I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they tell me that I have “too much time on my hands”. Part of me sarcastically thinks, “Hey, we all get the same amount of time each day. We all get twenty-four hours.” I suppose part of my confusion is that I never seem to have enough time to do the things that I want to do creatively. At present, I feel as though I have a lot of creative irons in the fire and sometimes have difficulty creating a balance between them all. This leads me to feel as though I don’t have enough time to give to each of my current creative endeavours. Balance is a topic of discussion for another time though.
I’ve been making dolls for almost thirty-five years in some way or another. At differing points along my creative path, I’ve viewed them as successful, and then alternately rubbish. Here lies the importance of practice. What I created as a child, was childish…amateurish, dare I say, folksy? With each successive doll, I learned something new about how the materials worked, or a new technique to use. My fine motor skills became more honed; muscle memory took root. I observe, learn and explore materials and techniques that are different from the ones that I currently use. I try them out. I keep the ones that work for me and adapt others to better fit my creative needs. This is a never ending procession. Observe. Practice. Observe. Critique. Practice. Repeat. This is what all artists do in pursuit of their own individual creative vision. Dancers, writers, painters, photographers, musicians, clothing designers, architects, illustrators, woodworkers, graphic designers; every single creative field does this.
When I was teaching elementary art, it left me unsettled that some young children think that to be good at something, like visual art, you must be born with some magical innate talent for it. It’s some rare and precious je nails se quois that they can never learn or develop over time. I would ask these students, “How do you get better at making a basket in basketball?” They would answer, “Practice.” and then sometimes go on to describe how long they spent shooting baskets the weekend before, or playing basketball with a friend or sibling. Some would go into great detail about how they learned to make a basket using a smaller child sized hoop, and then working up to an adult sized hoop. Some would talk about the game of basketball, giving me all kinds of details of the game mechanics as well as the stats of their favourite players and teams. I would say to them, “So, were you better after you practiced shooting baskets, or worse?” the answer was always, “Better!” (Sometimes teacher have to put the dots really close together, but again, a topic for another time.)
Art is no different. Practice makes all the difference. A person practicing making a three-point shot for hours is doing the same thing I’m doing when I change my stitches that hold a doll leg together, or try a new tool that helps in doll construction. The goal for each of us is the same; the pursuit of our personal best. Observe. Practice. Observe. Critique. Practice. Repeat. Yes. There are times when things don’t always go your way. New techniques are sometimes difficult to learn. Some materials just seem to refuse to cooperate and fall to pieces in your hands. The point is, you must keep practicing. Its not always easy. It’s not always fun, but in the end it’s worth it because you learn and you get better with each successive attempt.
I’ve had some people ask me if I am selling the dolls that I make. This seems like a natural question, being that in the past, I have sold my dolls and I’ve amassed quite a number of dolls recently. Why would I make so many dolls unless the end goal was to sell them? As I write this, I have sitting on my desk my most recently completed doll. She’s one of the 10 cm dolls that I have been working on during the past few weeks. I’ve made some changes to the pattern (I call it ‘tweaking the pattern’) as well as changing some of the hand sewing techniques as well as use of a new tool in the overall construction of the doll. I also changed the eyes around a little and used paint for the iris and pupil. The reasons for these changes were largely because I didn’t like how un-uniform some of my stitching looked on other dolls and I saw a technique used by another doll maker that I thought I would try. I decided to drop the use of buttons for the arm and leg joinery because I found them too bulky underneath the clothing as well as being a somewhat pricy material element that would never been seen. The same goes for using paint for the eyes. I have not done well using paint on felt, but I saw how another doll artist did it, and thought I would try her technique. Another doll maker gave me the idea for changing the way I make the pattern for the head and attach the ears. The end result doll was practice. What I call my alpha version. There were parts of creating this doll that I found a little exasperating because I was doing something new and different and my mind and hands would slip into long established methods. And guess what? I still want to change things about the next version of this doll. The next doll will be practice as well (beta version!). I will continue to tweak the pattern as well as my techniques as I continue this creative process of practice.
