Author Archives: Katie Kinsman

The End of the Creative Experiment

These are the first buttons I purchased at a second hand store that I thought would merely be inspiration for my artwork.

I began my Creative Experiment concerning my own art creation in February 2018. It gave me a mental framework to guide the creation of my artwork. The discovering of a means by which to explore my personal creative processes, was an unexpected bonus. I feel as though the experiment has served its purpose and it’s time to mark the completion of it.

The reason I began the experiment was because I felt as though my artwork had become predictable. I felt as though I was simply going through the same motions with each piece, with each doll, and never feeling quite creatively satiated. I knew exactly what was going to happen and in what order. Creating the patterns for the dolls and clothing were creatively engaging for me. The first few dolls and sets of clothing created from the patterns were fun to make. It is always satisfying to see your art become real as you make it. But over time, I began to feel as though the subsequent artwork created was somehow stale. It was something that I saw as rooted in a different place and a time. It had become somehow separate from my current mental and physical state. And I had no idea how to detach myself from that feeling.

I needed to create artwork, dolls that were completely different from what I had been doing, while at the same time, being similar in many ways to how I had always worked.

Yeah. That makes total and complete sense, doesn’t it? But when you know something is wrong, but cannot completely identify it, then the possible solutions remain ill-formed lumps of gray.

I decided to change the materials, tools and techniques. There were things that I felt needed to be knocked loose within my own mind for my artwork to evolve. Changing my methods seemed like a good place to start. I wrote the following parameters for what I called my Creative Experiment:

  1. Choose a Button: Take the first one that you like or feel drawn to for whatever reason, the color, shape, texture, size, etc.
  2. Choose the Color for the Doll: Fabric, Felt, etc., choose what you are attracted to in the moment. What kind of color or texture do you want?
  3. You may create a very basic pattern for the doll: Do not get lost in the creation of the pattern. Keep it simple. Nothing too fancy or elaborate! Trace the button and draw the pattern around it. Cut out the pattern and start piecing!
  4. Choose Thread Colors and Additional Fibers too, it desired — threads, yarns, floss, etc., whatever is on hand that you like.
  5. Start Sewing! Work. Sew. Choose to do things quickly. Be okay with whatever is happening as you work.
  6. Do not start a new button doll until the current one is finished. It may take a few sessions to finish one doll. Be patient.
  7. Remember, these dolls are three-dimensional sketches. They are not meant to be perfect!

The buttons that I refer to are the ones that I purchased at a second hand store. They were all little faces to me. When I purchased a handful of them in 2018, I thought that they would be reference for a new doll design. Perhaps I could create new patterns based on them. The sketches I created did not scratch the that illusive creative itch, so I had to come up with something else.

This is the very first doll in the creative experiment.

I purposefully created parameters that were directly opposite of the unwritten parameters I had been utilizing while creating my previous body of artwork. That body of work was sketched, had defined themes, were painstakingly put together, had complete outfits of clothing, handbags, intricate hair styles, jewelry, and were somewhat marketable. I worked on several dolls at the same time and shifted between dolls when I felt got stuck, or needed to procure a tool or material. I needed to get away from that way of thinking. 

Initially, the new artwork seemed half-assed, sloppy, and very unsure. Each doll felt like a bit of a failure. I was spent around three to four hours creating each doll. They were small. So much smaller than any dolls that I had created previously. I needed to treat these dolls as sketches. It was okay not to like what I was creating. They were just sketches.

I kept working. Creating on average five to seven small dolls per week, mostly in the evenings. I tried to let go of all of the preconceptions I had about myself as an artist and my previous artwork. I tried hard to be mentally and emotionally present during my creation of each doll. All the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s required my total attention.

This all just sounds like flow state, and it is. I know what flow state is. I had experienced it while creating my previous body of work. This time around, it was different. I relished being able to lose track of myself while I was working on a doll. The things in my mind were all blank, while at the same time my hands were making the art. I tried not to think so much about what I was doing. I was working more instinctively. And the artwork began to change. The experience of creating each of the dolls became more meditative. Thoughts, ideas, emotions, inspirations were all available for me while I worked within this small space, in these small forms.

I cannot deny that there were many other contributing elements that were integral to the success of my creative experiment. My physical environment as well as my access to art and sewing supplies were important ones. Not teaching art to children also had a lot to do with the success of the creative experiment. I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on a daily interaction with my students as a means of creative idea generation for my personal artwork.

