Don’t Spill the Coffee!

So in a couple of conversations with Firstborn Son about my work, he has urged me to do some blog posts which describe the process of creating a doll. At first I resisted because I am still pretty new to this field, and I do a LOT of experimenting. And some of my experiments make me feel a little bit foolish afterward because in hindsight, well DUH, obviously THAT was never gonna work! And why would I want to put all my vulnerability out there in the world for everyone to see and laugh at? But Firstborn Son says no, really, I should try it. People will find it interesting, he says. No one is going to judge you. And Firstborn Son is a pretty savvy guy.

So okay. Even though I feel a little bit like I’m standing up here in my underwear, I’m going to share some of my recent experiments. Let me know what you think!

Here’s what happened: after I finished Contemplation I realized I wanted to do some more contemporary figures. I thought it would be fun to depict some of the sort of people you might see in a coffee shop. I sculpted a couple of heads (more on those later).

Once I got the heads done, I was ready to move on to the hands. But in order to do the hands, I need to know how they’re going to be posed and what, if anything, they’ll be holding. Well, obviously, they are going to need some coffee.

So I made a coffee cup. It was pretty easy. After a little experimentation, I had the right shapes. The cup is made from a sheet of Bristol board and the cardboard sleeve from a pizza box.


I glued the sides of the cup together (I didn’t take a picture, but you can probably figure out how that worked!), then put glue on the tabs for the bottom.


I inserted the bottom:


And pushed it around and fiddled with it until I had it where I wanted it, let the glue dry, and — voila! — a paper coffee cup!


As I said, that was pretty easy.

But then I had to figure out how to make a lid. And that was the hard part. Coffee cup lids are really complicated!


I puzzled over it for a while, and then headed out to A.C.Moore for some inspiration. (I wonder what they think of me when I go into a craft store and then just wander s-l-o-w-l-y up and down the aisles like a zombie!) Anyway, I was pretty pleased when I found these little jars of paint that had lids that were almost exactly the right size for my coffee cup. They were really cheap, too — something like 99 cents for five of them.


I cut the lid off one of the jars and trimmed off all the little protrusions that were sticking out of it, made a hole with a needle I had heated in a candle flame, put a coat of white paint on it, and it was perfect!


There was just one teeny, tiny little problem.

It didn’t look a thing like a real coffee cup lid. And that just wasn’t going to do.

So next I tried making one out of polymer clay. . .


It sucked.

Maybe if I made it a little bit simpler . . .


Nope. Still sucks.

So this time I went to Michaels for inspiration, and wandered s-l-o-w-l-y up and down the aisles. I came home with a whole bag full of stuff and did some more experimenting. And here’s what I ended up with:


Not perfect, but definitely the best one yet. Wanna know how I did it? Okay, I’ll tell you. In fact, I’ll write a whole tutorial for you!

Ahem. My first tutorial on art doll and miniature making. (Since this is now a tutorial, I’m obliged to use the imperative case.) Pay attention!


 You need two round templates. One needs to be exactly the same diameter as the rim of your cup, and the other slightly smaller. It’s easiest if you can find templates that have an edge, as you will see. In my case, the little paint jar from my first experiment was perfect for the larger template. I ran a Sharpie around the edge:


And made a print of it on a piece of Bristol board:


If you can’t find something with an edge, you can use a button or a coin or whatever you can find, and just trace around the outside of it.

Cut that circle out just outside the lines. You want it to be slightly larger than the rim of your coffee cup.


Now you’re going to use the same template to cut a circle out of a piece of craft foam. Again, having that edge made it easier, because I could use it to impress the circle into the foam:


But again, you could trace around the outside. This time cut right on the line.

Now center the smaller template inside the foam circle and either impress it or trace around it. I used a pastry nozzle for my second template.


