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!


Claudine Roelens — the height of doll art in Europe

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As far as I can tell, Belgium-based artist Claudine Roelens is one of the most talented art doll makers working in Europe right now. Although she designs lush costumes out of silk and lace, her real strength lies in the delicate proportions and realistic gestures of her work. Maybe it’s Hollywood’s influence, or maybe it’s because I learned how to draw the human form from my dad’s comic books, but I’ve always struggled against the habit of exaggerrating one feature or another, and I notice other artists have the same problem. But if you look at Roelen’s pieces before they’re dressed, you’ll be struck by how subtle and realistic their curves are.

In her biography, Roelens claims a background filled by romance novels and fairy tales, which shows in the romantic subjects and poses she chooses, and in their long, flowing hair. She says when she first learned to sculpt, she was unprepared for the fact that “… Dollmaking is a virus, there’s no antidote, no cure, it gets in your blood, and it never leaves you.” I think many of us can relate to that!

Finally, you have to applaud an artist who keeps learning. Roelens has recently joined the ranks of original dollmaker sculpting ball-jointed dolls (pictured below). She reports that although the doll is sculpted in air-dry clay, many people mistake it for porcelain. You can see more pictures of it on her website. The other thing she has done recently that has everybody talking about it is the mermaid pictured at the top of this blog entry. Take a look at the ocean spray surrounding the mermaid’s joyful leap out of the water. I suspect she has borrowed this technique from dollhouse miniaturists, but I have rarely seen it employed to such great effect.

The leaping mermaid was exhibited at this year’s Ahoy International Doll Show, where Roelens took first place in 2007 with her Ballet Dancers (pictured above, next to the centaur). Her site says the Ballet Dancers also won the Dutch Doll Ring Award last year. Like I said, there are few who compare with her skills.

Check out Roelens’ website for more pictures of her work, including work-in-progress photos of most pieces. If you happen to live in or near Belgium, you might also check out her doll supply shop and her class schedule.

Have a great weekend!