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.


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.


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…


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.


Don’t blink

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A few weeks ago I completed a weeping angel costume from the Dr Who TV series. This weekend I finally got some good pictures of it.

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The wings are felt, made the same way as my flower petal wings, and you’d never guess that their original color was oatmeal. I painted the heck out of them, which is hard with felt because it just sucks up paint like it was koolaid. The unexpected benefit is that the feathers are so stiff, you’d think I put fabric stiffener on them.

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The dress is plain muslin (unbleached, which is why I chose oatmeal felt for the wings, so everything would start out the same color), treated with Stiffy fabric stiffener, and then painted. The tricky thing was that the Stiffy goes limp when it gets wet, which makes painting it difficult. But I managed. Now that’s dry, the dress stands up by itself, even without a doll in it, which is kind of hilarious.

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The pedestal is something I had around the house. It was a plaster thing I bought at a craft store a gazillion years ago and painted. It was perfect for this shoot.

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The “wig” is what I’m least happy with. I sculpted it out of Model Magic, and somehow I seriously miscalculated the hairline. I was considering adding yarn hair at an early stage, so maybe I thought I was going to have yarn to cover the extra space. I have no idea. Oh well, it served well enough.

I’d probably sell this if someone made me an offer, but for now it’s going in the stash in case I need a creepy Halloween costume or something.

Fun with tiny skeletons

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So, a couple of years ago, I noticed they had these creepy little plastic skeletons on a garland for sale as Halloween decorations. I didn’t buy any, because they were too expensive at the time, but I kept thinking about it. Then the next year I didn’t see them again, but I still wanted some, so I kicked myself for having missed out.

I should have trusted the holiday novelty market, however, because sure enough, they’re back, and today I actually found some at the dollar store. They’re really detailed and dollhouse-scale, so naturally I’m not the only one who thought you could do something really awesome — or maybe gruesome would be a better word — with them.

So, here are some links to what other people are doing with these little skeletons. Enjoy!


• Trust Ulla to make a wonderful multimedia project with them like these Day of the Dead glass coffins.


• It takes a special kind of twistedness, I think, to come up with this horrible/awesome mummified fairy, but apparently Art of Darkness is just the place for especially twisted ideas. Seriously, is that not the cleverest and creepiest thing ever?

• Finally, since the skeletons are roughly dollhouse scale, check out this 1:12 skeleton bride , skeleton pirates and skeleton cowboys from the dollhouse community.

Have fun! I think I’m going to make a creepy wreath for my front door with mine…

Deb Woods’ Tutorials

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Deb Wood is one of the most talented eBay fairy artists around. Her work has personality as well as realism and elegance. She’s also generous enough to have made some very good tutorials about aspects of her process that few people share in tutorials, like how to pack a fairy for shipping, how to test different brands of clay, and how to create a realistic miniature forest to use as a backdrop for photographing your fairies. Take a peek. She also has tutes on the usual stuff: how to make fairy wings, how to sculpt hands and feet, etc. They’re all worth a look.

A Halloween Blog Party

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Hanger-on is a polymer clay sculpt by Debbie Williams.

It’s time for the first ever Needle and Clay Halloween Party! My friend Debbie Williams and I got together to join the Blog party over at A Fanciful Twist. Take a look at what happened and then go see the other partygoers by clicking on the picture at the bottom!

While they were over, the Steins had us take their annual Halloween card photo for them. Here you see Mr. and Mrs. Stein, and their kids, Frankie and Frankie. They’re big crusaders for Gothic American civil rights, so we were glad to help them out.

Mr. and Mrs. Stein are two of Debbie’s earliest dolls! The kids are plastic toys from her collection. The pumpkins and gargoyle are props from my collection.

Dr. Bones had just gotten up the courage to talk to Ooma when Godzilla Jr. and Miss Esmerelda came over to show them their Halloween costumes. When will Dr. Bones stop carrying the torch for Ooma?

Ooma the Trollwife is by me, and she won Best in Show at Costumecon last year. Dr. Bones is a purchased toy with a hat and collar by me. Godzilla Jr. and Miss Esmerelda were made by Deb.

