My best piece of advice is to always start with a picture. But don’t be afraid to stray from that image in terms with either coloring or the overall form. A picture will help you keep proportions correct, and the rest will fall in place. A disproportionate animal will look sloppy at best, and unless you get the coloring spot on, it just isn’t going to look right, leading to disappointment after putting in a lot of time. There have been many times when I have started an animal by creating the legs, only to find out that if I kept the rest of the animal in proportion it would be much larger or smaller than I had planned. Personally, I prefer to start with the appendages for small to medium sized animals because they are often the easiest way to get the desired size close to what I had imagined for the overall animal.
For this puffin, I knew it would be important to reinforce the feet because a bipedal animal would require a lot of strength in those two little feet. I took about 5 pipe cleaners and started wrapping more pipe cleaners around them in a spiral pattern, over and over until I get the desired strength. If I were to do it again, I would have used a large bunch of pipe cleaners in the middle because the legs are still not quite as strong as I had hoped.
After the legs were done I worked on a frame for the body. For this I just made a grid pattern of pipe cleaners which would later be filled in with color. The head was made separately and attached at the neck. After making the grid of the body and before filling in the “skin”, I attached the legs. The important part is to make as many attachments as possible. If you don’t, the legs will be wobbly and could even warp the body of the puffin so badly that it could destroy the animal in no time at all. Always leave any arm or leg a little bit longer than intended because you will need to make use of the ends of the pieces to attach to the body. NEVER USE HOT GLUE or any other sort of adhesive. Firstly, it will get everywhere and you will have sticky, rough, or sharp patches on the body. Secondly, it is not necessary. Pipe cleaners are flexible, yet firm. With a good pair of pliers, you can attach everything very firmly and the animal will never come apart.
If I had been a bit more adventurous, I would have tried to create him to pose in a better position, but that was an oversight. It would have been nice to see him in mid-stride or trying to catch a fish.
On a side note, I was lucky enough to see a bunch of these little guys in person when I visited the Faroe Islands. They are incredibly cute.