Paper Doll Subjects: Randomness Reigns

Some years ago, I made a paper doll of Frank Merriwell, a character from a late 19th century nickel weekly called Tip Top Weekly. It was a lark: I liked the idea more than I liked the character. Frank himself was insufferably righteous and his stories were invariably pretty standard fare. Though he was incredibly popular at the time and survived into the radio days, I was pretty much done with him after reading half a dozen adventures. The appeal for the paper doll was mostly that he was playing some new sport every week, so always had a new uniform which was kind of fun.

Frank notwithstanding, I have had a long love affair with nickel weeklies. These trashy things predate comic books and though they were a moral bore now and then, some were quite gruesome. There was no “code” so often you had characters meeting all sorts of murderers and opium addicts. Painted ladies were mostly out, though–that remained a taboo.

Last year, while I was taking some time out in the Pacific Northwest, I dug up my copies of Young Klondike. For sheer appeal, this was one of the more interesting of the weeklies for me. It didn’t have the steampunk travel-around-the-world fantasy of Frank Reade’s Library or the crime-solving hard boiled noir of Nick Carter, but it had something far more attractive: snow! For me, an adventure in Alaska was way more exotic and exciting than gumshoes and robots.

Young Klondike ran for 39 issues, 27 of which are available online. I haven’t read them all because they’re obviously a finite resource. So I like to savor them–as much as one can savor what amounts to pulp trash. Objectively they aren’t great, but I started thinking about re-purposing the text. If Young Klondike were written today, what might it look like? Last summer I took the text and began appropriating it into something new. I kept the basic plot and left its quirkiest character untouched for the most part. But I re-imagined the other three central characters for a modern audience. Three hundred pages later, I might have something that could be a book, but that’s not the point. I’m telling you this because I idly started sketching paper dolls for the characters and I thought to myself: this is so completely random.

But then, really, all my paper dolls always are.

I don’t know what the appeal is for half the stuff I make. But I make things for my own amusement and if they amuse others, three cheers! I just know there are lots of paper dolls for fashion models or popular personalities/characters. I enjoy those as much as anybody (and I make them too!). But I’m also probably that one person who, if I saw a paper doll book of Klondike explorers from 1898, would go completely nuts for it.

So, like it or not, you’re probably getting 19th century Klondiker paper dolls in the coming months. It’s just the way this blog rolls. To be fair, I warned you from the start about my esoteric tastes ~ ha!

Catwalk Couture: Never Underestimate My Mule-Headedness

A week or so back I gave the unfortunate impression that my Catwalk Couture series was an unmitigated disaster and that I was throwing the bathwater out whether there was a baby in there or not. What I meant to express is that the series was a highly mitigate-able disaster. That in spite of redrafting from the top, I intend to be on track before the Oscars in February.

While this does mean that I tossed out a lot of work, I tossed out stuff that was plain bad. Anything that could be salvaged, I did. And I was able to salvage more than I anticipated through the magic of PhotoShop!

Although I don’t post that much about my process, I am a very process-orientated person. I love other people’s process posts. I love dirty stacks of scribbling, seeing multiple drafts of works-in-progress, and hearing about the artistic trials and triumphs of others. And I absolutely don’t mind sharing my own–I’m just often too preoccupied to do it. But I was thinking about how much I am personally encouraged by other people’s willingness to share their processes and how I shouldn’t be so distracted or lazy about sharing my own.

All right then: an update on what’s going on with Catwalk Couture. I’ve redrawn, inked, and painted the dolls. They are much happier, I am much happier. I no longer want to put a sack over Niall’s head. Life is good. I’ve drawn and inked those tuxedos that gave me shingles last week and they are awesome (trust me–they are). I picked some simple but lovely designs for the women’s gowns that I think will be stunning. Those are done as well.

I’ve organized. I made actual decisions about what I’m doing. I’ve struck a balance between easy and challenging, which is a delicate thing with me and drawing (and part of why paper dolls suit me so well: one week it’s a white t-shirt, the next week it’s insane Spanish lace with meticulous insewn beadwork).

Most importantly, I found the joy again in this project and I am super-excited to share it with you.

The bottom line is, I fail a lot–quite regularly in fact. And I have the old blogs to prove it: I’ve abandoned more projects than I’ve completed. But when I fall, I’ve learned to put my hands out before my face hits the pavement. You don’t just learn to walk the first time, but all the time, every day.

So here’s this quote from a 19th century source on paper dolls, which I snipped out of a Victoriana magazine when I was a teenager and have kept all these years. It always helped me as I was learning to draw, to not be overly critical of my own skill relative to my learning curve. There will always be artists who are better than me, and I will always be better than others.

