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by Patricia Rose


I've been asked a question about molds.  I thought I'd address the question directly here.  If the armature is poking it's ugly little head out all the time, it is trying to tell you something.  Here is what to do:

  • The wire of the armature is a size too large or more. Use a smaller wire in the next creation.
  • It is often best to use a smaller gauge wire in the arms and one size larger gauge for the legs.
  • If you move the pose around a lot, the wire is what you are moving actually, and the clay will be smashed in the process, so plan out the pose before you start sculpting.
  • If you have hot hands and touch the clay a lot, it softens the clay and handling it will make the wire pop out also. So here it on a chain from the ceiling and touch is as little as possible... Or get a stand like I use to keep her off the table and out of your hands as much.
  • Hang your dolly up in a pose close to what you want, walk away from her for a day. The clay will firm up and you will have less to struggle with the next day. Do like I do, have 5 stands on your desk with about 8 dolls you are sculpting all at the same time. Sometimes you think the doll looks great but if you leave her alone for a day and come back to work on her later, you will instantly see what could be improved.
  • If you use a mold and are having trouble stitching the parting line sides together, roll a little snake like line of clay to cover that line and work the clay in. It's a better way of not smashing the sides of the doll. Plus when fired it will not have a crack there as it often does.
  • And for those who are having trouble getting the polymer clay doll out of my press molds or other molds make in plaster, here are a few pointers to help you.  First: do not use  sculpey polymer clay products for your nice finished dolls. Sculpey and even Super Sculpey  is great for kids and craft projects that you may  want  to  paint over. BUT, it streaks, cracks, shows imperfections and is brittle when fired. Use ProSculpt (available from www.artdolls.com ) or use Fimo, Puppen, Kato, Cernit or a combination of these different kinds of polymer clay. Second: Use fresh clay each pressing. The more you use the clay in a mold the more the oil is soaked out of the clay  and  into the plaster. It dries out the  clay! Then when fired or even before that it will crack in the joints. Third: Sometime  spray wetting the mold with water just before you press will make the doll easier to release. Or, you could lightly dust the mold with baby powder or cornstarch just before pressing. Make sure you get almost all the powder out of the mold before you press or it will leave white dust on the doll. DO NOT USE ANY KIND OF MOLD RELEASE AGENT ON THE MARKET. YOU WILL RUIN THE MOLD! Fourth: make the doll as even with the top of each half of the mold as possible, less will ooze out when you press, so less chance of the two halves sticking and not releasing the doll.  Each mold is different and has it's little tricks for releasing it. The same thing happens to ceramic and porcelain molds. You will have to learn to work with the mold you use.

Keep Your Clay Clean
Here is the best tip anyone will ever give you about how to keep your clay clean while working on it… don’t use anything metal to sculpt with! Metal tools leave a residue on the surface of the clay. Use wooden tools if possible. Hard woods are the best. You can sand boxwood to the desired shape you need to sculpt with and it will last forever. Hardwoods have natural oil that keeps them from dragging and pulling the clay. They don’t stick to the clay like many other wooden tools do. You never have to coat them with varnish, which will wear off and also leave deposits on your clay.

Why You Should Hang Your Sculpt
For hard to sculpt poses, I suggest that you put a hook in the ceiling just above your work area. Make sure it is anchored well with a butterfly screw. Then buy some interior toilet tank chain by the foot at Home Depot to hang from the hook. Attach a regular safety pin to the end of the chain. Put an armature in your sculpture that has a loop that comes out of the top of the head. Thus enabling you to hang your in progress art work at eye level to work on. Open the safety pin and attach to the loop in the top of the dolls head.  You can now work on your doll without getting your hot little hands all over her and melting the clay in places! She will no longer have flat places in her bottom when you lay her down. If the chain is too long, use another safety pin to go thru one of the loops and attach it up higher to get the desired height you need.

Wigging Your Doll
Here is a goodie you will love…
About making WIGS! Don’t stress! Carve a big hole in the top of the head before you fire your doll. This can be filled with Tibetan Lamb's wool or mohair. If you cut the hair off the hide and roll it tight at the cut end while putting Fabritac glue on it to compress it, you can make it tight enough to put a great deal of hair down that hole in the head. Let it dry before putting in the head. Cut off the uneven excess hair and now add the same glue to the interior hole, put the hair in it. Your doll will look like Woody Woodpecker until you style it. But, just think you don’t have to make a wig cape or serge the raw edges and lay on layers of hair. Use super glue gel to paint around the ears and pull the hair down into those areas to look natural. Super glue can only be used on blonde or white hair as it whites up the area it is applied to. Tacky glue and Fabritac is too thick and stringy for this also. Just use a very tiny amount of 527 glue if using darker hair. This is just too easy.

Firing Your Doll
Firing you doll... WOW, I’ve  burnt more dolls than I’ve burnt toast.  Nothing worse than to open up your toaster oven or home oven and find you’ve just spent two days and have nothing to show for it except a crispy creature  and now have to start over. If you lay your doll flat to fire her you can prevent crispy fingers and toes by covering them with a heavy layer of polyfill stuffing.  The best way to cook anything is hang it in the middle of your oven. I have a convection oven that is digital and keeps the temperature exact. No burns!!!!!

How I bake. I baked the little mermaid that is on my first video in a toaster oven but they get hot real quick. Their temps are not accurate, most of the time. Plus the little doll is too close to the elements and may burn. You can't trust a toaster oven! I showed how to fire in a toaster oven on the video because not everyone has an extra oven just to fire clay in, and some people won't use the home oven for fear of fumes near the food. They make portable table top convection ovens now which may be a good investment if you make a lot of dolls.  If you bake it in your non convection home oven... here is what I use to do: Put your work in a cool oven, turn on to 230, time it for 18-19 minutes, when finished, open door slightly, turn oven off, leave in oven until completely cool. Scrape lumps off your art piece. Sand with 320 - 600 grit fine wet/dry sandpaper. Rinse paper often and rinse doll with water when finished. Clean lightly with acetone only with a cotton ball if needed to remove white scratches or lumps in the bigger areas of the doll. Put art back in cold oven, set on 270 degrees, once it gets to that temp cook for 30 minutes or longer based on how thick your doll is.  When finished, turn oven off, slightly open door again and let cool completely. Paint with genesis paints, put back in oven and fire for 5 minutes at 250 degrees, let cool completely. I watch these firing like a hawk. I wear the timer so I won't forget the doll! I’ve found that an embossing gun cures the genesis paint faster and is a better way than putting the doll back into the oven for that paint firing. They sell them in stamping sections at many local craft stores.  I personally now use a digital convection oven and the temp is accurate! The reason I advised you to use lower temperatures to fire your work is, most people do not have a convection oven that will circulate the heat evenly or a digital oven to be totally accurate.

Here is a biggie...I’ve never found a toaster oven that had the heat gauged correctly. The piece ends up too close to the top burner and can fry the little fingers and much more. So to play it safe, use your home oven and put your work in the middle. Watch it like a hawk. I live with a timer on my belt. Don’t buy an egg timer they will let you down, spend a little more at Sharper Image and get a good one that is easy to set. I've heard you can clean the interior of your oven with vinegar and water and it will be safe once more to cook dinner in.

Here’s a lesson learned the hard way…with all those cake mixes I’ve made over the years you’d think this would have been an easy one to remember. Don’t use metal to cook on for your doll or wings. It heats up faster and higher than glass. If the recommended temperature says 265-275 it will bake correctly on glass, but be darker on the edges if you use metal cookware. If you put a layer of polyfill under the art piece on a metal pan that’s OK, but watch your delicate wings and fins as much as you can while they are in the oven. Do a test firing before you try out the temperature and time on your final piece.

Fire your work in stages. I fire the first time in a cool oven or toaster oven at 225 for five minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door partially. Leave it open and do not take the doll out until it has cooled completely. You will cause stress cracks if you cool it too fast. Plus it is too soft to handle, things could break, leave it alone.  Here’s why you fire lightly the first time. It’s easy to scrape off the cellulite on the bigger areas of your doll now. Use a xacto blade and scrape until the whole area is white. If it is white, those are high areas, if it is still flesh in between the white that means that you have low places that do not blend smoothly. So keep scraping girls! A light cost of acetone takes the white scraps completely away. Then fire again.

Don't Do List!

