Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Butterfly Girls

Once upon a time, there were two sweet sisters... who took my heart long ago and inspire me daily. Christmas just wouldn't be right without new dolls for each of my granddaughters... so Happy Christmas to my darling girls, Iris and Stella!

These 13" butterfly dolls were made from a pattern designed by my favorite prim diva, Donna Veal of Mooonchilds Primitives. They are sewn and stuffed muslin, painted with thinned acrylics and stained with a coffee/cocoa stain, with wired cutter-quilt wings and skirts. The petticoats are cut from a vintage curtain.

Stella with her Flutterbye on Christmas Day. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paper Doll Collage

These two collages started out as birthday cards... and morphed into gifts for my sister and her daughter, who celebrate their November birthdays just one day apart. I decided to let this project take me "along for the ride", knowing only that I wanted to use some pages and text from a box of my grandmother's writings. Once a journalist, Grandma has been gone for many years now, and I am in possession of numerous rough drafts and manuscripts of her short stories and articles from years of writing. Included in this box of treasures are several rejection letters from such prominent publications as The Saturday Evening Post and McCall's magazine!

Some of the paper is old newsprint school tablets, with her stories hand written in pencil. They've been rolled up and rubber banded for many decades, and now are practically falling apart in my hands as I unroll them and try to read the fading pencil marks on yellowing paper. I decided that since much of her writings will probably never be read by anyone, I would sacrifice a select few of the pages... either written in her own hand, or typed on her ancient manual typewriter... and create art! I wanted to bring the spirit of our Grandmother to life again, in a small way, by creating a collage that contained some of the phrases and words that she wrote long ago, no doubt with high hopes of being published.

I let her work speak to me as I skimmed through the pages... my eyes falling on a phrase or two. Sometimes just a single word would jump out at me. I tore these bits from the pages... simply because I like the effect of a torn edge, especially when dealing with vintage paper. Soon, I had a pile of phrases, and somehow, as I arranged them, a theme emerged.

I decided to create a jointed paper doll blank from card stock... and collaged the entire doll with random text, then highlighted individual words in certain spots. I used collage sheet photo images for the two doll's faces. One is the famous ArtChix "Spoil Me" girl, as many of you will instantly know. I've lost track of exactly which sheet the other came from, so my apologies for not now being able to credit it's origin.

Each of the dolls sports a skirt of pleated pattern tissue, which were a little smashed flat in the scanner, but in reality, add a nice 3-D aspect. The red and yellow piece, with red flower behind her head, was for my niece, Nicolette, who was turning twenty this year... so finding and including the phrase my grandmother had written, "scarce twenty years old", in some of her notes for a story she was writing about Rob Roy, was a stroke of luck!

Both collages are 8" x 10", on foam core, with wrinkled tissue paper as background. The paper doll's limbs are brad-jointed and fully pose-able. Gel medium both adheres and preserves all the vintage papers. The back of each collage is covered with pages from my grandmother's college notebooks from when she studied Journalism at the University of Missouri in 1927. I added a wire hanger and a small paper pocket, inside of which is a short note, describing the process and origin of the papers, and the occasion for which the piece was created.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Witchy Woman

Hallowe'en snuck up on me this year. Didn't I just turn the calendar page to October last week? I had much greater intentions than just finishing ONE doll... but as it turned out, I had to scramble to finish this one at the 11th hour, literally as I was throwing my own costume on for trick-or-treating in the neighborhood with my daughter.

I have wanted a witch doll for years, so was determined to make one for myself. My original idea was an all-cloth "prim"... and I definitely knew I had to design this pattern myself. Wanting a really classically "witchy" face, but not being able to figure out how to accomplish that in cloth, I reached for the polymer clay and modeled one up over a core of crumpled aluminum foil.

I used simple rag doll construction for the body, arms and legs... with button joints at the shoulders. I stuffed the muslin parts, then painted, sanded and aged with a coffee stain.

I've been dreaming of those black boots with turned up toes, and green and black striped stockings since I was a little girl, and was downright giddy while watching them take shape!

The hat is also a simple muslin form... stuffed, painted, sanded and stained.

