My new hero — Mimi Kirchner

May 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

As much as I aspire to maintain an attitude like Maddy Nupp McDonald’s, I want my work to be like Mimi Kirchner’s.

I’ve been hearing Kirchner’s name around the doll scene for years now, but mainly for her gourd dolls and historical reproductions. Even though neither of these genres really interest me, I love the round, stylized faces on all of her work. You can see lots of these in her gallery.

But what’s really gotten me excited is her newer work. She’s been making fabric sculptures for sale on Etsy and other places that really knock my socks off. Her pink robot, one of a whole family of soft-sculpted robots, was a finalist in the Softie Awards this spring. Who ever thought of a soft-sculpted robot? They’re round and sharp at the same time, slightly reminiscent of vintage tin robot toys, but with all the warmth of fabric.

But even more charming are her “Church Ladies” and “Tattooed Gentlemen.” What I think sets her apart from so many other fiber artists is her original use of trims, prints and embroidery to create the parts of her robots and dolls. I really want to learn to make felt flowers like the ones that adorn her Church Ladies’ dresses, and I love the use of toile to represent tattoos on her Gentlemen.

It’s almost like she’s camouflaging her embellishments as something they’re not. Check out the bugs in this picture. At first glance, they just look like they’re made of crazy fabric prints, but as you look closer, you start to see that they’re made of perfectly ordinary sewing notions, like ric rac trim, beads, and dress hooks.

I really hope my work can be this creative someday. Be sure to check out Kirchner’s blog, Doll, and her Flickr Account. Also, browse her Etsy shop to see if your favorite is for sale. Have a great weekend!


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Experimental Dollmaking Update

May 17, 2008 at 4:32 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Here’s a quick update on my cloth ball-jointed doll. Several people pointed out that Judi Ward has a class for a cloth ball-jointed doll available on DollNet. This is being offered for a very reasonable price and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest — and any cash, which I don’t, so I won’t be able to take the class for a while.

One of the secrets of Ward’s construction, I am told, is using plastic grapes, cut in half, for sockets to cover the ball joints. (There has to be more to it than that; I’m also told the doll is strung like an Asian BJD, which means there must be a hard infrastructure underneath, but you’ll have to take the class to find that out.) i’m not sure the grapes will work unless I find them in exactly the right size, and I think the joints in my piece are a lot smaller than Ward’s Bluette. Then again, Bluette is only 11 inches and my Experiment is around 12. However, I still think Bluette’s toddler-proportioned joints are larger than mine.

Meanwhile, I went to the craft store for more round beads to make Experimental Version #2 (I really must name them), and discovered something interesting. They have miniature wooden spools which I think will work better than round beads for the hinge joints in my doll. I got some in two sizes to play with, and I’m seriously considering attempting double-jointed elbows and knees, like many BJDs and Marina Bychkova‘s new work.

Finally, I discovered a serious error in the leg construction. Remember how pleased I was with the hip movement? Well, I made a mistake with the way I attached the legs. In its neutral position, my doll has the legs attached on the outside of the hip joint, when they should be in the front. I realized this when the doll was sitting with its legs stretched out to the side. The result is that the knees bend the wrong way. I will take some pictures so I can show you more clearly. I may actually take the knees off and reattach them correctly, just to see how much better that works, but I want to take pictures first.

Here’s a preview of something else I’m working on:

I hadn’t decided to use this head with it when I chose the felt, so the hair doesn’t match her dress, and I haven’t decided how to do the arms and legs yet (although I’m thinking polymer clay and stripey socks…). This is intended as a prototype for something I can sell in my Etsy shop, which has been empty since February. What do y’all think?

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Friedericy Dolls

May 16, 2008 at 6:35 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Today’s featured artist is actually a team of artists. Lucia Friedericy, an award-winning costume artist, used to paint, dress and style the dolls sculpted by her brother, John. After his untimely death in 1990, the artists’ mother, Judith, took over the sculpting duties to continue the family tradition.

Together they produce dolls with dreamy, naive faces and lucious costumes. I especially love the tableaus and shadow boxes that create “stages” for the dolls to stand in or step out of. Like a children’s book illustration come to life.

Neither their site nor the site of their photographer, Rob Greer, indicates how big these pieces are, but these photos taken by Cynthia Malbon at Magnum Opus 2007 indicate that they’re much larger than they look. The dolls are wax over porcelain. I wonder what you paint wax with? Does it sink in, or just sit on top, like with polymer clay? If anyone knows, can you leave a comment?

I’m going to post again about my experimental ball jointed doll later–several people offered suggestions and I’ve just realized a major error in the leg construction, which I want to photograph so I can show you.

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Experimental Dollmaking

May 9, 2008 at 10:24 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Okay, as I may have mentioned before, I’m becoming obsessed with the idea of jointed dolls. After looking at what a lot of other artists are doing, I concluded that it was going to be extremely difficult to figure out how to do Asian-style ball-jointed dolls without actually buying one to examine for myself. Since that’s out of the question in terms of budget, I had to figure something else out. You know what they say about necessity and invention…

So I went looking through my trusty Susannah Oroyan books, and discovered that one of them (Anatomy of a Doll) had a whole page about ball jointed cloth dolls. I had already been thinking about poseable cloth dolls, and the photos of Shelley Thornton’s work in the Oroyan book really inspired me.