Practice is an invaluable tool to me as an artist. It’s much more complicated a process than what I have outlined as basically lots of observation, lots of practice and stoping to critique your techniques, materials and final products. There is so much more to the creative process in general, and my own creative process specifically. Observe, practice, critique, repeat, are just the largest cogs for me within a much more complicated machinations. My creativity begins in my imagination. My inner eye. That then spills over into my sketchbook where the idea can take shape. If I feel and idea isn’t ready to move beyond my sketchbook, it may stay there for quite a long time until it either bangs into something else in the sketchbook and then springs to life, or it simply stays there and is never comes to fruition (a very surrealistic methodology). Some ideas gnaw at my thoughts. These are the ones that sometimes I purposefully ignore. I call this the ‘Bradbury Method’. As a writer, Ray Bradbury once wrote that sometimes he would, ‘purposely ignore the latent beast until it was raving to be born‘ (this is badly paraphrased). At the point a creative imagining is raving to be born, it’s usually time to start work on it. That makes the process of creativity seem magical to some people I suppose. It seems as though the art simply springs forth fully formed from an artists head and lands on the canvas, page or cloth and that simply is not the case at all. All of those other fiddly bits? The complicated machinations? Those can take the form of hours of sketching. Searching for the right materials then sitting with the materials and effectively playing around with them to see if they will work. Stopping and talking to yourself about what you want to do, and then seeing that maaaaaybe the materials are taking you a different creative direction that you hadn’t thought of before. Those cogs of observation, practice and critique all have supporting structures of discussion, planning, knowledge and technique acquisition and a lot of thinking and thinking and thinking. Will this work? Why would I use this and not that? Can I make this work? Does this look the way I want it to look? Do I need to revise this? I do tend to have some rather long and intense internal dialogues with myself while I’m working.
During my masters research, I came across the book Studio Thinking. This is most often boiled down to the Eight Studio Habits of the Mind. You can go here to get a more in depth explanation of the book and the habits. This book and methodology are specifically for art educators, but in my opinion can be applied to any artist, no matter what age. My personal methods that I utilise for my own creative process are in some ways similar to the Eight Studio Habits I have linked to, they aren’t the same. Every artist has their own unique way of practicing their craft. I spend a lot of time observing, practicing and critiquing myself and it works for me.
So, yeah. I’ve made a lot of dolls. Some I will someday sell and others I won’t. Some I will give away as gifts to people, while some will be taken apart and the materials reused to make another doll, or something else. I need the practise.
Berin says that I wake up talking. I suppose that when I was single I didn’t notice this as much, or maybe at all, because there was no one there to squint at me and say “What? I just…wait a minute…still not awake…you talking…what?” from under the blankets. Once I am awake, I’m thinking and if I’m thinking, I’m talking. I can see how this can be difficult for Berin. He takes longer to fully wake up than I do. It’s usually after his first cup of coffee that he’s completely awake and able to carry on conversations that require more than a grunted one word answer. I wake up mid conversation and treat him as someone who is privy to whatever the hell is going on in my head; this is rarely, if ever the case.
I’ve actually given quite a lot of thought to the way in which I think over the years. I don’t think I’m particularly special in the way that I think. I tend to have several subroutines running at any given point. Things I need to do, tasks that I am required to complete, ideas that I’m actively playing with and others I’m purposefully ignoring, all set to musical accompaniment. As I type right now, I have the Shins song “Red Rabbits” playing in my head. The soundtrack changes around a little here and there, it’s mostly Shins right now, because that is what I’m listening to. My consciousness drifts through all the subroutines, and when I’m working on one specific task, the others take a back seat for a while, but never go away. I’m also a chronic note taker, so if a thought or idea breaks the surface concerning a project I’m not actively working on, I write down notes or directives so that I can address it at a later time.
The biggest problem I run into to getting what Berin calls axel-wrapped, i.e., overthinking things to the point of being harmful rather than beneficial to myself. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t do this as much as I used to, but it still happens. Berin can spot me headed down this road and can usually redirect me, or help me to redirect myself. Today, I’ve gotten myself all axel-wrapped over the question ‘Am I a real artist?‘ I have Mihaly Csikszentmilahyi (cheek-sent-me-high) to thank for placing this thought in my head.
I’ve been researching creativity as part of my doctoral proposal. Csikszentmilahyi has some interesting things to say on the subject, but I had dismissed using his ideas because I viewed them as very commercial/business oriented, and having less to do with how children utilise and demonstrate their own personal creativity than Lowenfeld. The thing that I was ignoring is that adult educators could be interpreting the artistic creativity of children through the lenses that Csikszentmilahyi’s Systems Model of Creativity creates, whether they are aware of it or not, which would, in my own thinking relate back directly to what Viktor Lowenfeld discourages adults from doing when looking at the artwork of children: critiquing it terms that are meant for an adult.