Next came hair... grizzly gray, of course, to perfectly play up her beady-yet-bulging yellow eyes. I used some lovely Romney wool fleece, so fresh from the sheep it still had hayseeds in it.

See the perfect blend of wit and wisdom in her expression? (And the ever-so-slight resemblance to Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein?)

Her clothing is minimal, and casual... as witches go. She's not in full-tilt flying attire here, with cape and all. I think she looks as if she's just finished up some sweet herbal brew in the kitchen... and thought to go sweep the porch before the kiddies started knocking on the door. I used part of an old curtain for her skirt- simply painted and aged it, wrapped it around and tied it with a bit of jute. Her collar is vintage, with some extra aging added. The broom is made from twigs cut from our pear tree.

I may make some little tweaks and additions before I stash her away for next year... but all in all, I'm pleased. Call her Brunhilda, if you wish... but when I look at her, I can't help but call her "Witchy Woo".

Monday, October 26, 2009

Miss Clara (aka "Pink")

Dolly redux... finally finished. New arms, new legs... properly baked and strong as can be. I decided to collage her torso with vintage text, similar to Judy's "Grace", which I had so admired in class.

I just happened to end up with a small snippet that said "Miss Clara", and it seemed to want to be applied front and center. So, that is how she got her name. All the text was clipped from an 1891 newspaper from near Davis City, Iowa, where my mother's parents lived. The paper is so old, it's literally crumbling apart, but matte media and an acrylic varnish work wonders for adhering, coating and preserving old paper.

I put tiny pads of wool felt in between the limbs and torso at the joints, just for smooth movement and less chance of chipping the still underbaked torso clay. I also added an aged, gauzy underskirt and a satin cord choker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beautiful Iris, and other stories

I've departed a wee bit here from my usual focus on doll making. Art & Soul was such an infusion of creative energy... and I had a fantastic time making my very first Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) for an official ATC swap there. I challenged myself to this new mini-format and made some collaged ATCs that didn't turn out half bad. More on those later...

The process was so much fun, and the result so inspiring, that I decided to make a collage for my granddaughter, Iris, for her 10th birthday. This was the first larger collage that I've designed and finished as an art piece, and I'm really happy with it. I used the following: Tissue paper, water color paper, watercolor and acrylic paint, paper and miscellaneous ephemera and gel medium. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!

And here are some of the ATCs that I made for the Art & Soul swap... which were traded away.

I now have a small collection of other unique ATCs made by other Art & Soulers, and have been e-mailing back and forth with a few of them. A great experience... and probably stretched my creativity more than the doll making classes!

Art & Soul recap

Art & Soul Portland was September 30th through October 5th this year, and it was a blast! This was my first time... yes, an Art & Soul virgin. I only wish I could have taken classes every day. I took just two... Judy Wise's "Dolls for Big Girls", and "Who's Your Dada?" with Linda and Opie O'Brien.

Here is one of Judy's great dolls...all of hers inspired me, but this one in particular...

We had some technical glitches during the class, resulting in incomplete curing of our clay, and so many doll parts ended up crumbling... mine included.

Here's mine... let's call her "Pink". Her tutu is an upcycled Art & Soul trading badge. (If you were there, you know what that means!) She has one shoulder joint hot-glued together, and broken left leg propped up just long enough for a photo session. I've gifted her to Iris, but she won't get her until repairs are finished. I will absolutely be working soon on a re-do... baking new limbs tomorrow!

I'm excited to incorporate collaging some vintage text to my next doll, as Judy has done with her "Grace" (pictured above). I simply ran out of time while there. It was an easy technique and Judy is a great person... really easy to be around and fun-loving. I met some wonderful new friends in class and enjoyed it immensely.

"Who's Your Dada?", with the O'Briens, was such a good time! We had a small group, so Linda and Opie were able to devote a lot of individual attention to each one of us. Linda was extremely encouraging and supportive. Opie did all of our drilling and figuring out how to attach various pieces and parts. These two are an inspiring and remarkable couple, who work so well together. We all loved spending the day with them.

Some of my classmates made truly FABULOUS Dada dolls!
Here is one from Diane in California:

My doll looked like this when class was over, however:

... definitely not "fine art"!