Make two of these:


And use a sharp craft knife to cut them as in the photo below. (I know, they’re a little rough. I could spend the next two hours trying to make perfect ones, or I could go ahead and write this tutorial. You get the idea):


Glue the one with the D-shaped cutout to the Bristol circle, and glue the ring on top of that. Then trim away most of the excess of the bottom circle, leaving just the tiniest little lip:


Now measure the height of the two foam pieces, and cut a strip of paper that size. Mine was just over 1/8″.


Glue the paper around the edge of the foam pieces to disguise the seam and make everything look nice and smooth:


You might want to put some weight in the bottom of your coffee cup to give it some stability. I squirted a little bit of hot glue in mine. Then I hot-glued the lid onto the cup.


And it was done! It’s not perfect — the lip on the bottom is simpler than the one on a real lid, and I haven’t figured out how to make the hole in the top. But the overall impression is pretty good, I think.

Whew! Look at that — I survived standing up in front of everyone in my underwear! Maybe I’ll do this again!



Have you ever read something that was so beautifully written that you had to stop reading for a moment to just think about it? I love that. Sometimes it’s the idea behind the writing, and sometimes it’s the writing itself — the way the author has put together sounds and syllables and meanings. It’s that moment that I’ve tried to capture with my latest piece, “Contemplation.”


This is a departure from my earlier nursery rhyme and fantasy work. I wanted to make a more realistic figure, and I wanted the expression to be more nuanced.


I spent a day or two drafting a full-size guide (she’s about 18″ tall, by the way) so I could to ensure I got her proportions right.


I was able to lay the armature right up against the drawing to be sure I got her limbs the right length, and I could compare the sculpted head and hands and feet to the drawing. It turned out to be a good system, and she came together pretty well.

Until  . . . .

. . .  it came time to dress her.

Oh boy.

Did she ever turn out to have a mind of her own!

See, having been focused on historic costumes for all of my other dolls, I wanted this one to have a more timeless feel. I was strongly influenced by dolls like this one by Tamara Pivnyuk:


And this one by Tatiana Baeva:


And this one by Victoria Minenko:


And I just love this one. I keep seeing it on Pinterest, but I don’t know who the artist is. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can give credit:


Anyway, I was thinking the costume for Contemplation would have some of the same sort of dreamy, lost-in-time, not-quite-of-this-world feel to it.

But I was wrong.

I made her a skirt. A beautiful, multi-layered dupioni and velvet skirt in shades of rust and burgundy and muted green. With pleats and raw edges.

But when I put it on her, I swear she refused to wear it. Okay, I realise most of you are giving me a virtual side-eye right now. And I promise, I didn’t actually hear her talk. But honestly — this doll had already taken on a personality of her own, and she wasn’t having anything to do with the beautiful silk skirt.

So I took the skirt back off her and decided to start with the top. I made her a bodice. It was a deep, rich iridescent silk chiffon. It had tiny little pleats across the bosom and intricately cut sleeves. It was gorgeous.

She hated it.

She wanted to wear denim cutoffs. And a black tee shirt. And thigh-high stockings. Seriously.

So, after a couple more failed attempts to do something timeless, I gave in and made her thoroughly contemporary. She got her cutoffs and her tee shirt and her stockings. I gave her a pair of ankle boots. She seemed happy.

Then I made her a perfectly nice cardigan. You know, long and slouchy and maybe a little bit hipster. And you know what happened next.

She refused to wear that too. She wanted a scarf.


Who knew an 18″ doll could be so bossy?

But she turned out to be right. Now that she’s done I can’t imagine her being anyone other than who she is. And once I accepted that she was going to be contemporary, I actually enjoyed working on the costume. I liked making the shorts. I cut up a pair of toddler jeans and I was able to use the flat-felled seams for the side seams of the doll’s shorts.


But the original seams were too bulky for the crotch seams, so I faked the stitching with paint. I think it came out pretty well!


I also liked making the boots. This was definitely the most complicated footwear I have attempted so far, and while they’re not perfect, they’re not too bad.


