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!


Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday morning: six more weeks of Winter! I have no problem with that and will be sorry to see the cold weather go. The impending threat of Spring, however, made me think I should do some housekeeping around the blog.

First, updates for what I’m working on:

  • The Catwalk dolls start posting this weekend!
  • Force Friday is back next week for a short spell while I post my leftover Star Wars backlog.
  • There is a plan to share bits and pieces of my personal collection. This is a 2017 goal I failed to make any progress on last month ~ ha!
  • I also started painting some new dolls because I can’t stick to any one thing–ever. More on that soon.
  • I added an Index page. I don’t like my tag/category system, so I started to clean it up and remove things. An index is easier to customize in the manner I prefer and prettier to look at!
  • Lastly, I added a couple of paragraphs to my About page regarding paper doll tabs. It’s not the apologia I originally had in mind, but what’s there to say, really? Here are the reasons I don’t use tabs. The rest is just shrugging and sheepish looks.

All that said, I always welcome discussion about all things, so feel free to ask questions or nag me–especially about why I’m completely wrong about tabs and ruining it for everyone.

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!


The Catwalk is Coming!


For a long time I have wanted to create some runway models for contemporary fashions and red carpet gowns. Drawing stick models is not my style, though, so I kept kicking that project down the lane. Recently I was looking at pictures of Lupita Nyong’o and thinking to myself: “dang, that woman makes everything look good!” I was going to make a Lupita Nyong’o paper doll, but then I realized this was my opportunity to expand that ambition.

Runway couture can be kind of silly. Sometimes it’s more about putting on a show and creating a buzz for an aesthetic rather than trotting out practical wearable garments. I love costuming, so both the fanciful and the practical are interesting to me. Also, my taste for clothing leans (if not falls over completely) for rather baroque influences. I like embroidery. I like velvet. I like heavy decoration.

This past weekend I knocked out my first two runway models (I’m thinking of doing four). I think I’m happy with them and I’ll introduce them to you shortly. And yes, one of them is definitely inspired by Lupita Nyong’o.

I have a couple of designers in mind that I’m going to start with, but if you have favorites, let me know!  I’m hoping to have these dolls and their fashions up and running in time for Oscar season!

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!


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.

In Which I Arbitrarily Change My Mind

colorIt occurs to me, after spending some time plating costumes and whatnot, that straight-up black and white can all just start to run together after a while. I mean, I love me some b&w, but the blog is going to look a little pale without a splash from the rainbow now and then.

So I think I’m going to have to commit to coloring a set here and there. Yeah, it adds time and a layer of complexity, but I think I can do this smart. I’ll avoid the paints because I get into trouble with that, and instead use colored pencils or markers. I suck at computer coloring and can only do really basic flats that look, well, flat, so I won’t be going that direction (except maybe a touch-up here or there). And I still want to provide the line work so that coloring sheets can be an option, so I’ll ink the figures and clothes, which is not something I’ve done with my colored work in the past.

I did some experimenting, and I think this can work. It’s easiest to color things that come with a scheme already in place. When I have to figure out color for myself it’s a lot harder as I struggle with tones and complements. I have a color wheel and have tried to work with it, but my perception is poor and has resisted training.

Some dolls, like Judy, will remain in black and white.



Paper Doll Preview

harley_previewWhat’s Coming?

Part of the reason I created this new blog is because I found myself branching out from 19th century topics and comic books into other popular media. Also,  I just like ruminating on film and books and whatnot.

While I still intend to work on some historical paper dolls, you can see from the photo below that we’ll be wandering into uncharted territory. I watched a lot of TV this summer as I was on sabbatical, and so in addition to more comic book heroes and villains, I started futzing with television characters. I don’t know how many I will do, but for now expect to see Empire, The Walking Dead, and possibly the X-Files.

Hopefully something for everybody!

Black & White vs. Color

In the past, I used to paint all my paper dolls. The thought of working in anything but full color was anathema! Maybe if I had all the time in the world it would make sense to continue in that vein, but painting is an intense endeavor and it causes more frustration than delight sometimes, which is antithetical to the philosophy of the playground.

So while I absolutely love the look of painted paper dolls, line art is just a lot quicker and that’s what you’re going to get here, by and large.

It can take me 2 or more hours to paint the outfit that I can render in ink in under an hour. Black and white just makes more sense. I can produce work faster, fix calamities more easily, and let’s face it: it saves wear, tear, and expense for the printing on your end–and you get to color the finished product to your liking!

I might still post colored versions of some dolls and work in color now and then, but you can expect that most of what you’ll find here as far as printable paper dolls will be black and white.

The Posting Schedule

I have a small backlog of dolls that assures a regular posting schedule for at least through the end of the year. But I want to stay well ahead of things for when we hit the holidays and whatnot, so:

  • Thursday: at least 1 new paper doll plate.
  • Sunday: a review of some kind.

I might additionally throw out a process post or other rambling, but these two days I’ll hold sacred. A couple of days a week is plenty for updates, right? The choice of Thursdays for the paper dolls is a nod to Kathleen Taylor’s “Thursday Tabs”, by the way.

Welcome to the Playground

welcome2I didn’t want to write a big long introductory post, but I thought it might not hurt to try to set some expectations for this website right out of the gate.

Most importantly, I call this site a playground in the title because that’s what it is for me. If you’re expecting a carefully organized and curated site with a coherent focus, you’re likely going to be baffled (and probably disappointed). I used to keep multiple blogs/sites for my various interests, but updating all that regularly was a nuisance so I have kitchen-sinked it all here.

I’ll be porting over some content (manually–argh!) from those previous blogs, so if you knew me from somewhere else, you’ll probably see some redundancy out of the gate. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, though.

This title Pop Culture & Paper Dolls was the best I could come up with for an over-arching theme. I like talking about things in pop culture and I like paper dolls. Occasionally I enjoy marrying the two.

But consider yourself forewarned: my tastes are occasionally on the strange side. What I like in pop culture isn’t always that popular, and some of it may be pretty obscure. Nevertheless, I think I can at least guarantee that what you’ll find here won’t be found anywhere else on the web.welcome1

What you will find here is a lot of random, semi-related (and sometimes-not-so-much) content, including:

  • Reviews and Ruminations on:
    • Books
    • Comics
    • Movies
    • TV Episodes/Shows
  • Paper Dolls:
    • Shared items from the web
    • Original creations to download
  • Wibbling and Warbling:
    • About art
    • The creative process
    • Inspirational pictures and quotes

Whatever your particular tastes, I hope you like what you see. Feel free to subscribe and share. The site is Disqus friendly, so if you already have an account, you’re all set to comment. If you don’t have an account, they are free and easy to set up.