I don’t resent any of these changes that I have made to my life that resulted in my need to create an experiment to aid me in finding the ability to make art in a way that allowed me to be creatively fulfilled. If my creative experiment had not worked out so well, or had failed spectacularly, I would have simply tried something else.

So, if the experiment was a success, why end it?

Mostly because all things must come to an end, or perhaps cease to be of such importance. The creative experiment has served a purpose, and now I can move forward with other concepts and ideas that I would like to explore in my artwork. The imprint of the experiment is still very visible in my artwork, but it won’t be the reason for the existence of my artwork.

This is Agnes and Tiina. I had almost completed them at this point.  They are the last dolls created under the parameters of the creative experiment.

This is the little flower shape in which the smaller doll, Tiina sits on top of Agnes’s head.

Free Pattern Download: But You Have to Read the Blog Post First

I’ve created doll patterns in the past with the intensions of selling them. The creation of the pattern itself seems to relatively easy for me to do. Writing the initial instructions is a little more difficult, mostly because I want to make sure that I’m telling the reader everything they should know. I want the people who buy my patterns to be able to have a good time using the pattern, perhaps learn a new thing or two, and creating something that they will truly enjoy.

These are the same considerations that I take into account when I’m teaching students in the art education classroom. I strive to create an art experience for my students in which they will have opportunities to learn, grow as well as being able to express themselves and have a good time doing it.

I would assume to have all the requisite mental and physical tools to design and write fairly good patterns and sets of instructions then, right? I looked over the patterns that I’d designed and written in the past few years and couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something lacking in them. There was some essential element that was missing, but I had no idea what it was.

I mentally chewed on this idea for a few weeks. I didn’t see any huge difference between the types of patterns or templates that I created for student use in my classroom. I had to break down the the actions that my students would take in the classroom and the user of one of my patterns and instructions.

What I discovered is that there are two big differences between teaching students in a classroom setting and selling a pattern to a customer:

  1. I’m not present as a teacher to guide the user of one of my patterns, so that they can have a fulfilling creative experience.
  2. I want users of my pattern to make their own art, not an exact copy of mine, and it’s impossible to guarantee that.

Those two differences, combined with my personal beliefs about creativity and art creation, are the biggest mental obstacles that I have when it comes to creating moderately good patterns.

Teaching art in the public school is a contact sport:

I love teaching children art. Seeing my students create their artwork is amazing. I love being there to see them have those ‘ah-ha!‘ moments, where a concept or technique just suddenly comes together for them and you can see their world get a little bigger. Being an art teacher akin to teaching children how to discover who they are as humans. I’m so grateful for all of the years that I have been privileged to work with students.

The student and I are both present in the same space, at the same time, working together, getting and giving feedback, while they are creating their artwork. Because of this, I’m there to guide them as much or as little as they require.

I never liked having students copy my art lesson examples. I felt as though it was as if they were going through the motions of creating art. Using the tools, materials and the techniques, but  not infusing their artwork with their own choices of composition, color, or subject. Not showing themselves reflected within their artwork.

The teacher drew a panda, so I will draw a panda. I will make my work look like hers, because hers is good.”

Creating art is more than simply using the tools, materials and technique. That’s more exercise than a unique creation of artwork. For art to have life, to have meaning, requires the presence of the human creating the artwork in its creation. Growth takes place because the creator is different after the experience of creating; the finished artwork is a physical reminder of the mental and emotional growth that has taken place within the creator, and imbues the artwork with the importance of that growth.

I never wanted my students to make their artwork look like mine. I wanted them to take the lesson, the art experience that I was presenting to them, and make it their own. I wanted them to put their own unique mark on it.

I think that where I get mentally stuck is that I feel as though the patterns that I create must offer to the user every, single, solitary, solution to an infinite number of questions and problems. To be frank, I tend to have mental plans A-ZZZ ready in my head, juuuuust in case I need them, for many possible scenarios. I’ve done it as long as I can remember. In the art classroom it makes me a very flexible art teacher that can adapt quickly, allowing me to work with the students to help them create the artwork they want to create.

“Yeah. We’re all working on huge Sonia Delaunay-inspired mixed media pieces, but I want you to use the colors you like, and the shapes you like, and the composition you find the most personally satisfying. Use the tools or don’t use them. It’s up to you. Don’t want to use the oil pastels? Here, pick some paint colors. I want to see your artwork.”

