The making of a Ninja Turtle

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Hi, I hope everyone had a great New Year’s!

This weekend, my doll club is having a meeting with the theme of  “Superheroes.” As much as I’d love to make a Flash or Green Arrow costume, I don’t have time, so after surveying my dolls to see what they wanted, I decided to make Sebastian a Ninja Turtle costume. A dear friend of mine suggested a while ago that when I don’t have time to make a real costume, I can always have my little kids play dress-up, so we’re building a turtle shell out of cardboard.

The cardboard is actually pasteboard from a soda case. First I drew the shapes I needed on the cardboard. I cut an octagon out of cardboard and used it as a template to draw the shapes on the shell. This turned out to be a wasted effort.

TMNT02

Next, I cut the pieces out. I decided to give the back shell some texture, so I folded it on all the lines of the octagon pattern. This gave it an interesting texture and resulted in a curved shell, which was pretty cool. Okay, so I guess the octagons weren’t completely wasted effort, but I was sad that they completely vanished when I started painting. It all worked out, though.

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Next, I painted both pieces with acrylic. Apparently, my artist brain took over, and I think I painted the back shell too realistically for a Ninja Turtle. But, hey, look, I figured out a really easy way to make a fairly realistic turtle shell. Expect some totally bizarre turtle-themed fantasy costumes in the future. Or, actually, I’ve been wanting to make some armor. Fantasy armor could involve turtle shells. Hmm…

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If you’re getting the impression that everything I do is an experiment, there may be a reason for that. I am a mad scientist, except without the science. A mad artist. That doesn’t sound right. Hm. Actually, I’m pretty easygoing and hardly ever get mad.  Oh well.

After searching my stash for orange fabric (Sebastian would have to choose Michelangelo. I told him Leonardo is the hero, even though Raphael is always the most popular, but he doesn’t care. Michelangelo is funny.), it turns out that polar fleece is the only thing I’ve got that’s remotely appropriate, and I’m not buying fabric for this silly project, so if I can’t make the polar fleece work, he may suddenly become Donatello. It would be easier to make a quarterstaff than a pair of nunchuks anyway.

I wish I had time to make a doll-sized pizza box.

Stay turned for updates.

 


Building a BJD

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I’ve been on hiatus for a while, because life got in the way, and I was thinking about moving the blog or redesigning it or whatever, and I still am, but for now I’m going to keep posting what I’m working on.

So, for years, I’ve wanted to make my own bjd. I started on a head a while ago. She was named Calico, because an unfortunate oven accident left her scorched in a variety of colors. She worked out well enough, but I got caught up with trying to make her perfectly symmetrical and never finished.

Then, a couple of months ago, I decided to just quit dilly-dallying and make a bjd, already. If it sucks, it sucks. At least I’ll be able to say I did it. So I picked a tutorial by Allison MeCleary from the Woodland Earth Studio forum that used polymer clay and worked from the inside out, which made logical sense to me, and just started it. Here’s what I have so far. Her name is Elidee.

Elidee  04

The tutorial I’m following uses wooden beads for the ball joints, but that’s because she was going to make a mold and cast hers. I’m not planning to do that, so I want the whole doll to be made out of clay. I decided to use the beads to form the sockets for her joints, then form the ball part of her joints out of polymer clay. It was going great until I got to her knees. Knee joints are hard! I’m hoping that once I figure them out, the elbows will be easier.

Elidee 02

 

This was my first attempt at the knee joint (You can see that I left the head and one leg piece in the oven too long and they turned a darker color than the rest of the pieces). I thought it was working well, but unfortunately some liquid clay got into the joint while I was curing it the second or third time, and it all fused together. It broke into pieces when I tried to separate it from the leg. But I already carved out the excess stuff and rebuilt the sockets, and I still have the sculpted knee part, so all I have to do is rebuild the ball joints. Meanwhile I’ve sculpted the other leg and now I know to be more careful with any part that has liquid clay on it.