I also kinda like her hair. It’s really messy, but that seems right for her.


It’s a lot like my own hair. A whole lot. In fact, it is my own hair. Early in the summer I had several inches cut off, and I asked my hair stylist if I could take it home with me. She didn’t bat an eye (she knows me). She just swept it up and put it in a bag. And now I’ve finally had a chance to use it!

So there she is. Contemplation. I hope you like her. I do. In fact, I like her so much that my next doll is going to be contemporary too. Stay tuned!



Something Crooked This Way Comes

Hello again darlings! Ready? Here we go!


IMG_2622There was a crooked man . . .


IMG_2615Who went a crooked mile . . .


IMG_2614And he found a crooked sixpence . . .


IMG_2610Upon a crooked stile.


catHe had a crooked cat . . .


IMG_2613That caught a crooked mouse . . .


And they all lived together in a crooked little house!28027834155_aee58d99cd

(Okay, I didn’t make the house. “Dammit Jim, I’m a doll maker, not an architect!”)

photo credit: <a href=”″>Leaning To The Left</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;



‘Til next time, ta ta!


Rub-a Dub-Dub

Rub-a-Dub-Dub . . .  c’mon, say it with me. You know it:

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, three men in a tub . . .

But do you know the rest?

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, three men in a tub, and who do you think was there? The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker, and all of them gone to the fair!


Oh, this one was so much fun! These three guys have all spent the day at a fair, and now they’re making their way home with all their stuff!

The Butcher bought some livestock:

IMG_2511_picmonkeyedBut the piglet and the chicken aren’t too happy about it — they’re both doing their best to escape.

The Baker bought some apples.

IMG_2514I wish I could taste some of whatever he’s going to make with them!

He also won first prize for his cherry pie!


The Candlestick-maker apparently was trying to sell his wares at the fair, but wasn’t able to get rid of all of them, so he’s carrying them home again.


And look: he bought some toys for his children! A ball-and-cup game for his son, and a corn husk dolly for his little girl. What a good father!


But the candy apple is just for him. (He just couldn’t resist!)


Someone also bought something that’s wrapped up in brown paper. It sure is crowded in that tub!


But here’s the strange thing about this nursery rhyme: why on earth are they in a tub? That makes no sense at all!

Well, there’s one rather titillating possible explanation. As with most folk literature, there are variations on this poem. There are a number of different versions of the last line. But I have read that one early version of the poem had the ending I quoted, but with a very important difference near the beginning. Instead of three men in the tub, there were three maids in the tub — suggesting that the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker were looking at a peep show at the fair!

What naughty boys!

But that can’t be right. They don’t look a bit ashamed!

The Butcher:IMG_2525

The Baker:IMG_2524

And the Candlestick-Maker!IMG_2523

Celestial Housekeeping

Hello again! Want to meet Griselda? She comes from an old nursery rhyme.

There was an old woman . . . .


Tossed up in a basket . . .


Seventeen times as high as the moon!

And what she did there, I could not but ask it — for with her she carried a broom . . .

broom (1)

“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” said I, “Whither oh whither oh whither so high?”

“To sweep the cobwebs from the sky.”


“And I’ll be back again, by and by!”


I loved working on Griselda! She was so friendly and sweet and just seemed to want to come to life. I particularly enjoyed costuming her. Isn’t the fabric of her bodice and overskirt perfect for sky-sweeping? It looks like stars to me. (It used to be a necktie. I was so excited when I found it!)

And this was my first attempt at sculpting shoes. I thought they turned out pretty well!


Oh, and I made her basket too. I couldn’t find one that looked right and was small enough, so I used a little box. I glued pieces of bamboo skewers onto it and covered it with raffia. Boy did that take a long time! Who knew raffia and glue don’t play well together? But it was worth it. See? It’s not really a basket — it just looks like one from the outside.


