"The Idea Is Not The Work" is a statement that caught my attention in movie recently, The context was unrelated to art doll making, but it made me think. Maybe this is the mistake I've made all along. I've always figured that if I had an idea, then, ta-da, a doll was born. Failing to consider the work separate from the idea has led to frustrations and impatience.
Here I will walk you through the process of developing the design of the "tube doll". I listed this as one of my art doll ideas for this year, but the idea spark happened last year, or the year before. I saw a wall installation in a gallery that was a series of ceramic cylinders. How cool would that be if each cylinder form had a head so that the piece looked like a group of people. I worked on this idea last year, eventually making "The Zipper Men". All of this makes it seem like I had already been working on this idea for a long time before I spent several more weeks on it this winter.
So, I've got an idea. Now what? Experience has taught me lots of unsuccessful and tedious strategies, so I can avoid those now, I want a piece that will hang on the wall, either individually or in a group of 2 or 3 dolls. I want a polymer clay face and a fabric tube or cylinder that will represent a figure in a long dress or robe. I may try to figure out how to add arms. These will be 12 - 14" tall.
The dolls pictured above are the first 2 experimental figures. I built up the head forms on 1/4" dowels using some aluminum foil and paper mache pulp. The polymer clay face needs support and it is much easier to model the clay against a firm surface. I like to use paper mache pulp to build up the back of the head. In this case I plan to paint it, but if I decide to add some fiber hair it will be possible to glue it on with water based glue.
On the first doll, pictured on the left. I used a 1 1/2" diameter round wooden piece from the craft store for the shoulders, just slipping the dowel into the center. This was easy, but the round shape look awkward especially with the yarn glued in there and it didn't accommodate a hanger on the back.
On the second doll, pictured on the right, I made the shoulder from a 1 1/2" long piece of 1x2, drilling a hole through the center and filing off the corners. This was better. I decided this would work best if the 1x2 was cut to a narrow 1/2" slice instead of the 1 1/2" piece.
The dresses for these dolls were made from some quilted stuff on hand and I've come pretty close to working out the proportions of everything. I like the "tube" form flared a bit at the bottom and I'm beginning to work out the arms. These have a polymer bead made to look like clasped hands on a continuous wire running from shoulder to shoulder. These wire arms are wrapped with batting and fabric.
OK. I decided I was ready to put all this to the test and make a special birthday gift for my mom, pictured below. A pale peach vintage linen napkin makes her dress. A pair of doilies, beautifully tatted and embroidered by my grandmother, are used for her shawl and apron. The lace on the handkerchief that makes her head covering is from the family stock of tatted things. Of course she has a necklace!
I finally have 12 more heads almost ready to go. Each one still needs a little attention. These will make 4 groups of 3 dolls each. The linen and lace idea appeals to me and I would like to do one group in black and white. "Tube doll" is just a working name that doesn't make much sense at this point. I am now thinking of these as prayer or meditation dolls, but that is open to further developments.
I ordered a large roll of mixed media quality paper early in January. What a great way to start the year! The paper holds and absorbs the paint in a different way than canvas or board. That threw me a bit at first but continued experimentation is beginning to overcome the differences. The sheer volume of available paper (42" wide by 8 yards) is thrilling. So far, I've worked on smaller pieces because my work surface is limited. When the weather warms up a bit I can move to my painting to the garage where I have a larger table and more wall space.
Marks and more marks! I have played around with as many mark making tools as I can find around the studio: sticks, skewers for dragging paint and scraping lines into the paint, Q tips, and more. I've has especially loved the graphite stick that has been kicking around with my stuff for 50 years. I'm trying to get the hang of painting with a brayer, too, but so far it doesn't seem to roll very well. It makes great marks, however.
This piece uses 2 hand painted collage papers in black and white, that were later painted a bit, as well as some text torn from a magazine page. I am challenged by the simple act of painting a line with a brush. It never looks right to me. In piece below I used a transfer process of painting the line on a piece of plastic wrap and then flipping the wrap over to print it on the paper.
What will I do with these paintings on paper? It almost doesn't matter. The exciting thing is that I am developing experience with color and composition and tools. There is lots of potential collage paper here, if nothing else. Most of these are 16" x 20", or at least 14" X 14", So, smaller pieces could be cropped out to be matted and framed, or mounted on a cradled board and finished.
