I started working on a larger papier maché doll during the past week. It’s a piece that’s been getting noisier and noisier inside my brain for quite a while. The doll itself is one component of how I imagine the completed piece. This second component I won’t start until I’ve completed the doll first. I don’t have the work space to start the second component now anyway. I also think that my attentions would be divided by attempting to work on two fairly large pieces at the same time too. The second component could go a couple of different ways. I feel as though I need to think more about it more before starting it as well.
I used a balloon to create the torso for this doll. It’s a simple technique. Blow up balloon to the desired size. Cover it with layers of papier maché. I’ve never attempted this method of papier maché construction before. It seems a pretty common form to use for this medium, especially for school aged children. I never did any kind of papier maché during my time in public school or university. Perhaps this is a contributing factor in my fascination with it.
The pictures above are of the torso insert. I made it completely separate, so that I could more easily attach the newsprint to the inner cavities. I’m not sure if they will be drawers or cabinets or maybe just completely open. At this stage, they could easily be any of them. I think it’s interesting to see what the under side of my artwork looks like. It reminds me of a description of a duck: all placid gliding on the surface of still water, while at the same time, there’s wild, furious paddling going on just below the surface of the water. All the pretty stuff is on the surface of my work, while the backside is just a total mess of cardboard shims and up-cycled frozen pizza cartons. It looks like a shanty town from the Great Depression if you ask me.
To make these large, papier maché dolls, I use some pretty simple tools and materials. The newsprint and cardboards are free. I get most of my corrugated cardboard at Lidl. None of the stock workers bat an eyelash at me when they see me pawing through the cages of cardboard. I always carry a utility knife with me, so I can break down more oddly sized boxes into more manageable pieces. Again, no one looks at me weird when I spend a few minutes at an empty cashier stand breaking the boxes down either. I use scissors, a couple different utility knives, ball point pens, a triangle, a straight edge, a few coloured pencils, an awl and PVA glue and Eri-Keeper all purpose glue. Eri-Keeper is like if Aleene’s Tacky Glue and Gorilla Glue had a baby.
There is also carton board packaging from items we regularly purchase that I use in my artwork a lot. Frozen pizza cartons are one of my favourites. It’s flexible and somewhat malleable, once the glue has been applied. I hit the shiny, printed surface of the carton with some 240 grit sandpaper to rough-up the surface, to give the glue a more secure attachment when gluing pieces together. I tend to layer the carton board as well, altering the lay of the fibers, so that when dried, it’s very sturdy and strong.
I do the same kind of altering with corrugated cardboards as well. A lot of this depends on the quality of the corrugated cardboard. Cheap cardboard, with loose fiber and a lot of acid content is what I use to shim things, like the backside of the cavities for the torso. This kind of cheap cardboard crushes easily and I can worm and wiggle it into tight spaces. Stronger corrugated cardboard is what I use for things like the joints for the tops of the legs on this doll. The stronger cardboard, coupled with the Eri-Keeper glue and some added wooden pins for stability, make the form very strong and stable. I’ll add papier maché around the entire piece and do additional sanding and light carving as needed. Some of the best corrugated cardboard is from the boxes for reams of paper or from the boxes that canned and jared foods are shipped in.
I just made two cubes with the stronger corrugated cardboard and started carving with a new utility knife. I changed blades often because as anyone who uses cutting tools knows, you tend to cut yourself more easily with a dull blade than a sharp one. I managed to only give myself a blister and suffered no cuts at all while working on these ovoid forms for the leg/hip joint.
I constructed the head out of the stronger corrugated cardboard, but then covered the surface with some gray carton board. I do this because no matter how good the corrugated cardboard is, and no matter how many layers of newsprint, gesso, paint and sealant is put on top of it, the corrugation always, always, always shows through. This bugs me so much. The veneer of carton board over the corrugated cardboard solves this problem nicely, and only adds a few millimeters to the size of the specific body components of a doll.
