Over the past week, I’ve begun work on a new group of Little Lady Dolls. One of the big reasons for this is that I just wanted something small to work on. Designing and building the large paper mâché Play Set Dolls, like Audrey, Kiddo or Crystal is incredibly satisfying to me as an artist. But they can also take such a very long time to create. My mind constructs the finished piece at a speed that the physical world just cannot compete with.
While I am still thoroughly enjoying the creative process, there’s a portion of my mind inhabited by the ever-impatient toddler who wants everything done right now. I can usually keep her relatively quiet. Mostly because the Play Set Dolls have so many individual moving components to them. With each completed part, my inner inpatient creative toddler is pacified a little bit. For me, this makes imagination and creativity flow a bit better.
Larger Little Lady Dolls:
A few months ago, I created what felt like gargantuan sized 12 cm tall dolls, based on the much smaller 6 cm Little Lady Doll pattern. I made three test dolls with the 12 cm pattern. Only one of them I considered a success. Two of the dolls were a full 12 cm tall and the third is 10 cm. For two of the dolls, the clothing I made just bothered me. It just didn’t look right. Putting my finger on precisely what was wrong with the dolls proved difficult, so I placed them aside and started work on Shirley and her doll house. I could always come back to the 12 cm dolls at some point in the future if I wanted to.
The yellow top on the light green doll just looks wrong to me. The colors are okay. I think it has something to do with the scale of the doll and the clothing style. This type of swingy, a-line top or dress looks great on dolls that are 5 cm tall and under. On a 12 cm doll it just looks so wrong to me. The 12 cm doll wearing overalls looks fine to me. In fact, she’s the one doll of the three test dolls that I consider a success.
The 10 cm doll is the worst of the three dolls. Her proportions are all off. The pant legs and arms need to be either longer or shorter. I thought that making the doll a little shorter would make the a-line top work. Nope. It somehow made the proportion problems even worse. The hairstyles are the only elements that I like for the above two dolls. The rest of them, especially their clothing is just…yuck. That seems so mean, doesn’t it?
Practice Makes Better:
These three dolls were practice. No one hits a home-run their first time at bat. The same is true for artists. I call my practice dolls ‘The Alpha Versions’. They are more or less, a proof of concept for me. I’m not looking for them to be perfect. And anyway, there’s no perfect in the practice of art making. It’s all a series of educated attempts. Sometimes the attempts are successful to a degree. There are times in which the attempt is just an abject failure, not even worthy of a picture as reference. Practice is practice. I learn what works, and what doesn’t work. The failures are where most of the learning takes place in my opinion.
Failure is not a bad thing. If you learn from it, and then make changes when making a second, third or fourth attempt, you are amassing quite a bit of knowledge and practice for the fifth, sixth and seventh attempts. Failure isn’t a bad thing until it prevents you from that eighth attempt at success. You may not realize it at the time, but you get a little better each time you try and (maybe) fail.
This was always a difficult concept to teach to the students in my art classes. It was therefore part of my job as an art teacher to give these students a safe place in which to fail. This made failure just part of the overall art-creating experience. And in the long run, it taught students to be okay with not being terrific at something the first time they tried it. Failure taught them to pick themselves up. Dust themselves off. Look at what they did. Make a new plan. Decide on a new course of action. Then to implement it.
Open Mouth, Insert Money:
I’m practicing what I’m preaching by giving the 12 cm dolls another try. There are some ideas that I’ve been wanting to try out on this size of doll. Smaller dolls would not necessarily work for them I think. “I think“, because I do not know. The 12 cm dolls may be an abject failure within the confines of this new idea that I have. Who knows? No one will, not unless I make the attempt.
Making shoes is one of the worst parts of doll making, in my opinion. There is just something about it that I cannot seem to get my brain around in concrete way. I’ve made the above kinds of boots for dolls previously. They’re fairly easy to create. Yes. They look like Ugg boots. Having the dolls wear them isn’t so much a fashion statement, but a means to have them stand on their own. As much as I dislike making doll shoes, I still work hard to create dolls that can stand on their own. Two legs or six, I want them to be free-standing.
These boots aren’t perfect. I will need to tweak the pattern here and there. Hopefully, I will get closer to what I want after making a few more pairs. As you can see, the boots are removable, at least for now. I’m not sure if I will attach them permanently or not. What I do know is that at this point, just after making the boots, these two 12 cm dolls look better proportioned to me than my previous attempts.
I’ve planned their outfits out a little bit. Colors have been chosen as well. I know that I will not be creating any swingy, a-line tops or skirts for them. See?! I’m learning!
Practice is great. It won’t all look good. Some of it will look bad. In my experience, a lot of this practice will kind of look ‘okay’. The point is not to despair! Keep working, even when you’re not quite sure what’s not right, or where you might be going. Plant one creative foot in front of the other and do the work.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday,
Nukkekoti Väinölä: Maria Malmstrom has an amazing doll house site! Her miniatures are fabulous! Her designs just blow me away! She’s got all kinds of kits to purchase! Check out her online shop here!
Gepetto: I have a few pieces of Gepetto furniture. It’s super-cute and very easy to put together. They have multiple scales available and they’re kid-friendly. One of the pictures earlier in this post has my dolls sitting in Gepetto chairs.
There were two things that I read over this past week that got me thinking about selling the artwork that I make. One was a response to a picture of my artwork posted on Facebook. The other being something that I read in passing on Instagram. At first glance, they don’t seem all that related to one another. It was only after unpacking them that I made the connections.
I had posted a series of process pictures of some small and tiny dolls that I had recently started making. Previous to this, I’d posted a picture of the neat, little, stacks of felt pieces that I had cut in preparation for making the dolls.
“…I have often wondered if you have more than the allotted 24 hours in a day because of the volume of what you make with your gifted hands…how do you do this?!?!?“
How do I do this?
Here’s a more direct kind of hourly break-down. he picture above shows twenty-two doll heads. Ten of them are for 12 cm tall dolls, and twelve of them are for 6 cm tall dolls. To sew, stuff and embroider twenty-two small doll heads took me around eight hours to complete. Attaching the abdomens to the heads takes another six (or more) hours of work. Sewing the base hair onto each doll head took me a little longer than eight hours. I started the arms and legs yesterday afternoon, and managed to complete six dolls limbs in around four and half to five hours.
If I were to be cheeky about answering my friends question, I would have said, “I just sit down and work. That’s how it gets done.” Of course, that’s just me being a bit of a jerk. And I would never answer someone so flippantly. But, my cheeky answer is the closest to the truth. I sit down. Work starts. Time passes. The work continues. My mind is occupied. The work is completed. In reality, it’s all just me entering a flow state.