My system of making sketches and notes has always been pretty random. When I start to get an idea for a doll I just reach for scratch paper, the back of an envelope, or best case, a blank page in my notebook. The sketches usually are focused on how I plan to assemble a figure and materials I might use, without much other detail. These sketches are mixed in with grocery lists, and so forth. Once in awhile I gather them up and stick them into 3-ring binder. I pulled this notebook out recently to see what I could see, and to look for a few ideas.
You can see my original sketch on the left that resulted in the "Zipper Men". It was fun to find some of the very early drawings for the "Hoop Skirt" doll that I eventually made many times. Many ideas have not been developed yet, and may never happen.
I noticed several things as I browsed. Early dolls strongly featured machine quilted fabric collage. The expressive polymer clay faces never show up in the sketches, but are important in each piece. Fascination with construction and moving parts shows throughout.
I tried to focus on what materials I would like to with now and how I would like to spend my time.
I've gotten away from fabric collage and machine quilting in recent years, but I would like to do more now. I have many tiny scraps to use and I could hand paint some fabrics, too. Several boxes of antique linens, lace and baby clothes are still available. I love to make the little polymer clay faces and hope to find ways to use them that are not as labor intensive as making a full figure. I've been interested, too, in a more primitive, folk art style.
This is a list of what I've figured out so far.
Some of these ideas are not entirely new, but there are 5 of them! In my blog posts over the next few months I plan to write about the development of each idea and show the results.
The idea of painting had always been on the back burner for me until the past year. I was so intimidated by my university art courses that I headed for an art education degree. (As if facing a classroom of middle school kids would not be intimidating!) I hung onto my leftover paints and supplies for years, moving them with our household from here to there at least 20 times. Finally, in this pandemic year of being isolated at home I got underway with painting in a more serious way, and I think the light is beginning to dawn. I love that the physical activity and pace of the work is completely different than in my doll making. While some things, like the extensive fabric collage involved in my Hoop Skirt Dolls, seem to carry over a bit, there is much to learn. I have found some interesting on-line resources, and comments professors made long ago have come to mind, and finally made some sense. So, I plan to paint!
Will I still make dolls? Of course. I was desperately tired of doll making when I turned to painting, but some of that new energy has bounced back into dolls ideas. As long as I can reasonably control the amount of time and detail involved, I can keep going. After all, I have a few new designs and a lovely supply of treasure to use!
My BLOG plan is to to stay with the second and fourth Friday plan, writing about painting on the second Friday, about doll making on the fourth Friday. I plan to have a creative year!
The little collection of Folk Art Santas that I have made over the years is very special and I enjoyed unpacking it and having it out on display this month. Over the holidays I saw a large, elaborate ceramic Santa figure. His blue and white color scheme interested me as much as anything, so I decided to translate that idea into a folk art style figure. Here is Blue Santa.
He came together quickly with weathered wood, sticks and a pair of legs I had originally made for someone else. It is so fun when something happens easily and it shows!
This is not the case with the 3 ARTiculated dolls I have been working on this fall. I resolved to finish them before the end of the year and I almost made it. But, 2 of them did not make it through the final review this morning. Lumpy legs and an awkward skirt are among the problems. I don't like it when the struggle shows, so I will struggle a little more to try to make the results look like they were easily accomplished!
I have some doll making ideas developing for 2021. Some glimmers you have seen here in my blog..
So, here we go into a happy new year. Let's get started!
I emptied a large bottle of hand soap like this one several weeks ago. Just as I got ready to toss it into the recycle bin I realized that it could be a doll body. Or, a dress. I am still interested in the idea of a doll that hangs, or suspends. In the past I've called these "ARTiculated" dolls, which I like better that "hanging dolls". It only took an empty plastic bottle to send me on my way.
I cut the bottom out of the bottle with a utility blade and sawed off the neck. I wanted to make a rounder head, instead of the flat face style I often use, but I still wanted to be able to drill a hole from top to bottom for the wire and swivel inside. I built up the head form with generous applications of paper mache on the front and back of the wood center. I had a pair of legs I had made earlier that were too short for the intended doll. These had been sewn from canvas and stuffed, and then covered with gesso and paint, but still needed feet for this doll. The legs needed to dangle from inside the bottle/dress.
