Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Very Busy Month & Terry's Grandmother

I really couldn't tell you where my time has gone this month. It's been too long since I blogged, and so many things have happened.
After getting all of my new dolls strung together I've been caught up with getting some of my research written up, had a week with a stinking cold so could get hardly anything done at all, changed my hours at my day job, had a request from my mother in Spain to make her a Flamenco Dancer doll (no I don't really know why, but if that's what she wants), and best of all had my little vampire Billy, better known as Mommy I'm Hungry, featured in Art Dolls Quarterly :)

Billy was the first full hard sculpt doll that I ever made, and he's still with me. He's the kind of doll I fell in love with as soon as I turned him to face me once he was finished. The type that you just know that you'll never be able to part with. And I was so pleased with him I sent his photo off to ADQ and then promptly forgot all about it. I was so surprised to get an e-mail from the lovely Jana Holstein saying that they would like to add him to the Autumn issue of Art Dolls Quarterly as it's always my favorite issue of the year. All that's best and brightest in the world of creepy Halloween dolls, and I'm really honored that one of my little dolls has been included with such a fantastic collection this year. Best of all, there were loads of other Art Dolls Only team doll artists in this issue, with a big feature on our Captain Nicole of Mealy Monster Dolls - http://www.etsy.com/shop/mealymonster
My dolls have changed so much over the years that seeing this first little doll of mine on the glossy pages of ADQ has really made me feel all over again that what I'm doing is worth it somehow; that I may actually be reaching others with what I do. And I really hope that I can reach my dreams and continue to improve.

After spending so long sculpting, painting and getting ready I found myself at a complete loss when I started thinking of what doll I wanted to make next.

I knew that I wanted her to be a smaller doll this time. The sewing involved in the big dolls I've just finished has left me with holes in my fingers from all the stab wounds, so a nice small Victorian Lady so I could practice my small detail work sounded nice - but which one?

I've been planning out a load of dolls while I sculpted: Victorian London Prostitutes tricked into service by ruthless Procuresses, some of the highly publicised Victorian scandals reported in the press of women accused of murder and adultery, an Asylum inmate committed for understandably loosing her wits under the pressure of caring for her ungrateful family, or the Asylum nurse finally charged and convicted to an Asylum herself for mistreating her patients... Hundreds of women that truly show the side of Victorian society that we never hear about; the side of that society that has done so much to shape our own.
But with Halloween only just around the corner now, what could be better than a Victorian Witch.

A witch from the times that I like to create my dolls in is not an easy thing to find, as Witchcraft is said to have died out years before. But if you think about it, that really just can't be the case. What would have been called Witchcraft 200 years ago we'd all recognise now as Herbalism, Alternative Religion, Clairvoyance and skills in reading other peoples behaviour and attitudes through reading tea leaves or palms. With the death of Witchcraft the Georgian and Victorian people turned to table-tipping, Spiritualism, seances, and Mediums. But in my imagination I wanted something more of the traditional witch bending over her cauldron cooking up some kind of smelly remedy for one of the neighborhood that was brave enough to knock on her door. I wanted a black cauldron and pointed hat, jars and bottles of herbs and things no-one wants to think about, a black cat and a pet toad, and a hunched old lady that scares all the local children. But I couldn't find her.

I knew it was a long shot, but surely there must be a proper witch out there without having to go back as far as the 17th or 18th century.

Could they all have really disappeared? And was I really just living in dream land again with my wild ideas? Sometimes I know I live in a fantasy world where everything seems possible, but it just didn't make sense that we all somehow still know that honey is a good antiseptic, and that mint will calm a bad stomach, but that the women that practiced this herbal remedy "witchcraft" had actually disappeared when modern history tells us that they did.

We all know a few herbal or natural remedies for everyday ailments passed down from out grandparents and great grandparents. And the women that where Swum by scared villagers and the authorities spent hundreds of years passing down their knowledge from generation to generation, I knew there had to be a real woman out there somewhere. And just as I was about to give up and go back in time to the Pendle and Salem Witches, or resort to traditional fantasy (which I really didn't want to do), I found her - Terry's Grandmother!

I looked everywhere for an account of a true Victorian or Georgian Witch; in every book I have, all over the internet and even my local library, and all the time the perfect lady was right under my nose in a beautiful book I've owned for years called A Victorian Grimoire by Patricia Telesco.

