Art Dolls: Survival of the Cutest

Epiphanies can come in the strangest of places. My latest one occurred when I was sitting in a dental chair, getting a check-up. My dentist gets a kick out of my random adventures, and always asks what I’m up to at the moment. On this morning, he asked about my work-in-progress novel, and we began talking about its title, which I’ve been considering changing. Our conversation flows well, seemingly choreographed. He talks when he’s cleaning my teeth, and I respond when he stops to change instruments. It could be a comedy sketch, but we make it work. But that’s when it came to me: A stronger title and subtitle that will appeal to the mass audiences and put my book on the NY Best Seller list. Right? Maybe. Hey—a lady can dream! And we do, in the most unexpected places. I sat up, almost hitting my head on the overhead dental lamp, and he gave me a pen and a piece of paper torn hastily from my chart so that I could jot down my idea. As I did so, apologizing for my eccentricity, he said, “Are you kidding? I love watching artists and seeing how they think!”

Art dolls by Debbie Crane

I think Debbie Crane can empathize with my spontaneous enlightenment. She explains her awe of artistic epiphanies in Cloth Paper Scissors: “In 2005, I was privileged to study with the great Thomas Mann in a one-week workshop. I never was, am not, and do not intend to be a jeweler or metalsmith. I wanted to spend five days in the presence of this great maker for only one reason: to witness his creative process. The creative process is right up there with mysteries of the universe like Mona Lisa’s smile and how those tiny wings keep the bumblebee in flight. An artist makes it look easy, as if the Idea Fairy had flown by and whispered the ideal materials and dimensions in her ear.

“I spend a lot of time reflecting on my own process: thinking, scribbling notes on the back of receipts, and considering ways to perfect things I have already made. In October 2008, I began making some simple dolls. I created five versions of the doll—all in multiples—before getting it just right.”

Debbie goes on to explain her concept for these creative art dolls in the feature article, “Art Doll Evolution.” Here’s a preview of it, for your inspiration.

Survival of the Cutest by Debbie Crane

I was feeling restless one Sunday afternoon. A rough idea for a doll had been rattling around in the back of my head for weeks. I made a quick sketch and went right to fabric. I stamped a face onto muslin and stitched it onto the body, which was a head, torso, and legs in one piece. I machine stitched four of the dolls, but they were quite small to begin with, so that by the time I stitched around the legs, they were tiny. When I turned the tiny legs right-side out and stuffed them, I kept accidentally ripping out their little crotches. The “surgical repairs” were not pretty!

I really wanted these dolls to be simple, so I took the form back to its simplest shape—a rectangle. I cut out two rectangles, about 2″ × 6″ each, stitched them together, turned them right-side out, and stuffed them lightly. Then I used embroidery floss to sew a channel down the center of the rectangle to create the look of two legs. This gave me the look I wanted without the trouble, but now everybody had—eek—cankles!

Back to the drawing board for a minor adjustment. I tapered the lower half of the body, starting at about the waist, to give the legs a more delicate shape. While creating this batch, I tinkered with the wire in the arms, too. These finished dolls were much more pleasing to my aesthetic, and I happily made many of them throughout the holiday season to give as gifts and dangle from branches. I settled on a name for these colorful little ladies: Good Girls.

Sometime around March I started thinking that I should man up and paint my own faces on the dolls. Making my own faces allows me to show a wider range of emotion on my dolls than the rubber stamps. But I was worried I would wreck the doll with a badly painted face. I compromised by painting simple faces on muslin, cutting them out, and stitching them to the dolls.

But after making a few faces this way, I threw caution to the wind and—gasp—painted directly onto the doll. I am amazed at how a small shift in a line or two can completely change a face. This fifth and final version will stick, I think. When I look at a finished doll now, I feel no need to change it. ~D.C.

Read the full article and get Debbie’s instructions on how to make these art dolls in Cloth Paper Scissors. Even better—get a digital subscription today, and never miss an issue full of mixed-media art techniques and more. In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy an epiphany yourself soon, and that you relish in your creativity!



3D Art and Assemblage, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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