Along with reading and researching for my doctoral proposal, I’ve been creating my own artwork and investigating my own creative processes and thinking. I’ve gotten very hung up on why I choose to create dolls. In my previous post, I stated that I do it because I like it, it makes me happy, so I will continue doing it. I am the audience, etc., etc. and so forth. What I have realised after taking Csikszentmilahyi’s Systems Model of Creativity apart and then gluing it back together with a Chronosphere overlay (borrowed from Bronfenbrenners’ Human Ecological Theory of Human Development), that I was stuck on the concept of a Gatekeeper within the Field (of Art, with a capital A) as they related to my creation of dolls. As with most things relating to me, I had to stop, look over my baggage, select the correct piece and then open it up in the middle of the street so that all passers by could get a good look at my mental and emotional underpants as I rooted through them.
The society and culture in which I grew to adulthood regard dolls as toys, objects that are meant for children. Dolls are grown out of and placed to the side when other, more adult things take precedence, like paying bills, drinking alcohol and shopping for life and car insurance. Art (with a capital A) is found in museums and proper galleries and fancy hotels and wealthy private residences. Art is painting with oil or acrylic, or sculptures made of stone or metal. Art is meant to behind protective glass, mounted on a wall, looked at, revered but never touched. Art is old and precious. People with degrees in Art choose what Art goes in these places. They are the Gatekeepers.
So at this point, in my mind (my current id driven, underpants flinging state of mind) I came to the conclusion that my dolls were not Art, they were art, original, yes and certainly unique, but not by Csikszentmilahyi’s specific definitions of creative or novel in any fashion. What I have to remember is that Csikszentmilahyi has created one possible definition of creativity, and it is by no means the only definition of creativity.
I remember my father telling me that part of his job as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor was to effectively ‘tear men down and then help to build them back up again‘. I feel as though this is what I am doing with my own personal creative process and my own beliefs about my own creativity and the artwork I create. It’s a little unnerving and scarier than I thought, but as with all change, it’s going to kind of suck for a while before it gets better.
A little over three years ago, I was standing in the hallway of a local high school, surrounded by my own artwork (mostly dolls) having a strange conversation with a potential customer, while trying to wrangle her enthusiastic, sticky-fingered daughter away from touching the handmade cloth dolls that covered my booth.
“Yeah…your dolls are really, reeealy great….” she said, “but, I’m an adult. What would I want with a doll? I mean, what would I do with it?”
Okay. Ignoring the fact that you daughter would like to have one of my dolls, you are talking to the adult to actually made the dolls that you are insinuating an adult would want nothing to do with. I know, you may think I am reading too much into what she said, but there was more said, and the body language and over all attitude that went along with her comments to me were dismissive and condescending.
In a recent post, I stated that I am the audience and that I create the artwork that I want to create, regardless of whether people want it, like it or buy it. This is still true. I can take criticism. I think the reason why I have been thinking about this particular incident is because I’m stuck on the part about why would an adult want a doll? Which to me then wraps around to the question, why do I make dolls? Why dolls?
I cannot remember a time in my life that I was not fascinated by dolls. They permeate my childhood memories. My first loves were the original Fisher-Price Little People, then Flatsie Dolls (I called them ‘Bitsies’, because they were small).
A close friend of the family had antique dolls and her mother had a larger collection and had kind of doll hospital, where she created clothing for them and made repairs to them. My mother says that once, when I was very little (maybe a little under three years old) we visited her house. I had a habit of getting very quiet when I was doing bad things, so when I couldn’t be heard, I was looked for. I was found looking (not touching, they were in cases) at all of the dolls on display. I have a fuzzy memory of the room with the cases of dolls. The dolls were amazing.
I still remember the name of my favourite doll when I was little (around age 5). Her name was Cindy (Audrey in the advert). She was a Fisher-Price doll and I adored her. She eventually got sisters Julie and Sally (Jenny and Mary respectively from advert) from the same line of dolls, and later, an older sister named Amanda.
Along with dolls, I had stuffed animals. Ellie (the elephant, yes, I know, not very imaginative on the name there), Bernie the bear, Meepie the mouse.
The Fisher-Price Little People gave me a love of not only dolls, but dollhouses. During my childhood, I had several dollhouses. One made by my Grandfather Harold and one that I made myself, along with lots and lots of shoebox houses.