  • Don’t use aluminum foil in the interior of your work. Foil will expand and contract with heat and cooling temps and that may crack the clay outside if it is not very thick.
  • Don’t use Styrofoam inside the figure. It is Very toxic when cooking.
  • Don’t put Styrofoam in the oven and fire it. Again it is very toxic when cooking.
  • Don’t breathe polymer while it bakes or cools. Leave the room and take a break. But don't forget your doll... use a timer and carry it with you while the doll is cooking.
  • Don’t use any kind of spray fixative on your finished doll! Even the matte will leave a shine or residue on her.
  • Don’t use hairspray on your dolls wig. It dulls the hair and takes the life out of her look.
  • Don’t use nail polish to paint your doll. not even her fingernails. It will chip or flake off. And since it has acetone in it... acetone dissolves clay, it could harm the doll.
  • Don’t use acetone to smooth out your clay while sculpting. It dissolves the clay and leaves a white film that looks terrible after firing.

Genesis Paints
Invest in some basic colors of Genesis polymer paints. They handle like oil paints. They are wonderful. You can thin them down, with their glazing medium or the thinning medium that genesis sells, and make the most delicate shading.  I dry brush all the blush areas now of the doll. You fire them on for five minutes at a low temperature, and that makes them fairly permanent. Don’t spend too much money on anything until you know you’re going to stay in this as a hobby, craft or art occupation. These paints are costly, and you need only a few colors. Order Genesis paint from www.polymerclayexpress.com

Details Count
Don’t be lazy with your sculpting folks. Fingers are round not square. This is one of the things that separates the professional from the amateur sculptor. Go the extra mile. Your paying customer knows the difference. Why do you think the BIG girls get the BIG money for their work? It’s hard work and they deserve it. If you are sculpting a figure in a few hours and calling it finished, you’d better keep your day job.

Wings can be made with a variety of products. Forget sewing, it makes them look amateur. Use the transparent or translucent polymer clays on the market.  For a fast and simple wing I use a thin mesh fabric, silk flower petals or leaves or dried real leaves. Paint liquid sculpey over both sides. Be sure to include a wire across the top of the wings by gluing it to add support and to use as a form of attachment to the dolls body later. Fire flat, after it’s completely cooled you can shape it into a desired pose, cut off bits and singe the edges with a match or embossing gun for some cool effects. You can paint it with Genesis paints and lightly fire it again. Add liquid sealer you paint on and sprinkle some fairy glitter lightly over the entire piece.

Multiple Stations
Having different work stations set up and ready to go that are left undisturbed is a real plus if you work at this professionally.  It's a big waste of your time to have to work at the kitchen table (which is how we all start, by the way) and have to disassemble every time your family wants to eat.  Find a little corner in the guest room, garage, basement, sunroom, or unused dining room to set up your little art area.  If tools are left in the same place each time, you don't spend half your time looking for them and trying to get organized.  I have 4 work stations, one where I sculpt, one to paint, one to costume, and one to play with settings and photography.

Shipping your work has been a big question that you’ve asked. I’ve tried everything and the one thing that works to ensure no breaks is…  Lightly wrap your piece in tissue paper, pack polyfill stuffing all around it, then bubble wrap your work. Then triple box it. It is expensive, but it saves a disappointed customer and paying for return shipping after you’ve had it come back for repairs.  Always send it priority or overnight.  My preferred packing method is using many layer of 1" thick foam from the fabric store.  I cut many layers of the same size to fit in the box I've chosen for the doll only.  A layer goes on the bottom of the box.  Each layer is cut around the doll to brace her inside the foam.  She will not move around at all this way.  Where there are dainty parts like fingers, I cut a hole in several layers of the foam stacking and not a single hand or finger touches the sides ever in shipment.  And at the end of all this, she and her setting are shipping in a triple box.  I've sent glass domes to Japan and they arrived safely with this layer method.

Working on Multiple Dolls
I usually work on at least five art pieces at the same time. To keep them clean in between time… I have two glass covered cake servers that house my work until I’m ready to play with them again. Or I use the chains that hang the doll from the ceiling. I have 5 chains over my tables for students to use. While I’m alone in my studio, they all end up having dolls on them. I even stand to work on some of them sometimes! Don’t want myself or my dolls to end up with a flat butt from sitting all the time!

Armatures, keep it simple.  A little 18-28 gauge steal, brass or aluminum wire is all that is needed.  Make it look like a stick figure and make sure you run the wire out one leg then make a loop that sticks out the top of your dolls head.  Run that same wire down the other leg. Twist the arm wire into the heart area of you piece. If you follow my video or use one of my armature  patterns you can’t go wrong. Give it a spiral twisting all the way down from the top where the loop sticks out of her head to the waist area. The Armature designs are shown on most of my figure line drawings on my website. They are available to print out for free on my site.

