Heippa, it's Riikka Kovasin from Paperiliitin blog here today with you. I'm super excited to share my take on the topic 07 "Art Dolls". As you can see from the banner, I made two dolls with the same idea, but I'm planning to make even more!
It all begun with this fellow here, when I read the theme I saw in my mind's eye a crow headed figure and wanted to make him come to life. What I really liked about this project was the combining of the different materials, trying something new and even getting over my dislike of embroidery!
As I mentioned, the figure of a crow headed character was my first thought when thinking about art dolls. You don't have to look far for the reason of the crow - it's my favorite bird and I've done several pieces with this flying creature. One of them is even this canopic jar looking crow headed character (link), which has quite the same basic shape as the doll. The other previous crow piece, which has some things in common with this project is this amulet piece (link). It's painted on top of thick felt, embroidered and then cast in resin.
So, the crow part we've covered, but where did the idea of the pale human hands come from? I mean I didn't think even for a minute to make wings or anything other than translucent, pale hands for the characters. I can only think it coming from the Finnish artist and print-maker Outi Heiskanen, who made etchings of hybrid creatures. I visited Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, a couple of years ago when she had a big retrospective there. I especially recall a horse-head character with a black dress and very delicate, elegant hands. The artist re-used and combined her plates, so there's several pieces with the same character. The hands are not clearly seen in this version (link) I found from the Finnish National Gallery collection archive, but I guess that's better than just my words.
The characters I created also have another Finnish source. Another artist and print-maker, in fact, Kirsi Neuvonen. Among other topics, she makes prints with fantastic dresses. The shape of the dress is always simple, but the skirt is always decorated elaborately. You can see some of the dresses here (link) on her web page. The idea of decorating the dresses of the character can be traced here. The shape of the garment the dolls are wearing is very simple, a rectangle to be honest, but the patterns and especially embroidery turn them into something precious, even something regal.
I was debating whether or not to include a ruffle to these characters through the whole process. I made some sketches before starting with and without a ruffle around their necks and was leaning towards not adding one when I started the actual making process. During it I changed my mind and wanted to highlight the Baroque feel of the characters. This silhouette of a black dress with an elaborate ruffle is something I've used before, too. In this statuette (link) I used air-drying clay as the sculpting material and used tea bags as the ruffle. I've always loved Rococo period, but it seems Baroque is way more presented in my art!
One more thing, like TV character Lieutenant Columbo, before getting onward with the process. I want to share how I incorporated the quarter theme of "Transparent" in my project. The first idea was to include little wings to the characters. Even though I was thinking about birds, I didn't want to include feathered wings but instead something more delicate. Scrapcosy stamp set (ESC23) with beautiful blooms for the dresses and butterflies for the wings seemed the perfect pairing to these characters! I wanted to highlight the delicate nature of the wings by making them translucent and used a transparency as my substrate. I also made the paints more transparent and even included a translucent polymer clay in the make. But more about those a bit later.
At this point I also knew the color scheme. As I was doing a raven or a crow, I wanted to go with a monochromatic color scheme with grey and black. Fresco Finish acrylic paint Little Black Dress (FF19) was an obvious choice but for the grey I had some options. In the end I went with this neutral grey tone, Elephant (FF64). The grey was also a perfect paint to add a bit of weathered look to the garment, like it would be made of an old piece of cloth. I also chose a blue to go with the palette, as there might be this blueish shine in the pitch black feathers. I pondered between a vibrant blue and a muted one and in the end chose a greyish blue of Blue Jeans (FF168) as it went nicely with the weathered idea. I also needed a medium to thin the paint to translucent. For that I chose Satin Glaze (FF23). I also bought some black linen for the garment and black, pale pink and translucent white polymer clay for the moulded parts. Then I was ready to go and try to turn the picture in my head into an actual puppet!
The first thing I did for my doll was to make the heads. I mentioned already that I was aiming to make a crow and that was the first bird I sculpted. I also made another bird head while at it. As the crow was the first idea, I needed another bird with a mainly black head. The first that popped in my mind was a great tit. It was ideal also because the shape of the head was so totally different! As I've not sculpted a lot, I really liked the challenge and the idea of creating these shapes.
Like in my previous go with a polymer clay, the Anteros (link), I again sought advice from my co-worker and polymer clay artist. To reduce both the weight of the head and the amount of clay needed, I made a tight ball out of kitchen foil and covered it with polymer clay. On top of this ball I then started to add the beak, eye sockets and other details. If you are not keen to try your hand at sculpting, there's different moulds available that might help you with your puppet. Other option is to go with a very stylized and paint the details. Or maybe you could rummage a flea market for a head?