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…
I’ve talked about flow state before in my blog. In a nutshell, when a person is actively working on something that they are very interested in, or perhaps extremely invested in, on a personal or professional level, a person can become so engrossed in what they are doing that time just kind of slips by with little notice. The work becomes the center of all attention.
For me, flow state isn’t difficult to achieve. However, I’ve made decisions about my life that have allowed me greater freedoms to do as I wish with a great deal of my time. My husband and I both work from home. And we don’t have children. Together, we have built a life in which our wants and needs are few. Outside distractions for me are extremely limited. I am free to create for hours on end, while not depriving anyone or anything of my attention.
My personality is also fairly autotelic. Which also just fits into the overall construction of my life at present. I create because I need to create. It’s great to sell my work too. Regardless of whether it sells or not, I will continue making artwork. Creation of art is not done only for the potential of a monetary reward.
Seven further qualifiers:
Owen Schaffer added what he calls the Seven Conditions of Flow to Csikzentmihalyi, Nakamura and Cherry’s work on the concept of flow. I think they’re very much in play while I’m actively engaged in creating my artwork.
Knowing what to do
Knowing how to do it
Knowing how well you’re doing
Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
High perceived challenges
High perceived skills
Freedom from distractions
My friend expresses disbelief that this much work could be created in such a short amount of time. It’s not magic. The seven conditions almost seem like a set of step-by-step directions to me. Know what do to – CHECK! Know how to do it – CHECK! Not all of the conditions have to be present at all times either. Sometimes, I have no idea where I am going when I’m creating artwork. I suppose that the perception of the challenge compensates for no internal sense of direction at times.
It should be mentioned that this is not the first time that I have received comments like the one that spurred this post. Rarely are the conditions right for me to offer-up all of the information I feel explains this perceived ‘ability’ to anyone remarking on my high-output of artwork. Can you imagine offering up all of this information to a total stranger at an art show? A cocktail party? A cook-out? (Insert hysterical, off-putting laughter here.)
So yeah. (clears throat) That’s how I do what I do.
What was the other thing?
I’m kind of kicking myself for not downloading it. It was something that popped up in my Instagram feed. The post was by a ceramicist, and directed at potential customers purchasing original art and handmade objects directly from creators. It was something like the picture below.
I think that the text of the Instagram post that I saw was very similar to this one. There are several of these kinds of posts floating around on the internet and social media.
What relates the post to what your friend said?
When I’m in that flow state, and I’m creating. Time is gone. My art is in front of me. I’m working on it. Everything outside of my mind and my hands and my art is gone. And yes, for me, time is suspended. I derive an insane amount of pleasure from creating what I create. Sharing the artwork that I create with people, perhaps even selling some of it, that’s also amazing. The overlap occurs within the act of creation for me.
When a person buys my work, they’re getting a slice of the flow. My flow.
It’s like stepping into a stream and feeling the current of the water around your bare feet. Then reaching down and picking up a shiny pebble. It may have taken ten, twenty, thirty years for that bright, shiny pebble to make it’s way down from the top of the mountain. All the while, the water kept moving. And moving. And moving. And the pebble got pushed a little here and a little there. That pebble got to where it was from all that flow pushing it along right to where it was in your path and it grabbed your attention.
I encourage everyone to go out and stick your feet in a stream or pond now and again, if it’s possible. Or, you could go look for a your very own slice of flow in my shop. You’re choice. No pressure. I needed to get in my shameless plug for sales.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again on Monday,
I’ve been working on Shirley and her dollhouse/stool for quite a while. This piece is the largest and the most complicated of any of the papier maché dolls that I have created. I think all of the pieces makes it seem as though I’m not making progress on it. When in fact, I’m completing each small piece, putting it down, then moving on to the next small piece. Repeating this process over and over has resulted in a lot of finished pieces, that need to be assembled into the final, large, finished piece. Shirley has turned into a 3-D create-your-own-puzzle sort of pursuit for me.
There are other reasons that Shirley is taking a while to complete. One reason that keeps floating to the surface is that Shirley has a tremendous amount of personal elements. Then there is the fact that for the first time in quite a while, I decided to use text in my artwork. So, I think I’ve been trying not to second-guess my instincts regarding the text. I finally decided to use the text because there just didn’t seem to be a way to communicate the concepts. Writing the word was the most expedient. Or, in my case, appliqué-ing and embroider-ing them out.
A significant part of me is terrified about what the words say. These statements are weird and wrong and embarrassing for me to say out-loud about myself. Part of the embarrassment comes from the place of having to then explain exactly where they come and why. I have had decades to live with the words. The words and statements have become little satellites to my personal identity. They are part of my identity, but then they aren’t. They’ve just been caught in my identity gravity and I never quite shook them loose.
I hate explaining my artwork. It’s not because I’m upset that people aren’t ‘getting‘ my work. The problem is three fold. First Fold: I am me, and other people are, you know, people who are decidedly not me. Second Fold: As the artist, I somehow make the assumption that just because the act of creating the artwork has helped me ‘figure things out‘, that the same deeply personal revelations should be just as clear to the persons viewing my artwork. And for the Third Fold: I feel as though I sound like an idiot.
The people who have been following my creation of Shirley have no idea that one of the reasons I chose the name was because my Aunt Katie’s name was ‘Shirley Kathryn’. She went by Katie. People won’t know that we were sometimes called, ‘Big Katie’ and ‘Little Katie’ to differentiate between the two of us. They won’t know that the two of us decided we didn’t like the big and little monikers, and made the decision to call each other, Shirley and Elizabeth (my middle name) and that no one else was allowed to call us by those names besides us.
My Aunt Katie was an integral part of my life. I sometimes felt more understood by her than my blood relatives. She was an incredible woman who had a great deal to do with the person I am today.
That’s just one reason to choose Shirley as a name for this piece too.
There’s part of me that feels that if my artwork requires a great deal of additional explaining, then I have somehow not communicated my intentions clearly. These beliefs are the mental left-overs of working in graphic design and illustration I think. When I begin a piece now, I’m starting with nothing more than a need to make something and an attraction to colors and forms. The meaning develops as the artwork progresses. My personal act of art creation aides me in discovering what the individual piece of artwork is about. My personal art creation process diametrically opposite from the creative process I employed as a graphic designer and illustrator.
“Make an ad that for this hat. Show the hat. The price is $17.99. Put the store address in the ad too.”
“Huh. I haven’t used green in a while, and I want to use a balloon for the initial form. Round. I want ROUND.”
I know I wasn’t a very good graphic designer or illustrator. But when I feel like people don’t understand my artwork, I suppose I kind of feel like a two-time failure at art.
