Monday 19 June 2023

2023 Topic 07: Art Dolls - Topic Introduction


Hi everyone, Dounia here, with a new topic and an old favourite: ART DOLLS.

For the next few weeks, we will travel the world of dolls, puppets and plushies here on the PaperArtsy Blog! Art dolls are an amazing example of the mundane made extraordinary by love, talent and imagination. Adapted from a classic toy often use to help kids grow into their future responsibilities, dolls are an opportunity reverse the situation and explore our relation to childhood. Let's go back to creating life companions, building little clothes and imagining complex stories to re-enact! 

In practice, we will confront making faces, hands and other parts of human anatomy, which I know most of us a at least a little bit intimidated by. We hope this topic will bring you tips and tricks to deal with these difficulties and help you feel more at ease.

Dolls also lead us to question the human form: what is the minimum necessary for it to recognisable? How far can we change, transform it and what does it evoke? And branching out of humanoids, what makes an animal or robot, into a character?

To fire your creative mind, let's look at all kind of dolls, from traditional to crazy crafty, we a few resources thrown in to! Do not hesitate to follow the artists links to see more of their work!


Dolls have pretty much been present in all culture an civilisations around the globe, from very simple to incredibly complex to suit every child's need. Here I will present some traditional doll forms chosen among thousands of variations. I have focused on more crafty, homemade types. Lots of those humble traditional crafts have evolved into true art form with time and talent. Disclaimer: this is very very far from a exhaustive list! It is mostly what I could think of from the top of my head mixed with some I stumbled upon in my research for this post...

Le'ts start with dolls made from materials gathered from nature. From stick figurines to the Scandinavian Yule goat made of hay, natural materials, easy and cheap to find, have always been a favorite to make toys. With the domestication and farming of corn thousands of years ago, Native Americans found a use for the cob husks in making little dolls. Corn Husk Dolls have prospered and are still made today. You can even try it with this Photo Tutorial on Gift of Curiosity

While not growing on tree, fabric leftovers were common in most household when we were still making our own clothes and became the perfect material for soft doll. Rag dolls are still favourites of young child and multiple tradition styles exist around the world. For example, faceless Russian rag dolls are terribly cute, with a interesting mix of simplified form and intricate clothes detail. You can learn more about them in this presentation on Wee Folk Art and even try your hand thanks to this Quick Tutorial.

To show how the same concept can evolve differently even in neighbouring region, take a look at the Ukrainian Motanki dolls! Here the face features are replaced by a symbolic thread pattern and the body proportion are much more true to life. This detailed Photo Tutorial by doll maker Olena Tarasenko will give some idea of you to achieve this look.

An example of a doll whose popularity has exploded is certainly the Japanese Kokeshi which is now generally sold as a decorative object more than a doll. There are hundreds of varations and they can be real little works of art. Enjoy plenty of eye candy in this extensive Kokeshi collection by Erminig.


To see puppet made into works of art, look no further than the puppets of Wayang, the Indonesian Shadow Puppet Theatre. Intricate openwork allows them to create mesmerizing shadow during plays but they are also meticulously coloured to also be beautiful in the light.


The South African Ndebeles' love of colour and geometric patterns is apparent in their houses and clothes and also logically in their dolls. As explained in this interesting article on Hadithi Africa, these dolls are not just an important source of income but also a strong cultural identifier.


Dolls are a child companion and confident. This is never truer than with the worry dolls from Guatemala. They will listen to your fears and problems and protect your sleep from below your pillow. Learn more about them in this article on From the Mayan people to you.


Even outside of the children world, dolls have been often associated with the divine, the supernatural or the beyond: made to influence their models, to contain the spirit of a lost loved one or to communicate with them, their human form helps blur the lines between worlds. Spirit dolls, for example, represent the spirits and souls of what is around us and are often beautiful and artistic evocations. Please enjoy this Spirit dolls Collection by LinK. If you are interested, also check this Spirit box Tutorial by Maria Greene!

After all this talk about the human form, I think it is necessary to remind ourselves than doll do not have to have human features. Animals can be amazing spirit guardians too!



Let's explore how artist have seized the concept of the doll and interpreted it through their imagination and talent. To start with the humble rag doll, even an paired down version can be incredible evocative and touching. I think it shows how good us humans are at projecting feelings!
At the opposite, in a 'more is more' spirit, a rag doll can contain multitudes. Keeping with the tradition of being pieced from leftovers, a doll can evoke all the little bits of life the creator went through  and put into their art.

Cecile Perra

Another creative track is to adapt a traditional form into something new. Keeping the delicate features and regular proportions, here the classic articulated doll id made of ceramic, questioning the fragility of a body and its inner garden full of life.