And most importantly, share everything because other people will always find joy in your work, even when you can’t see it for yourself.

Catwalk Couture: 2017’s First Disaster?

failI have eight plates of runway dolls and their clothes. I made dozens of mistakes with them: missteps, botched paint jobs, wildly off-model designs. Something about these dolls is cursed. 

It all began when I compromised on Ifu, model No. 1, who, if you’ve been following, was sort of a stand-in for Lupita Nyong’o. The doll I made wasn’t very statuesque, but I thought that would be all right: I have a typical body style and she fit it. Then I compromised on her face. I painted her lower cheek too dark and I painted her eyes wrong. The eyes I fixed in PhotoShop, but the darkness of her coloring could not be rectified. I should have taken all those little problems and stepped back from the project, but I kept barreling through, telling myself not to get hung up on niggling details.

But the mistakes kept coming. My Burberry lines ran all kinds of crooked, doll No. 2, Lonan, had to be reconstructed in PhotoShop due to hair problems, I failed to under-color doll No. 3, Xia. And then there was doll No. 4, Niall, who just…oh…there are no words, really. Niall is just an unfortunate thing.

Was I too ambitious? Was I lazy and inattentive? Did I just not have a coherent plan?

I didn’t really have a plan–that’s true. I went from one model to four overnight and my choices were not well thought-out. At the end of the day, I really like Lonan and Xia, but Ifu and Niall give me heartburn. It all came to a head last week when I thought: “I should make tuxedos for the men so that I can do red carpet gowns for the ladies” and it struck me how much I didn’t want to paint all-black suits. Sure, tuxedos come in other colors, but it was too late. I had already broken out into mental hives.

Ironically, an all-black suit is actually very easy to paint compared to other things. Which is my cue that it’s not the suits that put me off, it’s something much more serious. I wanted these dolls as fun, unstructured fashion models–and they became a nightmare of over-organized, rigidly plotted, time-sucking, eyeball-burning labor.

If it ain’t fun, don’t do it folks.

It’s a mantra I’ve seen in fellow artists’ blogs and when it comes to hobby art perhaps wiser words were never writ. Some of the pieces I’ve made for these dolls are quite lovely and it’s a shame to waste them, but I am so honestly not in love with the whole set. Bits might be salvageable, but I made bad choices on the models and bad choices on the clothes and bad choices on my templates. I could post the eight plates as a cautionary, but I’m not sure I want to. Fact is, I’m chucking any future plans for them and starting over. No comment on what that would look like at the moment.

I ain’t asking for advice or consolation. I’ve made up my mind and I’m already over it. emoji_winkBut I did want to post about it to share this unlovely part of the process and to say, well, I promised I would have runway dolls by the time the Oscars came around and, hey: I still have 44 days to go!


Catwalk Couture: Paper Doll Research

lupita_01I started with a folder full of pictures of Lupita Nyong’o. The research branched out since then.

There are things for which I am a meticulous researcher. Paper dolls is not one of them. I make paper dolls for my own amusement–mindless relief from stress and a break from my other great love: writing. In writing I insist on impeccable historical detail, even knowing most of it never makes it into the narrative. With paper dolls, verisimilitude is sufficient. If I get hung up on details, I’d never get anything done. Also, without being able to study garments up close or have a record of their construction, it’s impossible to know whether you are doing them right. The best you can hope is that your image resembles what you’re copying.

And I’m just plain lazy. As I trawl through Google, I skip over cool things because of the daunting detail involved. Some patterns are too much for me since I do everything by hand. I know some of my limits. I have considered digitally managing it, but that’s stressful and therefore antithetical to the whole exercise

Picked out a handful of designers when I started but it’s exploded as I learn about the vast landscape of the fashion world: names I never heard of, styles I’ve never seen. There’s a wonderful variety of everyday wear, fancy party stuff, and that theatrical-grade haute couture in which no one is ever really seen out and about. I like it all and want to make sure I include a mix.

Me personally? I’m not a clothes-horse. My wardrobe is almost entirely black so I don’t have to think about what I put on. I like things I can’t afford but I don’t look at the labels and usually shop cheaply. I bought a silk Anne Klein scarf with my very first real-job paycheck when I was 17. It cost $45 (an outrageous sum almost twenty-five years ago). I still have the scarf and it’s still beautiful.

As I Google various designer’s names, I attach the word “runway” to the search since many look books show models sitting or turning in ways that make it hard to see the clothing. There’s no dearth of material to browse, so the hardest part is narrowing down selections (it’s easy to want to do everything!).

purple_thingFinding cool stuff for the men is harder than expected. Runway men are either dull (I see Rachel‘s point about how disinteresting men’s clothes can be), or too silly to take seriously (that purple business featured here: case in point).