So pictured above and throughout this post is my first attempt at a soft doll with ball joints. I know, it’s ugly. I chose to make it from felt because I like the way felt is firm, but slightly stretchy when you stuff it. There are a lot of things I like about the way this turned out, and some things I want to improve on.

Things I like:

1. The hip joints have a very natural movement to them. I don’t know if you can tell in any of the pictures, but the thighs actually angle inwards, just like in a real skeleton. The movement is a result of the bead being attached as a ball joint on one side and a hinge joint on the other. I would present this as evidence of my apparent genius, but it happened completely on accident.

2. The beads can be ball joints or hinge joints, depending on how you sew them in. I don’t think you can read my inspiring diagram above, (dang WordPress!) but suffice it to say that you make a ball joint by anchoring the thread as close to the center of the joint as possible, while you make a hinge joint by anchoring the thread on either side. The hinge joints are very firm, firm enough to hold their positions, especially in the arms.

3. The wooden beads add so much weight that I don’t think I would need to weight the butt of this doll to make it sit. It won’t sit unassisted, but that’s because the hip joints are too loose.

4. There are three movements to the head (turning left-to-right, tilting left-to-right, and tipping up or down). My first attempt at the neck resulted in a hinge joint with only up-and-down movement. I removed it and tried again, and now it moves in any direction but is too floppy to hold its position.

Some things I want to work on:

1. I’m pleased with how the hinge joints set into the soft parts of the doll, but the way I sewed the ball joints prevents them from sitting in that tight. There must be some way to develop sockets, so the ball joints would be firmer. I had hoped the doll might sit and stand on its own, but the hip joints are too floppy.

2. My husband laughed at me because I was fretting about the doll not having a bottom to speak of, but it’s actually an engineering concern. I wonder if a sculpted behind would allow the doll to sit after all, or if it would interfere with standing movements too much. I think future versions will have more sculptural torsos.

3. I’d really like to develop a skin I could slide over the construction to hide the joints. I thought about adding two skins so I could do some needlesculpting in between, but I don’t think I’ll bother for this doll. I’m tempted to add one skin layer, though, because I really want to see how this doll will look with clothing.

4. The arms are obviously way too long. It was hard to judge the proper length for the pieces while taking the length of the beads into account. When I get this thing perfected, I may need to use (horrors!) a pattern instead of just eyeballing the sizes I need every time.

5. I wonder how the size of the bead impacts the performance of the joint. Can I get away with smaller, less conspicuous beads, or will that limit movement? I can almost imagine a ball-and-rod setup for the hip joint, similar to the way actual femurs are shaped, but that’s probably more complicated than it needs to be for my purposes.

6. And finally, I’m already picturing how I can transfer what I’ve learned to a hard-medium doll. Woo hoo!

Here’s where I want some feedback from you, dear reader. Have you ever tried this before? If not, are you interested in trying it now? I’d really like to see what some collage-type doll artists could do with this — imagine decorative beads tied into the doll with ribbons — there’s a lot you could do with it. Leave a comment and a link to some pictures of your work.

Another doll artist, Maggie Iacono, makes felt dolls with ball joints for collectors. Her site says the fingers on her dolls are “poseable” but not that they’re jointed, so I wonder if they’re just wired. I have an idea for a jointing system for fingers, but it would be impossible in this tiny scale. Can anyone think of a use for a life-sized, fully poseable hand?

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May 9, 2008 at 4:33 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Oooh, I’m so excited, I couldn’t wait to show you what I found today! Marina Bychkova, whom I previously blogged about on these pages, has redesigned and updated her website, but even better than that, I’ve just discovered she has a DeviantArt account, and a blog! Check them all out, she has some amazing new work for you to see, and now you can follow her creative process on her blog. I love this artist!

P.S. Keep an eye out later today — I’ve been working on an experiment, and I’m going to post pictures. I hope it will be thought-provoking for all of my readers who make dolls. Stay tuned…

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Midweek Update: Needle Felting

May 4, 2008 at 2:17 am (Uncategorized) (, , )

Here’s another needle felting tutorial:

This is a different kind of felting, a more two-dimensional type. On my musty old list of “things to experiment with later” is the question of whether this type of needle felting could be used to create features on a cloth doll’s face. If anyone reading this has tried it, please leave a comment and let me know!

P.S. I just got back from the Brookside art show in Kansas City, and it was kind of disappointing. There weren’t nearly as many figurative artists as there were last year; in fact the entire show seemed smaller. Didn’t there used to be two big tents of artisans?

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Beyond sculpting — Alexander Mergold

May 3, 2008 at 5:46 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

What do you do when you’re such a great sculptor that it’s no longer a challenge? You start playing with engineering, of course. That’s got to be the story behind today’s artist, Alexander Mergold.  Or maybe he’s just a brilliant puppeteer who also happens to be an incredibly talented sculptor. Either way, his work is really something to see.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist with such a huge variety of different pieces. His website includes marionettes, stick puppets, table top puppets, hand puppets, portrait dolls, caricatures, fantasy figures, and more. He works in air-dry clay, papier mache, polymer clay and epoxy putty. He even has a bas relief and a life-sized doll on his website. Wow.

The picture at the top of this post caused a double-take when I first saw it. If it weren’t for the marionette strings visible in the photo, I would have thought it was a real person. I also love his “Yawning Dude” piggy banks, which are available in his Etsy shop, as well as the soulful Pamina, pictured below, from his Magic Flute series. Would you have guessed both of these were by the same guy? Amazing.

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