Monday, July 18, 2011

The Face of the Princess Doll

There were a few memorable dolls in my life growing up, although I was not fascinated with dolls until I was old enough to sew for them.  My grandmother had a beautiful Shirley Temple doll, which I didn't actually play with because she was fragile and in perfect condition.  But she must have impressed me, because I still remember her in my Nana's "glass room," a corner room in the apartment she and Grandpa lived in on the ground floor of the hotel they owned and operated.

 But I adored paper dolls. There was a new wardrobe for Betsy McCall in my mother's McCall Magazine every month, which I clipped and tabbed faithfully. 

Like Barbie Handler, the real little girl for whom the Barbie doll was named, I was more into paper dolls than baby dolls. It's interesting to read the history of the Barbie doll, which launched in 1959.  As the story goes, Barbie's mom Ruth proposed the Barbie Doll to her husband Elliott, a co-founder of Mattel. Barbie's mother had noticed that Barbie liked to assign adult roles to her paper dolls.  Barbie's dad wasn't the least interested at first, although according to Wikipedia over a billion have now been sold.  The year they were advertised on TV for Christmas, my parents couldn't find one anywhere in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and my grandparents combed the stores in Spokane, Washington, all in vain.  Like Cabbage Patch dolls in 1983, the stores could not stock them fast enough to meet the demand.

Some day in the distant future, when archeologists find remains of our civilization, they are likely to find Barbies by the dozen lurking in  every space that was inhabited by a 21st century human family.  They might find other action figures too-- GI Joes, Transformers, and of course every tiny animal imaginable including swarms of little plastic dinosaurs.  If they are like many archeologists, they will possibly extrapolate theories that the ubiquitous Barbies were some sort of fertility symbol or religious icon. 

Granted, the word "toy," doesn't begin to cover it.  A doll is a toy by definition, but a little girl's relationship to her dolls goes far beyond play.  The dolls that matter to little girls and their mothers might actually be a little closer to fertility symbols or religious icons.  I believe many little girls love their dolls because of their innate longing to nurture their future children; and they love their Barbies because they are fascinated with the feminine ideal.  A special doll sometimes becomes a toddler's best friend, and many mothers and grandmothers love dolls all their lives.  When my mother was mute and dying in a nursing facility, the nurses gave all the women life-like baby dolls to hold as they were wheeled through their daily routines.  It seemed to comfort them to have a "baby" in their arms.  Our dolls are true and dear friends to the degree that we lavish love on them.

Here is my newest painting of my princess cut-out's face.  I plan to do ten of these, to improve my technique before I paint the foam core doll.  Below is the third practice face out of ten.  This cut-out will perch on the corner of my table at Carrie Middlemiss's Seattle Cup Cake Camp next winter in a frothy ball gown.  I hope every little girl in attendance will spot this princess a block away and love her at first sight.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In a Word

When I was seven years old, I was tearing around the neighborhood with my best friend, Diane Johnston, who was far more sophisticated and coordinated than I.  I stumbled on a curb, fell, barked myself up a bit, and limped home saddened.  My parents were concerned, and plied me for details. 

I didn't know the word for "curb" at that age, and called it a "ledge."  That was the best noun I could scrounge from my limited vocabulary.  Of course my parents were frantic to hear I had fallen off a ledge, and I was bundled onto the couch and palpated for damage.  Diane, sensitive and loyal friend that she was, waited until all the grownups were gone, then said, "That was not a ledge, you moron!  That was a curb."  I immediately recognized the truth of her message.  "Curb."  Right.  That was the word I was groping for.

My parents had one of those enormous old dictionaries, about the size of a small bureau drawer, which they kept open on our window seat in a carved stand.  We all loved that fat old dictionary, and our parents sent us off to look things up, either there or in our family's set of encyclopedias in the built-in maple bookshelves next to the fireplace.  By the time I was in sixth grade, my friends were mocking me for using big words.  I loved words.  I was acing the Reader's Digest vocabulary tests by the time I was 12 years old.