Someone like Tom Tierney could reproduce unconventional male attire as a matter of historical record, but I want my guys to look good! I’m okay with challenging myself a little on color. And styles that aren’t my idea of flattering. I’ve given each doll a personality and one of my men will wear the kinds of clothes that others think are fashionable even if they make me shudder. But I’m drawing a line at making my men look like idiots. By my biases, that means you will not be seeing them in raging pinks or baby doll dresses because I just don’t find those things attractive. On men or women!

As I search, my eyes immediately go to stuff that’s black. I might have to do a whole black & white regular feature to indulge that, but I want to really work more uncommon colors and styles into my mix.  Even (faith forfend) pastels.

I mix almost all of my own paint colors. So color itself is already challenging. My perception especially of reds and purples is very poor and in the past I have had to adjust saturation and tone levels in PhotoShop when I’ve failed to mix a color properly (I had to do it on one set of my Burberry pieces already). It’s one of the things I want to get better at through this process. But more on that aspect later.

To start with I’ve picked four relatively well-known designers. Are you ready? I’m ready!


Catwalk Couture: Paper Dolls in Progress

painting_01I love being a fly on the wall to observe others’ processes. Whether it’s art or writing or any kind of planning, really, I just enjoy seeing how people go about creating. I like my own process too, but I am abysmal at documenting it. I get caught up in the doing, and forget to visualize an audience, even when I’m mindful of it.

This is my way of saying I utterly failed to capture my work from conception to completion on the catwalk models even though it was my intention to provide a blow by blow. And perhaps that’s not terribly interesting to some of you anyway. There are many ways to skin a cat, but not everyone wants to watch it happen.

But I will at least give some specs: these will be Holbein and Winsor & Newton watercolor/gouache on hot press 100% cotton (ooo fancy!). With a little bit of Sharpie marker, a bit of Copic marker, and lots of small touch-ups in Photoshop. I’ve been using the same paint and paper for at least ten years and more. Some of my gouache I inherited from a painter back in Texas more than 20 years ago. Which is awesome because Winsor & Newton cadmium red in particular is insanely expensive and I have enough to probably last a lifetime.

I tend to use cheap brushes since my method of painting (which is more like pushing pigment around on the paper until it goes where I want), is hell on fine brushes. I am well aware that my tools and methods probably make the process more work than it needs to be. There are habits at this point that I can’t seem to break.

My dolls are typically about nine inches tall (I reproduce them at actual size in the downloadable plates). It makes doing little accessories a challenge and some of the detail work is very fine. That little face in the image above is about an inch and a quarter. Without the hair, it’s about the size of an actual quarter, in fact. I have thought of going larger to make it easier, but I am very bad at achieving solid color coverage (even in small scale), so this size feels ideal for me. Can still manage the little details, but I don’t get overwhelmed by large areas to paint. I have an insurmountable tentativeness about painting due to a traumatic event in my childhood involving colored paper that scarred me for life (you don’t want to hear about it–ha!).

burberryOnce I finished the models, I decided I wanted to plate them with some foundation pieces. I didn’t want to just post a bunch of half-naked bodies. My friend who asked me for a General Hux paper doll is (as you can imagine) a huge fan of Domhnall Gleeson. We were talking about that Burberry commercial he recently made. So I thought: why not start with Burberry?

Here’s why: I can’t draw a straight line to save my life. Burberry is all about lines!

But I decided not to let it stop me. If I quit every time I paint a lopsided line, I’ll never get anything done. And I want to learn from this process. Learn how to use and coordinate colors (even if I’m copying), how to paint patterns, how to reproduce styles and folds I don’t typically draw. So much to learn! Working on Cookie’s outfits for Empire showed me that I’m up for the challenge (more on that later).

The models are more or less done (two men, two women). And their handful of Burberry bits are done (thank you Lord). I’m still working on the plating. Then I’ll start to select wardrobes for them (not Burberry). I’ll try to capture that process as I go. I expect to start posting finished plates the first week of January, 2017!


Let Chaos Reign


I love chaos. And yet I get hung up on trying to do things in an orderly fashion. I’m a librarian by profession and so it’s in my work nature to be orderly. I love structure and organization.

My creative nature, however, is a whole different story. In my creative life nothing is orderly. The only reason I was able to take the picture of my art supplies in a single place is because I haven’t yet unpacked them since I moved mid-October.

But if you’ve followed this blog, you already know I’m disorganized in my creative work. I say I’m not going to make Star Wars paper dolls and end up with more than 20 of them (and no end in sight). I work on stuff that I never post. And even the stuff I do post never really has any structure to it.