This book is a fantastic reference to Victorian life that covers everything from Healing Rituals, information on The Grand Tours, gathering and drying herds, Meditation, Celebrating the Seasons, Herbal and Flower Remedies, Ouija Boards, and even making Poppet dolls to use as luck charms and love tokens. And tucked away towards the back is an account of Terry's Grandmother - a true Victorian Lady, and a true Victorian Witch.

If you have any interest in gentle magic and enchantment, spiritualism, the supernatural and the occult I can really recommend this book as practical A-Z type book that gives you a great starting point to start looking into things further. It's full of really useful information on loads of things that can be used day to day, such as remedies for colds and how to make sleep pillows, and gives you just enough information to get you started on more detailed subjects.

No real name is given for Terry's Grandmother, but as soon as I read about her I knew that she had to be my next doll. The account given of her is a loving portrait of a gentle, kind woman that still practices the spells and makes the potions that have been in her family for years. And gives a lot of detail about the life she lead and some of the magical items she used as part of her every day life, like a distinctive round Ouija board and her kitchen garden jammed full of every kind of herb and useful plant. Even down to the hand crocheted doilies used on every table of her home that had tiny magical symbols worked into them, and her kitchen full of jars of spices and herbs with bunches hanging to dry slowly in the warm and comfortable room.

Terry's Grandmother is just the kind of woman I was looking for. No pointy black hat and wart on the nose, but a real woman. Even though I'm guessing she still had a broom in the corner for sweeping the floor, and a cauldron of some sort for making up her closely guarded special recipe for spaghetti sauce that used herbs for love, longevity and sex which she made and gave to new couples to help them along their way without them ever knowing she was casting her own spell on their happiness, and giving them her blessing for a happy life.

Terry's Grandmother now sits looking at me as I type in a state I have to call Undress. She has long knickers (closed crotch knickers for a change, not open crotch bloomers) with a lace trim to the gathered legs, and a short mid length shift that has a lace gathered bosom to help the fashionable S-bend shape that was just emerging at the end of the century. In my mind I have an image of a very smart older lady, so have given her grey hair streaked with silver, and have made sure she has her shape perfecting corset to show off her still trim figure. With a plum colored petticoat gathered in the back with a very slight train.

The clothes at the change of the century were somewhere in between the classic high bustle straight skirt look and the later S-bend shape with the tight skirts. And I've chosen to make this doll with a pretty dress that has with slightly flowing softer skirt with a gathered back and detailed cross-over bodice worn over a sheer blouses or chemissette.
Now all I have to do is find the perfect fabric in my stash, and she should be dressed by the end of the day.

I wanted to make Terry's grandmother with a few of the magical things that were mentioned in the book. And although I don't normally set my dolls onto bases, this time I thought I'd make a little scene for my doll to sit in. I came up with a loads of ideas, and ended up back at the first one I came up with. And have to say a big Thank You to my Twitter friends and fellow doll makers for helping me work out what I wanted to do.

Now my plans are to make Terry's Grandmother her Ouija board and hanging crystal, as well as a few of her jars and bottles, and a little stool for her to sit on - all on her own little base so that she can be sat in amongst all her possessions and removed if wanted.
I did think it would be nice to make a small box scene for her with wallpaper and shelves, a rug on the floor, and her things neatly tidied away. But for the size of doll I'm making the whole thing would have just drowned her completely, so I think I'll have to save that for another time, and another doll. I can't wait to see the tiny glass bottles I've bought for her so I can start making up tiny labels and filling them with ground dried herbs from my own garden. And, as suggested by @fairiesnest, I'll have a go at making her a few pumpkins as well :)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Naked, Bald, and Beautiful!

It's been a while since my last post. And I've been a busy girl getting a whole heap of new dolls painted, varnished and strung together.
Now all my new girls are sitting quite pretty, waiting for their turn to be dressed and finished.

24 lovely new dolls in four sizes are now waiting for me. And now is the time I like the best.
New faces and personalities just waiting to tell me who they are and what they want to wear. A new doll is very demanding. And only the exact right fabric and colour will do.
Some of them are cheeky, some happy, some sad, some quiet, and some loud.
Who will be the next to have a brand new handmade outfit to show off?

Among all the skinny arms and legs on my work table I can see now an Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy (a rare boy doll for me). The twins from the horror film The Shinning as a gift for a friend as I know he particularly wants them. A sunny, smiling suffragette, eager to join her sisters in the struggle with her purple satin sash worn with pride. A murderous early Victorian asylum nurse that was even more insane than her patients. A fantasy steampunk vixen, and a tiny delicate fairy. All waiting for me to go to work with needle and thread to create exactly the right clothing.