Dearly Beloved says Griselda looks like Mother Goose, and I agree. She was clearly influenced by the cover of the Mother Goose book I had as a child. Which — now that I look at it as an adult — is kinda creepy. Mother Goose looks a lot like a witch. And I think she must have kidnapped that baby, which appears to be about to fall out of the basket! (And the goose doesn’t look all that happy either.)



Sheesh — I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares. Maybe that’s why I’m afraid of heights to this day.

But Griselda would never kidnap a baby. She’s much too sweet. She just keeps things nice and tidy up in the sky.


Well that’s all for today, darlings. Ta-ta! See you next time, when I’ll bring along THREE new friends!

Aloysius Wishes

So here is Aloysius.

front view

And I have a confession: I have no idea what he is thinking. Isn’t it funny how I make these little people, and then sometimes I don’t know things about them? I mean, it’s like having children. They come from your body, you think you know all about them, and then they learn to talk and one day out comes some idea that YOU never put in their heads! And then they start developing all sorts of thoughts and notions and observations of their own, and the NEXT thing you know they’re fully-fledged adults. And off they go, having issues and ambitions and lives of their own. I mean, really!

No, wait, how did I get off on that tangent? I meant to be telling you about Aloysius. Oh by the way, you do know how to pronounce Aloysius, don’t you? It’s Al-Oh-WISH-Us. Which is funny, because when you look at the letters it doesn’t seem like it would be pronounced that way. It looks like it should be Ah-LOY-See-Us. Or maybe Ah-LOY-Shus. But it’s Al-Oh-WISH-Us. I mean, it’s like Sean. THAT looks like it should be pronounced the same way as “seen.” But it’s not. And then there’s Wednesday. And February. And colonel. Seriously — why is it pronounced ker-nel, and not col-oh-nel? And asthma. And receipt. And miscellaneous. And hyperbole. Don’t even get me STARTED on hyperbole!

No, no wait! I really did mean to be telling you about Aloysius. But my thoughts kept wandering off in different directions. So anyway, he was another intuitive one, like Bernard. I didn’t really have a particular image in my head when I started sculpting. I just kinda let him emerge. He has really big feet because I was hoping he would be able to stand on his own, but he’s just too top-heavy, so I ended up having to attach him to a stand.


His hands are clasped behind his back, which made costuming him pretty challenging, because I had to construct his clothes right on his body. Obviously, he couldn’t put his arms through the sleeves, right?

back view

And he came out looking all dreamy, like he’s wishing for something. Or maybe he’s remembering something nice. Or I don’t know — maybe he’s just letting his thoughts wander.


Which is a really strange phrase, when you stop to think about it. Letting one’s thoughts wander. Like they’re separate from one’s self and can just move around at will. I mean, thoughts originate in your head, right? So how could they just wander off? Where would they go? It’s not like they’re livestock. It makes sense that a cow or something might wander off . . . the cow might be looking for food . . . which reminds me, I need to go to the grocery store  . . . I wonder what we should have for dinner tonight . . .  maybe spaghetti . . .  now see? Spaghetti’s another weird word . . .


Cedrick and Hasenpfeffer Take The Air On A Fine Summer Morning and Miss Virginia Learns a Lesson

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Hello again everyone! Ready to meet my next new friend? Actually, there are two of them: Cedrick and Hasenpfeffer. They’re so happy to be out walking together on a fine summer morning!

Cedrick is a medieval dandy. See his parti-color stockings? And the oh-so-stylish pointed toes on his shoes?


Would you look at that expensive medallion? And my dear, aren’t the hanging sleeves on his silken tunic just to die for?


And he’s gone and braided silk scarves over the chaperon and liripipe on his head! Look, the liripipe is so long he’s tucked it into his belt!

chaoeron and liripipe

Quite the popinjay, that Cedrick.

Hasenpfeffer doesn’t care about fashion, though. He’s just happy to be out for a walk.

FullSizeRender (2)

(I have no idea what kind of a beast Hasenpfeffer is. Nor do I know why Cedrick named him something so hard to spell!)