Are those detailed features necessary for a doll? Stick dolls prove that no, a general shape is enough and the artist can then focus on the hair and clothing to create life, interest and personality.

The deconstruction of the doll concept can also been achieved through actual deconstruction, asking us what is actually necessary to recognise a doll: a face, a vague shape?


If you deconstruct, you can reconstruct, or in our case: assemble. Again the significance of all those little parts add to create a whole doll, both visually and conceptually. With their easily grasped feature and meaning, dolls are particularly well suited to assemblage, as proved by this Assemblage Art dolls Collection by Trilby Works.

Again, dolls do not have to have human features. Folklore and imagination are full of intelligent, talkative animals so do not feel constrained and explore all type of creatures, based on the real world or not!

If you want to see what else is brewing in the mind of doll artists, do not hesitate to check the beautiful Art Doll Quarterly magazine!


If you feel a bit intimidated by the previous examples, do not worry, I have you covered! Here are some simpler ideas that use crafts and products you probably already use... Back to rad doll, here is quick and easy tutorial for a No sewing Rag Doll by Relentless Risa


For a bit of simple needle craft, check this Tutorial to Basic Weaving Pin Dolls on M Rietsma Designs for funky and fabulous button head dolls. Quick and fun, no real sewing needed!


Fabric friend do not have to be complicated, especially if do not rely on your sewing skills for the features! On the PaperArtsy Blog Jo Firth Young takes advantage of stamps to create several cute plush critters with no sweat!


Going a bit further in difficulty and involvement, how funky are these Diva Dolls by Wilma Simmons? Do not be intimidated but the faces, lots of great molds are available nowadays, and can be filled by gel medium or hot glue if you do have polymer clay!


If you are worried about having to make bodies, you can always use already made dolls, like Lucy Edmondson on the PaperArtsy Blog. She customised a series of nesting dolls, taking advantage of the already existing patterns and shapes.


A solution to skip creating faces and body part is certainly to use already made ones! I am sure you have a stash of portrait somewhere in your craftroom and magazines are full of more if necessary! Then you can colour and assemble them as you like as demonstrated by Mark Montano for his Mixed Media Scrap Wood Dolls.


Stamping is obviously a great to deal with the face but what about using something else for the body? With their long shape and tactile bristles, paintbrushes are a great alternative. Paintbrush dolls are totally a thing, as illustrated by this Paintbrush Dolls Collection by Kim Collister!


Do not hesitate to flirt with the limits. With a delicate face and just twig and lace skirt, is this a beautiful shadow box by Autumn Clark on the PaperArtsy Blog actually a doll? wHat do you think?



Finally, as lots of use a paper crafters, I wanted to pay homage to a particular type of doll: the paper doll. They have been the  companion of many girls for a long time as shown by all the examples that can be found in newspapers and magazines over the years. Here is an incredible Articulate Paper Doll Collection by EKDuncan, including loads of different styles! 


Of course, one of the appeals of those dolls are the interchangeable clothes with their iconic tabs! They are all over this extensive Classic Paper Doll and Clothes collection by Mireille Legaux, with all body shapes, ages and styles!


Now if you want to make you own, you can go for a stamped head and simple rectangular body like these Modern Paper Dolls by Blank Page Muse. A great opportunity to play with colour and texture!


You can also dress a general body shape like in this Vintage Paper Doll video tutorial by Junk Journal Joy. As we have seen, not much definition is actually need to evoke the human form, especially if you add detailed clothing and jewellery.

If you interested in a more realistic body, here a couple resources: you will find Free fashion templates on Creative Fashion Services, ranging different body types and displaying various poses. Also  Fashion Link has numerous Paper Doll templates, this time with clothes one. They are actually the back of vintage paper dolls that you can trace!


If you want to incorporate movement in your dolls, Johanna Flanagan is offering an Articulated Paper Doll Template for personal use. For inspiration, be sure to check this Varied Paper Doll Art Collection by Un Chou├»a, as well as this more crafty one by Marci Keller.

Finally, as I have mentioned, dolls are an old favourite on the blog so you can enjoy more ideas by our creative blogers in topic 2018 #10: Paper Dolls and more generally in topic 2016 #5: Art Dolls.

I hope this introduction has you pumped up for more Art Dolls in the next month and is inspiring you to create your own little companions. If you want to create along with us we would love to see what you get up to! You could tag us on Facebook, Instagram @paperartsy , Twitter, or post in PaperArtsy People Group on Facebook. We really love to hear about how the blog topics have inspired you, so don't be shy!!   

No comments: