Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Bennett Sisters (by Uneek Doll Designs)

Young Henry VIII and Anne Bolyen (by Uneek Doll Designs)

Interview With Debbie (Uneek Doll Designs)

If you like art, art dolls, a bit of history, humor and fun, you will love the work of Uneek Doll Designs. I met Debbie, the creative inspiration behind these miniature art dolls, through EGADS, an Etsy street team dedicated to promoting dolls as more than just toys for tots. You will be amazed and delighted at how intricate Debbie's work is. It is a pleasure to bring you this interview.

"At Uneek Doll Designs," Debbie tells me, "you never know who is going to show up! It could be King Henry VIII, or Granny Smith, or Scarlett O'Hara, Shakespeare ...well, you get the idea!" Debbie hand designs all her miniature characters, drawing upon an array of classical and literary genres for inspiration: Tudor, 18th Century, Victorian, Rustic Pioneer, Edwardian Era, Medieval, Ancient Royalty--all with an attention to detail sure to delight.

"I find a sense of satisfaction" Debbie continues, "in taking a simple, basic wooden clothespin and turning it into a recognizable character. There's also fun in adding my own whimsical touches to the final product!"

Debbie's miniature characters were born out of the need to find just the right match for some fancy doll houses being designed as a special gift. Debbie looked around, but could not find any dolls she liked, so she made her own. "My greatest pleasure in doing my hand crafted items is seeing other people derive pleasure from them, too! My characters have been made as gifts for different kinds of people and collectors for several years now."

Art and creating are something Debbie has always done in many different forms: painting, drawing, and designing pictures with free hand stitching. "My trademark I am most known for is not using a pattern for any of my designs on anything. I guess I just prefer to picture it, then try various techniques to get what effect I want! I design and create characters that I have read about in literary classics and the pages of history. I definitely feel my work reflects a huge part of my personality in the fact that I am interpreting my vision of what the character should look like."

"I honestly have to say," Debbie continues, "it is my faith in God that inspires me. I have had a lot of challenges--as we all have--and have been in situations that were impossible to change through human effort. That is where I have found the peace and strength that comes through my personal faith. It has gotten me through many hard things!"

Debbie finds artistic inspiration in books. "I have a huge library of classics by Dickens, Jane Austen, Ravi Zacharias, Anthony Trollope, and the list goes on. Reading is a way of taking a vacation for me without having to spend any gas money." She also appreciates most kinds of music: classical, some country, pop and gospel.

As to what shoes Debbie wears? "Hmmm..." she says, "my first thought is loafers...not that I loaf, mind you, but they are a comfortable, practical sort of shoe. Not too fancy, not too plain!"

Debbie is a married mother of four (yes, four!) teenagers and resides in Illinois with her family.

You may find out more about her artwork in her shop.

What Shoes Debbie Wears

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lobsters! What Was I Thinking?

I recently had the opportunity to meet and work with Liz Grandmaison, a photographer in Bangor, ME. She kindly and creatively made NotYerAverage Lobster portraits for me. I'll be introducing the lobsters in a series I am calling, "Lobsters! What was I Thinking?" I love the results of Liz's work and encourage you all to visit her website to see more of her delicious photographs.

Someone asked me of my work, "Why on this Green Earth did you pick lobsters?" Once I stopped laughing, I realized this was actually a very good question. What was I thinking? Why had lobsters--and particularly the making of my own version of these--dare I say it?...ugly and homely looking creatures--become so important?

The superficial answer: a customer asked for one. Lobsters are kind of a Maine cliche--and tourist shops are loaded with the little creatures in one form or another. Mostly, these toys and ornaments and hand-puppets are made in countries outside of Maine and outside the United States. Locals scoff at the idea of toy stuffed lobsters. In my humble opinion, these creatures get a bad rap. It is not the lobsters' fault they have been reduced to...well...bottom feeders on kitschy tourist shop shelves.