The party was so much fun. Even the Fury got into the spirit with that silly hat. And it was good to see Godzilla Sr. really cut loose. It’s been hard on him, being a single dad.

The Fury is a plaster sculpture from my college days. Godzilla Sr. is a toy from Deb’s collection. Godzilla Jr. was sculpted by Deb.

Nosferatu: Thot’s a nice casket. Is it a ’67?

Dead Groom: Thanks! But no, it’s an 1869. I know it has less leg room, but it’s all original and only had one owner, so I just couldn’t pass it up.

Nos: Sveet. Did you get the leather interior?

Bitty Bones: ::rolls eyes:: They’ll be at this all night.

Nosferatu and the Dead Groom are by Deb. Bitty Bones is a plastic toy from her collection.

Here’s a shot of the kids before they went out trick-or-treating. Miss Esmerelda’s parents were thrilled that she wanted to wear a traditional Gothic American outfit for her costume. Godzilla Jr. wanted to go as a frightened Japanese person, but his dad didn’t think that would be politically correct. The Stein kids are in their “serial-killers-look-just-like-the-rest-of-us” stage. Ozzie the Toad is not wearing a costume; he always dresses like that.

Dr. Bones: I don’t know, I just don’t think a girl like her would go for a skinny guy like me.

Sock Monster: Not all chicks are all about the looks, man. You’ve got a lot going for you — your career, your sense of humor —

Sock Monster and the Bust of a Woman are by Deb.

Unfortunately, after the kids left, Godzilla Sr. got a little drunk. The Steins ended up taking him and Junior home in their minivan. No one wanted a repeat of the Tokyo incident.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures from our party! Click on the poster above to see who else was partying last night!

Kamila Mlynarczyk–The creepy art of Wooded Woods

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Programming note: This is a big week for Needle and Clay, which must explain why it’s been so hectic. Today I bring you the first ever Needle and Clay artist interview, with Kamila Mlynarczyk, who very kindly responded to a few e-mail questions I sent her last week. Then, on Saturday, swing by for the first ever Needle and Clay blog party! There’ll be lots of pictures of Halloween dolls and decorations, and a link to the blog party host, Vanessa at A Fanciful Twist, who has a list of dozens and dozens of other bloggers and artists who will participate in the party. It’s going to be a lot of fun, so don’t miss out!

I’m not really an expert on the Addams Family tv show, or the original comics by Charles Addams, but in the movies it was implied that there was a larger Addams clan, made up of individuals that were just as morbid and freakish as the familiar Morticia and Gomez. The dolls of Wooded Woods seem to represent the rest of the clan, in the style I like to call, “Victorian gone horribly wrong.”

Kamila Mlynarczyk, who goes by Alimaky on eBay, should be the poster child for Mrs. Blathersby’s Orphanage for the Unattractive and Mentally Unsound, an artist group I’ve mentioned before. Her work perfectly encompasses that group’s theme of creepy or strange characters rendered with careful attention to detail and engrossing background stories. Mlynarczyk says she thinks her work would have developed into this form anyway, but MRSBO sped things along. “It’s a really supportive environment to showcase fringe dolls that normal groups tend to sweep under the rug,” she writes. “What MRSBO did do was encourage me to write for my dolls. I had never really done that before and when I starte, wow… it was hard to stop and felt very right. And now, if one of my dolls doesn’t have a story, it just doesn’t feel finished to me.”

Their stories are often morbid little tales of mysterious births and abuse, always ending with a tragedy that explains how the child ended up at Mrs. Blathersbys. There’s something very sensuous about her sculpts. They have red noses and wide lips, but at the same time they are often pale and bear signs of their unfortunate histories. This is probably what makes them so fascinating; they remind us — sometimes humorously — of the fine lines between life and death, and between “normal” and “freakish.”

Most of my questions for her were practical ones about her artistic process. She says she usually starts with a vague idea for a doll and then starts sculpting. “Afterwards I match fabric and hair together and the story is always pieced together as I’m finishing her/him. Whatever I do, whatever plans I do make, it always gets better.” When she works without a plan, which she calls “indulging herself,” she finds that even stranger ideas occur to her: “I take more risks and that means that I’m more open to drastic changes in my style, which usually means great success or great failure.” She also notes that her husband plays a role in her creative process as a springboard (mine does too, I wonder if that’s true of most creative people).