I realize now that I was not well-enough prepared, and should have brought a lot more of my stash of crazy-ass junk, and had a better concept of what I intended to make. I kept thinking of all the stuff at home that I wished I'd had there! Soooooo.... my "Dada" doll now looks like this:

Stripped down to bare basics! I took the giant key out of it's back, now allowing for the finished doll to hang on a wall, and installed it into the hole in it's cranium, which Opie so patiently drilled for me in order for my tea set sugar bowl lid to serve as a hat. Well, good idea, Patti... but it just didn't look right after all that trouble. So, now, everyone agrees that the key looks just right, and we'll work from there!

The only negative to my full day class with the Amazing O'Briens was that it was over far too soon. I bought their new book "Who's Your Dada: Redefining the Doll Through Mixed Media", and it is a real gem. Probably the best doll making book I've ever purchased. Can't wait to sign up for more classes next year, and only wish I could join them for the upcoming Art & Soul cruise in the Mediterranean. THAT would be something downright incredible!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


It was birthday time for my youngest son, Dylan, and I knew I needed to come up with something wild, weird and memorable for him. So, for some reason, this idea popped into my head... a Voodoo Alien! I've never made anything resembling a voodoo doll before, but have seen some artful renditions, and have appreciated those artists who make them with only good intentions, as protectors and intercessors... rather than as evil little pincushion beings that might be intended to cause harm, stuffed with the hair and fingernail clippings of one's enemies.

Working directly from the only sketch I made, this guy came together fairly quickly. I wanted him to look "tribal", in an other-worldly way, and a little bit scary... but only for purposes of warding off any evil spirits that might be lurking around. He's intended as a sort of totem or icon of protection, with some elements that are strictly for the fun of it!

Keeping the shape simple, I started by creating the basic body from a scrap of an old wool Navy blanket. The arms are cut from a felted thrift store sweater. Except for the initial outside seam, all the stitching is done by hand, using bright red or brown button & craft thread, and I let that stitching show wherever possible. The eyes are mismatched on purpose, giving him that intimidating squint that shows he means business!

I wanted to embellish this doll with lots of found objects, charms, beads and wire. The mouth idea popped into my head as a clear image- a red felt oval, and six white pony beads for teeth. When I later opened my bead box, it was amazing to find that when it came to white pony beads, I happened to have EXACTLY six... no more!

The charms each mean something (sometimes just some random thing I made up). His heart is a copper penny that I found, with a heart-shape punched out. This gives him compassion, and protects his owner's heart. He also sports a gold Barbie shoe, which represents his "soul" (sole), and offers protection from Barbie dolls, something my sons definitely thought were evil when they were young boys! A "Holy Family" medallion covers the possibility of the Catholics actually having it right.

There are a couple of old keys sewn on, including one on the neck piece, which also contains various bits of old fishing tackle that my husband picked up on the shores of the Kalama River. These items offer protection from the loss of keys, as well as protection from stepping on fish hooks! An NRA button protects against gun violence. But, the most important charm of all is the purple armadillo pin, which represents Dylan himself, who was sometimes called "Armadillon" in his youth. This one also offers him the protection of the well-armored armadillo's tough outer shell!

Just for the art of it, I used several of my very favorite vintage buttons, including one white dollar sign button, leftover from a shirt my mother made for my dad when I was a kid. I like to think it's imbued with some prosperity energy and/or protection from financial hazards! This doll is also quite obviously male... being endowed with a strategically placed dangly doodad, which is really just his codpiece, serving to protect his *ahem* "naughty bits" (not pictured).

The legs are sticks, donated by my neighbor's gigantic beech tree, and wrapped with brass and copper wire. His hat is made from a very large and unusual plastic button I bought at an antique store recently, topped with a faux ivory bead and a red pony bead which looks just like a "cherry on top".

Smiles, guffaws, raised eyebrows and various exclamations were heard all around upon VooDoo Alien's unveiling at my son's 22nd birthday party this past weekend. I'm assured it will not soon be forgotten, which is good enough for me!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Duffy is down on his luck... times are hard, you know. He's making a living selling snake oil, whiskey, and whatever else he can convince someone to buy. He's even sold his only suit of clothes... and had to make himself a new suit out of old newspapers.