My lessons are simply a blank pattern, that the students finish in their own unique way. Once I had mentally sorted this out, my problems creating patterns for other people to use became clear. The pattern is just a starting point. Once you learn how the pattern works, you can then begin to alter the pattern to suit your own specific creative needs.

My art is mine. I am the audience.

As a practicing artist, I’m constantly creating my own patterns for my work. There are times in which I don’t feel as though I require a pattern and just kind of ‘wing it’, but that’s the benefit of about three decades+ of accumulated professional efficacy at work. I put myself into every piece that I create.

No one tells me how to create my artwork. I research materials and techniques. I create test pieces to make sure that I have a construction method or technique well in hand before I start a new piece of art. I never listen to advice from non-artists/creators that begins with, “You know, you should make…” I know that this advice is meant well, but more often than not, the person offering it doesn’t know why I make art. And that’s okay.

I think there is also a part of me that thinks that if I create patterns for other people to use, that in some way, I’m giving away my own ‘magic’ for free. That there will be someone out there, who takes my ideas, my methods and techniques, and calls them their own and that somehow I’m materially damaged because of that. It’s completely irrational, but I thought it should be noted, as it is something that crosses my mind as regards the creation of patterns to sell.

So…what do I do?

I need to go through the mental block, or around it, or maybe under it:

With all of the above, swirling around in my mind, I thought I would try and create a simple pattern for a doll that people could download for free. In the download, you’ll get a pattern, a list of tools and materials and some very basic directions that show the user how to create an articulated doll using recycled materials (carton board, cardboard, magazines) as well as easy to find tools and materials like scissors, glue sticks, pencils, buttons, pipe cleaners and wire, and other things that you may have around the house, like fabric, felt and yarn.

Here’s the thing, I don’t show you how to create a face, or clothing or hair. I suggest materials, but how they are to be used is up to the person using the pattern. Some people may want to only use colored paper and markers to complete their doll. Other people may want to use wiggly eyes for the face, and add a lot of texture with things like beads or beans glued to the cardboard surface of the doll. While other people may want to paint fabric and then wrap each individual doll piece, and using small pieces of wood to put the doll together instead of buttons and pipe cleaners. There may be people who want to use a copier to increase the size of the pattern, while there may be others that want to make the wrists and ankles moveable.

The thing that scares me, and makes me feel like the user of one of my patterns will not be happy with the pattern, instructions or the art they create, is that I’m not there to guide them. I have no part in the users creative process beyond making a pattern available to them. If they don’t like the pattern, they could tell everyone they know that they think I stink and am a bad pattern maker and everyone on the planet should avoid me, my artwork and my patterns at all cost.

Whatever the user of this pattern does with it, I hope it is a unique expression of who they are and that they have a very good time creating their own artwork.

(I will have a Finnish language version of this pattern added very soon. I am having a native speaker go over the Finnish before I post it.)

Doll Pattern English 1_Nov 2019

Doll Pattern_English 2_Nov 2019


Exhibiting My Artwork or Getting Past My Fear

I’m the first to admit that I’m far from a prolific blogger. The majority of my activity online is on Instagram. I post there a lot. Mostly pictures of my artwork and my artwork in process. I’ve made contact with other artists and I enjoy talking with them about all things ‘art’. I had decided earlier in the year that I was just going to start writing and posting on my blog every week, and I just didn’t do it.

My attentions get pulled in other directions, mostly in the direction of creating my own artwork. Taking photos of my artwork and the process of creating it fits with what I would rather be doing 99% of the time; making my own artwork.

That all being said, I do want to post on this blog more often. To that end, I have decided to take more of a baby-step; posting every Tuesday for just the month of November. That seems much more do-able to me. Four posts is much less daunting to me. Hopefully, I can build this into a habit.

For my first of four blog posts this month, I’m announcing a small exhibit of my artwork at the Jyväskylän kaupunginkirjasto. My work will be on display for the month of November. Displaying my artwork in a public setting, is something that makes me not just very nervous, but takes my own personal senses of personal self-doubt and complete inadequacy and turns them up to level ten. I know where these feelings come from and why they are an omnipresent presence within me. It is through creating my artwork that I sorted this all out. Every piece of art that I make gives me a greater understanding of myself. I create my artwork primarily for myself. It’s my therapy.