So this is me, not making promises about what I’m posting in the future, appreciating those who can (and do) stick to a schedule/a project/order. If I try to be orderly about stuff, I’ll just stall out. So if there is an expectation regarding this blog, it’s that things here will be random and chaotic.

I have stuff to post: some Judy plates for Vol. 29, some Cookie plates from Empire, and yes, more Star Wars. I considered finishing my Fear the Walking Dead plates, but I’m not going to get hung up on that. I want to start new projects. Original projects! Story projects. Fun things! And I want to try to just post as I go instead of worrying about plating and making things tidy and perfect.

And I want to go through my paper doll collection and share some of that too. That was the original purpose of my 19th Century Paper Dolls blog: to share the obscene collection I’ve amassed over the years. Much of it is probably familiar to people who enjoy paper dolls as much as I do, but I also have some gems. It’s primarily dolls with clothing from the 1800s (with a few exceptions). So I hope you like bustles and crinolines and corsets!


Force February: the Star Wars Paper Dolls You’re Looking For

StarWarsNerd_thumb While trying to figure out what to do with my scrapped Star Wars parody paper doll, I wandered about the web and discovered that there really aren’t that many Star Wars paper dolls out there (this surprised me!). Found a few Leias, a few Lukes, an Amidala, a silly Darth Vader, and one very shiny new Rey. But overall it seems like maybe we do need something in this realm.

I told myself I could only make Star Wars paper dolls if 1.) I didn’t take them seriously, 2.) if making them was something I could do quickly and have fun with, and 3.) if I used the project to learn something new or experiment with simplifying/stylizing my paper doll template/models.

I didn’t want to worry about character likenesses or niggling over authenticity. The point was to make silly dolls so that eventually I could do absurd things like “The Skywalker Family Picnic” in which everyone is wearing beach clothes and eating hot dogs and Vader’s got a grilling apron that says “Sith Happens” or some other absurdity.

So I sat down to plan things out and maybe quickly draft some ideas and I confirmed three really sorta no-brainer things about process:

  1. Your style is just your style. I really wanted to make some very simple body models and cartoony heads, but everything I drew looks pretty much like all the other dolls I draw. I need to quit fighting that.
  2. Smoke ’em if you got ’em. We associate certain actors with these roles whether we want to or not. I lucked out attempting to draw Luke’s face, and then Han, Darth Vader, Leia and even Rey. I was on a roll! Made very few corrections, which is pretty miraculous. Then I tried to draw Kylo Ren and it was evident that my luck had run out, but more on that later. Point is, if you can pull something off, might as well go for it!
  3. Making art, by nature, is fun. Sometimes the most important part of “simplifying” the process is to stop thinking about it and just do it.

As it turns out, these dolls won’t be any different from ones I’ve posted so far (they scale exactly, in fact), and they will generally look like their movie counterparts (Kylo Ren notwithstanding). Big fail on my original goals, but that’s okay because I got the “fun” part right, and that’s what’s important.

The plan:

W-F: I’m going to post Star Wars plates throughout February on Wednesdays-Fridays. So for the month of February you’ll get a new paper doll plate every day of the week (weekends off–maybe).

Content: The majority of these paper dolls will be rendered from the original Star Wars trilogy and they will be straight-up adapted from the film costumes (for now). I’ve only drafted two characters from The Force Awakens (one of whom still doesn’t have a head). I might do more. We’ll see.

Format: full color, with “color your own” versions as well. Darth Vader and Kylo Ren (and Luke, for that matter) wear all-black and black is barf to print. The shaded line art will give you the option to print and fill in the black by other means (or color them day-glow psychedelic if it pleases you ~ hey, knock yourselves out).

I’ll post process pics on Twitter @BootsNBats leading up to the launch if you want a sneak preview.  In case it needs saying: in February there will probably be SPOILERS on this blog. I’ll leave the Force Awakens stuff for the end of the month, just as an added buffer.


Happy New Year, 2016!

new_years_2015The last year has been crazy, but I’m happy to have this blog running and to be back to posting paper dolls. Lots of stuff coming for the New Year and I’ve tried to figure out a schedule that makes sense. If I post three days a week, I’ll burn through my buffer quick, but I have at least four series I want to start sharing soon!

Tentatively starting the second week of January:

Monday Mayhem: comic book-themed paper dolls in full color. Starting with villains Harley Quinn and the Joker (hence the mayhem).

Judy Tuesdays: continuing the black & white series until the volumes run out, which will be a nice long while.

