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.
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),
“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!
I’ve been working on 8 cm dolls for the past week or so. I think part of the reason why I’m doing that is because I’ve also been experimenting with recycled plastics and painting techniques to create tiny sets of wings. Eight centimeters (approximately 3 1/8 inches) may not sound like a large doll, but I’ve been working on dolls between 4 cm (1 5/8 inch) and 6 cm (2 3/8 inch) for the past few months, making 8 cm seem huge!
I’ve also been working on a method of creating and attaching tiny hair buns for the tiny doll series. Annikki and Norma are the two dolls I created using the new technique. I was trying to find a solution to not having pre-made pom-poms to use for tiny doll hairstyles. I tried creating some truly microscopic pom-poms myself and they just did not work. I tried creating some kind of frizzy yarn that could approximate a bun or poof. Again, they did not work. I also tried using commercially made wool balls, but they were too large and proved too dense. This made trying to sew on them a pain in the neck. The doll that became Annikki was a doll that had ‘slipped through the cracks’. I had made the doll, but had not created any clothing or hairstyle for her. Her body is made with a 40/60 wool/acrylic blend felt that I had a very small amount of. I remember thinking that I wanted to see if a wool blend felt would work for these tiny dolls. Wool can be stiffer and more dense than viscose and acrylic felts, which are super easy to use for these tiny dolls.
While sewing the light blue yarn onto Annikki’s head, it struck me that I could essentially do the exact same thing on a much smaller scale. I’d done it with the 4 cm doll heads. The hair buns that I wanted to make would be a little bit smaller than the 4 cm doll heads. In a nutshell, I just made a tiny doll head, and then sewed around the entire spherical stuffed felt piece, until the entire surface was covered in yarn.
To attach the buns to the head, I used some small pieces of toothpick (around 5 mm) to anchor each bun in place on the head. The toothpick was first glued into the hair bun and left to dry. Once dry, I glued each bun to Annikki’s head. Little hair ties and bows conveniently disguise any glue that might otherwise be seen.
I also spent a lot of time creating the little white lacy edges to Annikki’s jacket, cuffs and dress hem. I used a 1mm crochet hook and a single strand of white embroidery floss for this. I have to say, this just about broke my eyeballs creating them. The embroidery floss strand was slippery and would just not cooperate sometimes. The edge of the skirt was easy, compared to the cuffs on the sleeves and the little collar for the jacket. GAH! My poor eyeballs! So, what do I do? I make another doll!
I guess that I thought that since I got through creating the crochet work for Annikki, that I needed to try the same techniques on a smaller doll? I’m not sure. Norma was all pieced. I just had to sew her together. There was so, much, cursing while I created the pink crocheted edges for Norma. I decided to be more elaborate with the cuffs of the sleeves and change around the collar of the blouse. GAH! So. Much. Cursing. Her hair buns were a cake-walk compared to the tiny crochet work. I decided to attach her buns without using toothpicks, and glued them straight to her head. It worked. I think that is due in large part to using Eri-Keeper (the Aleene’s Tacky Glue of Finland, only way, way, way stronger) and pinning them in place for the first part of drying.
I love the color I chose for Norma’s skin, but it never ever seems to show up well in the photos I take. I keep thinking that this may be due in part to my problems with seeing certain shades of purples, violets and browns. Many times, I cannot distinguish between those colors. It’s not a color blindness thing. I think it’s an ‘old eye’ thing. I only noticed this about six or seven years ago while teaching. Sometimes even pulling the color into the light doesn’t help, which leads me to believe it’s something to do with my age. Here is the color of the felt. It’s a delicious color!
The warming weather (3° C or 37.4° F) and longer, sunnier days (it was still kind of light at almost 20:00!) have gotten me thinking about flowers and sun and butterflies. It was only a matter of time anyway before I tried to create some little wings for the tiny dolls I’ve been making. I’d already created tiny wings from felt for the tiny bear series. My post on 6 April detailed my process of creating the wings. I’ve finished two tiny dolls with fairly wings. Here they are:
I created tiny hair buns for Inkeri, but I didn’t have enough of the purple yarn to make buns for Maija, so she got sweet little sticky-uppy pig tails. I purposefully put them each in pants because I didn’t want to make them overly fairy-like. I also think that a skirt or outfit with a ton of embroidery would make the doll a bit too busy, and district from the wings. I think they turned out very sweet. I’ve not given them antenna, because I’m not sure about them. Again, I’m not a ‘fairy person’. It’s not that I dislike them. They just aren’t my ‘thing’. The fact that I’ve made these two dolls and more sets of wings, would point to the contrary, so here we are!
The hardest part of creating these dolls was attaching thing wings to the doll body. By the second time attaching wings, I’d figured out how I needed to do it without becoming too frustrated. I’m using rigid flat plastic from packaging that I’ve saved for the wings. Part of the difficulty of sewing them on is that the plastic is soft and thin enough for a sewing needle to go through it. I’ve made holes where I want to sew the wings on, and I need to pull the needle through those holes, not make new ones!