This doll was made as a gift for my son's 29th birthday. I let this one "evolve" and sort of create himself. I only started out with a few main ideas... that it had to be about 12 inches tall, and intended to hang on a wall... and it had to be male (a first for me).

I had a stack of old newspaper, circa 1900 and older, that my grandmother had saved, and was inspired to somehow incorporate that. It is so old and brittle that the only way was to use lots of gel medium and collage it to brown craft paper.

I first had to design his suit, so created a craft paper pattern, sewn on the machine, with seams on the outside. Decided I liked that look... so the final newspaper suit has the same exterior seaming.

I clipped some of my favorite ads from that newspaper, including one for "Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey... for medicinal purposes only!", which became part of the left front leg of his pants. I started calling him Duffy in my head after that... and it stuck.

Construction is as follows: Wire armature, cotton batting, sculpted paperclay, vintage newspaper, craft paper, gel medium, acrylic paint, wool fleece, cloth, polymer clay.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Iconic Miss Raggedy

Who can resist that face?

I've been entranced by the clown-like face, loopy red yarn hair and lumpy over-sized mitten hands of Raggedy Ann for years. I bought an old Ann and Andy pair for myself when I was in my early 20's... simply because I had never owned a Raggedy as a child, and felt deprived, I guess. Those two have long since disappeared... what with raising my three sons, moving house and losing my deep connection to dolls for a while.

My dear granddaughter, Stella, turned 7 recently... and I was determined to make her a doll. I'd been lately drawn to some photos of old Raggedy's in a doll collector's book, and so decided on a "prim" Annie for Stella. She's just 10 inches tall, with an over-sized head and wide-spaced eyes. Hair is cotton yarn; face is painted on with acrylics, and she received a coffee stain aging treatment. I used vintage fabric for her sweet little dress. Pattern design credit goes to Denise White. This Annie was great fun to make, and Stella loved her!

Friday, May 15, 2009

A day with elinor...

Was this a fun day... or what?? I had an incredible time at the home of one of the Queens of the doll making world today... the amazing elinor peace bailey , who just happens to live in my home town!

She had an Open House... and took myself, and several other awestruck visitors, through every room in her fantastic place. What a rare and wonderful opportunity. I felt like I was in a doll maker's fantasy museum!

Each room was filled with quilts, handmade books, paintings, mixed-media collages, collections of tiny things. And (big surprise) dolls, dolls and MORE dolls! SO many things to look at, and so much COLOR, of course! elinor is ALL about color, in case you hadn't heard. :)

A group of us were on hand for elinor's demo on face painting, which really started with a quickie tutorial on needle-sculpting, which she showed us on a pre-stuffed head that someone had sent to her. I only wish that I'd had a video camera, and could now re-play it in slow motion. elinor is so deft with her #7 darner, threaded with good old button and craft thread... she made it look incredibly easy!

She then quickly sketched features with a fine-point permanent pen in dark brown (never black... too harsh!). Those oh-so-elinor eyes, with exquisitely long lashes, just came flashing out... and we saw the secret for drawing eyes evenly. Simply flip the head over and draw the other eye upside down! She filled the irises in with brush markers, in several shades of blue and a bit of ordinary crayola crayon, in midnight blue, extending some strokes of blue up into the lashes, "because color reflects everywhere".

Then the nose, cheeks and all the shading in pinks; the lucious lips of a smiling open mouth in two shades of red. "The top lip is darker, you know... it's in the shade". She painted the teeth with a dollop of white acrylic paint, squirted out onto her favorite "palette" (the top of a coffee mug handle). A dot of red marker in the inside corner of each eye and VOILÁ! A glorious face in ten whirlwind minutes! We were dazzled!

Now, all during this face-painting demo, elinor was dispensing essential wisdom, as well as basic doll making tips. She talked directly to us, seriously impressing upon us the imperative that we must find out who we are... whether we are 70 or 50 or 20. To forget about blaming our angst on our parents or whoever in our past that might be "holding us back". To grow up into our separate selves as adults, find our style... and then JUST MAKE ART! How did she know just exactly what I needed to hear?

