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 Cozy.org 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

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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Judy Skeel’s Skeelhaven

March 28, 2008 at 8:03 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

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Judy Skeel is one of those artists who has probably tried nearly everything at least once. After fifteen years of dollmaking, she has focused her art into a style that is colorful, charming, whimsical and sometimes fierce. In addition to her work as a dollmaker, she is a popular dollmaking instructor and produces a newsletter highlighting doll clubs and events.

I really like her artist statement, so I’ll quote it here:

There is nothing more rewarding to me than creating something that speaks. When I create art of my own design I begin with an idea and let the process and the work itself tell me where it wants to go. I allow the art to take over, as if it were my subconscious, pulling from deep within me. When I complete a piece in this manner not only do I feel the ecstasy of completion; I also am enchanted by the creation. In some way, any new creation for me connects me to God as I begin to understand what joy He must savor in creating His works. I see my work as my children, and often find it difficult to let them go off into the world and speak for themselves. I wonder if the world will understand them as I do if I am not there to share for them. I must remind myself that just as in parenting, if we create and instill the concepts we require our children to have, when they go on their own our efforts will shine through for anyone that sincerely looks at our work.
When you view my work all I ask is that you view it with sincerity and an open mind, and then I believe that my art will speak to you as it does to me.”

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Take note of the way she styles the faces of her dolls, using a skillful combination of needle sculpting and painting. Additionally, every doll she makes just drips with beading, ribbon embroidery, machine embroidery and other textile techniques. These pictures probably don’t do them any justice at all.

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If you really want to know what’s going on in the dollmaking scene, check out her newsletter, The Association for People Who Play With Dolls (APWPWD), and be sure to check her schedule to see if she’s attending any events near you. You can also get to know Skeel better by reading her blog or dropping her an e-mail at her website.

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Time for another cloth dollmaker

November 29, 2007 at 9:48 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

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One thing that turns me off on a lot of cloth dolls is that you see the same style of face used over and over again. I’m sure it has something to do with the medium, and how hard it is to paint on cloth, but I think it’s also caused by too few artists teaching all the others how to paint faces. Today’s artist, Linda Danielson, suffers from a bit of that problem, but she more than makes up for it in the lush costumes and intriguing characters of her dolls.

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Danielson has a background in fiber arts, and you can see it in every one of her cloth figures. They are costumed in a brilliant array of colors and textures, showcasing a variety of needlework including beading, dyeing, knitting and tatting. I’m not sure if these are all examples of the artist’s own work or if she’s merely using found items to good advantage, but either way they express a sensibility for fabric that is stunning in effect.

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Each of Danielson’s dolls is a character who makes you want to know the story of its life. Many of them carry shells, baskets, pine cones or other natural objects, and their costumes derive their colors from the natural world.  Danielson lives on the west coast of North America and draws much of her inspiration from the changing of the seasons around her.

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To see more of her work, check out her lovely web page or visit the Sooke Harbor House Gift Shop.

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