One part of this that has been great is that I’ve been forced to use an X-acto knife and a Dremel tool to carve the cured clay a lot more than I’ve ever done before. There’s something satisfying about it; it feels like being an engineer. One thing that baffled me before was how to sculpt over a hollow form, but this way I’m sculpting over a solid form made of cured polymer clay, and then drilling out the channels for the strings.

I think she’ll be about 18 cm when she’s finished. I’m terribly in love with her right now, but I know she’s not up to a professional level yet. She’s nowhere near symmetrical and her joints probably won’t work as well as I want them to. The one thing I want is for her to be fun to play with. If she’s fun, then I’ll consider her a success.


Designing a dress

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One of the things I’ve been working on lately is a new dress for Trixie (Luts Honey Delf Anko). I noticed recently that she doesn’t really have any dresses. She has pants and tops, but not many skirts or dresses. She’s so adorable, she deserves to have piles of frilly dresses. Well, okay, not too frilly, since that’s not really my thing, but frilly compared to the other things I make. Let’s put it that way.

Anyway, here are two versions of the pattern so you can see the progression. I really need to repaint my sewing table. I didn’t do it right the first time and the rubber feet on my sewing machine have ripped up the paint. Also, I don’t know what I was thinking with the lime green.

Patternmaking

And here’s Trixie in a mockup of the dress. Sorry for the awful photo. I think my New Year’s goal will be to improve my photo skills.

Dress Mockup1 (2)

It’s a little wider at the bottom than a straight column, but it’s going to have a very structured a-line pinafore over it, so I didn’t want it to be too wide. The neckline stretched all out of whack; I’ll have to stay-stitch it next time. Or I might add a peter pan-type collar. I am going to add ruffles to the hem, and I’ve been dithering because I didn’t really know how to do them, but then I found a tutorial on Pinterest that shows exactly what I want to do, so I’m excited to try it now. I hope it works in miniature.

Next up: I finally got the nerve to dye a doll! I can’t wait to show you! Also, stay tuned because I’ll be adding some free doll patterns to this site soon. Nothing fancy, but I thought I’d share my patterns for tights/leggings/socks, underwear, maybe tee shirts. Oh, and simple bedroom slippers. Partly as charity for naked dolls, but also for my own nefarious purposes, which will be revealed at a later date.

 


A new year, a new project.

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This is the year of finishing projects, as far as I’m concerned. My stash of fabrics and craft supplies is completely out of control, so I have a couple of projects lined up to use scraps and stash items.

The only new thing I’m starting on is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’ve been sewing for dolls for a couple of years now, and I’ve been thinking that I’d be really good at making patterns. I’m pretty good at teaching and I’m a graphic designer, so the publishing part will be easy. I just needed the time to develop some patterns.

So the first pattern I’m doing is a bathrobe for big boys. I made this bathrobe so that my first big boy would have something to wear until I made him some real clothes. Bathrobes don’t need to fit very well, so you can make one to a doll’s measurements without having the doll in hand, and reasonably expect it to fit. I also wanted something for my dolls to wear while they’re sitting around waiting to try on something I’m sewing for them.

In order to develop the pattern, I figure I’ll need to make several bathrobes (which I’ll probably offer for sale in my Etsy shop), and this week I finished the first one. I wrote the instructions for the pattern while I was making it. I probably need to make a couple more, one for each of the “views” I’m going to include in the pattern, and then another example using the pattern to make sure it all works.

The  finished robe is pictured below. My previous version was shorter, but I like this length. What do you think?

Bathrobe

I made his wig. Isn’t it awful? Turns out it’s a lot harder to trim short wigs than I thought it would be, lol. I’d make a new one, but I don’t have any more black mohair.


Forest Thrones, Part 16: Final Pictures, or, Hallelujah, Part Two

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I can’t believe I wrote this post way back when I finished these trees, and then never published it. What an idiot I am sometimes. Anyway, here are some final pictures of the finished trees. I still don’t have really good pictures of all of them, so you may see more pictures later on.