Fear Fridays: zombies and the people who don’t love them. Have two black & white plates of The Walking Dead left to post, then lots of full color Fear the Walking Dead to come. Still a weird set of plates, but I’m following through to the end.

Right now the outlier is Empire, for which I don’t have a catchy day name. I’m also behind on it compared to the others, though I really love how it’s coming out (great material to work from!). Might stall posting it until I can figure out where to put it.

I continue to look for ways to simplify (in my monumental laziness). Painting is a challenge not so much for the labor, but mixing colors has been hard since I’m not making up my own color palettes. I’ll continue to paint the series I’ve already started, but having really enjoyed coloring with markers for the Christmas Bumble and comic book stuff, I might do more of that for some series in the near future. Still have my eye on the X-files (new mini-series starts in January), and I’ve always wanted to go back to Quantum Leap because the costumes are awesome and weird on that show.

I’d really like to do something quick and fun that’s not tied to a specific series and has a more general appeal (my tastes are skewed). And/or at some point in 2016, I’d like to work on historical paper dolls (aside from Judy, and in full color). While I absolutely love working from great source material, I feel like I need some original paper dolls in the mix. I like to cheat by reproducing other people’s designs, but I miss making up my own stuff.

So Many Irons; So Much Fire

desk_12_04_15Back in ye olden times I kept a livejournal where I periodically posted pictures of the evolving state of my desk. The links to those pictures are gone now, though I have the originals on my computer. It was fun to record the progression of my whims over time, so I thought I would start anew.

I probably have too many disparate series to work on, but it’s fun to give my desk over to them for now.

I’m trying to figure out a way to post plates that makes sense (and is reasonably paced). While I have a small buffer, I can see burning through it quick.

The Walking Dead has 7 plates (four of which have been posted) and then it’s pretty much done. Judy is on-going with 4 plates ready in the queue for Judy Tuesdays (I’ll work on Vol. 29 over Christmas). Meanwhile, I’m concurrently working on three other series.

I’m painting two of those series (Empire and Fear the Walking Dead [FTWD]), which always takes more time than I expect. FTWD is a big set (9 people, 6 zombies, and I don’t have a clothing count yet). Each character only has a plate or two of clothing, however, and much of it is pretty straight-forward (aside from a handful of prints and plaids). I expect it will be about 25-27 plates, of which I’ve drawn a lot but painted very little at this point.

palette_12_04_15Empire, despite only doing 2 characters, is intensive because Cookie’s closet is a bottomless pit of styles and colors (the woman goes through 4+ costumes every episode). Because of her, I had to mix pink paint Thursday night–might have been a first for me.

I’m enjoying doing new things and challenging myself to not get too sloppy about things I don’t want to do. I flirted with the idea of putting tabs on the clothing (something to which I’ve always been averse), then I remembered how much space tabs take up on the page. I did, however, push myself to do something about my horror of little shoes floating around. After much shoe-envy over other paper doll artists’ blogs, I came up with something I can live with.

The third series I have percolating is comic-book related. I’m keeping it simple by coloring it with markers (which works well for comics). I finished drawing and coloring two characters last night, but haven’t made any clothes yet.

As usual, I’ve probably deep-ended in the ambition pool, but I’m okay if some of these are slow to roll out. I’m not even worried about the FTWD stuff because the show is in hiatus and won’t be back until late Spring at the earliest. I’d like to have half the plates finished before I even start posting it.

I’d like to start posting Empire next week as my regular Thursday post for now.

And I’m not adding any more series to the queue, though I’m wildly tempted.

Fear the Walking Dead : the Horrors of Plaid

plaidsI like a good challenge now and then, but it’s equally true that I’m notoriously lazy. I’m working on drafting clothing for the Fear the Walking Dead characters and finding it a balance of both those worlds. This is a universe where people wear a lot of straight basics: t-shirts, sports coats, jeans, that sort of thing. But it’s also a show full of very particular prints and, worst of all worlds: lots of plaid.

Do men really wear this much plaid these days? Especially in California? It seems so 1990s. But then I guess all sorts of retro is in these days.

Fortunately the horror of plaids is largely restricted to one character, Travis. Each of the Clark children (Alicia and Nick) has at least one plaid of their own, as does one zombie critter. All told it’s about 6 or 7 plaid pieces that I have to get through. It could definitely be a lot worse.

And who knows? Maybe I will come to love painting plaid. It’s highly doubtful, but there’s always a chance that it will be a lot easier than I expect. At least I have plenty of reference pictures. And believe me, I’m not going to be super-particular about the exact patterns.

Between the plaids on this show and animal prints on Empire, I’m really wandering into new territories all over the place. Learning new stuff is never a bad thing. I’m looking forward to how these will turn out.