When I then had my heads done I made some hands. Like I said before, I wanted those to be a bit translucent so I mixed half and half of translucent white and pale pink polymer clay. The look was ok, but next time I might experiment with even more translucent white to get even more fairy or even ghost like complexion.
After having sculpted everything, I then baked the pieces in the oven according to instructions. I wanted the beaks to be more smooth than the rest of the heads so I sanded them with very fine grit sandpaper. This turned the black polymer clay in dark grey, but that didn't bother me as I was going to add a layer of lacquer on top of the beak anyway. I didn't dare to try to use for example the Satin Glaze (FF23) to add a coat on top as I remembered my friend warning me that some acrylic paints might leave the polymer clay sticky and that she only recommends using a polymer clay lacquer to be sure. So, I used her advice and added a couple of coats of lacquer on top of the beaks to make them shiny. I thought this created a nice contrast between the matte head, and body for that matter, and shiny beak.
Now that I had the heads and hands done, it was time to turn my attention to the other elements of the puppets. As I knew the main body would be same time easy and time consuming, I decided to make the other add-ons ready to go and stamped some butterflies on top of transparency. As it's a plastic, non-absorbing surface, I needed an ink to fit that and used StazOn. I was a bit hesitant if the small butterfly from Scrapcosy set (ESC23) was too small, but I still stamped it and thought to try when I had the doll a bit more ready. I turned out that my first thoughts were right and I used the biggest butterfly in both of these in the end. I left the butterflies to air dry when I continued with the project.
Now that I had the basic shapes of my add-on elements done, it was time to turn my attention to the main attraction!
While your eyes probably turn automatically to the heads of the dolls, I wanted the main emphasis of the work to be in the garment. I imagined this old looking piece of fabric, showing its age and the years. Of course I could have rummaged flea markets for such an item, but I could create that myself, too!
I chose the Scrapcosy stamp set (ESC23) because of the blooms and the wings, like I mentioned. The two florals in the set were just stunning and I could see them easily as embroidered motifs or patterns in a brocade. To get me started on creating such a fabric I first stamped the florals on top of a piece of black linen. I used Fresco Finish Elephant (FF64) to stamp the patterns. I find it easier to stamp with paint when I brayer it to a gel printing plate and use that as a stamp pad of sorts. When you're using paint with your stamps, remember to clean them well and don't let the paint to dry on them. If you feel protective of your stamps, there's also a wide variety of inks available suitable for fabric.
As I was going for a weathered, worn look anyway, it didn't matter if the images stamped perfectly or not. If you want a more detailed, precise look, you can stamp a bigger piece of fabric and choose the perfect part for the dress or use an embroidery paper that dissolves in water. Stamp on top, adhere the sticky backed motif in place and then embroider through the paper.
After stamping the motifs I then used embroidery to turn the fabric to a more fancy one. For the crow I used just grey and black for the flowers and green for the leaves, but in the great tit I chose to go with yellow flowers. I didn't embroider the flowers entirely nor the leaves, but left part of the flower always just stamped. To my eye this heightened the worn look. I used satin stitch for the petals, French knots for the centers and straight stitches for the leaves.
When I had the embroidery done, I then sewed the fabric into a pouch with two small openings in the corners for the hands. In a later stage I cut a small hole to the center of the top fold to get the head through. At this stage I still thought to make a hand puppet style doll, like an upside down bag with hands in the corners and head in the middle of the bottom.
By now the ink on the stamped butterflies was thoroughly dry, so I could add some color to the wings. I say color, but with the crow I stuck to the monochrome line and just used grey and black in the butterfly, too. For the great tit I used a vibrant yellow Fresco Finish Zesty Zing (FF47), but for the crow I went with the Elephant (FF64) I had already used and Little Black Dress (FF19). To make the colors more translucent, I mixed Satin Glaze (FF23) to them. Especially working on a non-absorbing surface, I couldn't use water to dilute the pigment as I then dilute the binder as well and the paint won't stick anymore. So, a medium that dries clear was perfect to get the color translucent and didn't dilute the binder! Making such glazes is also very handy in acrylic paintings or in art journaling as you can layer the paint differently than just by painting over.
I also thought about adding paint to the heads at this stage, but thought it would be better done when the dress was attached. Kind of hiding the seam in a way, letting the color bleed from the polymer clay head to the fabric torso.
I left the butterfly wings to dry for a while before I cut them loose. Then I poked a couple of holes to the center to be able to sew the wings to the back of the dress.
Talking about the dress, next thing I did was to combine the head, hands and the dress. I used sturdy gel medium to attach the elements together but made the openings a bit smaller with some stitching, too.
I then left the doll alone for a while as the medium needed some drying time. That also gave me a little time to ponder and consider my next step.