Now that they’re finished, I have one final secret to share with you. Each tree has a tiny door in the back of the trunk. I sculpted the doors in paperclay, painted them and applied the stoops or steps when I was adding the grass and mushrooms and stuff. Is it a doorway to Faeryland? Or does someone have the nerve to live right under the faery king’s… er… nose? I’ll let you decide.

Thanks for following me on this ridiculously long journey. I’m really happy with how these came out and I’ve loved every single response I’ve gotten. I hope you’ve learned something that will be useful to you in future, and I hope you’ll tune in to this space for more projects coming up!

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.


Forest Thrones, Part 15: Silk Seats

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Hallelujah! The trees are finally finished! I’m so happy to get them off my desk. My painting desk looks so big now.

I did two more things to them before they were finished. First, I made cushions for the seats. The seats were originally pretty perfectly round, but since, as I’m sure you know by now, I’m very stupid, I overlapped the branches over the seat a little, resulting in each seat being off round just a little bit — and each of them being different. Sigh. I had this idea of these beautiful, neatly tailored little silk velvet cushions with perfectly smooth sides. Yeah. Those of you who have worked with silk velvet before can stop laughing now.

No, I mean it. Stop laughing.

I started by making a pattern for each seat cushion. I also labeled them and the seats so I wouldn’t get them mixed up. I had read somewhere that silk velvet was kind of slippery (STOP laughing!), so I ironed it onto freezer paper. Then I traced the seat patterns plus some seam allowance onto the freezer paper. I traced the seat twice so I’d have a bottom and a top.

Can you see my mistake yet? Keep looking. That’s right, I didn’t reverse the pattern for the bottom of the seat. Sigh again. Naturally, I had cut them all out before I realized my mistake. I had more fabric, but it was late and I didn’t feel like cutting out more pieces, so I decided to punt. I roughly measured the length of the side pieces, which turned out to be close enough to the length of my fabric that I didn’t need to measure. Then I carefully marked and cut inch-wide strips.

Due to the difficulty of working with silk velvet, I had to pin the side strips onto the top piece, hand baste them together, and then sew them. About four times each. Sigh again. On about the last one, I figured out it would get less gathered and bumpy and messy if I sewed them with the top piece underneath, rather than the sides. It turns out, you need to make five or six cushions to get the hang of it.

Notice there are only four cushions.

After I finished that — or maybe before or somewhere in the middle, I don’t remember — I used my patterns to cut cushions out of upholstery foam. Now, if I’d had proper bottoms for my cushions, I’d have pinned, basted and sewn the bottoms to the sides just like the tops, leaving an open space in the back so I could turn them and insert the cushions. Since I’d screwed up the bottoms, though, I ended up just gluing the sides of the covers to the underside of each cushion. I’d already established that they were going to look gathered and messy, and gluing them kind of enhanced this effect. I have been assured by my husband and my best friend, who are both apparently experts on fairies, that real fairies would rather have messy cushions than perfectly formal ones anyway. Who am I to argue?

So the chairs are finished. Oh, wait, the second thing I did was to add feet. While I was working with them, I discovered that just moving them around under normal use caused the paint to chip off the underside of the trees. This is bad, not just because it damages the trees but also because it might damage the surface they were sitting on. I decided to add felt furniture footies, but the logical places to put them, the bottoms of the roots, weren’t wide enough. So I made little feet out of air-dry clay, let them dry, and painted them before applying the footies with Goop glue. They’re not going anywhere.

I was going to do the big reveal in this post, but honestly it’s too long already. So check back in a couple of days to see the final product!

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.


Forest Thrones, Part 14: Leafing Out

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Okay, slowly but surely I’ve been working on my little trees. Now I have a deadline so it’s going to become fast and furious. There are only two steps left (well, three, actually) and they’ll be completely done!

Here’s how they look now:

(That one on the end has been finished for months; I finished it up so I could show it off to people.)