I admit (being a Maine-iac myself) my first reaction to this customer request was a resounding, "NO!" Then, okay, I started fiddling with a pattern and came up with a lobster I liked. The process took a while. I struggled with how to make this creature look at least a little...cute. I wanted the design to be simple, too. And relatively user-friendly--no sharp edges or eyes that could cause injury to anyone. I was thinking toys, then, not pieces of art...but I am getting ahead of myself...I'll talk about this evolution in a little bit and in subsequent postings.

Anyway...after several rounds of too skinny, too small, too fat, too strange looking lobsters, I came up with something that looked like the Red and Black NotYerAverage Lobster pictured here.

Through the process of designing my first lobsters and thinking about what materials to use for them, I started growing fond of the little creatures. After weighing the pros and cons for fabrics, I settle, primarily, on flannel. This fabric is also commonly seen on people from Maine. It gets cold here in the fall and winter...and much of the spring. Flannel makes great, cozy shirts and pajamas and sheets and all kinds of good stuff like that.

Then, me being me, I started thinking about breaking from the "traditional" red lobster scene. Lobsters are not naturally red. They get that way when they are cooked. Many people only see lobsters baked or steamed on a plate. So, many people, understandably want red lobsters. But, how boring to work only in one color! I looked to lobsters' natural colors which turn out to be various and speckled reds, oranges, greens, blacks and blues not always all that interesting or exciting if you want one as a toy or decoration or collectible. That is when the name "NotYerAverage Lobster" was born. I made a conscious decision not to get locked into any particular color or style.

As an aside--I now enjoy haunting the local thrift stores for flannel and wool clothing with interesting colors and designs. I can feel good about my purchases, too. The money I spend in these shops goes to help my community and my products are made (to the extent they can be) of recycled materials.

Though red continues to be the most popular color, I also sew lobsters in purple, green, pink, yellow, leopard and more. Here is a Slate Blue NotYerAverage Lobster.

After weeks turned into years of working with the lobsters, I made a connection with these cuddly crustaceans in surprising ways. For those of you who don't know, the name of my business is Sojourn Quilts. A "sojourn" is a "resting place along life's journey." Making the lobsters, bringing the idea to life in fabric, gave me the opportunity to think about Maine and my place within it. I realized these works, simple or complex, really do tap into something deep inside me. They symbolize a way for me to honor Maine, some of its traditions, and how this place has played a profound role in shaping the way I think about and interact with the world.

Since I began making lobsters in 2006, I have added What a Character Lobsters and Soft Sculptured Quilted Art Lobsters to my repertoire. I will talk more about them in other posts. In the meantime, you can see more of my lobsters in my shop on Etsy if you'd like.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Feel free to look around and read the interviews I have done with other artisans: jewelers, card makers, doll makers, and painters. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

EGADS and VAST - Etsy Sellers' Treasury

This is another treasury I curated on Etsy. These are picks from two street teams: Etsy Guild for Art Dolls and Such and Visual Artists Street Team.

Featured sellers include:

Row 1: Hand Dyed Cat Ornament by Twenty Pound Tabby, Arianna by Danita's Shop, Eve Tried to Fix People Pin Doll by Doll Project

Row 2: Wild Heart by It's Elemental, I Got Him by Chest of Fairy Tales by Victoria Usova, Girl and Flower Print by Lily Pang Studio

Row 3: The Air is Rising by Julie Suzanne, Pumpkinhaus Earthlies Doll by Pumpkinhaus, Creation I by Diane Clancy

Row 4: Heart of a Woman by Thrifty Collage Artist, Interface 2 by Into the Blystic, Russian Beaded Doll Pin by Whskr

To join Etsy, click on the "Sign Up Now" button on their Log In Page. You'll be asked to fill in some information (your name, email address, etc). It'd be so kind of you to put "" in the "Where did you hear about Etsy?" space, and sojournquilts in the "Referrer's username" space.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Sweet Simplicity-Etsy Sellers' Treasury

These are a few of my favorite items from select sellers on Etsy. Some of these artists have been interviewed for this blog. Some are on the Visual Artists Street Team. And some I included just because I love their work!