Possibilities are endless - and I can't wait to get started.
I've too many ideas already!

As always, each stage to get me to this point has taken me longer than I wanted it to. I love to sculpt faces in a big batch so I can explore lots of different things all in one go. But, of course, making dolls also means that the bodies, arms and legs also need to be sculpted to make these dolls complete. And that all takes time.

Each limb has to be cut from a hard wood dowel, sanded, drilled and the hand or foot sculpted (I like sculpting the tiny feet on the end of it's leg and shaping the pointing toes :). Each body has to be made from a dowel with a wooden ball mounted on top to give me something to build a face upon. Layered with foil to create bulk. wrapped in tape and then covered with rolled out sheets of paperclay. And only when this is dry do I get to start on the faces, sculpting the neck into the shoulders as I go.

I've overcome a few problems while making this new big batch of dolls. And have discovered some new tricks that have saved me a lot of time.

I like to create a very simple body shape, most of which is just a long thick rod shape, as I find the stiff Victorian styles that I love seem to suit this straight backed posture. Making creating the look that I want much easier. Ladies didn't slouch back then. They couldn't. I'm truly glad I don't have to wear the tight, restrictive, permanently damaging corsets that women then wore. But there is something about the posture, elegance, and detail of the clothing they wore that i never get tired of.

This simple shape with its thread strung limbs is something I've developed after being inspired by the beautiful carved, moulded or stuffed ancient dolls that can still be found in Britain's museums - A very basic construction with layer upon layer of rich detailed clothing. The simple doll itself transformed into something intricate and outstanding.

One of the new tricks I developed during this round of sculpting was how to get a hole through the shoulders of each doll without having to drill them. It's always been a pain to get a hole that goes straight through the shoulders so that the arms can be attached in my preferred way - with vintage linen thread. But I've never been able to get this straight or true without countless mistakes and repairs.
But now I've figured out how to get this and get a nice flat place where the arm joins all in one go.

I'd never thought of it before, but now I know it seem obvious. And all I had to do was use a long strong needle and some wire.

This time I drilled the hole in the armature before adding any layers. Through this I held a long strong soft sculpture doll needle and built the armature, and then sculpted the body, around the needle. Sliding it back and fore as needed so I could get the shoulder shape I wanted. When I was done with a body I replaced the needle carefully with a piece of strong wire so that the whole thing could dry. And I've had not one problem with mis-drilled holes, feeling through a shoulder with needle to try and find the way through when stringing a doll together, or the horrible wonky shoulder issue. Simple!

I've spent all this weekend getting all of the arms and legs sewn together and then attached to each doll body. It's something that I never think will take very long, but of course, it always takes longer than I could ever imagine.

A nasty surprise this morning left me with 8 of  my new dolls with arms that hung below their knees and looking very odd. I'd somehow managed to measure the arm dowels wrong for one of the sizes I was making, so got delayed cutting each painted piece, sanding, painting, drilling and re-varnishing the lot before I could be done. But seeing them all sitting so cozy on a big pile of my damaged vintage books was worth the effort it took me not to scream and give up this morning.
Just look how cute they all look :)

For a while now I've been being pretty tough on myself. Pushing myself to get more and more done in shorter and shorter spaces of time. And as you'd expect, I've been failing to get things done. I'm always so disappointed that I can't get this or that done, out of the way, so I can move on and get on with things I enjoy more. But I'm slowly starting to realise that yes, I am only one person.
As you'd probably expect of a creative person I'm not too keen on the daily admin type tasks that selling my dolls needs. You think I'd find this easy seeing as I spend each day during the week working at a day job in an office. And I really am quite organised and systematic. But when I'm doing my things and what I want all i want to do is create. Failing to get things done in the impossible time limits I set myself has left me feeling really down. So to try and show myself what I can achieve I spent one Friday night earlier this month tweeting everything I was doing. I really was surprised how much I got done in one night. And it's made me feel so much better about leaving a few things waiting. Take a look below how my typical Friday night turned out. I'm really not exaggerating. I got all this stuff and more done in one night, and now I can see what I really do.

My Twitter Feed - Fri 5th Aug - Starting at 6pm - @NatashaDolls

- Thinking my next doll should be one of the Victorian asylum inmates I've been reading about. What do you think?
- My to do list is getting scary. It's swollen off the paper and is now standing towering above me making horrid growls and gurgles :'(