my art process
I’ve had some questions about how my creative process works, so thought i’d try and write a bit about that.
It starts with an idea, which is really just a long series of silent, mysterious events hidden in caves that are deep inside my brain, which I don’t really understand. Once something starts emerging from the depths, I start sketching, thinking, sketching, trying to figure out if my brain wants this doll to be small, how small? big- how big? Covered in skin or feathers? Does it sit, stand, bend, wave hello? Is it carved of wood or made of clay? Is it alive or has its time passed? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll devote the rest of this writing to small, human-ish, made-of-clay dolls (larger papier-mâché dolls, busts, feathered, carved of wood, anatomicals- that’s a whole other process).
Bending wire is the first part of the physical process, it’s essentially making the skeleton. If I know the size and general look of the doll, I can start bending wire into a torso, neck, head. I then bend wires into hips, legs, feet, arms and hands with teeny tiny fingers. I use different types and gauges of wire for different projects and body parts, and my needle nose pliers are never out of reach. And my fingers are often covered in bandaids.
Once the wires are in a somewhat human form, I add armature material and then I get to start adding clay. I start shaping, adding, subtracting. The face takes a particularly long time. I’m often flipping through old photos of family members, looking at old dolls, doing more sketching. This process needs to be done in layers, which all require wait/drying time. Once part of the doll is dry, it will need sanding. Sculpting is the most time consuming and satisfying part of the process- this is when I really know if what I unearthed from my cave-brain can actually exist in three dimensions.
Once the clay has been shaped, sanded and dried, it’s time to paint. This is done in layers as well. I start with a base color and build from there, sanding as I go. I often find I need to go back and add or subtract clay at this point- the nose isn’t quite right, I’m not liking how the forehead is shaped, etc etc. so, I go back to steps 2 & 3. But the painting- oh, I love this part- this is when I often start to catch a glimpse of who this little person is. Sometimes not! Sometimes, I need to start layering and sanding and maybe even clay-ing all over again because it’s just not right, it’s just not happening. The eyes have no soul, the mouth is way too frowny, what did I do to her cheek? Damn. Sandpaper! Clay- where are you?!
Now this naked, sanded, bald little creature is sitting in my hand. I need to give her some skin and or clothing. Making body-coverings for teeny little people can be really lovely, but I’m not really a sew-er. I can do a basic stitch, but I don’t really know *how* to make clothes properly.
I first need to figure out what type of fabric is the right one for the specific doll, then hunt through drawers and boxes. Some of it is bits and pieces of old clothes that I’ve worn or thrifted, some of it is beautiful cotton or linen that I’ve bought, some of it is from very, very old, worn out fragile Victorian clothing remnants that I’ve purchased from antique shops and estate sales.
I will then cut or rip the fabric into pieces and then slowly start to piece them back together in a form that makes sense to me. I’m definitely learning as I go, but how I clothe the figures I make is a very primitive act for me, and I like it like that. My instinct is really just to wrap and stitch.
Typically, i use either mohair or alpaca wool for dolls hair. With my painted and dressed doll in my lap, I sort through my boxes of wool and see what seems to be the right match. I will then attach a piece of fabric to the dolls scalp and start adding the hair to that. Shaping, glueing, stitching as I go.
The story of a doll emerges slowly and at different times through the process. It usually starts at the very beginning, with the visual idea of a doll. From there, it takes wee twists and turns along the way. Sometimes the story is completely different from where it started- an idea will come to me in the middle of something else (talking with friends, sleeping, reading, dinner for some reason) and I’ll need to give it all a rethink, and everything might change. By the time the doll is sitting in my lap, with clothing and hair, I know this little person very well. I know where she came from, what her home looks like, who her friends are and how she spends her day.
The last part of this creative process is a team effort. This is when my husband John takes photos of the dolls. This usually involves waiting for the sun, rearranging all of the furniture multiple times, the right soundtrack, lots of tea, (and trying to distract our dog who all of a sudden needs lots of attention). This is by far the most stressful part of creating for me. Not until John has taken his photos, do I really know if these dolls match the idea of them that has grown in my head. If I’ve done things right, then he can magically capture all of the emotions I have invested in them. At this stage, I may still need to pull the doll back into the workshop and make some changes.
I am extraordinarily lucky to have such a talented photographer in my house.
Thank you for reading about my brain and it’s doings!