Over the past few years, showing my artwork and my creative process through Instagram photos has allowed me to have a level of control that I found comforting. I had control over who saw my artwork and who I talked to about my artwork. I could hide my self-doubt and sense of inadequacy in the physical buffer of the internet. The viewer on Instagram only sees and reads what I am comfortable sharing with them. When showing my artwork in public, there is no buffer. I have much more limited control, and that is a big step for me as an artist. A big, fat, terrifying step.

I suppose my next question should be, now that I’ve started to work on my fear of showing my artwork in public, what should I do next?


Fear: An integral component of my creative process

I spent some time yesterday working on a list of ideas for blog posts. I outlined a blog post and began to flesh it out, with the intention of polishing it and then posting it today, but that’s not going to happen, not today anyway.

Yesterday evening, I began the painting stage for one of my dolls. Well, they aren’t really ‘dolls’ in the traditional sense anymore. Yes, they can be ‘played with’, but they have morphed into something else, more sculptural, more abstract…I’m still trying to figure it out for myself at this point. I still personally call them dolls though. The painting stage for my most recent collection of dolls is started after the gesso and sanding is completed. I had decided some time ago, that I wanted to explore using painted paper, and then adhering it to the surfaces of the doll. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be more Eric Carle or more hanging wallpaper.

I’m not sure how I actually pictured the paper looking, but this was not it.

I was confident in my ability to create the painted paper. I was drawing on an art lesson taught to me by a fellow art teacher while I was working within a larger public schools art program. In a nutshell, you use acrylic paint and paint it onto newsprint. It creates lovely paper that can be cut or torn and used for collage work. I decided to use pages from a book. I used glue stick to attach several pages together, creating a large sheet (35  x25 cm, give or take) that I could paint on. Much like the art lesson, I stuck to colour groupings like tints, shades, warm, cool and analogous. I chose blues for the background (base) layer of colour, and then will create collage work over the top of it. I can work back into the painted paper with coloured pencil and with additional paint. When completed, I will cover it with a semi-gloss sealant. That’s the plan.

While working last night, I began thinking, “Oh man. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” after I glued down the first, and essentially easiest part of the paper to the main doll torso back. It thought it looked horrible. The book paper was getting soft and mushy. I had to be so careful as I attempted to burnish or even press the painted paper down to the relatively flat surface. I chose to use a straight-up PVA glue for adhering the paper to the gessoed surface of the doll, because I had used the exact same glue to make the gesso. Somehow I thought that they would adhere to one another better.

I’m kind of feeling ‘meh’ about how this looks. I keep reminding myself that this is the background for a collage and that there is more to be added to it.

I struggled to get the paper to do what I wanted it to do. By the time I was beginning the wheel-houses for the hip joints, I was so frustrated, I thought about peeling off all the paper and sanding it smooth, and starting over with paint just painted on the gessoed surface. I thought about letting it dry and then sanding off the painted paper. I thought that I could just create a whole new abdominal section for the doll. I was really pissed at myself. I should have known that the book pages were too thick and spongy to work with, especially with paint and glue. The paper seams show; great big, stark white lines running through the paper where I cut it. The curved wheel-houses looked like…merde.

Was I drinking last night? Did I suddenly forget how to use glue and paper? The wrinkles! Oh, dear, sweet, merciful gods!

I wasn’t just soaking in fear, I was drowning in it.

Wow. You can hardly tell I just took a two day photography seminar. This looks like I had my eyes closed when I was gluing and cutting the paper and taking the photo.

Evidently, I forgot how to use scissors and X-Acto’s correctly last night. I’m sure a little paint will fix this right up!

I went to bed thinking that I had just totally screwed-up several weeks worth of work and that I’d just have to chuck this piece in the bin and start over again with a completely new doll.

I actually found myself thinking, “What will people think of this totally bunged-up piece of crap that I have created?” It was at that point I had to stop and take a critical look at my thought process as well as the now dried artwork sitting on my desk, because fear was getting the better part of all of my attention, and it didn’t deserve it.

Okay, let’s look at the physical process of creating the paper and then adhering it to the surface of the doll. Yep. It looks a bit chunky and busted, however, it didn’t dry as wibbly as I had feared. Those white edges! GAH! They are mocking me! Mocking. Me. Well…I do have more paint…and coloured pencils…so I thinking I can at least minimize their appearance. The wheel-houses…oh man…they are just crunchy…sloppy…the curves look like…MERDE! GAH! Can some paint help? Yes. Maybe some careful sanding? Perhaps. Okay, let’s look at the helmet portion that I also got paper glued to. It’s…okay…better than the torso section, but there are some seriously boogered sections where I had to attempt some surgery with an X-Acto knife and it looks like crud. The paper rumpled. Can paint minimize it? I think so.