I would love to be able to say that these trees represent a specific variety, like oak or rowan or something romantic like that, but the fact is, because I am very, very lazy, I used the leaves from a silk garland I had lying around, and this one with the generic leaves was the only one that seemed appropriate in scale. I pulled the leaves off one by one (well, okay, they’re in clusters of three, but one cluster at a time), and glued them on each branch. If I hadn’t had a garland, I would probably have used a leaf-shaped paper punch from the scrapbooking department and at least two shades of green paper, maybe in vellum or some other translucent variety.

At first, it always seems like they’re going to be so sparse I’ll have to go back and fill in later, but then when they’re done they look just fine. There are about 73 twigs per tree, in case you were wondering. I counted.

I originally tried to use white glue for the leaves, but it turns out that silk leaves are actually made of nylon, and instead of behaving like a porous material that should adhere to white glue, it acts like a non-porous plastic. So, basically, everywhere I took the first one I finished, little leaves dropped off it and fluttered to the ground like in Lothlorien. I ended up taking all the leaves off that one, touching up the paint on the branches, and then reattaching them with Goop (because I couldn’t find the e-6000 glue at the store). That seems to have done the job.

While I was working with these trees, I realized the paint was rubbing off the bottoms of them as they got moved around. So I decided to add some feet and some felt furniture sliders to protect them and whatever surface they end up living on. I’ll include some pictures of that process next.

Next up: Sewing the cushions! Silk velvet and upholstery foam galore!  Expect more reports before the end of the week.

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.


Forest Thrones, Part 13: Making the Grass Grow

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So, when last we saw my trees, I had just finished drybrushing them. The next step in this endless tree project is to add the details. I’m going to make some details out of paperclay, and then I’m going to make grass out of raffia and apply silk leaves.

This particular tree has a long, shallow space on the front of the base, so I decided to add some shelf fungus to add interest without taking up any room. I sculpted them in paperclay and added them with white glue. I think this project has at least four kinds of glue on it.

(That’s not a spider in the picture. I’m not sure what it is, but I think I would remember a spider.)

After the paperclay dried, I painted it up and then I added a mushroom, also sculpted from paperclay.

(See? No spider.)

The mushroom is also attached with white glue. I thought I might have to drill some room to add a pin inside the mushrooms, to hold them on better, but actually they’re so small that white glue has done the job perfectly.

Now, for the really good part. I figured this technique out a long time ago. I take raffia (which, ironically, is made from a kind of grass, I think) and cut it up into the right lengths for grass. It looks like this:

No, those are not dried up old green beans.

Then, after cutting, I peel narrow little strips off until I have grass-like shapes.

I make a pile of those, and then I put a lot of white glue on the base.

Then I add the blades of grass, one at a time. I know, it seems like you should be able to do a bunch at a time, but it never looks right when I do it that way. I pat the grass into the glue with a tool; this time I’m using a piece of bamboo skewer. Technically, a toothpick probably would have worked better, but I’m just too lazy to go look for one when there’s a bamboo skewer right here.

Rinse and repeat until you get all the way across the base.

After the grass is rooted, I mix a little green and yellow paint and quickly paint the grass so that it isn’t the same color all over.

Hmmm…. apparently I failed to take any pictures of the grass when it was all done. Here’s a photo of another niche with painted grass and a couple of paperclay rocks.

That’s all for now — next time I’ll show you how I apply the leaves.

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.


Forest Thrones, Part 12: Paint Jobs

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Well, I have painted all of the trees and drybrushed three of them. I know it’s hard to get an idea of size from photos, so I snapped some pictures with my Petite Ai, Sebastian, who is 28cm (11 inches) tall.

I intended these trees to be sized for MSDs, but I think they came out a little short, even with the additional height of the cushion. Oh well. They look pretty good anyway.

Okay, you’re right. They look damn good. I’m so close to being finished now.

Not much to say about this step. If I ever do something like this again, I’m going to tint the Sculptamold before I start. It took forever to fill in all the little holes and crevices.

Since I don’t have much to say about this step and I know you guys are expecting some witty repartee, I’ll leave you with a photo of my paint palette.