I would have loved to stay for several more hours, but had another appointment. I bought a large bag of scrap fabrics which are just delicious... and one of elinors pattern CDs. I can't wait to play!

I'm over-flowing with inspiration, between today and my wonderful weekend with Pamela Hastings two weeks ago. I realize now that I never did blog in detail about that weekend, and that is a shame. I'll have to go back and write something belatedly... I'm still walking on air from that fabulous experience! Lucky, lucky me!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Zero Percent Blonde

Fresh from last weekend's workshop in Corvallis, I had to dive into something right away. I wanted to make something fun, quick and easy... and knew that I wanted to try something similar to Pamela's pieced bodies. I drew my own pattern for this doll, but based it on some of her simple two-piece designs with button-jointed arms. I used some new batik fabric, and some vintage velvet, and a lovely vintage rose, machine-appliqued to her bum. Don't ask why, I was working intuitively!

I decided early on that this one would be a gift for a friend's upcoming birthday. Of course, that automatically meant I had put pressure on myself! The body was really free-form, fun and easy... but the head. OH, the head! Let's just say it went through several incarnations. This is the fourth one! I learned a lot about what I won't do next time.

The face is stuffed muslin, painted with thinned acrylic paint. The features were drawn on with Prismacolor pencils and Pigma Micron pens. I then sprayed the face with a clear acrylic sealer.

Her name is Zero Percent Blonde... which is sort of a private joke between the doll's new owner and I, based on a silly time-wasting quiz we both took on Facebook.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Weekend worshop with the "Reel Dolls"

What an amazing weekend! Imagine fourteen doll makers huddled around tables and sewing machines for two days, all being patiently instructed by the amazing Pamela Hastings. It was a rare and wonderful event!

I'm currently far too exhausted to go into great detail, and must go bake an anniversary cake for my husband, but you can see the rest of the photos I took here:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pamela Hastings workshop

Getting very excited here... as I'll be heading down to Corvallis, Oregon next week for a weekend workshop with Pamela Hastings, a master doll maker I've admired for years. This photo is of her famous "Hot Flash" doll. Oh, how she speaks to me!

I was so lucky Pamela was teaching somewhere so close to where I live... just a two hour drive away. This will be a first for me... hanging out for a whole weekend with a group of doll makers! This workshop is sponsored by the Reel Dolls club in Corvallis. I can't wait to meet everyone. I don't quite know what to expect, but I'm up for anything. Just getting away for a weekend will be heaven... and I know I'll learn a lot.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting Un-Stuck

I've been digging around in old photographs, looking for the very beginnings of my artist soul. This seems to have been an old toy of mine... although, frankly, I have no memory of it. I do have vivid memories of several other dolls I had, though there is unfortunately no photographic record of them. Since it's the Easter season, I thought this bunny ought to make the scene here, as one of my earliest playthings, regardless of my faded recollections.

I spent the day re-organizing my kitchen and moving large cabinets and shelving. Just had an unquenchable desire to get some energy un-stuck around here. Also got a fair amount of "spring cleaning" done in the kitchen, while re-listening to the audio book version of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth on my kitchen CD player. It felt great! I will take more photos tomorrow. Am just too bone tired tonight. A really GOOD kind of tired.
Here's the ledge above my kitchen sink... crowded with pottery and "stuff". It's so much fun to move things around and lovingly wipe the dust from some of the things I love to look at!

I have been working on tapping into more intuitive creativity lately. Reading some great things about art journaling, which is giving me jumping off points, as well as techniques to just get past what seems to be a period of "creative block" I am going through at the moment. It doesn't help that my daughter has not been able to attend school for the past three weeks (school snafu, not due to illness), but I've also just been stalling, avoiding, stumbling, losing momentum, getting discouraged, getting tangled up in problems that I can't fix... then just chucking my work and starting over.

I figured it would be much better to stop and work in some other mediums for a while, do some introspection and play a lot. So, I've been drawing, making jewelry, painting, etc. Am trying to do open-ended practice, rather than be so project-oriented and worried about the results. Finding a great deal of anxiety lurking under the surface. Funny what you find when you start peeling back the layers, isn't it?