The amazing thing here is that I worked out all the interior mechanics while I could see what I was doing and BEFORE I covered the bottle with strips of paper mache. So, I am fairly close to the end of the process. I need to add a fluff of yarn hair to make her head a little rounder. Paper mache and paint on the bottle will be fairly simple. But, do you think I can get it finished? One day.
This are my doll making goals for December: Finish the "Dial Doll", finish 3 other ARTiculated dolls, including the one with a house on her head, and finish the bodies for 4 primitive heads that are ready to go! OK. Let's get started!
This is a familiar face, but who is this cute girl, anyway?
It seems like almost every face I make has a serious potential to look just like this one. I have often heard the comment, "Your dolls look just like you". Now that I have made nearly 1,000 dolls, I suppose that some of them do look like me, although that was never the intent,
I started to experiment with this idea a few weeks ago quite by mistake. Perhaps my "prim" figures are a reaction to the very cute girl dolls. Or, maybe I'm just feeling a little bit of Halloween! Whatever the reason I am having fun with them.
Most of the figures will hang and have a full body with arms and legs. This is the only one that has made it to completion so far. At 28" tall he doesn't fit into the photo very well. A Stick, parts of a cedar trellis found in the back yard, pieces from a coconut mat, metal, beads, bone and buttons make up his body.
I've started a few more faces just to try out different materials and ideas. It is really hard for me to stay away from the face I usually make. I have one more head ready and some others with details that are just too funny. The head on the left has hair made from rusty staples removed from the trellis. I used tacks and clay to make bug eyes. In the center is a mouth I love. (The rest of this head is a zero.) The head on the right has clay "ears" that I made early in the process, instead of adding them at the end., and a great nose.
I still plan for most of these to be heads on hanging figures, but I also tried a few heads on 4" x 6" boards, painting a striped background. These would be great hanging on the wall in groups of 2 or 3. I love the wire hair!
And, guess what. I need to get out and find a bunch of sticks! I had thought maybe I'd moved past that. But, no.
This is the second doll I have made in my quest for simple hanging doll. I wanted her to be a bit abstract and she is! Her flat pillow body/dress is sewn from hand painted fabric. The arms and legs are sewn from a knit fabric. I eventually figured out that I could use the cut off legs of some clothes pegs to fill the legs, making a pointed toe, and to make the hands. I'm surprised that the grubby marks on her face show up so much more in the photo than they do in person. Note the eyebrows! I've avoided making eyebrows in the past, but now that eyebrows are "the thing", I'd better practice making them.
I'm happy to report that the doll I wrote about a few weeks ago is finished! For some reason the process was more difficult than expected. I kept making body elements that were too small for the size of the face. (The total figure is 23", with a 3" face.) I sewed several bodies and made 3 different sets of legs before I gave up and used the second pair. These are sewn from light weight canvas, stuffed and covered with many coats of gesso, tissue paper collage and paint. The simple arms are paper mache over wire. The wire loop that connects each leg to the torso was more awkward looking than I had hoped, so I added the tutu skirt to cover it up a bit.
In the end I have a hanging figure that can twirl around with dangling legs. And, on the plus side, I have 2 extra pairs of legs that I can use for something.
I feel like I have this idea under better control now and I look forward to working out some other variations and embellishments. Before I do that I plan to return to the idea of a very primitive hanging figure that I started exploring in the most recent post..
While I was following my own foot steps around the block, I decided to revisit some very early doll making ideas. One of my early design favorites was the the "Stick-hanger" doll. These dolls had a swivel built into their heads so that they could turn easily, and their bodies and legs hung on the stick shoulder. This is probably the origin of the flat head style that I have continued to use. The ballerina dolls at the La Veta Gallery this summer were the last in the line - so far. I like the abstract aspect of these figures and the movement in the shoulders and legs.
I realized that this idea had more possibilities that could be explored, so I made the head you see above. Making the face is always fun for me and usually comes together rather quickly. I ran into problems with the body and legs. This is not intended to be a realistic figure, but the first body I made was just too small and the legs were just too short. There are a couple of other adjustments to be made when I get back to this project.
I had cut out and drilled 2 heads, so while I was working on the girl's head, I kept looking over at the second raw wood form. Primitive dolls have always appealed to me. You have to look no farther than to Range Walker Series to see that. So, with "primitive" in mind, I just dabbled. Look what happened! I am very excited to develop some variations on this idea. I have lots of treasured items to use, beads, seed pods and little rusted bits. Its a good thing that they survived my recent studio purge.