I was so pleased with this piece when I finished it. I enjoyed making the base, with its dirt path and little summer flowers.

But uh-oh. Guess what? Cedrick taught me something really important. See this?


It’s a crack in the clay at his ankle. Turns out I didn’t make his internal wire armature strong enough to support him — especially since he was balancing on one leg. After I finished him, Cedrick began to lean over. More and more and more. And the crack got worse and worse. Until it was a complete break.


And poor Cedrick looked like he’d had w-a-a-a-a-a-y too many at the village tavern.

IMG_2509Oh Cedrick, I’m sorry. I feel terrible.

So I put his other leg under him, and now he stands up straight again (more or less). And judging from his expression, he seems to have retained his happy outlook on life.


But his poor ankle is still broken.

So since then, I’ve been making my armatures much, much stronger!



Hello again darlings! What do you think? TWO posts within a single week! Amazing! But I just couldn’t wait to introduce you to my third new friend, March!

March is more or less a nature spirit — a visual metaphor, if you will. She represents the month of March. See how cold and wintry everything is at her feet? Oooh, those poor little cold feet! (but it’s okay — she’s a nature spirit, not a real person — she doesn’t mind, I promise!)


This was the first time I really focused on the base for my doll. Bernard sits on a shelf, and The Baroness stands on a plain wood base. This time I wanted to evoke an environment. You know how everything is just cold and gray and icky and muddy by the end of winter, and you just feel like spring is never going to get here? That’s what I was going for.

IMG_2348 (1)

But March only begins that way. As you go along, signs of spring really do start to appear. See how the mud on her skirt begins to dry, and little bits of pale green foliage begin to emerge?

IMG_2348 (3)

And then — leaves, and blossoms:

IMG_2355 (1)

And a sure sign that spring has truly arrived: a bluebird!



March seems a little surprised, doesn’t she?

I wanted to give the impression that there was a brisk spring breeze, so I stiffened her gown at the bottom. I think it worked pretty well.


So now you’ve met March, my third art doll!

This was my first attempt at making a “pretty lady” doll. I have to admit I’m not entirely satisfied. I think her face and hands could definitely have been more refined, and the pose is a little bit static. But I remind myself that I’m still a beginner. It’s all a wonderful journey.

Until next time darlings — love to you all! Ta ta!

Making Friends

FullSizeRender3Okay, so you remember Bernard, right? From my last post? Waaaaaaaaaay back when? Yeah, I know. I’m not so good at this whole keeping-up-with-the-blog thing. But anyway, I introduced you to Bernard back in December when I had just discovered that I wanted to try making an art doll. I sculpted his head, hands, and feet from polymer clay. His body is a wire armature covered by knit fabric stuffed with polyfil.

FullSizeRender (7)Well, I pretty much fell in love with Bernard and with the whole process of making him. And as I said then, I wanted to try making another one. So I did. . . .

And lo, The Baroness was brought forth!

IMG_2171 (1)

Like Bernard, she’s from the 18th century, but unlike him she has human proportions (and human ears!) She’s a French aristocrat — very wealthy and spoiled. She was quite the coquette in her youth, and she still believes she is very beautiful. And guess what? Her many admirers, of all ages and both genders, all think she is very beautiful also!

IMG_2171 (2)See how artfully she employs her fan?


I really enjoyed making her gown and accessories. Doing the research made me want to watch Dangerous Liaisons again. Lordy, those costumes!


still-of-glenn-close-in-dangerous-liaisons-1988-large-pictureAh, sigh.

Now, The Baroness may be less elaborate, but my dears, she is nevertheless quite stylish. Look! She wears une robe à la française, with “Watteau” pleats in the back!

IMG_2176 (1)

And her hair is dressed à la hedgehog (which is an actual historical style)!


So there you have her. My second art doll. I enjoyed making The Baroness as much as I did Bernard. And after that, I was off and running! Tune in next time for my third little friend, March!



