Zen and the art of doll making

When I started doll making this time around (it was a bit of an obsession when I was a little girl), the only thing I was sure of was that I didn’t want to make overly ‘pretty’ dolls or anything too realistic, like the Reborn baby dolls. Bizarrely, I find the very ‘perfect’ dolls rather more unsettling than the deliberately gothic, horror or more arty dolls. So, whilst I wanted to create  something a bit edgy, I didn’t really have much idea of how they would pan out.

I did know that I wanted them to be jointed and to feel like puppets when you held them. I had a Pelham Puppet when I was small (a gypsy, I think she was called Mitzy) and I always loved the sort of floppiness of her compared to a rigid doll. I can’t find a picture of her, but This is Gretel, I think, from the same series.

 Vintage Pelham Marlborough Wilts Hand Made Pup...

Needless to say, I kept taking the strings off to turn her into a doll instead of a puppet, and then my mother would put them back on again. I looked up some info on making ball jointed dolls, but these again all looked too perfect for me, so I decided I would use jewellery techniques and make them with simple loops for the joints. This, I am delighted to report, works perfectly well and as a result the dolls can sit on a shelf with their knees bent and their legs dangling over the edge. If you hold them, they flop, just what I wanted.

Once I started sculpting them (a completely new art form for me having never even considered doing anything quite so messy before), I was really pleased (and a bit surprised) to see how differently they each evolved. They each seem to take on a character and attitude as I make them, and there is never much room for indecision about what they should be wearing or what colour their hair or make up should be. It’s very Zen. 

I make them in threes, because of the drying process in the sculpting. Making a layer on a head, then letting it dry and moving on to the same layer on the next head, etc allows me to keep busy rather than having to go and do something else, and also means that I don’t run out of steam or get too interested in a film or something instead of carrying on until they are done.

I call them Trippet Dolls because, in a drink-fuelled brainstorming session with the Painter one evening, he suggested that we call them Triffid Dolls, (a) because they are made in threes and (b) in honour of one of my favourite authors, John Wyndham. The Painter’s suggestion made me remember that in Day of the Triffids there is a passage about how the killer plants came to be named, and a list of all the possible suggestions that were considered by the media. Amongst these (and I think as the last one) was Trippets. So thank you Mr Wyndham – and the Painter, obviously.

looking over the shoulder

looking over the shoulder (Photo credit: jovike)


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6 Responses to Zen and the art of doll making

  1. Mikaela kate says:

    love your thoughts….thank you

  2. Like how you came about naming your dolls! I, too, find that dolls sort of end up making themselves – and I can imagine the Trippets telling you what to do! “For goodness sakes, puce is so not my colour!! Give me luscious plum velvet and chartreuse mohair!” As for you showing them off in their naked, bald glory…. Just be careful, one day you might find your bras strung up like bunting up and down the high street…. They look like they might do such a thing!! Totally with you about what constitutes scary dolls – the ones that get me the most are the old porcelain, perfect-looking ones, especially if they have little tiny teeth. I’m just, like, instantly, like, HELLO, *possession*. *shiver*

    • painterswife says:

      I’m with you there – those toothy dolls are exactly the ones that worry me the most too. I’ll take your advice and be wary of getting on the wrong side of the Trippets – whilst not exactly evil I reckon they have it in them to exact vengeance for their own entertainment!

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