The works listed in this treasury belong to:

Row 1: Sea Pebbles by Far Afield Jewelry, A Dream Within a Dream by Karen Casey Smith, Jester Bell with Maraca by Natalya Sots

Row 2: Spring is in the Air by Twisted Figures, Stalk by Lusummers, Hope Springs Eternal by BlueyeDuckStudios

Row 3: Vibrant Poppies by Art by Manjiri, Leeda Sheebie by Susarto, Sunny Days by Stegart

Row 4: Aqua Blue/Green Seaglass Bracelet by Jim's Gems of New Hampshire, Flying Flower by June Blue, Elegant Dining by Beadz2Pleaz

To join Etsy, click on the "Sign Up Now" button on their Log In Page. You'll be asked to fill in some information (your name, email address, etc). It'd be so kind of you to put "" in the "Where did you hear about Etsy?" space, and sojournquilts in the "Referrer's username."


Monday, July 7, 2008

Baby Thomas (By Cottonwool Baby Studio)

Oliver and Charlie (By Cottonwool Baby Studio)

Interview with Mary (Cottonwool Baby Studio)

I'm new to the world of doll making and new to an Etsy street team called EGADS. This stands for "Etsy Guild For Art Dolls and Such" and is comprised of many talented, creative and wonderful people. It's where I met Mary, who brings cloth, batting, wire, clay and paint to life through her doll making. And, it's with great pleasure I bring you this interview with her.

"I have always been described as a dreamer," Mary tells me, "as being someone who sees things as I want them to be, and I guess that's true."

Mary is the creative inspiration behind Cottonwool Baby Studio located "South of the Endless Mountains." A visit to her website or shop reveals an array of soft sculptured, ball-jointed dolls, and other fun stuff (like magnets of your favorite dolls) sure to delight.

"As a child," Mary says, "if a doll that I envisioned didn't exist, I'd make one or draw it on paper." Although she thought a lot about being an artist, Mary spent fourteen years working with children in a Daycare School. She experienced an epiphany while attending a seminar for her job. The instructor asked the group to complete this sentence as part of an exercise: "I am..." Common answers to this question from other participants included I am...a advocate for children...a nurturer. For Mary, the answer in her mind was resoundingly different. "My only thought was I am an artist."

"I had known for some time," Mary continues, "that after fourteen years it was time to go. As much as I loved my job and would miss the children, it was time to stop thinking about being an artist and go be one."

That was about five years ago. She's been making dolls ever since.

"My work represents the children, currently in doll form and Soft Sculpture. My goal is to suggest that you may have seen this child before; in a photograph or your own past, or on the street yesterday."

"To be able to start a project I have to be moved by something in a face, not necessarily a pretty one. I love to work with cloth, although messier mediums are fun too. When I have a vision about creating a particular doll, usually from a drawing or photograph, I sometimes put off the creation until I'm sure it's best represented by the medium I've chosen."

As you can see from the photographs on Mary's website, the Soft Sculpture process is an intricate one. To start, Mary constructs a wire skeleton built from anatomically proportionate drawings. The wire skeleton is then layered with cotton batting until the desired thickness and shape is achieved. Mary's work is so intricate she even sculpts muscles to give her dolls a realistic look and feel. Layers of nylon "skin" are then applied to create the desired tone. Next, Mary chooses fabrics of interesting texture and color to clothe her dolls and add the perfect final touches.

When life throws challenges Mary's way, she is "always uplifted by that calm reassurance that this is what I'm supposed to be doing, even though others may not see it that way. Also, trees can soothe me when nothing else is going right. If I lived another life it was either as a Druid or a squirrel!"

Mary finds classical music or (she hates to admit) Show tunes can sometimes work miracles when she has a painting or sculpting "hurdle" to jump.

As to what shoes Mary wears? She says, simply, "cowboy boots."

More information about Mary and her work may be found at her website or shop.

Mary is a member of Etsy Guild for Art Dolls and Such

What Shoes Mary Wears