When I started creating papier maché dolls, I did so much measuring. I wanted everything to to be “correct”. After creating quite a few of them, I now rarely measure anything. Most of the time, the measuring I do is to make sure that my proportions of a piece are correct. I do a lot of ‘eyeballing’ measurements too. I do use a straight edge for cutting, however when the materials kind of start going a little cock-eyed, I don’t loose my mind. I just go with it. I do a lot of marking pieces to keep components facing the right way, or so that they will be attached to the correct side or portion of the doll I’m working on. You can see in the picture above the ‘R’ on the side of the head. The head is about 2 mm off square on one side, so to make sure that the frame I added to the face fits correctly, I make the sides so I know which side goes where. You could also see a red A and a blue B on the corrugated cardboard pieces I carved. Each of the legs has a corresponding A and B, along with marks to make sure that the front of the legs faces the front.
The picture above is of the two arm mounts. I think they look like tiny hammers. You can see where the A and B are marked. I use a colored pencil for this, because sometimes markers can bleed through newsprint and gesso and even give a paint layer a weird cast depending upon the type of paint and tint or shade of paint chosen. Coloured pencil is also easier to sand off in case I need to make changes with placement of components as well.
I made the arm mounts out of toilet paper rolls. You can see that I laminated them together with glue for the smaller parts. I added a heavy-duty bamboo skewer through the center of the smaller cylinder and used some of that more easily crushable corrugated cardboard with Eri-Keeper to stabilize it. The arm mounts will be papier maché’d, then attached to the torso with Eri-Keeper, then the seams papier maché’d over to hid them. I will use Eri-Keeper, watered down, instead of the regular PVA glue for the seam-hiding papier maché.
The legs are also toilet paper rolls. I used eight total. I just taped them together and added a couple layers of newsprint and glue for strength. I added some circular pieces to the insides to stabilize the leg forms too. I made the knee joints first. They’re super-simple. I didn’t add a knee-cap stop on them, so they will bend forwards and backwards right now. I’m still mulling over adding those stops. There are pros and cons to adding these stops. I added the cavities in the bottoms of the feet because I have plans for them.
The cavities in the bottoms of the legs, as well as the frame piece for the dolls face were two things that I created on the fly as I was working on this doll. I didn’t have anything in my rudimentary sketches about these features. They just seemed to be ‘right’ as I was working on the piece. Each of them are rooted in something that is from my distant and more recent past. I liked the ideas and added them to the piece. These kinds of changes aren’t something that I can necessarily plan. There comes a point while I’m working when the artwork begins to take over and I, to a certain extent become the one with the eyes and the thumbs. The artwork is going to be what it wants to be.
Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for more than a week. People who copy another persons artwork. Or, those who try to copy an artists artwork.
I just wrote a fairly detailed account of how I’m creating this papier maché doll. I talked a lot about the tools, materials, and techniques that I’m using and why I use them. I detailed where I get most of my materials, at least the free ones. I suppose that a person who wanted to copy my artwork could quite easily look at the pictures of my artwork in process, gather the same or similar-enough materials, tools, etc., and attempt to make a doll like the one that I’m currently creating. Or for that matter, a person could go through my entire Instagram account and save pictures and posts and try making those dolls as well. The patterns I create for the felt and fabric dolls I make are rock-stupidly simple. Anyone with eyes and hands could make them if they tried to.
I recently had a back and forth with an artist and a doll maker about this same subject; people copying artwork. This artists makes amazing dolls. One look at them and you can see how much time, effort, creativity and love goes into each and every doll they make. This doll maker doesn’t sell patterns of their work, nor do they create what I would call a ‘lower price point’ doll for persons who might think their doll work is on the expensive end. They recently had a person contact them with what I think were intrusive questions regarding specifics (materials, techniques) on how they created their dolls. It was obvious that this person was wanting specifics so that they could create a doll like this doll artist, without having to pay her for it. This person was effectively wanted to steal the creation of a practicing artist.
Why would anyone do that?