Will these solutions all work? Maybe? I’m sure that some will work better than others and that while I’m attempting to fix all of the things that I view as problems or mistakes, I will add to my personal creative efficacy in the process.

Fear is weird. It can propel you in a myriad of directions, sometimes all at once. You can stop completely. You can plow through it. You can get stuck in it. You can cut loose things that aren’t working, and move on without them. Or, you can spend inordinate amounts of time trying to make something work that will never work. I suppose that the most important take aways fear as a lesson can teach me, is I need to adequately process it and most important, learn from it. Fear of making mistakes, of screwing things up shouldn’t be a reason for never making an attempt in the first place. This has been a very hard lesson for me to learn, and not just when it’s attached to my own artistic creation. I don’t think fear should ever necessarily disappear completely either. At this point in my life, I think I’m just going to have to look at it the same way I do my clinical depression; fear is something that is always going to be there, something that I will have to do battle with, in varying degrees, and in multiple places, for the rest of my life. That’s just life.

Now, back to work.

Wading Back Into the Pond

It’s been quite a long time since I have made any kind of post on this website, and it’s long, long overdue. So much has happened in my life since I was last active on my blog, so much in fact that I don’t think I want to write a huge long series of posts detailing the events of the past few years. I think that the image above kind of addresses some of what’s been going on in my life, and where I’m pointing my life.

I’m still in the process of planning what I want this blog to be. I do know that my artwork and my teaching will be big parts of it. I’d actually been hemming and hawing for the better part of a year about getting back to writing for the website, but I hesitated at every turn, thinking that I needed to have some all-powerful, all-knowing “Plan” for what I wanted to do, and if I couldn’t come out of the gate with something all-new, super-duper and ultra-fabulous, then it somehow wouldn’t be worth starting to work on a blog or building my website. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it implies that I only would be writing and posting for an unseen and unknown audience of people I didn’t know, and somehow felt the need to impress, aaaand that’s not who I am.

During the past year or so, I’ve had a little snippet of a David Bowie interview in the back of my head on repeat.

Never play to the gallery. (laughter) I think…that you never learn that until much later on I think. But never work for other people in what you do…always…always remember the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. And I…I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other peoples expectations. (Shaking his head slightly) I think they produce, they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And if…the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel your capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

In the end, the blog, the website, my artwork, they are all things that I do because there is something that I want to make real, so that others can see it, read it or hear it. Yes. I am putting all of this out there in the world for others, but I need to do it first and foremost for myself, so that it is as true a representation of me as possible. Others expectations of what create, well…those should not influence me and what I choose to create.

My plan right now is that I write at least one post per week. I may post more though. I don’t know how exciting it will be, but I’m fairly sure it will be weird.