I think too damned much about these kinds of things. I had a dream once, years ago, in which I was in a building that was falling down on top of me. I looked up to see an I-beam coming straight for my head and I thought, “Oh no. I won’t be able to think anymore.” Even in my dreams, thinking things is a big part of my life.
I need to get away from these warped kinds of ideas. A person can like my artwork and not understand where it comes from, or why I created it at all. Knowing one of the reasons why I chose Shirley for this dolls name doesn’t suddenly make the art better than when you didn’t know it. It doesn’t diminish their enjoyment of my artwork. My artwork is experienced in an infinite amount of ways by the all the different people who view it. Everyone brings their own lifetime of knowledge and experience to the instant in which they interact with a piece of art. A Gen-X’er may get my nod to Fisher-Price Little People, but a Millenial may think, “Why does she keep making these weird little poop-shaped people and yellow houses?” Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are wondering why my dolls don’t have faces.
And then, there are people who think that all artists just smash a bunch of materials together without much thought at all about anything and then just sit back and call it art and let the money roll-in. But that’s a topic for another blog post at some point in the future.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Monday,
Talking Heads, Life During Wartime, Live Performance 1983: I have a vague art-school memory of my classmate Christa saying that certain lyrics of this song were very similar to being a senior visual communications student. I have to agree. That final semester did feel as if we were living during some kind of wartime.
Talking Heads, And She Was (Official Video): I sometimes joked that upon entry to a graphic design program, new students were handed a variety of things that they were to become associated with, because you know, graphic designers — and art students — are supposed to be quirky, or really weird. “Welcome to art school! Here are the complete recordings of the Talking Heads! Enjoy the Weird!”
I think I need to do some re-reading of John Dewey’s Art as Experience. I’m so glad that I can find it online to read. Not all of it, but a nice chunk of it. Google Books can be a good place to find texts online that you have difficulties finding elsewhere. I’m in Finland. I can’t just head down to the library or local book seller and pick up a copy.
Over the past day or so, my husband has had to listen to me muttering curses under my breath while working on “Shirley”. To be more specific, the actual doll I’m calling Shirley has given me little to no problems. Or perhaps I would say, Shirley has given me no problems that I have not been able to handle. The thing upon which she sits, the little dollhouse, just started giving me fits last night while I worked on it. My husband started calling me Yosemite Samantha because of all the frustrating muttering and cursing.
The most oft repeated curses involved the following phrases:
“Why won’t you just go into the hole?!?!”
“The HOLE is where you LIVE! GO THERE!”
“The hole is your HOME! GO. TO. YOUR. HOME.”
“How in the am I supposed to get a hole in THAT corner?!?!?”
“I HAVE MADE YOU A LOVELY HOLE. JUST. GO. IN. THE. HOLE.”
Believe it or not, all that I was attempting to do in the interior of the dollhouse seat was to install tiny curtain rods and tiny curtains. The curtain rods are around 4 cm in length. All the tiny curtains and rods have been finally installed within the house. I may be adding some rolling window shades to one room, but there will be far less cursing around the concept of holes as a result.
I could argue that my problems with the rods and curtains were a result of my own poor planning for this little dollhouse. I don’t think that’s far off the mark, but I’m increasingly, for lack of a better term, winging-it as I work on this particular piece. In reality, winging-it is nothing more than relying on my own efficacy. All of the cursing and frustration are just the points at which my efficacy either comes to an abrupt stop or becomes a little squishy and ill-formed. I could have chosen to just throw everything down and declare my entire idea of using paperclips (unbent and stripped of the plastic outer covering, then clipped to size and bent to fit into specific holes made around the window frames) and pieces of handkerchiefs (thank you Dubravka!) and old pillowslips that I used white glue to create seams instead of sewing them (because my #12 needle is too big, even with a single strand of thread, to sew the seams and have them look good) a bad idea and simply started over with something better. But I didn’t.
That place where my efficacy ‘abruptly ends’ and ‘throw everything down and declare my entire idea to be bad’ is the place in which some of the most important learning for me is done. It’s the forge for my own artistic efficacy. I kept moving forward. Even when I cut the wires too short and had to start from scratch again. When I had to go back again and again and widen holes and make new ones. When I had to widen the holes as I was poking the wire through them. When I realized that I couldn’t make the bends before putting the curtains onto the wire. It would have been so easy to just toss it all in the trash and try another idea.
The frustration as I worked (that spilled out into so much cursing) was actually quite (Lev) Vyvotsky-esque. The cursing was just my inner speech spilling over the sides. That area where my personal artistic efficacy was being built is pretty much textbook Zone of Proximal Development. The curtains don’t look exactly how I had imagined them. I’m already making adjustments for imagined future pieces. The result that I achieved isn’t bad enough that I would toss them out, but isn’t good enough to make me think that I cannot do better in a future attempt.
Part of me feels as though I should be creating more sketches of my ideas and thoughts. If not for me, then for some far-off imagined posterity in which artistic fame will be granted to me, and my artwork accepted by the masses. This all done while my body decomposes deep in some Nordic forest (I wish to be wrapped-up into a nice burlap bundle and buried under tall trees where my body will biodegrade and return to the earth. My personal version of returning to ‘the force’ if you will), a curious few will wonder “How/Why did she do that?“. If I’ve written it all down, then they will know!
Or…I could just be realistic and decide that it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. Who really gives a rats pink whoo-ha about how I created tiny curtains for a tiny dollhouse? It’s not like I’m curing cancer or ending climate change or anything. I’m just making art, and by doing so, figuring out how I work and where I fit, or even if I fit. Or perhaps, should I even want to fit? Hmmm…perhaps I have more in common with tiny curtains and curtain rods than I thought?
“Why won’t you just go where I want you to go?!”
“THIS is where you LIVE! Stay HERE!”
“This is your HOME. STAY. IN. YOUR. HOME.”
“How am I supposed to explain this to people?!”
“I made you! Just do as I say!”
Wow. That got a little psychological there for a minute now, didn’t it?
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday.
Tiny Rods and Tiny Curtains:
The tiny dollhouse is still under construction. The second level and roof are not permanently attached to the rest of the house shell. This is why it looks as though there are weird gaps between the walls.
I’ve been working on a large, papier maché doll during the past week or so (Actually around ten days). I tend to lose track of time while working on a piece. It’s flow state in action. Social distancing and being isolating has just meant that I have had even longer stretches of time in which to immerse myself completely and totally into the artwork that I am making. It’s also that time of year in which I look out the window and think, “Oh. It must be around 18:00 or 19:00.” when in actuality, it’s closer to 23:00. I usually start work between 9 and 10 and only break for meals. I’m insanely fortunate as I have a husband who does all the cooking. He’s the one who makes me stop and eat a real meal. (Lunch today is left over sweet and sour pork!)
