Sunday, 11 March 2012

Pretty Dolls, All Bald and Waiting

There wasn't anything new to share with you last week, so I saved posting here until today. A lot has happened in the last two weeks and my house has looked a little bit like a doll factory, with dismembered bits of bodies laid out to dry or waiting to be attached on every free surface. As you can see, my clay finally arrived and I got to work straight away sculpting my dolls bodies and faces.

I always start by covering the dolls bodies first before letting it dry thoroughly so that while I sculpt my faces I have something solid and firm to hold on to. I like to keep their shape very simple as old dolls would have been, and only add shaping to the shoulders and bust. Because of the many layers it usually takes to make the costumes I like to give my dolls I try and add a little extra length to the bodies of the ones I know will have many petticoats and skirts. That way I know they will still look like they have some sort of body when I'm finished with them.

While their hip area is narrow enough to let me drill a hole through them so that their legs can be attached, the shoulders of these two largest sizes of dolls has always given me problems as I just can't find a drill bit that's both long and strong enough.
I've found a way now of drilling through the dowel base of the body and then building up the layers of foil core and then clay while using a long doll sculpting needle through the hole to make sure that I keep a straight usable hole ready to attach their arms when they're done.
It isn't easy to work around the needle, but when I've tried wire the clay always seemed to bend it as it dried. I find problems if I'm not careful to make sure everything is still straight inside before moving on to the faces as things move. It's surprising how much paperclay shrinks as it drys, but it has such a lovely finish to it.

Next come one of my favourite parts of doll making - The Faces. By adding layers of wet clay to the area where I want the face to be, making sure I add the thickness in the right places to give the head the tilt that I want, I get the faces ready to have the eyes set in. I remove the shank from the buttons I've chosen and push them into the wet clay, letting it squish and bulge up around the buttons to create the temples and forehead, working it with my fingers to get everything even and smooth. I push a hole into the moth area and pull it into the expression I want and then let the clay dry a bit on a warm (but not hot) radiator to let it firm up while I work on the next doll.

I try and let the faces dry completely before moving on to the other features, but sometimes it's still only semi-dry before I start on the nose, cheeks and lips. I'm not very patient once I get going. If the clay has shrunk back around the eyes in any area I build it back up again with more clay now too. I like best to take my time with my faces to not get caught making every one look very much like the next. Even if I think them ugly when they are sculpted I try to only tweak a little. Everyone is different and unique, and if that's how a doll wants to look who am I to argue with them. The strangest looking dolls very often turn out to be very beautiful once they have some clothes and their hair added.

Now that they have all been sanded smooth, wet polished, painted and varnished tonight I get to choose arms and legs for each lady and the two gentlemen mixed into the group, stringing them all together with tiny glass seed beads and vintage thread in a special way I've developed for myself which is good and strong. For the first doll I'll be working on further, The Lady of The Shrine for Neiaushie which will be dressed in a silk gown in the style of the beautiful John Waterhouse painting, I first chose a dark sage green / brown pair of buttons from my stash. After setting a larger pair the same in one of the larger dolls they looked very black, so instead I searched out the lovely pearly swirly brown and copper coloured buttons that you can see in the face above (bottom left corner). The different colours that show in these eyes when you turn her in the light made me think they'd be perfect for an artists muse. What artist could resist trying to capture their beauty :)


  1. I love these photos... very labor intensive work too! Holy cow. Worth the final outcome though!

  2. Thanks Jess :-) I love seeing them all ready waiting to be dressed. Can't wait to get sewing now.

  3. THey are all in the process of becoming- I just love that. what are there eyes made of?

  4. Hi Patti, Thank you so much for all your lovely comments. I use found, reclaimed and vintage buttons for all of my doll eyes. I have very fond memories of pawing my way through the big button tins of my other, Grandmother and Godmother, so buttons always have a special place in my heart <3