I fell in love with paper dolls when I was around 7 or 8. I loved a series called the Ginghams. I think I have written about this particular set of paper dolls before in this blog. Paper dolls are something that I associate with spending time at my Grandmother Elizabeth’s house when I was little. My Grandmother Elizabeth and Grandfather Russell lived in the same town that I grew up in. Sometimes my younger brother Kurt and I would go over for the day. There was a Kmart just a few blocks from their house. We would walk over and Grandma would get yarn (she crocheted and knitted) and Kurt and I would each get an inexpensive toy or a candy. They had a great selection of paper dolls and that’s what I usually chose. The most expensive ones were $1.50, cheap even by 1970’s pricing. I loved the Ginghams because in addition to getting the dolls and the clothing, you got a ‘room’ that could be set up like a little theatre. Grandma had coloured pencils, paper and scissors, so sometimes I would trace the clothing and make my own designs. Katie was not a popular name when I was little, so having a paper doll that had my name, spelled the same way, and she was the ‘artist’ of the group made me love them Gingham line even more.
I started to make cloth dolls I was little. The first doll that I made was called Marilyn. I made her when I was visiting my Grandmother Wilma during the summer. I had a drawer in the upstairs bedroom that had cloth, yarn, embroidery thread and some notions that I was allowed to use. She had a big square quilted sewing box that sat under her sewing machine in the dining room that I was allowed to use the contents of if I asked. There was a decorated tin box of buttons to sift through as well. I can remember sitting in front of the Zenith television and cutting out that doll. I used yellow variegated embroidery thread for the hair. I wrapped it around a book to create the wig. I added braids. I was upset that the neck wouldn’t stay up after I finished the hair. I remember choosing a tiny, pale green rickrack for the edging of the dress. It took me forever to sew down, but I loved how it looked. My own dresses and tops had similar decorative elements. I put pockets on her dress and made her a little handkerchief with an embroidered ‘M’ on it.
I had an assignment during my teacher education study at university in which the instructor asked us to think about what we liked to do when we were children. What activities gave us the greatest amount of satisfaction and contentment? We were then to create a piece of artwork about those experiences. I made a doll. We presented our work to the class and the instructor and answered questions posed by them. It was the first time I had ever shown my dolls to anyone I was attending school with. I had not idea what kinds of reactions I would receive.
Every artist, no matter what their chosen medium, gets at least a little anxious when showing people what they have created. The artist is opening themselves up and showing people the most vulnerable parts of their psyche. Not knowing how it may be received is a little nerve wracking at times. Will they like it? Will they laugh? Will they think I’m weird? Or will they say nothing at all? I developed a fairly thick skin with regard to my illustration and design work. I told myself that was work for hire and while it was still an expression of my own personal creative aesthetic, I didn’t hold it so dear that I couldn’t take criticism and/or make changes that a client or boss requested.
What I am starting to figure out is that my doll work comes from a much more emotional part of my psyche and is attached to so much of the happiness of my youth that when I have a potential customer say “What would I do with a doll? I’m an adult!” as I stand there, a grown woman, who designs, creates and yes, still plays with dolls, I can’t help but feel somehow…there really isn’t a better word for it, wounded. My heart actually squeezes tight a little.
To some, a doll is seen as nothing more than a child’s toy. Something that they will eventually grow out of. Something to be put away when more grown up priorities take precedence. I know that if I wanted to be taken more seriously by other artists and by people in general, I would put away my childish dolls, pack up my fabrics, threads and stuffing and pick up a paint brush and make ‘real’ art. Art that could hang in a gallery and hang in your living room, over your couch. I wouldn’t ever have the deep, intrinsic connection to brush and canvas that I have with dolls and sewing. I am the audience. Dolls make me happy. Making dolls makes me even happier. So, I will make dolls.
I was introduced to XTC by a classmate of mine in art school. I remember her putting Nonsuch on the communal boombox we had in our studio. I think she had Oranges and Lemons too. I fell in love with the band quickly and soon, my music library contained every single release by the band, including the releases under the name The Dukes of Stratosphere (that I had to track down on tape from an Indianapolis used records shop). I needed to hear everything. Everything.
The song “I am the Audience” is one of my favourite XTC songs. I’ve always thought of it as a declaration of my personal creative rationale. I create for myself, first and foremost. I am the one with the idea, or the instinct, or the inclination to create a thing. I am doing this for my own amusement, therefore, I am the audience. What ever I choose to create is done so because I deem it worthy of my time, energy and thought.