When my youngest child was a baby, I discovered a series of vocabulary workbooks.  The author stated that senior executives consistently scored significantly higher than the rest of the population she had tested for her research.  Of course I had to have that set.  I wanted to see if I would test as high as the bigwigs, and I wanted to give my kids a leg up on their future by marching them through the course.

I still believe a well-developed vocabulary is a hallmark of leadership.  It is very obvious at Microsoft, the corporation I am most familiar with, and impressive in the media and literature I especially enjoy.

I am reading "The Pale King" now, and writing down all the words I don't know, to look up later on the internet.  [Nostalgia alert: I don't own a paper dictionary.]  I feel like that seven year-old who couldn't name a curb, again.  David Foster Wallace throws obscure vocab at his readers like rice at a wedding.  Sometimes he just includes a long list of medical or accountancy terms with no narrative or preamble, like a bag of candy that needs no further explanation.  I am loving this book and researching the long list of words I have captured.

If you have a child in your home, consider an active program for working on his or her vocabulary.  Words are the mechanics of ideas, and well-spoken people are likely to be clear thinkers and persuasive leaders.  The minute you start collecting words you are not sure of, you will find them everywhere; and you can look them up with your child.  A mastery of language is preparation for the creation and evaluation of ideas.  I believe it is one of the most valuable tools you can give a child-- but I am prejudiced.  I once fell off a ledge just because I didn't know it was a curb.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kids and paintings

From the first stirrings of an idea to the end result, there are baby steps, miss-steps, leaps of faith, side-tracks, fits, starts and pit stops of varying lengths for varying reasons The drawing for my foam core cut-outs came together right away, within the first few days of the project.  The painting for the finished paper doll will be another story entirely.

My goal was to paint ten faces before I paint the cutouts.  I have done this enough to know that the tenth one will be distinctly better than the first few.  Today it occurred to me that I can do the painting on a piece of canvas paper and glue it to the cutout.  It doesn't have to be right the first time or the eleventh time.

One of the main differences between the graphic and performing arts is that a painter can start over as many times as necessary.  In fact, most painters have stacks and stacks of canvasses that have three or four layers of failed paintings one underneath the other, like layers of an onion.  With years of study, struggle and experience, master painters can get it right the first time, but even they will usually choose only a few of their many, many pieces to display. And, they will start the next one even before the current one is finished.  A painter, in other words, can keep trying as many times as it takes.

My grand daughter invited me to attend a writers' clinic with her in Mount Vernon, Washington. One of the presenters was a professional illustrator, Jesse Joshua Watson, whose message was to keep trying.  He showed a series of illustrations from concept through completion.  It was fascinating.  I think his hope was that all the kids who liked art would feel encouraged to paint, trusting that their skill will grow as they persist.

I read in Children of Alcoholism, By Judith S. Seixas and Geraldine Youcha, that kids raised by alcoholics miss out on the natural sequence of planning and executing simple things.  According to the book, alcoholics very often have big dreams and grand schemes, but they are too crippled by their disease to follow through.  Promises are seldom kept. Therefore, the kids don't learn that you choose a goal, plan the necessary steps, trust that they will eventually lead you to the end result, then plug away persistently.  Goals are achieved, and dreams come true.  Things get done.

Art projects are a wonderful way to teach kids this sequence.  If the first one doesn't look the way they wanted it to, it's nevertheless a great, awesome, perfect thing because it is part of the mastery sequence.  Every brush stroke or crayon scrawl is part of the journey, and every interim masterpiece matters.  It's an idea that started in the child's head and found its way onto a piece of paper.  What a triumph!  And there's a bonus.  The next one will be even better.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day Two, Princess Project

I spent 5 years studying art, struggling with basic elements such as proportion and perspective.  Coming back to drawing even after a year's absence, it's painfully clear that it will take a while to get my mojo back.  Even with such rusty skills, the fun factor has been overwhelming.