I use cheap, party-sized paper plates because, well, I’m cheap. And I don’t mean that in a sexy way. Besides, they’re waterproof, just the right size, and they come in packages of one gazillion. Unfortunately, they were out of plain white ones the day I bought these, so I still have a gazillion minus a dozen or so to use up.

I might have mentioned this before, but there are two kinds of artists in the world. The first kind of artist is the perfectionist. They’re the ones who never let a painting go because there’s still stuff they want to do to it. They’re the ones who alphabetize their painting supplies. The good ones never stop working until their art is amazing. They do fantastic, detailed work, but sometimes they lack creativity.

The other kind of artist is the dabbler. Everything the dabbler does is an experiment, and they never do the same thing twice. They tend to be laid back and have fun with their work, but they also tend to leave a trail of unfinished or failed projects behind them. They do wildly imaginative, innovative work, but sometimes they lack focus.

I have a theory that you can tell which kind of artist you are by your paint palette. Guess which one I am?

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.


Forest Thrones, Part 11: Drybrushing

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I suddenly remembered I hadn’t painted the undersides of the trees, so I took a moment to do that.

I also went over the trees, filling in the worst of the gaps in the texture with paperclay. I also filled in around the bottom so it looks properly attached to the ground, and the place where the roots overhang the edges of the base so they would be nice and flat on the bottom. Once I add a little gloss, it’ll look amazing.

Now I want to show you how to drybrush a sculpture. Drybrushing is a technique that uses layers of paint to emphasize the features of a texture. It mimics the way light and shadows fall on something full-sized.

First, you need to gather your tools and supplies. Drybrushing is hard on brushes, so you want to use an old, cheap, or previously damaged brush.  A large, flat brush is a good choice, but really, whatever you have that you don’t mind getting messed up. Then, select a paint for your tree. The paint that you want to be the overall impression of color for your tree (in art we say that it “reads” a certain color) is going to be the middle tone. After you choose that color, you need to choose (or mix) a darker color and a lighter color. You want the darker and lighter colors to be shades of the middle color or as close to it as you can manage. (Go ahead and use black to mix your darker color. I would probably argue that it’s a cool color too, but it’s okay for the darker shade to be cooler than the others. Cool colors tend to fade to the back.)

Now, start with the basecoat. Take your darker color and paint the entire piece thoroughly. With a high texture like I have on my tree bark, I watered the paint down a little so it would go into the crevices easier, and I had to do several coats to get all the little white cracks and holes. But trust me, you want to do that now because it’ll be a pain in the neck to do it later.

The second coat is your true color. The one you want everyone to think your tree is colored. Put a little paint on your brush, then work it in by “painting” on your palette until your brush is loaded all the way through. Then, wipe off most of the paint. You want your brush to be almost “dry,” hence the term “drybrushing.” When your brush is ready, start painting by dragging your brush lightly from top to bottom, or whichever direction your light source is coming from, letting it put paint only on the peaks and plateaus of your texture. Think of it this way: the dark color is the shadowed areas. Now you’re painting everything that isn’t a shadow. You’ve probably drybrushed before, on accident, when you were running out of paint on your brush. This is the same idea.

Here’s my piece after the middle coat:

Now, you might think this looks pretty good, but we’re not done yet. Now you take the third color and, using the same drybrushing technique, paint another coat. This time, you’re only trying to paint the parts of the texture that are high enough to be highlighted by your light source, so make sure it’s a lighter coat (in the sense of covering less territory). Like so:

I’ve been doing this for years, but I still get a kick out of how it breathes life into a dull paint job. The photo doesn’t convey as much depth as the piece has.

As an aside, do you see what I mean about the instant papier mache making the perfect texture for faux dirt? If I wanted to be even more realistic, I’d probably mix some other colors into my base coat, like a yellow ochre or black. But I’m going to cover all this up with grass, so I don’t need to get that realistic.

That’s it for today. More pictures of trees next time, I promise.

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.