Sunday, 26 February 2012

Arms & Legs, Paint & Varnish

It's been a while, but I've been a busy girl!

After finishing Hyacinth Plum and sending her on her way, I wanted to get started sculpting some new dolls so that I could make my next custom order, The Lady in John Waterhouse's beautiful painting The Shrine, from scratch to make sure I could get the details exactly how I see them in my mind.

I was running low on my largest and large size dolls as I've made all the ones I last sculpted apart from one (I'm waiting to find the perfect flat wire to make another crinoline), and I like to sculpt in batches as I always seem to have a long list of dolls that I want to make, and know who they will be. Sculpting one doll or 10 doesn't seem to take any longer because of the drying times needed on the layers of paperclay. So, after checking my doll making To Do list, I decided to make 9 of each size.

I spent a lovely evening doing one of my favourite things - Shopping for all the supplies I'd need to make these 18 dolls, add their hair and string them together. I also found the loveliest pale cream soft silk for my Lady of The Shrine's gown at one of my favourite fabric stores online - The Silk Route. I highly recommend them if you need silk for any of your projects as they have a great selection of textures and colours, and do lots of different sizes so you can buy just the amount you need.

As I had to wait for the wooden balls I needed to make the body armatures for my dolls, and the dowels to make their arms and legs, I started as I usually do and started making up a plan of work so that I could keep on top of what needs to be done each day. I've got a habit of forgetting to varnish things that I need to be ready next day. So have learnt that I need a list to keep me going when I'm making a large amount of dolls.

The dowels arrived very quickly so I knew my first task would be to cut all the pieces I'd need to make up the 18 pairs of arms and legs. I have to admit that making limbs is one of the most boring bits of doll making for me. It takes quite a while to cut each piece to the right length, sand and shape them, drill the holes that are needed for stringing the doll together, adding layers and layers of paint and three coats of varnish to each piece.

I have made lovely anatomical hands and feet in the past for my dolls. But they don't seem to fit with my style of dolls.
I like them to have the feel of old, antique, handmade dolls, which is why I make every layer of their costumes as well. And the simple down curved pointed toe feet and mitten style hands seem to fit much nicer.

I worked on getting every hand and foot sculpted to the ends of the leg and arm dowels. Setting them to dry on accordion folded corrugated cardboard drying boards that I stand on top of my living room radiator so that they cure slowly and evenly.

I hang each piece on the boards with large headed pins so that they touch nothing as they dry. I also find that this makes them easier to handle while I paint them as I can hold onto the pin instead of the wet paint.

Every hand always ends up different, each having it's own unique shape that adds character to the dolls. When they are finally strung together I always find there are dolls that just demand to have something to hold, or others that look like they are wringing thier hands together or waving at me shyly just because of a certain angle or tilt of a hand.

Every leg gets many thin layers of paint over a base coat to build up the leg colour, white stocking and lastly the shoes. Later, when the dolls I'm dressing tell me what they want I sometimes add stripes to thier stockings or a pretty spangle or bow to their shoes, or even repaint their stockings in a different colour. But for now I leave them all plain white.
I've spent a week of evenings after work, my hands covered in a sticky mix of paint and varnish getting each piece of arm and leg finished. And they're finally all done, and as you can see in the photo below all strung together at the knee and elbow joints with one of my favorite reels of strong vintage thread.

All they need now is some bodies to attache them too. Which is where I found a problem.

I was sure. I was positive that I had a large packet of paperclay in the dresser where I keep all of my supplies. I looked and searched and pulled things out all over the floor. I even had hubby digging around trying to find it as well, but no joy. I was a doll maker without the clay I needed to get on to one of my favourite parts of the whole process. Sculpting the faces.

As you can see my arms and legs hang in matched pairs waiting to be attached to bodies that I can't sculpt yet, making me sad. And my bodies all lay there with the armatures built up with foil covered in masking tape waiting to be covered and shaped with layers of paperclay, the tilt of thier blank heads already accusing me of not being organised enough.
It's been over a week since I ordered three new large blocks of clay, and I'm still waiting for it. All Saturday morning I sat listening for the postman to approach my door with my parcel, but by 1pm I had to give it up as lost. I'll be very disappointed if I can't work on the faces this week and get them done by next weekend. My fingers are itching to push and pull and shape that lovely soft smooth clay into the shapes that I want, and add the first little injection of life into my dolls. It's only then that I see who will be sad, and who will be cheeky, who will be shy and who will be demanding.
Soon. Please arrive soon!


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  2. Thank you Diane :-) I'll make sure to check it out.