How I Art Doll
By Kelsey Wilkins
A reference for poseable art doll crafting basics.
I have been making art dolls since 2015. They are very complex projects that require skills in multiple art fields and take a lot of patience and perseverance. The style of doll that I make requires the use of these skills: painting, sculpting, basic construction, sewing, trimming fur, understanding of anatomy, problem solving, and I suppose you could include photography in the list too. You’ll also need knowledge of many tools and materials. The fastest I ever made a doll was 2 weeks, my sheep doll in 2015 with a very simple design. I meticulously timed the making of my Halloween dragon made in 2016, for a total of 30 hours. Generally, a doll will take me about a month or more to complete. Surely I will get faster with experience, but I will always take time and care to make something excellent and special. If I’m gonna spend a long time making something, I’m gonna make it good! When I made my first doll, I was impatient so I rushed and cut corners, and I later regretted that I could have done better. Make something you can really cherish and be proud of, for yourself, cause you’re awesome. ♥
What is an art doll? They are dolls that are hand made pieces of art, often made with a wide variety of materials. I’m not sure where the line is that seems to cross into plush/stuffed animals and sculpture.
Although they are not toys, some artists make their dolls sturdy enough to be handled by kids.
The way I make my dolls is not the only way to make dolls, it’s just what works for me, the creative methods that I enjoy. Experiment and find what works for you! The purpose of this guide is to help you get introduced into making poseable art dolls.
My goals for my guide have always been:
1. To hopefully save others from heartache caused by catastrophic crafting failure. My first doll was a bit of a disaster and fell apart.
2. To hopefully save others from wasting money on doll materials that end up not working. It can be expensive to get started, especially if you have to keep replacing parts.
3. To encourage others to create and explore creativity.
Table of Contents
Special thanks to:
Anya Boz - anyabozartist.com - Her art dolls were the first ones of this kind I had seen, poseable, intricately detailed, furry, mesmerizing. I had gotten into raising rabbits and tanning their fur, but I had no kinds of projects in mind for the fur. So I googled something along the lines of “projects(or was it art?) made with rabbit fur”. One of Anya’s earlier works made with rabbit fur upcycled from a rabbit fur coat showed up and I nearly died. I was instantly hooked on the concept of poseable art dolls. I’m not sure how I never saw or heard of these things until 2015. I think her firework tiger is my favorite of her work.
Magweno - deviantart.com/magweno - Her tutorials got me started - Part 1: fav.me/d38jnod and Part 2: fav.me/d38johg As far as I know she doesn’t make art dolls anymore, I miss her, the whole art doll community misses her, we hope you’re doing well and enjoying life Maggie! ♥ Her ivory and gold kirin Elmis was always my favorite of her work.
More Tutorials on Deviantart:
Links to Related Resources:
The Blue Bottle Tree - An amazing resource for all things polymer clay: thebluebottletree.com/ Their test on 41 different sealers for polymer clay: thebluebottletree.com/testing-… Their test on spray sealers for polymer clay: thebluebottletree.com/spray-se…
And that’s the end of my tutorial!
I hope you enjoyed my guide, whether you’re here to make a doll, here to find techniques for use in other art forms, or just here out of curiosity!
Go and make something fun!
4. Clay Parts
How I Art Doll - Airbrushing Fur
Thank you for writing this all out! I can only imagine how long it took to make it understandable >v>'
I'm really hoping to try making my own art doll sometime soon. The closest I've made are these miniatures I made last year. They're entirely made of Fimo and don't seem to be as durable as I was hoping they'd be (the Fimo is chipping around the wire joints sadly ;v; ). I'm planning on trying out some of the thermoplastic you mentioned in the hopes of making a more durable doll ^_^
Oh! I was going to ask. With regards to trimming the fur, I've seen a lot of art dolls some others have made where it looks kinda choppy and not as smooth as I'd personally prefer. Do you have any tips on how to avoid obvious "chop" lines? I read through your Finishing Touches section, but I was just wondering if there are any other tips that could help a novice like me ;v;
You're welcome! I did do quite a few revisions haha.
Nice! They look great! I'd call those art dolls too. I think art dolls are kind of any "doll" that's hand made.