While working, I’m not only actively working with, and reacting to, the tools and materials directly in front of me. I’m talking to my work and myself then entire time. This on-going dialogue is an integral part of my entire creative process. I cannot imagine creating artwork without it. These artist journal posts are more or less a neater and tidier second draft of the dialogues going on in my head while I am actively creating artwork.
Many of the questions I ask myself are fairly easy to parse out and resolve either on my own, or with the help of a discussion with my husband or a fellow doll artist online. Talking to others when I cannot come to a conclusion myself is a much needed element. Without it, I would become what my husband calls “axel-wrapped” and make myself miserable. Sometimes, there are questions that I have to become a little axel-wrapped over, before I talk to anyone. I think the questions that have been coming to the forefront of my thoughts over the past week or so are those kinds of thoughts. I think because they each speak to the uniqueness of each artist. And that sometimes, there just may be no easy, clear-cut answers to some questions.
Here are the questions that have been banging around inside my flow-states while working:
What do my choices of materials say about me as an artist?
If I were being cheeky, I’d say that my choice of materials says, “Yes. I’m poor.” but I don’t think it’s quite as easy as that. These larger dolls are made with papier maché, using newsprint and PVA glue instead of wheat paste. I use a lot of corrugated cardboard and carton board. I make my own gesso. I use inexpensive things like bamboo meat skewers and toothpicks. I use paint and pencil to decorate the surfaces, along with embroidered elements on felt.
I often wonder if my artwork would be taken more seriously if I just stopped after creating the cardboard substructure covered with newsprint and glue. Or what if I just stopped after covering the components with gesso and sanding them. Maybe if I carved words in surfaces? What if I covered the surfaces with used bits of trash I find when out walking? Maybe I could light the piece on fire and then film it? Perhaps I’m just thinking too much. Maybe I should just make the entire doll out of wood, like a puppet? Or stone, make it a “Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy” kind of homage?
The short answer to that is, “Because I don’t want to.” I’ve had some people tell me that they like my large papier maché dolls when they are left white, with no further work done to them. I’ve had others tell me that they don’t understand why I make them moveable. I should just make them static, like a statue. Some have said that the large dolls are a bit of a visual overload for them, and maybe I should just do less embellishment work on them. When confronted with these sorts of comments or unsolicited advice, I remind myself of Bowie Rule #1 for Making Art: Make your art for yourself and no one else.
So. No. I won’t do any of those things, because I’m making my artwork for myself first and foremost. This still doesn’t answer my question though. What do my choice of materials say about me as an artist?
Let’s start unpacking it.
The first thing they say is that I’m resourceful. I cannot work in ceramics right now, or in woodworking, both being mediums that require more expensive materials, more space and more tools that are all way outside my ability to pay for them at present. I’m resourceful because I’m not looking at what I don’t have to make art with and being depressed about it. I’m looking at my environment and see what I do have and designing ways to make it do what I want it to do.
My choice of materials says that I can look at the potential of seemingly unrelated items and imagine how I can bend them to my own creative will to make art. In the creation of the large papier maché doll I’m currently working on, I needed a spheroid piece for the upper part of the leg where the legs are attached to the torso. I had nothing on hand that even remotely fulfilled my need. I could have altered the structure of the torso and created flatter joints, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I created two cubes of corrugated cardboard and carved the spheroid forms with blade. The other option I had was to create the spheroid forms using a paper fiber and glue. I thought that the form I needed was too large for it to dry completely, so I went with the corrugated cardboard option.
When using materials that are not necessarily standard art-making materials, I’m required to use my accumulated knowledge of art production, including my time as an art teacher, as an art student in the early 1990’s to guide my art practice. Gesso in Finland is more expensive, so I make my own. I’ve found two of the required components that I can easily acquire for less than 8€, and they’ll make a lot of gesso. The white paint that I get at a local art supply store is a little more expensive, but since I’m saving money on the vast majority of my materials (some being free), I feel as though the expense is well worth it.
I also shop a lot at second hand stores. This again requires me to look at an object and not just see what it is, but imagine what it could possibly be made into. I also pick up a lot of threads, yarns, fabric and storage containers (so many tins!) at second hand stores as well. Yeah, the tin used to be for a Russian made loose tea, now it holds some of my art supplies.
What this all says about me is that I can take objects from my immediate environment and shape them to my personal creative will. I can imagine things and make them with my own two hands. So yeah. I’m poor as in, I have less cash to work with, but I’m certainly not poor in ideas for creating my own personal artwork with the things around me.
My second question (related to my first question):
What to the techniques I employ with regard to those materials say about my art?
I kind of addressed this above, through the, ‘Why don’t I just leave the large papier maché dolls as is with newsprint or gesso showing?‘ Again, uh…because I don’t want to…? No. That’s too easy. I paint the surfaces of the dolls, sometimes using different painting and simple printmaking techniques. I draw on the surfaces of the dolls. I add a significant amount of embroidery to the surface of the dolls. I add elements that move, or can be discovered. I hide things in the drawers of the dolls.
Why do I do all of these things?
The short answer is that I like to sew by hand. I find it exceedingly enjoyable to create my own embroidery elements to add to my the larger papier maché dolls. I come from a long line of women who sew, and I’m continuing this tradition, just in a slightly different way. I also have experience in fine art printmaking, and bookbinding, jewelry making, crocheting and knitting and other artistic mediums that require a modicum of knowledge and experience to utilize their techniques correctly. I love mixing my mediums and my techniques. I’m just not one static thing, so why should my artwork be one, static thing? I often feel as though my education and experience as a graphic designer and illustrator (largely two-dimensional) is just as important during the creation of my personal artwork as any of my experiences as an art teacher (working in two and three-dimensions).
The question of technique, brings me to craftsmanship. I know what the average person thinks of papier maché as a medium. It’s something that little kids do in elementary school. They make volcanos out of it. There is a ‘lesser than’ idea about it. I think part of the reason I like using papier maché is because of some of these erroneous beliefs. I want to show people what can be achieved with the medium through attention to detail and craftsmanship. Craftsmanship and technique go hand-in-hand I think.
Anyone can mix up some water and glue and apply it to a form, making it look the way that you want it to, that’s a different matter entirely. Getting the paper to lay flat and adhere to the layer beneath it. Do I use a brush or my fingers. Which fingers? Index? Middle? Thumb? How much glue do I use? Should all the newspaper go the same way, or should just paste it on all willy-nilly? Through time, and attention, and repetition, I have refined my personal papier maché techniques. I know when I should create separate components, and attach them at a later date with papier maché. Some components I create entirely separately, and only join them after painting and finishing the surfaces of them. Some components remain completely removable. No one taught me this. I learned it through my personal art practice.