I mentioned that I was going for a hand puppet style doll, but now it seemed that I needed to change my course a little bit. The doll looked too flat! I guess you all know how a hand puppet looks when it's left on the desk or floor. It's quite a sad character as it needs the puppeteer's hand inside to make it alive in many ways - to animate it but also give it some bulk and shape.
Luckily that lack of shape was quite an easy fix, I just turned the hand puppet into a stick puppet! I inserted and adhered a wooden stick to the head and then added stuffing around it, near the head, to make a body of sorts to the bird. I also added a gathering around the neck to make the sleeves shorter and also add volume to the body.
To alter the baggy shape even further, I added some padding near the hands, too, and then sewed a gathering there. This made the sleeves look a bit voluminous Baroque style and added more structure to the whole thing. The bird wasn't wearing a basic sack anymore but instead it had more of a shaped robe.
I also sewed the wings in place to the back of the dress at this stage. Or should I say, re-stitched as I was experimenting with the shape with this first puppet and had sewn the wings in place after adding the hands and head in place. As I altered the shape of the body and especially I made the gathering around the neck, the wings placement changed and I needed to take them of and re-attach a bit lower. The great tit version was so much easier to construct as I had then already a detailed plan what to do!
This wasn't a big twist but in my opinion made a huge difference to the shape of the character! Now thinking back, it also made it easier to take photos of the ready dolls as they have some shape already, not needing a filling inside to give it shape and structure.
Now that all the hurdles had been jumped, it was time for the finishing touches. I have been stating I wanted a worn, weathered look the whole time so now it was time to do it! I used the same Fresco Finish paint Elephant (FF64) there as I used to stamp the motifs in the first place. I used dry-brushing to add a dusty look all over the outfit. This way the grey paint highlighted the shape and was "gathered" to the tops of the material. I also brushed the paint on top of the embroidered flowers. On the front I used only Fresco Finish Elephant (FF64), but on the back, where I didn't add any embroidered flowers, I added tiny touches of Blue Jeans (FF168) as well.
I also added dry-brushing to the head of the character and small touches to the hands, too.
As a finishing touch I added little details to the dress. I had been pondering and going back and forward about the ruffle through out the process, but as the shape of the dress now was sort of Baroque anyway, a ruffle seemed appropriate. I couldn't decide between an old beige lace and a more modern grey one so I used them both! Again I added a gathering to the edge of the lace and then tightened the strip around the neck of the crow. He also got a loose bow or a cravat of sorts from a crinkle ribbon.
The final step was to add two glass beads to his eyes. I wanted to save that to the last as I didn't want any paint on them! Those gave him an intense, intelligent gaze and made him more alive than the empty eye sockets.
And there he is, a ready crow doll! I took the photos with some old apothecary bottles as his shape and coloration started reminding me about Il medico della peste commedia del'arte character, although that character usually has a white mask. Still, I imagined him as a doctor of the 17th century and the great tit character as his wife. Somehow I spun a story about them living in the Netherlands in my head!
I enjoyed this project so much! When I was studying in Turku Polytechnic, I had one class about different theater dolls and during that course I did a marionette. Even if the construction is much simpler in these, it's fun to see how far I've become when it comes to the shape and character. Like I said in the beginning, these two birds sparked something inside me and I intend to make more of these in the future! Maybe it's even connected to the story part that started to evolve in my head - I love to conjure stories! Maybe I'll make them some relatives next, or who knows, maybe a whole family tree!
I know these characters might look intimidating to try to imitate or remake, but really they aren't. The two major things are the sculpting of the heads and hands, which you can avoid and then the embroidery part but you can skip that, too. Like I suggested earlier, you can see if you can use moulds for the heads, buy ready heads or then simplify. But if you haven't tried your hand at sculpting before, I urge you to have a go. If a polymer clay seems too pricey or difficult, use papermaché instead or carve the face out of polystyrene. There's something exhilarating about going for a 3D form if you're used to 2D painting or drawing. Experimenting and learning new things is essential to creativity, don't you think?
If embroidery is not for you, think about just stamping the fabric. Maybe you could highlight the motifs with a couple of sequins or pearls? Those can be glued onto, too! Or in all honesty, you can use a ready patterned piece of fabric, too. Maybe recycle an old pillow case, favorite piece of clothing and make it a dimensional art piece. This way it already carries a meaning and a story as it encompasses the feelings associated with the piece of fabric. But let me just also state, I really don't like to embroider and still managed to do these! I marvel the art of embroidery but as usually my process is quite speedy and embroidery isn't, it's something I dislike and avoid. But here it was just the thing the dolls needed for that special touch! To give them the time and the concentration and the feel. Just take the embroidery also as something new to try and you might be surprised about the outcome!