Ahh.. I've heard making bjds out of polymer clay gives the same problem, chips at the joints. I think Cosclay would fix your problem, it's a polymer clay rubber hybrid. Thin pieces are SUPER flexible, I'm not sure if it can chip in thicker pieces, I haven't used it yet. The best joints you could possibly make for limbs with sculpted parts would be ball joints, elastic strung like ball jointed dolls(bjds), or interlocking parts like action figures. From what I hear they can be tricky to figure out, but it might be something you like!
Thermo plastic is extremely durable but it's tricky to sculpt, it's definitely useful for art and household repairs.
As for trimming the fur neatly, if you're using an electric trimmer, keep your downward pressure on the doll consistent(or as consistent as you can). You can also refine with scissors after. Trimming large chunks of fur with scissors will cause choppiness. I usually start with some big blunt cuts on the lower legs since I remove the most there, and then cut little bits to refine and shape it. I do have a video on youtube if you haven't seen it. Try petting the fur backwards to get it to stand out straight and you'll be able to notice any gaps in the difference of length. And don't drive yourself too crazy trying to get it perfect, because the fur doesn't always lay the same way, it changes as it's handled. Hope that helps!
Thank you for the reply!
I'll definitely give Cosclay a look since that sounds like the perfect compromise. I do plan to try sculpting with thermoplastic as well, for the experience if nothing else, since I'd really like for any new dolls I make to be able to put up with some manhandling. xD
Ah, I didn't think of raising the fur up by petting it backwards. I'll definitely have to get some practice in with the electric trimmers as well. It'd be heart breaking to mangle the fur after sewing everything together. But yes! I'll definitely go give that Youtube video a watch.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! This has all definitely helped and I can only hope to put your advice to work soon >v<
Have a fabulous day!
Haha, I agree, if you're going to put that much work into a project, it'd be nice to have it last for a long time!
So far I have only really messed up the fur on one doll while trimming, my first doll, so don't feel discouraged if you don't do well the first time. That doll is actually in pieces right now, the armature is broken and too weak, I threw out the fur cause I did such a bad job trimming it, I had even removed a piece from straight down the back and glued it shut cause it was too round but after that it was too skinny... I had hot glued everything instead of sewing, it did not feel nice to hold. And then I also used the wrong paint sealer that never cured, so I plopped some good sealer on top which wrinkled and warped over time so I'm scraping that plus the paint off. I hate to "update" my very first doll because it's the example of where I started, but it was a gift for my mom and it's in real bad shape.
No problem! It's nice to help people avoid the mistakes I did on my first doll. Inspiring and enabling other people to create is one of the best parts of being an artist.
Thanks! You have a fabulous day too!
Materials I Use for Art Dolls
- Click here to go back to the Table of Contents -
If you like to recycle, be thrifty, or are on a budget I have a few suggestions for you! Check garage sales, etsy, ebay, or websites like craigslist for cheap materials and smaller quantities of fur. You can find fur scrap lots for cheap, allowing you to get a large range of colors without having to buy a minimum 1 yard of each color(just make sure the scraps aren't too small!).
You can also upcycle stuffed animals.
- Polymer Clay -
A clay that you can bake in your oven at home, no kiln needed! There are also air dry polymer clays, but if you like to be able to set your work down and return to it later, you may want to opt for the bake variety. I like to use Sculpey Premo!, it's mid range in price, is slightly
If you make a doll with soft paws and soft ears you will only need clay for the face, 2oz bars of Sculpey Premo are about $3-6. You can make easy eyes by rolling two balls of the clay and baking them, then they will keep their shape as you sculpt the face around them. Yes you can bake polymer clay more than once without hurting it. Having soft paws also means no worries about delicate clay feet or needing to reinforce them.
If you have fake flowers, like on wreaths or table center pieces you can take them apart and use them as feathers, just glue or sew them on. Felt sheets can be cut into feather shapes and used the same way.
A sack of small rocks from your driveway can be used to weigh down the hips to help the doll balance, nothing fancy needed there.
Most people already have paint, you need water based paint for polymer clay. You do not need to worry about sealing the paint, just be careful with your doll to not scratch it.
If you have a thrift store you can look for fur coats or stoles. I got a vintage fox fur stole at mine for $25, enough fur for a couple of dolls. Getting to upcycle is pretty cool in my opinion. You'll need probably about a yard of fur/fabric. You can get small amounts of different colors on Etsy, though I'm not sure how the prices fair.
Have an old pillow or stuffed animal? You can take it apart for the stuffing. You can also brush out yarn to use as stuffing.
So if you have everything except fur and clay, you can make a doll for about $30.
Hope that helps!