That to me says that I like problem solving. I like being challenged. I love gaining the knowledge and experience through encountering these problems in my art creation so that I can keep building upon them as a practicing artist. I think one of the questions on the Proust Questionnaire is something like, ‘What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?’ Boredom always comes to mind for me (among many other things). I do not like being bored, and being that I’m a fairly self-contained person, I can spend endless hours creating artwork by myself. (Who am I kidding? I can spend weeks making artwork on my own.)
These two questions can be answered sarcastically by me, and dismissively by those who see my artwork. Those who dismiss me and my work perhaps are leaning on their own preconceived notions regarding what they think art is and isn’t. Perhaps they think my choice of theme is juvenile, or they think dolls are creepy, so they just don’t even stop to look. For those who stop and look and then think about my medium and technique choices, they will find that they each say a lot about who I am as a person as well as an artist.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday.
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),
(Note: I wrote this yesterday, but for whatever reason, didn’t actually post it. So, the Wednesday Business and/or Entrepreneurial post, which is being altered for the time being, is being posted, in altered form, on a Thursday because I guess sometimes stuff just happens. I’m not deluding myself in thinking there are people out there who are champing at the bit to see what I’m going to whine or ramble about in my posts either! Ha! Anyway, here’s my post!)
My Wednesday posts are intended to be devoted to my entrepreneurial endeavors. I want to talk about marketing, money, online store fronts, in-person sales, patterns, dolls, teaching workshops, etc., in these Wednesday posts. I’m going to suspend the entrepreneurial content for these post for the foreseeable future, or at least until the world returns to more normal functioning. Another reason that I’m making this small change is because frankly, I’m tired of feeling like a big, fat, whiny baby about my (lack of) business. I’m just so very tired of hearing myself complain about it. The negative aspects of my lack of business progress, and talking about them is just making me feel like crud. I know it’s important to acknowledge my feelings and where they’re coming from, but I’m tired of wallowing in them. At least for now.
With all that being said, I did have one sale this week! I’m tremendously happy about it and got it sent off to the buyer earlier today. I hope that the tiny little dolls I sent make the buyer and the person they are intended as a gift for happy!
I’d been thinking about questions that have been asked of me about my dolls in the past. I thought that it might be an interesting idea to document these questions and my answers to them. I’m not sure how many questions there will be. If you’re a reader of my blog posts, contact me with any questions you might also have that you don’t see here.
Questions and Answers Regarding my Recent Doll Creations:
1. Why are you making all these tiny dolls lately? What happened to all the paper maché dolls that you had been making for the past year?
Okay. Starting off with a two-part question. Good. The tiny dolls, and why am I making them? I’ve always been fascinated with tiny things. Tiny dolls in particular. As a very small child (3 or 4-ish?) I had some mass-produced dolls that I adored. I cannot remember anyone giving them to me as gifts. I think that the majority of these dolls were once my older sisters dolls. I’m not sure how the dolls became mine. My sister could have given them to me because she was getting older (13-14-ish) or it could have been that I just claimed them as mine and took them. Toddlers have a nasty habit of doing that at times, and I was quite the sticky-fingered kiddo.
I remember called these tiny dolls ‘Bitsies‘. I guess a take on ‘itty-bitty‘. The dolls that I had were anywhere from half an inch to two inches tall (There were some that were closer to four inches tall, but I don’t remember them). They were colorful and detailed and I loved that they could be tucked-into pockets because they were so tiny and they had tiny accessories. Their hair was so cool too! So long!
These tiny dolls were Liddle Kiddles. They were a line of dolls by Mattel that ran roughly from the mid 1960’s until the early 1970’s. I had quite a few of them. The dolls that I had were mostly from the Kola Kids and Kologne Kids series, and the Lucky Locket series, with a few of the storybook dolls and the tiny jewelry-themed dolls thrown in here and there. I lost some of the clothing and most of the accessories fairly quickly. Many of the Liddle Kiddles I had just had their little dresses on. I loved their sweet little faces! They were so adorable, with great big eyes! When you look at their faces, you can tell which ones were made by Mattel and which ones were cheaper knock-offs. The 1994 Tyco dolls I think lack the charm of the original Mattel dolls.
I remember being fascinated with the hair colors of Liddle Kiddles. Orange hair!? Green hair!??? I loved their little themed names and outfits for the different lines of dolls. I can look at these Liddle Kiddles Kola Kiddles (OH! The spelling! It BURNS!) and know exactly when my fascination with color and specific color combinations started. My color fascination was furthered by Sesame Street, but that’s another post entirely.
It cannot be overlooked that the Liddle Kiddles came in series. The way in which I’ve been creating the tiny and small dolls that I have since the beginning of the year are all part of a series. The Creative Experiment dolls, especially the small ones using buttons in lieu of faces were a long series (approx. 200 dolls, give or take). The number of pieces in a series I create seems to be dependent upon my personal curiosity regarding the series. By the time I’m a dozen deep into the creation of a specific type of doll (or any other art) creation, I know that there is something that I’m trying to figure out or decode that is coming from deep within my personal identity.
I wrote a post last December (Wringing Meaning from Turnips) about creating the tiny dolls had become my attempt at reconnecting with a place and time in which I was content being me. Not happy. Happy is a fleeting concept. Being content for me is finding a balance within my own mind in which my inner and outer worlds are working in concert, with neither one of them figuratively screaming at me for attention.
These Liddle Kiddle dolls came into my life as I was just nearing the end of that time in my life in which I remember being the most content. Before the world became more ‘screamy’ at me. They were so tiny and precious. They were colorful and sweet. I have intense memories of looking at their little faces and realizing that each separate doll had slightly different faces, but they all looked like they belonged together. Like they were related. In retrospect, I suppose my little toddler self thought of these little dolls almost as some sort of religious talisman. I wanted to protect them and keep them safe. I wanted to tell them all my secrets. I felt like they were safe receptacles for them. They wouldn’t tell on me or laugh at me. Being that I was on that cusp of having the outer world rush in to begin its influence on me cannot be ignored. By the time I was five, I knew there was something wrong with me. The outer world was telling me so. I was too loud. I was too obnoxious. I was selfish. I was fat.
Screamy. Screamy. Screamy.
So yeah. I’ve been making tiny dolls. It’s personally therapeutic for me, and creatively satisfying.
2. Now, for the second part of the question, regarding the larger paper maché dolls. I have been calling them ‘playset dolls’ because their construction is more complicated with lots of moving parts. I mean for these larger paper maché dolls to actually be played with. It strikes me as odd that when I show pictures of them, or when I had some of them in a small exhibit locally, no one who was looking at them knew about all those moving parts and all the things that were hidden away in the drawers within their bodies.
As these dolls grew larger and larger, they took on a guardian-like presence within the world I’ve created with my dolls. Very simply put, the big, scary, weird, strange outside keeps the tiny, delicate, sweet, doll parts safe on the inside. I’m completely aware of the metaphor working here. It’s kind of a metaphor delivered with a sledgehammer, but I guess I gotta be me. Connecting this metaphor to my personal childhood experience, to a cornerstone of the beginning of my creativity seems natural.
I will be creating more large paper maché dolls in the future. I have two or three that are getting rather noisy inside my head and are itching to come out. No skull splitting required!
Thanks for reading, and I will see you again next Wednesday (even though I know it’s Thursday, but then again, what do days of the week mean now anyway?)
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire This is one of my favourite books from childhood. I was twelve or thirteen when I won a $20 gift certificate to Cambell’s Books store with a piece I had entered in a county childrens’ art show. I bought this book. I can still remember how the floorboards creaked as I walked through the store, right over to this book on the shelf. I didn’t need to look around. I knew what I wanted.
Vintage Liddle Kiddles I didn’t have any of these larger Liddle Kiddles, or any of the big accessories like the carrying cases or playsets. This video is a little funny, in that some of these poor little dolls are naked! They look a little sad, but I’m guessing that they were well loved because so many of their accessories are gone. The Lucky Locket Kiddle Kiddles are the ones I had the most of.
“Close ups reveal the weaknesses of the whole premise.” (1)
I didn’t write any update for my entrepreneurial pursuits last Wednesday. I was just not in a good place mentally speaking to do so. I’m an ambivert, so I’ve been relying a lot on my more introverted tendencies throughout this weird time. Staying in, making art and basically nesting, has been totally okay with me until last week. The staying in and maintaining social distance is beginning to wear a bit thin for me. My husband is far more introverted than I am, and is also is a person who is in a higher risk category related with COVID-19 infection. This means that even as the restrictions are eased a bit here, we’re still social distancing and continuing with other precautions.
I don’t mean to say that I’m climbing the walls or anything. I’m just beginning to get tired of it. I know myself well enough that I need to acknowledge my feelings so they don’t get so large and cumbersome that I find myself becoming overwhelmed by them. I know myself well enough that figuring out my feelings takes me some time, and I need to let them percolate through my mind so that I feel as though I understand them, myself and how I’m reacting to them.
Making art is my therapy. Making art is my passion. Teaching people how to make art is my vocation. Selling my artwork is (sometimes) my Waterloo, or perhaps my windmill? It could be many things.
If only I could pay my bills in personal fulfillment. My life would be damned near perfect!
I’ve been working on some new pieces and have begun some planning for some larger and more complicated pieces. My artwork to a great extent, guides and informs itself. I’m basically the one with the thumbs that brings the art into existence. I’ve had some things (ideas, thoughts, concepts, techniques, materials, etc.) swimming around inside my head for quite a while that I feel are ready to be created.
This is one of the hardest things to try and explain to a person who does not make art of their own. Differentiating between when it’s time to create a piece of art and when it’s not. There are some pieces, like the series of small dolls that I’ve been working on for the past few months, in which I can have an idea, sit down and complete the piece in relatively short order. I can see the results of the idea fairly quickly, then move on to the next idea. I can process through a lot of smaller ideas and acquire a lot of creative, emotional and mental satisfaction in doing so. I suppose I could liken my creative processes in this regard to hors d’overs and a main course. One is a lead-up to the next.
The part that can be the most baffling is knowing when is “when”. I cannot pinpoint when an idea or concept is ready to be created. I just know when it’s ready. There seems to be a point in which my brain or my sketchbook just isn’t a satisfying place to work on them anymore. There’s this weird tight-rope walking element to the whole process as well. If I start working on a piece too soon, the entire experience is somehow less satisfying mentally and emotionally for me. The art was not ready to come into existence. On the flip side, I run the risk of losing the entire idea or concept if I begin it too late. The finished piece of art lacks some je ne sais quoi that renders it a failure in my mind.
I’m struggling to discover how to make this sense of knowing work for me as an entrepreneur attempting to sell her artwork. My sense of knowing when to do something, when it’s right for me, should be a transferable skill. This ‘instinct’ for knowing when a my artwork is ready to be created is ephemerally ill-defined. Just because it works well in one capacity does not guarantee that it will work in another, wholly different capacity.
I suppose that when I say instinct, I may be referring efficacy in part. However, I don’t believe that they are the same thing. I see them as related, or perhaps working in concert (or at odds) in different circumstances. Instinct is different from acquired knowledge. Instinct can be based partially on acquired knowledge, but it’s more primal than that. Instinct is a gut-feeling. That little tug on your thoughts that says, ‘Wait a second.‘ This tiny amount of time can be invaluable in decision making processes. It can aid in building positive experiences that are an integral part of personal and professional efficacy. Acquired knowledge is everything learned in structured settings (schools, churches, clubs, etc.) and unstructured settings (family, friends, society, culture, chronosystem, etc.). Every event in my life has added to my acquired knowledge, making me a unique individual.
None of the above will get me a seat on the bus unless I learn how to use it to my personal, and yes, monetary benefit. Otherwise, I will simply be the most self-aware person walking her ass home in the rain.
I hate having to go out in the rain.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday.
(1) Episode 912. “The Screaming Skull.” Mystery Science Theater 3000. Film Short, “Robot Rumpus.” 29 Aug. 1998
(This dialogue is Mike Nelson, during the film short. This short never ceases to make me laugh until I have a stitch in my side. I love MST3K, but some of the comedic writing for the film shorts is some of the best writing from the entire series in my opinion.)
Natascha Rosenberg. She’s an artist and illustrator whose website I stumbled upon while looking for something else entirely. Her work is tremendously cool. Go and look at it! If you don’t like my work enough to buy it, buy hers!
First, all the fun creative stuff. Second all the strange stuff.
I’ve been working on a few tiny pieces over the past week. I wanted to see if I could create a tiny bumble bee. The answer is, yes I can. I’ve got two bee dolls in the works right now. One has a larger head, more like a drone bee I suppose and the other one is a Queen Bee. I’m still working on her crown. Well, I actually need two crowns, because I want to have a Queen Bee and Baby Duck from the Eagles of Death Metal song that I like a lot. I’ve already got Baby Duck finished, but he too requires a crown. I’ve tried making some out of paper and other materials, but I’ve found none of them to be satisfactory. I’ll be breaking out the clay at some point today. I’m sure I can come up with something I’ll like.
I did create tiny bee wings that I’m satisfied with, however I think I want to create some new sets of wings, because the colours I used are not right somehow. I’ll be going out tomorrow and will pick up a few new colours of acrylic paint. Then I can make some more sets of wings. I’m getting fairly quick at creating the wings with the recycled plastic sheets I’m using. I’ve figured out how to create the etched lines without making myself so nauseated. This helps quite a bit.
The wings for the two dolls pictured above are a little different from the wings I’ve done previously. I wanted something that would lay flat against the doll instead of extending several centimeters from the back of each doll. I was shooting for something like a cicada and one of those maple tree seeds, which I now know are called samaras, among other things. I miss the sound of cicadas in the summer. My husband isn’t a fan of the insects. I suppose that I associate happy memories with them. They sang me to sleep when I was a little kid, as the house I grew-up in was at the edge of wooded area. They’re the music of summer time to me.
These wings aren’t exactly what I want, but they get me a little closer to something that I know I will be happy with.
Which brings me to to some things I’ve been thinking about, and that tie into the title of this post. The orange doll with the green clothing and pink flower cap I made hit a lot of nostalgic buttons for me. I didn’t set out to especially explore smashing around on those buttons. She just happened. I wanted to make an orange doll. Then she had some pink and fuchsia flowers, and then some green leaves, then the yellow hair happened. Smash, smash, smash. Buttons got smashed. Not in a bad way at all, just in a way that explains why I like certain colour combinations and general designs for dolls.
I also started thinking more about the dolls that I’m creating right now. What the real reasons are behind them. I’ve talked about it a bit in a previous post, but I tend to have multiple reasons for doing anything, consciously or unconsciously. There has to be some need that’s being met in the creating of them. I think I’ve started figuring it out, and it’s tied to some fairly common types of behaviour, or perhaps ways of thinking. Or at least I think it’s fairly common. I may be totally off the mark on this one. It wouldn’t be the first time either!
While examining some of the buttons that got smashed while creating the orange doll, I was again reminded of the fact that while I have always loved dolls, the one type of dolls that I never really got into were baby dolls. I didn’t hate them or anything. Once past a certain age, I just didn’t seem to have no interest at all in them. I’ve always preferred dolls that were either more like me, human/humanoid or animals and monster types of dolls. I’ve talked about this before. I was always more inclined to think of my dolls as my friends. Someone to talk to or create a home, or safe place for. I was never the ‘parent’ in relation to my dolls.
Since the beginning to the year, I’ve been creating almost nothing but extremely small dolls(8 cm tall and under). When I get into a type of work, or a theme, I know that there is something that I’m trying to figure out mentally or emotionally. Two different doll-like concepts have kind of become fused in my mind with regard to these small dolls. Guatemalan worry dolls (sometimes called trouble dolls) and ancient Egyptian ushabti. The two different doll-related objects have smashed into each other inside my head somehow. Realistically, I know that the dolls that I make cannot solve my problems for me while I sleep. Nor can they spring to life and do my bidding when I require their assistance. This does not mean that I’m not having conversations with them as a piece of art, while I am in the act of creating them. Again, I know they cannot talk. These conversations are an integral part of the creative process though. Sometimes these conversations go on and on and on until I consciously understand why I’m creating what I’m creating.
Each finished piece therefore, to me, in imbued with a certain amount of life, or energy and time. They’re a unique combination of my curiosity, talent, efficacy, and need to be seen and heard as an individual. I need to understand myself, and the world I inhabit, as well as where they overlap. I do that by making art. I’ve never been quite sure if that makes me smart or stupid or something in between.
What makes me surprised thought, is how I feel the ‘call of the void‘, as it relates to the physical artwork. The artwork does begin to pile up. That’s one reason why I have to sell it. I actually start running out of room to keep it. When it doesn’t sell, then it becomes something that can be a physical manifestation of my failure. The failure being I cannot seem to sell it and make money from it. That resentment begins to build and it turns into that call of the void thing. However, with regard to my artwork, it’s more along the lines of ‘BURN IT DOWN’. At my worst emotional lows there are times I want to pile all of my artwork up on the lawn, douse it with kerosene and light it all on fire. That way, it won’t be there reminding me of my failure to sell it. I created it. I can destroy it. And anyway, if it’s not selling, then no one will be mad that I destroyed it all. (Too Much Thinking: This all has to be rooted in fear, via not being in control, and the act of burning all of the work is taking back my control by controlling the existence of the work at all.)
Like the call of the void, I could never do that to my artwork. I could never burn it all up and destroy it. This concept does make me wonder if the act of destroying my artwork would somehow make me a more ‘legitimate artist’ in the eyes of gallery owners. I’m a creator, not a destroyer. So this is never going to happen. Just like as the thought of stepping in front of an on-coming bus will never happen either.
Man, the places my brain goes.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Monday.
The Second Coming (Burn it Down) Seth Rollins entrance music on the WWE. I’m not a huge fan of Rollins as a wrestler, but his theme music is kind of okay. The double bass pedal is way over-done though. There are other wrestlers that I like a great deal more, like Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan.
Okay. Buckle-up. This gets wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey type strange fairly quickly, even for me.
I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the artwork that I create. On one hand, it’s my mental health therapy. It’s the action I take every day that helps me to maintain the integrity of my core self, my “Katie-ness”. I remain intact because every day I work on stitching my inner self together. Making repairs here and there. Destroying portions and making them over completely, using a pattern of my own creation. I do this over and over and over and over and over again. I could look at my behavior, creating artwork as a means of self preservation, as metaphor. I’m the priestess who performs the ritual that makes the rains come, or the crops to grow. I’m the sorceress who staves off her own inevitable demise by reciting magical incantations and scrawling protective signs. I’m the deity, bringing my own avatars into existence to do my bidding.
In all of these metaphors, the element of control is paramount. Just as I’m in control of my own mental health and the continual maintenance of it. I take my meds every day at the same time. They allow me to function within an area in which my highs and lows are not earth-shatteringly chaotic. I cannot create artwork with I’m manic or depressed. I want to stay in that deep, wide middle area. That lovely ribbon of gray that swims between those extremes. I’m not an emotionless automaton. I cry. I laugh. I get mad. The difference is that the emotional response do not envelope me and pull me upward or downward with them. My meds and my therapeutic art practice allow me control over these extremes.
Within my art practice, I make what I want to make. Answering no one, save myself. The level of control I seem to require over my own creative output made me a really pitiful professional graphic designer and illustrator. While I may have some talent for graphic designer and illustrator, I am so, so, so, woefully ill suited to having them be a successful life-long career for me. I’m too personally invested in my own artistic creations. I am them. They are me. Having someone tell me how and what to create was interpreted by me (unconsciously at first) as a client telling me how to be me. How to express my Katie-ness. And that ate at me in the worst way. It’s one of the big reasons that I left that work and became an art teacher, which is a much better fit mentally and emotionally for me.