I think you can see the stitches a little better on Maija. I cut a slit in the back of the tunic so I could sew the wings directly onto the body. I wanted to make sure that they were firmly anchored to the torso. When I had them pinned for placement, I hated how the wings would wobble from side to side. I had thought that I might make the wings something that could be removed from the doll. Attach the wings to a little vest or jacket perhaps. Nope. I don’t like the wings wobbling about. Nope. Nope. Nope.
The two sets of wings pictured above I created using the same technique as the wings that Inkeri and Maija have. An intaglio/monoprint printmaking technique, without actually creating a print. The intaglio holds the paint in place, and then I can wipe off successive layers of paint. Once dried, I seal the side of the wings that I’ve painted. The shinier side is the outside of the wing.
For the last set of wings I created, I sanded the plastic prior to scratching into the plastic sheet. This is similar how certain plastics (#6 polystyrene plastic) can be used to make a shrink plastic. Sanding the plastic allows colored pencil to adhere to the plastic, much like the commercially made Shrinky-Dink plastic. I wanted to see if I could retain a bit of the paint on the areas that I sanded. A certain amount did stay, but I think in the next try, I will sand the plastic with rougher sand paper to create a more interesting pattern.
I have three dolls for these three sets of wings. I need to think about what kinds of clothing I want to design for them. Before any of that, I’ll need to get their hair started. The sequences of construction are different from the tiny dolls I’ve been making that don’t have wings. I usually create the hairstyles near the very end of overall construction. With these dolls, the hair is done before the clothing is finished and the wings are attached.
All four of the dolls pictured, Annikki, Norma, Inkeri and Maija are listed in the ‘Artwork for Sale’ page of my website. If you are interested in purchasing any of my artwork, many of your questions can be answered on the ‘How To Buy’ page.
I’ve spent the past few days experimenting with the most recent tiny doll pattern I’ve created. It’s the same one that I used to create bunnies, bears and ducks. One of the great things about being a visual artist is that I can go from idea to physical object in a relatively short span of time. Revisions and streamlining of the art production process can sometimes take a bit longer. Sometimes, I have to simply put a piece aside so I can think about the problem for a while, and that takes time. At present, I’m still not sure about Stanley’s top hat. It’s merely pinned to the top of his head, instead of being permanently attached. This is because I want to be completely sure about something before committing to it totally. Nothing sucks quite as much as not listening to your creative gut instincts, rushing through a decision, and then having to come up with a way to fix the solution that you thought would work.
The bird and duck dolls contain the most individual pieces of each of the dolls I’ve been creating lately. It’s strange, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of parts to me. They seem to come together quite quickly. The additional hats, dresses and collars feel like they take a lot more time to me. The dress for the little ducky doll Edwina was actually made twice. That was about four hours of work, and I only used one of them.
I took some photos while creating a blue bird. I wanted to try out a new method of attaching the heads to the dolls that wouldn’t require them to be sewn on. I wanted to try this out, because if I ever created a pattern to sell for these dolls, I wanted an easier method than the one I’m employing. That’s not to say that how I sew the dolls heads to their bodies is insanely hard. It’s just tricky. A novice doll maker might become frustrated with the method. I think this is the ‘art teacher’ part of me at work. I want everyone to feel successful when creating art.
I’m still being lazy and not creating a pattern piece for the wings or the tail. It’s just so much easier to cut them out free-hand for me. Each of the pieces that are pinned are two-layers of felt. I used a medium and a dark blue felt to make it more interesting to look at. The yellow pieces, in the shape of U’s are the feet. The kind of longish pieces that’s tapered at each end are the beak pieces. I use a single strand of regular sewing thread, and a blanket stitch, to hand sew all of the pieces together to create the feet, wings, tail and beak.
The picture above shows what all the cut pieces look like once they’ve all been sewn together. I think the only piece I didn’t show was the little pink tongue. It’s about two and half millimeters long and about a millimeter wide. I only cut it out when I have the beak sewn onto the head of the doll and it’s ready to be glued in. For the more easier method of attaching the head to the body, the arms and legs are sewn onto the torso first, then the head is attached. When I sew the head on, it’s sewn to the torso first, then I add the arms and legs. All of the sewing on the head is completed before it’s attached to anything. It’s so much easier to hid knots inside the head on the underside.
I think I’m okay with the new way of attaching the head, but I still think it needs some work. I don’t like how there’s a visible bump between the top of the torso where it meets the head. It really bugs me. The head is securely fastened. I think I’ll crochet a collar to hid this, otherwise it will drive me nuts!
I also made a little pig, because I found a few tiny scraps of some wool felt and I wanted to see how it would work for such a tiny doll.
The felt was harder to work with. It’s a 40/60 acrylic and wool blend. It was a little thicker than 1mm as well. Honestly, I hated this doll when I got to the point of putting the snout on. I was so close to just scrapping it completely. Then I added the ears and the doll started to look ‘right’ to me. Any future piggies will be made with a lighter weight felt, and have a shorter snout I think.