Thoughts on my own Creativity as it pertains to Doll Making

I  created a post today for Instagram that had pictures of the the two latest dolls that I had created in it. I just have the basic dolls done, nothing more than the faces are decorated, but the limbs are all attached and they are both awaiting some kind of clothing that as yet, I have not put together. These latest dolls, all three being based on my 20 cm doll basic body pattern, are a departure from how I spent the majority of the summer working. I created Fey Creatures most of the summer. Lots of different kinds. Most having more legs or arms and more complicated bodies and construction than my basic 20 cm doll. I sat down and pieced the three separate dolls (one peach, one pink and one violet) because I knew that I would be giving one of them to a friend for her birthday, but wanted to make sure that I had a choice in finished dolls, so that I could make what I would consider the correct decision; the right doll for the right person at the right time. (Dubravka loved the doll that I made for her, so I think I made the correct decision.)
Last night, I was finishing the violet doll. Once they are pieced, and the main portions of the face (nose, eyes, cheeks and mouth) are appliquéd down, sewing the doll together takes only a couple hours. The embroidery on the face takes another couple of hours. All in all, at this point, with the amount of practise I have with my own patterns, I can get a doll finished in one day, with the clothing taking another half day, if it’s nothing too extravagant. Dubravka’s doll took two and a half days start to finish, and there was still glue drying when I gave it to her!
I sat and chose the colours of thread that I wanted to use for the embroidery of the violet dolls face. As usual, it went fairly quickly. I know enough about colour to know what is going to work, what is going to pop the way that I want it to, so it’s simply a matter of deciding on which colour will be used for what particular portion of the embroidery. Working on violet and lavender felt means I needed to use a contrasting colour, a colour complement. So, yellow flowers it is! I knew I wanted to use a lazy daisy stitch, so the type of flower is chosen (I’ve been doing a lot of floral motifs in the past few months). I decided that instead of half a flower on the cheeks, I wanted to stitch a whole flower, one that matched the nose portion of the doll. The space on both is small (2.5 cm and under for cheeks and nose) so I couldn’t get too ornate with the stitch work. Lazy daisy, back stitch, French knots, stem stitch. Nothing too fancy. I worked with a No. 5 needle and a No. 7 needle. Most of the time, my embroidery thread is reduced, and I use only two or three strands. The spaces where I am placing the embroidery are too small to use anything larger. I start with the largest parts of the motif, in this case, the yellow daisies. I sew them in, then start adding the rest of the elements, the stems, the vines, the leaves, other small flowers, etc. It kind of reminds me of creating a woodcut, or doing a method for a woodcut called a ‘suicide print’. Work biggest to smallest, once something is down, or stitched, it’s there, learn to deal with it if it doesn’t look spectacular. The only time that personal rule doesn’t apply is when it comes to French knots. I want those little buggers to be as uniform as possible, and if they aren’t, I stop and make corrections on the spot, and if that means snipping and picking, then that’s what I do, along with some grumbling.
In recent years, I have come to rely on the patterns I design and create for my dolls, yet, when it comes to the embroidery work, I am much so more ‘flight by night’ in my approach. I can see what I want it to look like in my mind, then I just start stitching. If things go horribly awry, I will stop and snip out stitches that I don’t like because I feel the colour is wrong or the stitch quality is sloppy. It bothers me when a wonky stitch doesn’t make itself known to me until I am way past the point of no return, and have no way to fix it. At present, one appliqué stitch on the violet dolls mouth is driving me nuts, because it is slightly larger than the other stitches. I know. I will have to learn to deal with it. It’s permanent.
I’ve started wondering why I don’t do what I see a lot of embroiderers do, which is use a pen on some kind of mark making devise to draw the pattern out onto the fabric first, then start stitching. I honestly do not have any kind of answer for that. I suppose I could blame it on the fact that I use wool blend and a acrylic blend felts to make my dolls, and sometimes it’s difficult to draw on them and sometimes the disappearing ink pens don’t disappear to the extent that I would prefer. I also find the way that these pens bleed on the fabric before they dry to be visually distracting, making it hard for me to judge distances and colour choices. Or, could I just be lazy? I think that at this point in my creative journey, I have enough experience under my belt that I’m not so scared to just dive right in with regards to the embroidered portions of my dolls. There are still stitches that I am trying to learn, but I just don’t feel like I know how to execute them at the level in which I feel comfortable using them on my dolls yet. The notion that I have enough experience to do some things well, but still lack experience to do many things well, and thus leave them out of my work until I can in fact, do them well, is kind of punch in the self confidence and a kick in the self efficacy for me as an artist. An outsider sees my work and likes it for what it is, while I see all the things that went wrong and I had to fix on the fly. All the stitches that I still haven’t mastered, but really want to use in my artwork. They don’t see the time spent sketching out the idea, creating the pattern, choosing the fabrics, colours, stitches. I think it was Duchamp who said something about how artwork isn’t finished until it is viewed by someone other than the creator, and I think this applies here, but in a different sort of way. An outsider sees the final product and gives it meaning through their interpretation of it, made possible by their own unique experiences. What they are not privy to is the journey that the artist has undertaken that results in the final finished piece of artwork. For any artist who creates a large body of work, a finished piece is just one stop along the journey, with each consecutive stop getting the artist closer to the idea that they are chasing.
