Monday, July 30, 2007

South Africa home to Miniatures' Artist Debbie Dixon-Paver

This morning I was pruning my e-mail inbox and came across a message I had almost forgotten that arrived while I was in New York. Debbie Dixon-Paver is a miniature doll artist living in South Africa. She had come across the website featuring the historical figures of George Stuart and had emailed the contact address asking when more of his figures were scheduled to be added to the website. As the programmer for Mr. Stuart's website, I am copied on emails sent to it so I replied to her that we are presently working on the addition of figures of the Bourbon Dynasty to the website and should have them online by September.

Debbie emailed me back when she realized I was the doll enthusiast with the extensive historical collection she had seen online and included images of some of her wonderful miniature groups. They are part of a collection she calls "Songbook" because she used song titles as inspiration for them. I found them meticulously detailed with realistic faces. Even the puppetmaker's tiny creations had finely detailed features and costumes. I was able to instantly recognize Henry VIII! The gentle face of her peddler woman as she gazes at her sweet little apprentice is quite poignant. The two little girls in their early 20th century beach suits are also quite winsome as they look up at the "medicine" man hawking his latest potion.

Debbie also depicts a brigand of the high seas to satisfy the customers who may be suffering from the latest craze of pirate worship stirred up by the series of films, "Pirates of the Carribean".

She also offers a salute to the "Free Love" generation of the 60s with her offering "Flower Children". I had to smile when I saw them since they still sport the trademark tie-dyed clothing but have gray hair and aging faces like so many of us from that period of time. Of course, seeing their colorfully decorated microbus and living here in Eugene, the home of one of the hippies' old icons, Ken Kesey, I couldn't help but think of his old flower-painted bus "Furthur" that trekked all the way to New York all those years ago.

"THE PUBLICATION OF Kesey's second novel Sometimes a Great Notion demanded his presence in New York, so Kesey bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus that he and the Merry Pranksters painted in day-glo colors, and outfitted it for a cross-country trip. With Neal Cassady at the wheel, they left La Honda in June 1964 and began their now legendary journey across the country, smoking marijuana, and dropping acid along the way. The top of the bus was made into a musical stage and when it detoured through some cities, the Pranksters blasted a combination of crude homemade music and running commentary to all the astonished onlookers. They arrived in New York in July after an arduous journey, whereupon Neal Cassady introduced them to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Ginsberg embraced the new legends immediately and arranged for them to drive to Millbrook to meet the other psychedelic pioneer, Timothy Leary." - Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, © 1998 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia.

I understand "Furthur" is being resurrected by Kesey's son, Zane. The local annual salute to the 60s, The Oregon Country Fair, was just held last week.

When I emailed Debbie to let her know I was featuring her work in this article she thanked me and included a link to her website. I was thrilled to see that she had produced a set called "Just The Two of Us" featuring Marc Antony and Cleopatra! As a Roman history buff I couldn't help but love them!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Realistic felt dolls created by Maggie Iacono

Today as I was researching some dolls I purchased on Ebay I came across a website with pictures of beautiful felt dolls created by doll artist Maggie Iacono. Her dolls of children were so lifelike I could hardly believe they were made of felt. Then I noticed that she has started a "fashion doll" series with women dressed in early 20th century fashions.

The first of these was 15" Olivia featured in a turn of the century felt dress with an embroidered bodice and a straight skirt. It is accented with a textured silk overskirt, lined with a matching fine woven silk. Her coat is decorated with hand made felt pastel flowers on a painted and embroidered background. Two silk covered buttons hold her coat closed. Black suede pumps complete the ensemble. Her hair is turned up in the traditional bun style of the day. She is fully jointed and poseable, with wired fingers, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees. Only 100 pieces were produced and retailed for $895.

Evelyn is this year's addition to the new line. Evelyn is 17 1/2 inches tall. Her blonde hair is cut in a bob style and she wears a 1920s-style felt dress, matching hat with a felt flower on the side and a silk scarf. She is wearing black suede pumps and carries a black handbag. Evelyn is available from fine doll retailers for a suggested retail price of $925. Only 100 pieces were made.