I tried out making a little strawberry head doll next. She went well. I used a 1mm felt for her body and head, but don’t like how her body came out. I may have just been working too fast though. The second attempt at the strawberry head I think was much improved.
I like the dark green for the body better. I also added some stitches for the ‘seeds’ that should be on a strawberry. I like using yellow for this, making the strawberry more ‘cartoony’, but it didn’t look right. I changed to a slightly darker red and it looks much better I think. The new method of attaching the head worked out well for this doll. I think due in large part to the fact that I added a green ruff to look like leaves around the neck.
And what goes with strawberry? Banana! (I love strawberry and banana flavours together!) I like how this little guy turned out. What really kills me is that I had to stop and create a pattern for this little banana, but I can free-hand cut more complicated wings and have them come out almost identical. I suppose it’s because I’ve made thousands of wings over my lifetime of being an artist, and this is the first time I’ve ever made a banana!
The size of these dolls, between 6 and 6.5 cm or so, makes it fairly easy for me to change things around once I feel like I’m getting a bit bored. I always feel like a bit of a lout when I say that, but it’s true. I like solving the problem, and once it’s solved, I want to go on to the next problem. These problems always start with, “I wonder if I could do that?” or “Would this work?” Perhaps it’s not true boredom, but impatience. Or perhaps a combination of the two? I’m not sure. I’m just thankful that I don’t ever seem to run low on ideas for artwork that I want to create. Time is something that I never seem to have enough of though.
That’s what I’m working on this week. What are you working on?
Hello! I have finished six tiny bears and have added them to the dolls that I have for sale! They are 30€ each, plus shipping (I ship world wide!). These bear dolls are aggressively cute, even if I do say so myself! Each doll is approximately 6.5 cm (approx. 2.5 inches) tall including the base (made from part of a bottle cork). The dolls can be removed from the base, and have posable arms and legs. They are not intended for children under the age of five. Please contact me via Facebook Messenger, Instagram direct message or email (Katiekinsman.firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to purchase one of these tiny bears! First come, first serve!
My regular posts have become somewhat less regular over the last two weeks or so. With everything that is going on in the world right now, yesterdays Tuesday journal post simply slipped my mind. I hope to get myself back on my regular schedule of posts starting this week.
I’ve been in a bit of a spring-time mood lately. The weather has turned a bit warmer here; the snow and ice are melting too. Warm, sunny weather is right around the corner. II’ve even seen some hares venturing out into the open spaces, looking for something to eat maybe?
My artwork reflects what I’m thinking about, so I’ve created twelve little bunny dolls and decide to offer them for sale. These twelve bunnies are the only ones that I will make, so once they have been sold, I will not be creating more of them. You can look through each of them in the Art Gallery under ‘Tiny Bunny Dolls’.
Each of the Tiny Bunny Dolls are made of viscose felt, polyfil stuffing, thread, embroidery floss, cork and metal. They are 30€ each ($32 US) plus shipping. Please contact me for shipping times and rates from Finland to the rest of the world.
I’m working on tiny bunnies today. I’ve made tiny crocheted collars for them. I’m using a 1 mm hook and wanted to show the approximate size of the finished product prior to attaching them to the bunnies.
My previous Thursday Business Post dealt with the sales, or non-sales for the most part, of the Creative Experiment dolls. I’d decided to offer about a dozen for sale to see what kinds of responses I receive. Showing my work is always, always, always a white-knuckle-thrill-ride of insanely irrational emotions that are deeply entangled in my personal sense of self-worth not only as an artist, but as a human being. If you’ve followed me on Instagram, you know that I rarely if ever post photos of myself. I’m not comfortable taking selfies. I don’t like having my photo taken. It makes me cringe. I show my artwork. That’s the me that I want people to see and connect with. Weird. I know. Believe me, I know!
I decided that I needed to make an honest effort to sell some of the Creative Experiment dolls. There is no way that I will ever know if there are people who want to buy them unless I put a price on them and offer them for sale. I’ve chosen sixteen dolls to offer. I created a gallery with names, dimensions and descriptions of each of the dolls, as well as a FAQ about purchasing, shipping, etc. as well.
I know it doesn’t seem like much of an effort to create a gallery with some prices and put it on my website that frankly, at this point, does not have loads of traffic, but I have to start somewhere, right? I’m a one-horse business. I do everything myself, with occasional feedback and assistance with business and marketing from my husband and friends who work in entrepreneurial education. I don’t have a marketing budget. I need to take advantage of every no-cost and low-cost option available to me. Please don’t misunderstand me as whining, moaning and complaining about this. It’s simply how it is. I want to be honest with anyone who’s comes upon my website. And if you’ve read any posts of mine, you know, I’ll spill my guts at the blink of an eye!
I have no glorious expectations of fantastic sales and world-domination for these Creative Experiment dolls. It would be nice to see them go to people who really love them and appreciate the skill, knowledge and ability to create them. So, let’s see what happens, let’s roll the bones.