I must pause and address my use of the word ‘idea’, and it’s use in describing what an artist might be pursuing through the creation of art. Every artist has something that they are chasing after, or perhaps something that instead is chasing after them, some means of motivation that propels them forward and compels them to create. For each artist, it’s different. Some have individual demons to slay, while others see endless internal vistas that they want to interpret and share with others. Some are motivated by a need to know, or experience, and some simply want to make aesthetically beautiful objects. Still others have a wish to build and create for those who come after them, and enlist others to aid them in the execution of their vision, while some artist work for years, and never show a soul what they have made. My use of the word idea is meant to encapsulate all of these types of motivations an artist might have and more.
One of the strangest experiences I’ve had of late was while looking through some of the dolls I’d made over this recent summer. I was looking for a particular doll that I had created. I wanted to look at what I thought were some rather nice floral motifs mixed with some abstract designs that I had created for a few dolls that just happened to look somewhat similar to some circular Nordic runes I had come across in some research. I found it interesting that my own semi abstract circular designs just happened to resemble existing runes and I wondered if they had been floating around in my subconscious while I had been stitching the designs down — or — perhaps a more practical answer to this might have been, there are only so many ways in which you can create a circular design using the chain stitch and the back stitch, so my mathematical chances of stitching something looking vaguely runic were fairly high. Anyway, as I stopped and looked at each of the dolls, I had this weird sensation of “When did I do that? I didn’t do that. No way. Seriously, I don’t remember doing that.” when I looked at each completed dolls face. There was almost this kind of existential disbelief that I had in fact created these dolls and done the embroidery work on them. I wonder if that has anything to do with the flow state that I get into when I am working on a doll. Time doesn’t mean a whole lot. I just work until it’s done to a point where I am comfortable stopping for the night. Sometimes the journey doesn’t make regularly timed stops.
I think that may have something to do with the fact that with some of my dolls, I’m working with a humanoid form, and I instinctively grant the doll a soul. I just do. I didn’t realise I did that until I had the recent pink doll all together and was looking at it. I was no longer working on her body and face, she was together and sitting in front of me. She was made real in an instant. Not just bits of thread and felt and stuffing, but real and whole, and in my mind, that means she was given some manner of soul or spirit to go along with that. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think she gets up and walks around when I’m not looking. I don’t think she speaks. The kind of soul that I am talking about is more along the lines of a soul of creation kind of thing. Perhaps it is more of an ushabti kind of thing, in that she is, in some way, a small version of me and in being created by me, is part of me, and if I have a soul then she must have some manner of soul, or at least be part of some creative life force that I have been able to latch onto in the act of creating her from bits of threat and felt and stuffing.
This reminds me of something that was said to me a number of years ago by my mother. I have written about a few times before, and it amazes me how differently I internalise it at any given time. Some days I’m amused by it and other days it cuts me so ferociously deep and painfully.“Katie doesn’t make friends, she makes friends!” This was in reference to my doll making. Somehow I am, apparently, in her eyes, bad at making real flesh and blood friends with which to have a real emotional connection with, so I choose to create hollow little puppety dolly friends that I can control instead to keep me from being lonely. So I can say that I have friends. Ha. Ha. As I stated, on any given day, I can think about this statement in different ways. Today, the pink and violet dolls aren’t my friends, I didn’t make them to be my friends, they are instead an extension of myself through the act of creativity. The soul that I keep thinking that I feel when I look at them is merely a reflection of my own soul I see looking back at me.


Am I only as good as my last creative endeavour?

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.

These ladies have been very patiently waiting for me to finish their heads and put them on their bodies.

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.

I wonder what she would be thinking if she could think?

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.)

Tiny batch of practice dolls are tiny.

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.

Trying to keep the 10 cm practice contained in one place.

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.

I had a feeling someone was staring at me. She wants to know when I plan on giving her some hair.

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.

Our flat is not large. I try very hard to keep my work and materials as neat and tidy as I can. I have a tendency to spread if given the opportunity.

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.

Some practice dolls become very dear to me and I don’t part with them. This is Cintia. She was my very first attempt at a 20 cm doll. She I will keep.

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.

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Eyes Open, Mouth Moving

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.

I have to draw pictures like this to help me organise my thoughts. I feel like I can better see all of the moving parts of a particular concept or theory when I do so.

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 web of mystery, yeah…

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.

I loved these dolls. Cindy had the coolest overalls and I still think of the fabric of Julie’s dress when I look at fabric for the doll clothing I create.

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 loved the while Fisher-Price Little People world. I consider the Little People house to be my first doll house.

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 have one of my Grandmother Wilma’s thimbles in my embroidery box and a small length of the rickrack used for Marilyn’s dress.

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.

Some Doubt, Some Consequence

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.