Saturday, February 16, 2008

The new one - the first stages

The process with every project I do is different - sometimes I get an idea how I want it to look as a finished product (not that the finished product usually mirrors my original vision when I get done monkeying with it), sometimes I just get a snippet that inspires me to start (a glimpse of another artwork, some visual on TV or in a magazine, or occasionally pure inspiration.) More often it's work. Sometimes it's a blend of both. At my sister's insistence, I'm trying to more precisely document the process on this doll, which I need to finish by February 22nd. No pressure.

The doll I started with (forgot to take a "before" pic, when she had hair) did not have the typical Barbie heart-shaped face - she is a little more exotic looking; almond eyes, heavier lips. At the thrift stores I deliberately seek out dolls that look different from the usual - even if their faces will be covered with tissue and painted over, the underlying structure makes a difference.

Getting them bald is very therapeutic - I cut the hair as short as possible with scissors, then use needlenose pliers to yank the little tufts out one at a time. It's much, much easier to pull the little tufts out from the *inside* of the head, but the way the doll heads are put on these days, it's far too easy to accidentally break off the ball that holds everything in place, and it's no fun trying to get the head to stay on again without that ball, so I do it the harder-but-less-complicated way.

On occasion, working with mixed media is as much an engineering project as it is art. In this case, I wanted the skirt to be conical, so I had to figure out how to create a cone sturdy enough to hold up the figure but flexible enough not to bend and leave ugly creases in the surface that I'd have to then smooth out with paperclay. (Note: Not so successful on this part. More later.)

Step 1: The cone. I knew the shape had to start as a circle in order for me to end up with a wedge of the correct size, a straight-edged curved piece (probably some word for it, I don't know), wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, with an echoing curve along the top edge for the opening that would encase her body. Fine. How to get that? Oh, and it would need to meet precisely at the edges and be flat on the bottom so she'll stand firm. I figured this out while getting ready for work one morning, so at 7:45 a.m. I was standing in my dining room with a piece of poster board, with a flat thumbtack pushed up through the middle, and a pencil on a 14" long string with a loop at the loose end that could go around the point of the tack, so I could scribe a circle. (Posterboard is not 28" wide, by the way, which could be important in some situations but was not a deal-breaker here.) Later that night I cut out the circle, cut out a circle from the center (my roll of masking tape was the right size), slit it up tbrough one edge, and proceeded to overlap it and squinch it down until it was the right size to hold a doll. It was at this moment I realized I could have just cut out a quarter of the circle and saved myself some time and effort, but hey, I learn by doing. And the other point of this is that the posterboard was just supposed to be a template for the real material that I wanted to use for the skirt.

Step 2: The real material. The previous figure was framed in a kind of cardboard, about the weight of the back of a legal pad, which I salvaged from the office and which cut cleanly and held up very well. Terrific, I thought, I'll just cut the "skirt" out of that. Nice try. It doesn't flex enough. (Even when put into the microwave for about 30 seconds. Hey, did you know cardboard will scorch in the microwave?) Bottom line is, it's too stiff to form into a cone, so we're back to the poster board, which turns out to be not quite right either, but at this point I can either tear off the whole thing and start fresh, or put up with the poster board's limitations (like I can't put a lot of paperclay over it, because it absorbs the water and the posterboard collapses a little, leaving me with bit divots to try to fill in. Fortunately, the unryu [mulberry tissue] I cover it with will disguise a multitude of ills.)

Step 3: The bottom is just a circle of the heavier cardboard, taped into place with masking tape. All of this will be covered with multiple layers of unryu and glue and then painted. The unryu and glue also make the whole thing stronger than the posterboard by itself. Oh, and I stuff the space around her legs with polyfill so she doesn't move around. Also helps with the structural integrity.

I'll post more later about how she got to this point. Enough pics already.


KatDoc said...

thank you for the step-by-step photos. i appreciate seeing how you get the dolls looking the way you do (even though i still don't grok the whole art doll thing.)

love her face - very exotic. please don't disguise her!


Lisa said...

Oops, too late. She has been transformed into the grieving Goddess Demeter, wandering the barren land in despair searching for her kidnapped daughter... Will post pics later!