspersed among the stories are factual pages with beautiful line drawings and activity suggestions. A fascinating book!

Thanks for visiting. I hope that your puppet theater is a grand success!

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Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by staging a shadow puppet show based on the Chinese Moon legend that explains the origins and traditions of the festival.

Warnings

  • Be careful if using candles, lamps are recommended.

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  • Be careful when cutting out the cardboard-box and paper.

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Little Red Riding Hood: Shadow Puppets

These shadow puppets will let your kids make their version of Little Red Riding Hood and stage a shadow play at home or in the classroom!

Key Science Concepts

  • A shadow is made when an object blocks the light.
  • You can change the shape of a shadow by moving and turning your body or the object making the shadow or by moving the light source.

Shadow Puppets Youtube Video Tutorial

You could even get the kids to sit behind a cardboard box and put on a Shadow Puppet performance! You can make a crab, rabbit, bull, moose, elephant, and snail to name a few.

You will love the collection of ideas featured in this video. Click Play above to view now ^

Another great idea is getting the kids to use thei

Another great idea is getting the kids to use their toy animals to create shadows that they can then trace on paper. We found this idea on Above & Beyond.

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