To merely say that this was annoying is an understatement if you ask me. I’ve gotten some strange inquiries regarding the potential purchase of my artwork along with questions about the techniques and materials I use to create them. I trusted my gut, and stopped communicating with these particular people. I didn’t sell my work to them either. Questions like, “How do I get the material do the same thing yours does?” or “Where do you get that kind of (insert item here)?” are the types of inquiries from an unknown entity, (Read: “Not a Known to Me Artist or Creator”) that sets the alarm bells ringing in my mind. When another artist or creator asks these kinds of questions, I’m much more likely to discuss it with them, or even show them how I actually do the technique.
I sometimes wonder about why there are people who think they can just take another artists creation without paying for it. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that doll makers (among the myriad of other fiber and textile artists and creators out there!) utilize patterns in the creation of their artwork. Does the idea of a pattern to some mean that the artwork created from it is ‘less than’ other art? Would these kinds of people ask the sculptor or painter for directions and lists of materials needed to re-create their artwork? (Sadly, I think the answer may be yes.) Do they think that artwork, “real” Art (with that capital A qualifier) is only the work in galleries, museums or rich peoples houses and yachts? That somehow, a doll maker, who uses patterns, isn’t creating unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork? That their materials, tools and techniques are something that can be easily replicated by just anyone who thinks that the artwork must be ‘easy’ because a pattern in used?
A pattern doesn’t make a piece of artwork ‘easy’. A pattern is just a tool that many artists working in a variety of different mediums utilize. The pattern doesn’t ‘make’ the artwork. The artists’ skills, knowledge, curiosity and imagination make the artwork, in tandem with the tools and materials, all of which are driven by the intrinsic need to create. Those are the things that create the artwork, regardless of whether the artwork is a painting or a doll. We’ve all seen knock-off products. Don’t tell me that you can’t see the difference. The knock-off is a poorly constructed facsimile lacking true creativity and originality. What burns is when the person who is trying to copy your work actively seeks you out and effectively tells you about what they’re doing. I wonder if this person thought they were giving the doll maker a compliment? “I like your art so much, I will copy it and tell you about it! Isn’t that just the coolest!” This takes passive-aggressive behavior and elevates it to almost a god-like level.
As an art teacher, I never wanted my students to copy my artwork examples, or to copy from their fellow students either. I had some lessons in which I would actually take down my examples, because the urge to copy could get strong for some students. This is not to say that a student of visual art cannot learn from copying. That kind of practice has it’s place within the education of any artist. This kind of artistic practice work is not meant to be an expression of the art student. It’s not to be signed and displayed as their original artwork either. That’s called stealing, and I learned a lot about it as a graphic design student. Copyright and Trademark exist for everyone, including artists.
A persons artwork should be a true expression of who they are as a person. It should be as unique as they are. Knowingly copying someone else’s art is to sell yourself short as an artist and as a human being. If this person wants to make dolls, then yes, at some point, they may follow other peoples patterns. At some point though, they begin to alter how they create the doll. Choose the colors and textures they want to use. Add in new elements. These choices are their creative contribution to the creation of a doll using someone else’s pattern. I would hope that this happens organically, allowing the person creating the dolls to take a great deal of satisfaction from their work. At a point, perhaps they decide to start making alterations to the pattern. Perhaps they decide to create their own pattern to fulfill their own personal needs/wants. But to just say, “Oh. You’re doll is better. Mine’s bad. I want to copy yours.” that’s just…no. Don’t do that. No. It’s just so wrong.
Artists spend decades honing their skills and their craft. It’s truly insulting to have someone ignore all of that expertise and hard-won knowledge and think they can just take a pattern and copy what the artist does.
This post got a little long and a a lot preachier than I had originally intended.
Be inspired to create art the artists you see, read, and listen to, but don’t copy them. Go and make your own artwork. It’ll be much more satisfying for you as an individual.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday (even through I know it’s Tuesday),
Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas. “William Wants and Doll.” Free to Be You and Me. 1972
The New Seekers. “Free to Be You and Me.” Free to Be You and Me. 1972