Many of her pieces come with beds, coffins or other pieces of furniture. She says that although her dad is an amateur carpenter, she never learned to work with wood until she started making dolls. Now she learns as she goes along, often using reference pictures, and cleaning up her mistakes with a belt sander. She has recently started experimenting with paperclay for the fine details.

I really admire her pictures of her work, although she insists she isn’t a gifted photographer: “Ever since my husband made me a lightbox out of pvc pipes and some white fabric, it’s been easy to take good pics. You can definitely find do-it-yourself instructions on the web [like this one, at Strobist] … I also have four $9-dollar office lamps aimed at the light box.”

Check out Mlynarczyk’s work at her website, WoodedWoods, and her blog. She also sells a pasteboard book with all her stories and characters from 2007-2008, which is a great way to contribute to the artist and get pictures of her work for inspiration.

Have a great week, and don’t forget to come back on Saturday for the Halloween blog party!

Nicole Johnson — Mealy Monster Madness

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If Maurice Sendak sculpted scrawny kids in Halloween suits, it might look something like a Mealy Monster. Awkward is probably too gentle a term to use for these big-eyed, buck-toothed, skinny-legged kids, but then, maybe Halloween should be the one day that pretty children are banished in favor of their gangly siblings and beady-eyed classmates, especially if these are the results!

Probably the best feature of each Mealy Monster is its over-the-top personality. Each character has a prop or other detail that allows their creator, Nicole Johnson, to write a little story about them. My favorite is the kid who had a nightmare about a little, orange, pointy-toothed creature… not unlike the jack o’lantern at his feet. The Mealy Monsters seem to live just down the street from The Nightmare Before Christmas, in an imaginative world with living, toothy Halloween suits; giant slugs for pets; shrunken heads for trick-or-treat; and strange creatures who dress up as little kids for Halloween.

I really admire the creativity that goes into Johnson’s work; she’s definitely unlike anything else out there. Visit her at her Etsy shop, her blog, her Flickr account, or her own website.

These little guys are a hoot, and you can waste some enjoyable time reading all the descriptions of them on their Etsy shop, Mealy Monster Land.

More Halloween prop tutorials

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These have some applications to dollmaking.

Uncialle’s How to Haunt instructions for making Amon-Ratep, the mummy.

Shawn Nagle tips on sculpting a werewolf worthy of the movies.

Instructables, which is apparently a whole website full of do-it-yourself stuff (I’m bookmarking it for when I get around to reupholstering that sofa!), has this entry on a crazy franken-mad-scientist mask by Pokiespout. Looks like the painting instructions are particularly detailed.

Programming note

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Mark your calendars for the online Halloween Blog Party being sponsored by Vanessa at A Fanciful Twist! On Oct. 18, everyone who has signed up will feature special Halloween-themed art, recipes and decorations to inspire you for your Spooky Day celebration. I’ll post a link to the list of participants on that day so you can enjoy the rest of the party. It looks like some real talent is signing up, so don’t miss out!

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do for the party. I’m not really working on any Halloween art of my own this year (I seem to be doing Christmas instead), but I have a friend who does great Halloween stuff, so maybe I can talk her into letting me take some pictures (pretty please, Deb? I know you’re reading this!). Or perhaps I’ll do my first artist interview with a Halloween artist and post it on the 18th. Anybody have any suggestions?

More Creepy Halloween Art

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Today I have for you a couple of great Halloween-themed creepy artists.

LoopyBoopy works in the same creepy/primitive category as Michelle Steele and Scott Radke.  Her polymer clay “dead kids” use marbles for eyes and include tragic little stories about their lives.  You can find LoopyBoopy on Etsy or Flickr and there’s an interesting article about her here.

Now don’t get the wrong idea about Sara Lanzillotta. A lot of her work is not that out of the ordinary. She makes big-eyed deer plushies and cute little cloth girls with definite personality. Her Octobabies (pictured above) are kind of unusual, but in a loveable way. It’s all the conjoined twins that have earned her a place on this list. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a three-legged pirate, or a conjoined Bambi before. To use Internet lingo: o_O

Hope you have a good week!