Maggie explains her journey to becoming an award winning doll artist on her website:

"I became interested in doll making soon after the birth of my first child. I began by making simple cloth rag dolls. I took these to craft shows and then later to doll shows. This was great for earning some extra money while still being able to be home and care for my children. As my skills progressed, the "flat" faces of my cloth dolls frustrated me, and I knew I needed to achieve something more realistic. I discovered a felt doll at a show one day and thought this might be the medium for me. Discovering a method for pressing the faces was a huge challenge. After much experimenting, I discovered a technique that gave me the results I was looking for. Adding dimension to their faces breathed new life into my dolls.

My work progressed and became more and more refined. Eventually, demand for my work grew to such an extent, that my husband quit his job and came to help me full time. Together we came up with a jointing system for the dolls that gives them a full range of motion. This was something I had always wanted for my dolls, the ability to pose them in many positions. At present our studio is at home. We produce an average of five editions of seventy dolls each year, with the help of several outside assistants. I also produce a few one of a kind dolls during the year that I will sell directly to collectors, and maybe one very small edition.

The costuming for my dolls is very important and is the one area that I spend a great deal of time on. I enjoy playing with all the different textiles that I use and inventing ways to transform them and embellish the fabrics in different ways. Many collectors have referred to my doll costuming as "art on art".

Friday, July 13, 2007

Actress Jane Seymour Produces Elizabethan doll of English Namesake

Several years ago I read an article about actress Jane Seymour's passion for dolls and the line of dolls designed by Robert Tonner she now offers for sale on her website and through quality retailers. These wonderfully delicate porcelain dolls, released in a limited edition of 500 pieces, resemble Jane in historical fashions she has worn in her various film roles.
The collection is based on four themes from Jane Seymour's home, St. Catherine's Court in England, and her most notable characters. Based on this primary theme, the four selections are inspired by Elizabethan, Victorian, Edwardian and 1950's roles brought to life by Jane Seymour. The four 14" porcelain dolls feature lavish fabrics, including stunning silks, velvet, and lace; and hand details are evident in the face painting and costume beading. Even Jane Seymour's signature eye-coloring is captured (one is hazel, the other is green!).- Jane Seymour Official Website.

I thought the dolls were beautiful but, at a retail price of $250 considered them out of my price range at the time. However, several years later I was excited to see that The Doll Market had them on sale for a fraction of their original price. I was able to order Jane in Elizabethan costume and Jane in a fashion gown of the 1950s. I would have loved to have had her in her Victorian gown and Edwardian gown as well but those were not available. However, I feel fortunate to have been able to add at least two of these beautiful dolls to my collection.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shining Knight and Fair Maiden Added to Collection

Today, I won the bid on a couple of interesting antique medieval character dolls on Ebay. The knight, standing 8 1/2" tall has a suit of armor constructed of metallic fabric. His face is painted on fabric stretched over what the vendor believes to be a papier mache form and was reportedly produced in England.

His companion, a nicely detailed maiden in medieval costume carefully stitched of felt with beaded accessories is 8 1/4" tall. She too has a nicely detailed face painted on fabric over a form also believed to be papier mache.

Although the vendors says they were produced in England, their facial style reminds me of the Russian porcelain dolls I have purchased from Russian Dolls of St. Petersburg. I was surprised that no one bid against me as I found the dolls well made and a nice example of craft art. I also appreciate the fact that they are small and won't take up a lot of display space.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Polymer clay can be used to produce realistic historical dolls

I received an Ebay alert yesterday about a polymer clay OOAK Henry VIII doll by artist Jackie Seaman. Jackie appears to be a very talented sculptor as her Henry VIII is an excellent representation of the 16th century king.

Today I noticed that several more of her dolls were put up for bid. I particularly like the troubadour although her other dolls of a herald, a Tudor-period princess, and a Dutch matron are all nicely done as well.