I’m in kind of this strange place right now. I continue to make my own artwork for myself, but I also am creating artwork to sell. It can be a bit of a mental minefield at times. I’m completely aware of where my mental buttons, switches and trip wires are. I’m not as unconscious of what and where my feelings are coming from. I think I’m doing fairly well at dealing with my emotions regarding them right now. The hardest thing for me is allowing myself to acknowledge the feelings that are rooted in envy, pride, greed or anger. These types of emotions aren’t pretty and I don’t like admitting that I have them, even if it’s just to myself. I view them as just annoying and useless (in the sense that they won’t get me what I think I want) emotions. I view these kind of negative emotions as just another trap to be avoided.
“Knowing that a trap exists is the first step in avoiding it.” Yeah. I just went there. I went to a Dune quote. This one is Duke Leto Atreides, from the first Dune book.
But, it’s not always that easy. “Ohh! There’s a trap! I’ll just go another way!” Nope. It’s always a lot harder than that. And if you’re me, you start tugging on an errant thread and then all the sudden you’re trying to stuff your entrails back in ala, ‘The Running Man‘.
So, what thread I started pulling on?
An oldie, but a goodie for me. My ever-present artistic nemesis. Cuteness. Being cute. Having my artwork interpreted by those who view it as so sweet and soft and squishy and cute. And as the creator of said cute artwork, I too must be cute and fluffy and soft and squishy and not exactly intelligent or particularly creative.
Yeah. Like I said, I have a long history with cute.
I know that I’m an artist. It’s who and what I am. I struggle with how I feel that the greater world sees me and interprets the artwork that I make. I know what my artwork is about. I know where it comes from. I know why it comes out looking the way that it does. I know my artwork is not some quickly dashed off empty pieces of fluff. I just don’t know, with absolute certainty (Uh-huh. Like that’s even possible, Katie) that everyone else who is not me know this. And this is what ends-up bothering me. It makes me doubt my worth as an artist.
Having my artwork called cute makes me doubt myself as a serious artist.
I suppose those who view my work as cute and largely meaningless besides that singular observation, aren’t looking close enough for the cracks in the surface. Not everyone is as observant as a ten year old Amy Pond.
Here we go.
I cannot remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t told that I had an excess of imagination. I think that the people around me, family and friends just attributed my over-abundance of imagination as to do with my being creative and artistic. Growing up, I never thought that my imagination was any kind of hinderance, except at times when I realized that not everyone processed information the way I did. It was when I was in art school that I realized that I could spend long stretches performing fairly monotonous tasks, while at the same time designing projects within my mind, playing entire LP’s in my head, manipulating components both two and three dimensional and problem solving. It’s all as vivid and real to me as if I were holding it in my hands. It was like having my body on autopilot, but my brain was running multiple subroutines at the same time. I could experiment and plan in my mind, without wasting materials in the real world.
I honestly thought that every person on the planet could do this; seeing and manipulating objects within their minds. I couldn’t understand how not to visualize things in my mind. As a child, characters and places in books were alive for me. I could place myself into the stories that I read, and it was all as real as if I were there. “I don’t understand how you can do that.” was what my older brother told me once when i tried to explain my imagination to him. I had thought that of all my family members, he would understand. He was in art school with me at the time. He didn’t understand. And I never mentioned it again, because he looked at me so strangely.
Recently, I began seeing vlogs and reading information about how some people cannot picture things in their minds. What piqued my interest initially was that I had encountered people as an adult who alluded to the fact that they couldn’t necessarily visualize objects in their mind. They are have aphantasia. Wow. I guess it makes sense. I’f my imagination is turned up to 10, that allows for the possibility that there are those who have their imaginations turned down to 0.
I began looking around to see if my brain was just wired a little differently. I thought that maybe it was Aspbergers Syndrome. But after reading more about it, I’ve ruled that out as a self-diagnosis. What did fit me to a T was Maladaptive Daydreaming. This personal diagnosis better describes who I am and how my mind works, or at least how my imagination works. I can spend an inordinate amount of time within my own head and be completely content. I feel like I’ve known about this tendency within myself for a very long time, but just didn’t have the correct way of defining it. While in talk therapy, many years ago, I remember making a concerted effort to ‘stay out of the pit‘ (the pit being daydreaming) while I was working to improve my mental and emotional health. This lasted for about five years. And I must admit, it did help me a great deal. However, I made very little artwork, while experiencing a relatively stable time as a working graphic designer and illustrator. Once I felt that I could let-up on my restrictiveness towards my imagination, I began creating in earnest again.
I’ve established a balance between the potentially harmful parts of maladaptive daydreaming (I’ll abbreviate it as DM from now on) and being an artist. For lack of a nicer term, I’ve compartmentalized the ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of letting my brain just run inwardly amok. I know it’s not a perfect system by a long shot, but like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m constantly stitching myself together and making repairs every single day that I make art. Keeping that MD part of me under control is just part of that daily stitch work for me.
The artwork that I create is part and parcel of my own MD tendencies. It’s the part that spills over the side and falls out of my hands. My artwork is the part of my inner world that cannot be entirely contained. It must be born. I’ve heard it said that artists create the world in which they want to live by altering elements around them so that the world makes sense. My artwork is much the same. It all comes from my maladaptive, over-active imagination that I have harnessed the best parts of to work for me as an artist.
So, what’s with the title of this journal post, “Fnck Cute“? What does that have to do with having interestingly wired brain?
Well, for me, there is a gar-freakin’-gantuan difference between my inside world of imagination and real, physical world of art creation. These two sides work in tandem and help me keep myself together mentally and emotionally, but they have absolutely nothing to do with how my work in received in the real world. In the real world, my work is cute.
I’ve always thought that cute was something a viewer says when they have no other idea of what to say about my work. It feels dismissive. “The costumes were very realistic!” (I think this is from the movie Ed Wood with Johnny Depp) What happens next is that I interpret this cute comment as my artwork missing the mark. That it’s not conveying any other meaning other than outward or surface appearance. It’s a hollow, meaningless, fluffy and useless.
And if we’re continuing to tug on that thread, remember I am my artwork and my artwork is me…and I’m being judged by outward appearances…then this would mean that I’m as useless as my artwork is. Damn.
There are those in the world who see me and my work for who and what they are. I cannot adequately convey to them how much I appreciate them and their ability to see that there is more than cute to my artwork. I know that there is more to my artwork than being cute. I know what it is and where it comes from. I will never be able to control how my work is understood or interpreted by people and I need to find a way to better deal with that, while remaining true to myself as an individual and as an artist. It’s a never-ending task.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you next Monday.