Advancing the Art of Miniature Doll Making
Ezine owned by
Esther
van der Spek 

I have been a miniature
artisan for several years,
and how I became a
miniaturist is a rather
interesting story ....

"Well, I am a

maritime lawyer by
profession
and used to
practice in the High
Court of Judicature at
Bombay.

My time was divided
between court appearances to arrest ships and then the
follow-up chamber work. Although I was fascinated by dolls even at this stage (I had already seen
Dana's website), I did not have the time to focus or learn more about this aspect of creativity. I did dabble a little into miniatures, doing the odd piece of furniture now and then to fill a doll house I had designed from scratch.

I met and married my husband Martijn in 2002, and as a result decided to shift to Trivandrum where he is involved with the running of a software company. Unfortunately, Trivandrum is a small city and does not have a High Court, so I had no alternative but to give up my practice and suddenly found I had the time on hand to plunge completely into my miniatures. From that point on, there has been no looking back. In December 2002,
Magic Miniatures, my website was born and since then I have been creating a variety of things, such as miniature paintings, icons, ships, cars but the main focus of my work has been dolls and tapestries.

Initially I used to sculpt my own dolls. In the beginning of 2003, I decided to make a medieval tavern scene as a present for Martijn for our first wedding anniversary. It is still very much a work in progress and you can see pictures of the scene under "Tavern Tales
(
www.magicminiatures.com/tavern.htm) on my website. It shows a step by step creation of how the scene came into being and changed as each new piece was introduced. The reason why I chose the medieval era for the scene is that I was always queasy about my costuming skills. I totally lacked the ability to play around with fabric and figured that frayed hems and holed garments could only fit into a era such as this. It was also disappointing because it used to take me a whole day to sculpt a doll, and then I would promptly ruin it by my costuming.

It was then that I felt the urge to work exclusively on my costuming skills. I used to look at porcelain dolls and their elaborate outfits, and wanted very much to create something so beautiful. I then discovered
Liquache and Flumo, mediums which would allow me to pour a doll in a fraction of the time it took to sculpt one so I could use those as costuming dummies and work on my costuming skills. I practiced my draping techniques and Dana's tutorials were of immense help. I discovered a local source of the most beautiful Indian silks, which costume and drape wonderfully and I use these almost exclusively in my costuming. In fact, I now stock this fabric and have made it available to others via my website. In time and with effort, my skillsets improved, and in June 2004, I made and sold my first doll "Alicia" on ebay to one of our list members Bertha Wong. Since then, there has been no turning back."

How I came up with the idea and what inspired me with this issue.....
When I heard about the theme for the Romance issue, I wrote to Dana and suggested holding a contest where everyone could work on dolls/romance couples basically in honor of everything Dana has done for the list as I've always referred to her as the "first lady of romance dolls" *grins*. She asked to me to try doing something something for the cover . The idea appealed to me but I was a bit worried about seeing it through since I was in the midst of my nauseous, fatigued first trimester. (I'm expecting my first real life miniature :)) Fortunately I felt better as the months went by, and decided to tackle the project at the beginning of May. I did not look at any picture, but the idea of doing something in the style of Fragonard (he's noted for his ladies on a swing) appealed to me. The scene by itself is entirely from my imagination.

How does the lady stay on the swing?
The swing is fashioned out of wood and chain. The wood base although to scale, is large enough for her to sit on the comfortably. Nothing is holding her in place.

The tree?
I went absolutely mad trying to find a tree of suitable dimensions. The ones available for purchase were all too large, too small or not within scale, so I decided to plunge right in and make one myself. I used the roots of a Banyan tree (ficus benghalis), which I soaked in water overnight to make them more malleable. I then wired everything to form a tree trunk, roots and branches. This primitive structure haunted me for a few days as I tried to figure out what I could do to make it look something like a tree. I thought about covering it with damp newspaper and then painting over or papier mache, but finally decided on good ol' paperclay. Two packages of paperclay and a week later I had managed to have the banyan roots and wires reasonably covered. I then painted it, aged it with artists pastels and added some Lycopodium (princess pine) which I was lucky to find at
www.minikitz.com (Debbie is the greatest, she shipped everything to me in time!!) to form the leaves. I later added moss, floral foam, vines and all the other little bits, to give it the appearance I wanted. I put the tree onto a grass base which I picked up a few years ago at Ron's and finally glued everything onto a thin plywood base for added strength. After all this please don't ask me if the tree has a name *grins*, lets just call it a "fantasy tree".

Thoughts on the scene......
I've decided to call the piece
"Stolen Moments". One can see that the lady is from a rich background, but her love is a gypsy. They manage to meet each other in this paradise, where she sits on a swing and loses herself in his music. Whether the lovers will be able to be together is not known, but for them now, these Stolen Moments are enough.

I've used only natural materials in the costuming of these dolls. The finest silks have been used, and his waistcoat is made from leather. I've used lambskin, which is thick to start with, but I've figured out a way of stripping the suede section off the tanned part using an x-acto knife. The leather I am left with is consequently paper thin.

Flumo v/s costuming:
Initially, costuming was my biggest stumbling block, which I could overcome by pouring flumo dolls which are quick and easy. No more hours sculpting, or repeated firings or even the necessity of a kiln. Flumo is totally air-drying and within a few hours (or even less) I had a costuming dummy I could improve my costuming with. I started painting these dummies, and found real people emerging from beneath my paintbrush. I discovered that different strokes could give a totally new and different look to each doll and then started viewing these as individuals rather than costuming dummies. Soon it reached a stage where once the doll was painted, he or she would tell me exactly what costume they wanted to wear, how the hair had to be fixed and the colours I had to use. It became a natural flow of events that lead to the creation of each doll, from construction to it's finale.

But to answer your question, Flumo is the medium I use to create these dolls and does not require me to do more than pour a doll in and remove it from a mold. There is no real art involved at this stage because it requires that I follow a set of instructions on a package. The real challenge lies in face painting and costuming. But I cannot say I am a doll costumer or a face painter, so I refer to myself (at least for now) as a "Flumo doll artist" as most of my work is in that medium.

Advice to others:
I cannot thread a needle, which is why my costuming always set me back but then I discovered I didn't have to sew, I could always glue.. My advice to other new doll artists is that the field is so diverse that there is no "right way" of doing something. Sure one meets with some stumbling blocks as one goes along, but these can always be overcome by just finding an alternate way of doing things. Wigging for me was another problem. I could wig, but was somewhat restricted to simplistic hairstyles. I took the wigging 101 class at MinidollU and learned that one could use fabric conditioner to tame viscose and it made a HUGE difference to my wigging. So for those that find an aspect of doll making to be beyond their reach, just try something else, or check with others how it can be approached differently.
Sometimes just changing the glue one uses or the materials one works with can make a world of a difference. Furthermore, there is a wealth of information available on our list, so that the best source to tap into in the case of a problem. In short, I say, plunge right in.
Be sure to check out Esther's website for more tutorials.

www.magicminiatures.com
Unusual hand-made miniatures, tapestry kits, dolls and doll kits.

Esther's New Sculpts
direct link to 40+ how to's
Hazel Dowd has a whole miniature world available for the miniaturist ... including wonderful porcelain miniature dolls!

To find out more - simply click to her website at
HERE.