As pretentious as that sounds, for me, it’s the truth. The flip side of that is, my work is unfinished until another person looks at it, and brings their own lifetime of thoughts and experiences to my artwork. Each person sees something a little different. I may be the first audience, but I will hardly be the last. My experience as the creator is so much different than that of the future audiences.
I recently watched a documentary about David Bowie and the last few years of his life. There was a snippet of an earlier interview in which he stated that he believed an artist should create the art that they want to make, and that when an artist makes their art for someone else, the artists true intent or vision is lost and the artist is not happy with the end product. The artist, the creator needs to remain true to themselves and their own individual purpose.
I know that artists and creative people need to sell their artwork to live. That art school training that I was getting at the Herron School of Art was as a graphic designer and illustrator. I always thought that it was strange that the other artistic disciplines thought of us as ‘sell outs’. I imagined that the painters and the sculptors wanted to sell their artwork and be able to support themselves by doing what they loved to do, just as the graphic designers and illustrators wanted to be creative in their chosen medium and be able to pay their bills as well. I suppose this has something to do with the rather skewed view of the artist as professional that some people have.
I am not having to, at this point in my life, sell my artwork to in order to pay my bills. I have done this in the past, and it’s one of the reasons I’m not a working graphic designer or illustrator anymore. I’m not good at having people tell me how to create or why to create. The longer I did it, the more mental and emotional damage ate away at my insides. As much as I love graphic design and illustration, I’m just not well suited psychologically to do it professionally, and that’s okay. I’m happier teaching art and making my own art. It’s much better fit for me.
Last week, I sold four dolls. I had not intended to sell any of the dolls that I have recently been creating. I don’t feel like I have the mental or physical bandwidth to devote time to such an endeavour. I’m making the dolls that I want to make, they way that I want to make them, in the time that I want to make them. “Yeah, but you just said you sold four dolls!” Yes. I sold four dolls. The buyer is someone who has purchased dolls of mine in the past. She didn’t make me feel like I was under a deadline. She didn’t make any demands about colours or styles of clothing. She saw four dolls that she liked, asked me the price plus shipping and then bought them. I made enough money to buy some more materials and tools so that I can make more dolls. There’s a nice symmetry to it. Make a dolls. Someone likes it. Someone buys it. I take the money and get more things to make more dolls.
Hello! It’s been quite a while since I have written and posted anything here on my website, Berin has been handling the lions share of the maintenance of the site for more than two years. I’ve only contributed to the podcasts that we do and read the occasional comment now and again. The main reason for this is because my life, well, really, my academic life, has been taking precedence. Blogging and making art have been riding in the way back of my mental Vista Cruiser station wagon and it’s only come to my attention that doing this might not have been the best thing for me. So, after some thought, I’ve decided to start posting again.
One of the catalysts for this change was some reflective writing (a personal journal) that I began keeping a few months ago. I started it after a discussion with a mentor at the University about what creativity is and why I feel it’s important to have arts courses in public schools (sometimes the last bastion of creativity for some children in school). Before I can hope to understand why instruction within the public schools needs to encourage creativity in student learning, I need to better understand my own creative processes.
In addition to journaling about my own creative processes, I’ve also been creating new dolls. Again, in an effort to better understand how and why I choose to create, and in some instances, not to create. It’s been…interesting. It’s good to have a needle back in my hands and I’ve been having fun creating new doll designs and working with new materials. I’ve had to get used to not having a JoAnn Fabrics, with it’s plethora of inexpensive fabrics and supplies to go to when I need materials, supplies or tools. Necessity being the mother of invention, I’ve had to come up with new ways or working as well as buying supplies on a shoe string budget. I hope to use my blog to document the changes that have taken place in how I work as an artist, as a complement to my written journal.
There will be some small changes here and there with the website, and the podcast will continue to be posted here every Monday. Hopefully, I can get back into the swing of posting quickly!
Berin and I just bought a new camera. It’s got more bells and whistles than I’m used to. I’ve been using a Sony Cyber-Shot for the longest time. It’s a great camera for taking still pictures. It’s small and compact. I carry it around in my purse all the time. I’ve actually been a little rough with it, and it still works like a champ. The one thing that it wasn’t doing well was shooting video. I’ve been champing at the bit to create some tutorials for a while now and soon, I hope to start posting them on this site!
I goofed around with the new camera and tried taking some pictures of the cats. Seriously, what else besides cats and dolls do I really ever take pictures of?!