Today I played around with sketches for my foam core cut-out princesses, which will become part of my Kat Green Store booth at Seattle's Cup Cake Camp next winter.  I'm focused on this small detail because I can't imagine anything more fun than a paper doll big enough to be a live child, and an outfit actually sewn from real fabric, but strictly for decoration.  (It won't have to withstand any of the stresses of a real ball gown, since its wearer will never take a step, far less a spin around a ballroom.)

My daughter observed that a large cut-out princess might be a fun thing for little girls to color, too.  Great idea.  It is percolating.

Here, I am deciding on the size of the cut-out.  The foam core cut-out will only go down to the hips.  The rest of the princess's body will be suggested by the skirt of the ball gown.  That will make it much easier to transport, store, and install. You will see at a glance that her arms are too bulky.  The proportion will be improved by making them more slender.   The sketch on the right is a better size.  The life-size drawing on the left is too big for the format-- I would have had to cut her arms from a separate foam board and attach them.  Way too much hassle.

Stay tuned.  Can't wait to paint the cut-outs and make the gowns!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fresh-squeezed creative juice

Here are Sadie's and Alyssa's sweaters, as ordered:  hot pink with sparkles, and bright orange and fancy.  I couldn't find any hot pink yarn with sparkles so I knitted the pink sweater using two thicknesses of metalic silver specialty thread along with the yarn.  It definitely appears to be sprinkled with fairy dust, although the sparkles don't show in the photo unless you view it full-screen.  The fancy orange sweater has lace panels along the button placket, with hand-stitched shiny orange beads (lined with twinkling silver) following the pattern of the lace.

Next up:  Big Sister Abby.  I am excited to find out what she will choose for her sweater.  She is very original.

In addition to finishing Alyssa's sweater, I worked on the first drawings for my princess cut-outs (see the post below) today.  I am so stoked for this project!  The cutouts will be a cross between life-sized paper dolls and dress-up gowns with insane amounts of girly/royal foo-foo.  I am seeing glittering fake jewels in my sleep.  Miles of shimmering organza!  Ruffles that Scarlett O'Hara might have envied!  Lace!  Beads!  Glitter!  I am hyperventilating.  Drawings to come.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Into the Woods

My fairies and princesses are beckoning, once again.  With all due respect to Mr. Sondheim, I'll be back in my natural habitat, drawing pictures and painting fairies as of Wednesday, July 13.  I have three immediate projects I'm itching to get onto my easel; I am going to draw a "buddy book," which will be a collection of 11" x 17" drawings cut into two 8.5" x 11" pages, so two buddies can color the two halves of the larger picture, then tape them together into a fabulous poster-sized collaborative creation.  I hope these will be an interesting summer project for best friends or siblings.  I have been told some of my little customers like to color their fairies with their grandmothers.  That sounds like so much fun, I was inspired to create buddy books just for them.  These pages will not be bound.  We want to make it easy to tape the two halves together and get the finished product up on the wall to admire.  I'm considering larger posters, designed for four or six kids to work on and assemble.  That would be a fun party project for guests who like to color.  A photo of the whole art team with their assembled poster would make a great party souvenir.  I can picture this activity with cute matching smocks and washable poster paint. That would have been my idea of a party, as a little girl!

Projects number two and three are preparations for Carrie Middlemiss's fabulous and famous Cup Cake Camp in Seattle next winter.  I plan to rent a vendor table at the event, and throw a princess party for all the little girls and their moms who attend.  Of course we will serve cupcakes--as many as our guests can eat.  We'll also show off our princess and fairy party favors, which are miniature coloring books, our princess and fairy "make your own" bookmarks, and of course our Princesses and Fairies coloring books.  For this project, I am going to make foam core princess cut-outs with real ball gowns, to decorate the table.  Behind the table will be a painting depicting the best princess and fairy party ever.

I can hardly wait.