Hello! Over the past few weeks, a bunch of you have expressed interest in how exactly I create my dolls. Which is really gratifying! Thank you! Now, I do things a little differently with each kind of doll (Tonner, Monster High, etc) but I thought I’d show you the basics with a current project: a repaint of Rapunzel for a very special little girl who’s battling a very serious illness. The modifications (a doll that looked like her, with her scars) were her requests; I did the best I could with them. And, of course, I didn’t charge but if you like my dolls they’re available for purchase in my Etsy shop.
The first issue is supplies. What do I use? What do I absolutely, at all costs, not use? As hackneyed as this sounds, you truly are setting yourself up for success with the right supplies. My first few forays into doll making were extremely frustrating, and it was because I wasn’t working with the right materials. I had pastels, but not high quality pastels; I had spray fix, but not the right kind of spray fix. I didn’t understand why, despite being a classically trained artist, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.
So I’m going to save you the months of experimentation (and wasted funds) and list what I use here. I feel very strongly that these are the best supplies on the market. Now, your mileage–and budget–may vary! For me personally, though, I’d rather save my pennies and bide my time. And remember! You don’t need every color in the rainbow, to start with. You can achieve a wide variety of effects, on a wide variety of dolls, using a very limited palette.
One supply I really like to use is mason jars. They’re available at pretty much any supermarket, and for dirt cheap. I use them to organize whatever supplies I’m using for a particular project, as well as my brushes, etc. I have over a thousand colored pencils, at this point, which can be overwhelming! So I select whatever I need and then, when that project (or phase of the project) is over, return everything to its proper home. I’m one of those people who can’t think unless everything is properly organized.
My work area, brought to you (mostly) courtesy of IKEA. That cart on the right is where I store my pencils and pastels. The cat’s name is Agni. She’s a girl, even though she has a boy’s name. It suits her.
I do all the detail work on my dolls with watercolor pencils. My favored brand is Faber-Castell, which can be purchased on Amazon. The set I select from most frequently is this one.
I also use Derwent, sometimes. Also watercolor pencils. You don’t necessarily have to use watercolor pencils, you can use plain old colored pencils, but just make sure that they’re wax-based and not oil-based. Your proposed canvas is vinyl, and oil does not like vinyl. Or, rather, it likes it a little too much; over time, your colors are going to bleed.
I do all the shading on my dolls with soft pastels, applied with brushes. And here, once again, quality matters. You won’t get any kind of result with the typical kind of chalk pastels you can find at chain craft stores. I favor two brands: PanPastels and Jack Richeson.
The third, vital thing is Mr. Super Clear. Which, yes, is just spray fix. Ridiculously expensive spray fix. It’s also what pretty much every doll artist uses, because it’s absolutely the best stuff on the market. It dries clear, doesn’t cake, and doesn’t flake. If 30 USD for a tiny can of spray is out of your budget, however, you can substitute Testors dullcote with reasonably good results. Just, whatever you do, don’t use Krylon! That stuff stinks.
I also keep an array of brush on varnishes (mostly gloss) and acrylic paints (mostly Vallejo) on hand, for various things. Here, though, brand–I think–really doesn’t matter. Just get what works for you!
And now, on to glory….
This is layer one. First, I removed Rapunzel’s factory paint with acetone. By which I don’t mean nail polish remover; use straight acetone, the kind that’s sold at Home Depot. I use a combination of cotton balls and cotton swabs, to apply. Expect to use quite a few, especially if your doll has a lot of paint (like the entire Disney Animators collection). The paint liquefies immediately and it’s just disgusting.
Then, the next step is to give the doll a wash (I use warm water and Dawn). This helps to remove any excess gunk on the face and body. I also always wash the doll’s hair. Most of the time, it comes from the factory kind of crispy with whatever’s sprayed on it to keep the style. Then, I let the doll dry. Then, I wrap her up like you see above–to protect her hair from overspray, and to protect her body from my grubby awful fingers leaving prints while I work.
Finally, I give her two (light!) coats of Mr. Super Clear and wait for an hour.
Only then does the real fun begin. Using a medium-toned pencil, I start drawing on the features. Which, granted, is more work on some dolls than others. Rapunzel comes with highly defined features, so I’m really just starting by placing the irises and pupils. Which…take all the time you need to get it right! Erase (I use kneadable erasers) all you need! Reapply spray if necessary! You don’t want to invest hours and hours in a doll that’s going to end up glaring at you crosseyed.
Still layer one. Here, I’m continuing to lay down the basic color values. They always look so creepy, at this point.
And…still layer one. I’ve applied the base layer of her eyebrows, here, using pastels and an angled brush. Now…I have a huge collection of brushes, at this point, because I’ve been arting for years but often it’s the cheapest and stupidest brushes that end up working the best. I have no particular brand (or price point!) loyalties; just whatever I like the feel of.
This is Yama. He really, really doesn’t like feeling ignored. If you, too have cats, I suggest not leaving supplies out where they can be stolen (or hidden from you, so as to induce petting).
Layer two…finally! Between layers one and two, I sprayed her with Mr. Super Clear to set my work and then waited an hour. I strongly suggest waiting at least an hour, more if the weather’s damp. You are not going to like the results if you rush.
So anyway, here I’m just building on the colors I’ve already laid down, concentrating in particular on the eyes.
On layer three, I added more color to her eyes as well as started to lay in the darker values for the pastels. It’s very subtle, but there’s a little bit of color in those areas that’d naturally have shadow. This technique (which is basically contouring) is most useful when you’re trying to give a doll a particular expression–or, indeed, change it. I’ve also added more detail to her eyebrows, and given her a defined lip line.
On layer four, I blushed her face. Then, on layer five, I (after giving her body a base coat of Mr. Super Clear), started working on her body. Which, of course, on this particular doll includes some extras! I’ve also added highlights to her eyes, with acrylic paint. This is the only time, in a doll, that I ever use pure white.
I always finish with 3–5 coats of gloss varnish on the eyes.
Stay tuned for a future post, wherein I reveal the completed (dressed!) doll!
And, in the meantime, what do you think?