I will probably need to learn the fundamentals of sculpting polymer clay so I can replace the face of one of my applehead dolls that the mice gobbled up. I have it displayed in an upstairs bedroom that I don't enter very often and when I was up there freshening the sheets for a visitor, I noticed that there was nothing left of my Viking applehead doll's face except a stub of wire that had secured his head. I'm glad I stored my applehead Henry VIII in a glass fronted cabinet!

In my research about polymer clay dolls I also stumbled across a website featuring the beautifully detailed Native American dolls created by artists Marge and Bud Bielefeld called "The Ancient Ones."

"We began making the 'ANCIENT ONES' over nine years ago. We had been enjoying the pow wow circuit crafting shields, hand carved talking and walking sticks, handbags, jewelry and more. During a pow wow someone asked if we had any dolls. Remembering Bud had sculpted and sold caricatures as a child, I suggested he try to sculpt some faces for me to "play" with.

Recently I joined Bud in the scuplting of the hands and faces. After a little encouragement and some trial and error, we began our line of the 'ANCIENT ONES'. We work as a team, as we enjoy and cherish the time we are able to spend together, giving birth to our creations."

I was also pleased to see they live right here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon!

Creating Doll Fabrics with your Computer

I happen to be up on the NIADA Doll Artists site today and saw an interesting article on making fabric designs with your computer. I was particularly interested in the author's use of freezer paper as the backing material. You can actually purchase fabric already prepared for the printer in packets but it is terribly expensive. I succeeded in mounting fabric to printer paper by using 3M mounting adhesive that is designed to allow multiple use so the fabric can be pulled off. However, the artist quoted in the article simply used the heat of an iron to cause the fabric to stick to the waxed side of freezer paper:

"I like to use unbleached, non permanent press muslin. The inexpensive kind you get at chain fabric stores. I’ve tried nicer muslin purchased at quilting shops but it tended to be a little heavier and so caused more printer problems. You can use bleached muslin if you want white in your finished fabric and light weight smooth silks. Avoid any fabrics with slubs or thick and thin places or very course weave.

Purchase freezer paper designed for craft work in 8.5 x11 or 12x15” sheets from or search C. Jenkins freezer paper sheets from other suppliers. I prefer to use the sheets rather than freezer paper on a roll because once on a roll it never flattens out causing more printer problems.

I stumbled accidentally on the technique of using the fabric on the bias. This turned out to be important because the edges of the fabric do not fray so stray threads are not a problem to the printer. Lay the smoothly ironed fabric on a firm surface like Masonite or plywood, place a piece of freezer paper on top, shiny side down, and iron to the fabric with a hot dry iron. Trim, leaving about 1/2" of fabric all around. Turn over and press again making sure that any air pockets are pressed down and that the edges are firmly stuck in place. Use sharp scissors to cut away the excess fabric right next to the edge of the freezer paper. I prepare both 8.5 x 11 sheets and 8.5 x 14 sheets. If you have a larger format printer you can use the 12x15 sheets full size!" - Kathryn Walmsley, 2006.

She goes on to describe her successful efforts at creating unique fabric design by scanning natural materials like leaves and birch bark. She also emphasizes the importance of using at least 300 dpi images. If you find an image on the web that you would like to use but it is only 72 dpi, you might try resizing it in Photoshop Elements using the "Bicubic Sharpen" function. If you are trying to upsize an image, it is usually better to increase the dpi a little at a time. So try increasing it to 100 dpi then 150 dpi then 200 dpi, etc. The quality of the original image will determine how much resizing you can do before image quality deteriorates significantly.

Photoshop Elements is advertised as a "light weight" version of the professional image editing program Photoshop but I have found Photoshop Elements version 5.0 to include most editing tools I used in Photoshop on a regular basis. I have a copy of the full version of Photoshop but have found the intuitive interface of Photoshop Elements to be so easy to use and efficient that I now do most of my editing with Photoshop Elements. It can be purchased for only $99 or less ($72 new on Amazon ) - a real bargain compared to the full version of Photoshop CS3 that sells for over $600.

Historical figure artist George Stuart once commented to me that one of his biggest challenges is finding fabric with an appropriately scaled print. Printing your own fabric using computer graphics programs lets you scale a print to whatever size is needed.