Well hello there! Did you think I was ever coming back? Did you miss me? Did you even notice I was gone? Oh well, doesn’t matter. Here I am again!

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I was coming back either. I’ve been pretty much wandering in the wilderness, creatively speaking, for most of this year. I managed to keep working for a while — I painted a few watercolors, made some clothes (oh, I made the sequined dress I mentioned in my last post — what a production that was! Sequins everywhere!)

But overall, I was just uninspired and BLAH. And I won’t lie — it was hard. I kinda went to a dark place for a little while.

But I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic.


Have you read it? Oh, if you’re a creative type and you haven’t read this book, go out RIGHT NOW and get it. I mean it — she is so positive and optimistic and compassionate and also completely practical about living a creative life. I loved this book so much I did something I’ve never done before — as soon as I finished it, I went back to the beginning and read it straight through again. And something she says in this book really resonated with me. Actually, almost everything she says in this book really resonates with me, but one thing in particular was especially helpful at the time. She says that when you are feeling uninspired you should just relax and allow yourself to be curious about something. She asks, “Is there anything you’re interested in? Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small?” And then she tells the story of how her book The Signature of All Things resulted from a “scavenger hunt of curiosity” that started with a mild interest in planting some flowers. Great story. Great book. Really — read it.

So anyway, I was browsing through magazines one day after reading this book, and to my utter astonishment I found myself curious about something I had never even thought about before: art dolls. I picked up an issue of Art Doll Quarterly, and all of a sudden I wanted to make an art doll. I have absolutely no idea where this idea came from. But I certainly wasn’t interested in any other creative projects, so why not?  Getting started wasn’t expensive — after doing a little bit of research, I bought some polymer clay and the next thing I knew, I was making an art doll! And here is what emerged:


Everyone, meet Bernard. I don’t entirely know where he came from, but here he is. I sculpted his head, hands, and feet from polymer clay. Inside his body is a wire armature, which is covered with a fabric “skin” and stuffed with polyfil. There is a good bit of information online about various aspects of doll-making, but so far I haven’t found any comprehensive tutorial about how to do the whole thing from start to finish, so I kinda made it up as I went along. It was a good learning experience — but much more importantly — I thoroughly enjoyed it! I was excited about figuring things out, excited about trying new techniques, and excited about making something completely new.

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The process was very organic. I didn’t have a particular face in mind when I started sculpting, so I just made features until a personality emerged. Somehow he ended up with really big, pointy ears. I guess he’s a gnome or something. (He hasn’t told me and I’m too polite to ask.)

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It turns out he’s an 18th century gnome/elf/being. See, I had been proceeding with a vague idea that I would costume him in something “elvish,” but it was his hands that changed my mind. I wanted to give him something specific to do, and I decided he should be a tailor with a needle and thread.

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And then when his body was done, it just seemed like a tailor would be wearing breeches and a waistcoat, not leaves or woodland garb or any such nonsense. So he’s very well dressed, you see.

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But then here’s what happened next: I realized that if he’s a well-dressed 18th century tailor (regardless of what species he is), he’s probably going to be wearing stockings and shoes, right? But his clothes aren’t functional — they were partially constructed on his body and they don’t come off — and I really, really like the feet I sculpted! 

I had to come up with a reason for him to be barefoot. So . . . . Bernard became a poor 18th century tailor. His stockings have holes in them, and he has to mend them!

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So, darlings, that’s what’s going on. I missed you regardless of whether you missed me! I don’t know how long I’ll make art dolls. I definitely want to make another one. After that, who knows? Maybe by then I’ll want to go back to drawing or painting or sewing clothes, or maybe I’ll go bounding off down another path, or maybe I’ve just discovered my life’s purpose and I’ll make art dolls from now until I die. It’s all good. But Liz Gilbert — if you ever happen to read this — a huge THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! It’s good to be creating again.