Painting Faces
You most likely will be making sweet fairies or mermaids if you are following my work.  Painting has a lot to do with your final look. Don’t use black eye liner or lashes.  We are not making Vegas divas.  I use burnt umber.  And remember that heavy blue eye shadow went out with bell bottoms or was it Disco?  Keep her lips as natural a shade of pink or soft mauve as possible.  Heavy cheek blush does not look natural either, keep it simple and you’ll have a… out in the woods fairy.

French Manicures, Pregnant Fairies, and Strange Cross-Breeding (Just my personal opinion)
Don't know where the French manicure originate that is showing up all over doll auctions on eBay.  But think about it… would a fairy or mermaid have a French manicure? You won’t see that on my dolls. I try to represent figures from mythology.  I’ve been asked to create some weird doll combinations like a pregnant mermaid or a half mermaid and fairy. I'm sticking to what I know about fairies and mermaid and am not making up too much. Don’t take on more at the beginning than you can explain. If someone asks you where it originated, you’ll have to become a storywriter in addition to sculptor trying to justify your work.

Smoothing Clay
Honest to Goodness… I’ve had a student that swore this was the best way to smooth your clay while sculpting…. use your own spit. No idea where that originated! Now why would you do something that germy? Just how gross is that? If you’ve been told this and it’s your practice, think about an alternative smoothing technique. Your customers will appreciate the lack of germy DNA I swear!  The best thing to smooth the clay is a hardwood tool, clean short stub oil paint brushes and the side of your thumb.  Don't add anything accept pressure!

Easy Resources for Costuming
Very little material or accessories are needed to decorate these figures. You need to think outside the box, like they say. Meaning, everyday items around your home can have endless finds in them. Look at everything a little closer now, think if you turned it a different way or only used a thin edge of something, or cut something up to look ragged like a fairy gown… there’s the magic.  Shop at home first before you spend too much money or stock up on items that the scale would never be right anyhow.

Miniature Shops
Miniature shops will have a major come back now that polymer fairies are catching on everywhere. I’ve found the sweetest things in two fine shops where I live. Plan to spend some time in one and be sure to take your strong reading glasses along to see the detail that went into some of the finest artesian work you will ever see. While there, ask about local miniature show that might be coming to your area. You’ll get some hard to find deals at shows! And you’ll get to meet the artist!

Fabric Sculpting
Fabric Sculpting is no mystery.  Just get an embossing gun and burn the edges of fabric.  Be careful not to do it on the doll.  Get under fabric and heat it to make small holes and crinkled up effects.  I’ve found that chiffon and tulle netting give the best effects.  Try not to burn to the dark stage or you’ll have to spend time cutting it off.  You don’t want your fairy to look like she just escaped a burning forest.

I use a small piece of window glass to make wings on. You can roll the item out, decorate it, and fire it in your oven, all without having to move the wing. It should be small enough to fit into your toaster oven. I’ve heard it’s dangerous to use this glass in your oven. I’ve never had a problem. You are advised to use a glass recommended for the oven. You can get a large glass rectangle cake pan and it will be perfect. I can hold it up to the light while designing a wing and see where the air bubbles are in order to remove them. Cool idea, don’t you think?

Finding Your Style
Everyone has a style. It may take you a few years to recognize that you have one, or be content with what it looks like. But, we have been programmed since birth about what we like and don’t like. You’ll see that you’ve become accustom to the way your family looks and start sculpting your dolls in a similar fashion and look. I hear it all the time, you look just like your dolls, or is it supposed to be the other way around, oh well. I am glad that I come from a family of pretty women since that is what I enjoy sculpting the most. If you have cute little apple cheeks, you may prefer to do babies or toddlers. If you have a house full of men and boys, you will be natural to sculpt male dolls. Honest!

Mermaid Settings
If you are making a mermaid… go to the web if you don’t live near the ocean and look for shells. Put them together in a sea setting that will give your mermaid some height. You don’t want her tail to drag the ground. She is to look graceful and as supreme as a princess on top of her shells, coral and perhaps look like she is swimming. Glue the whole project together with 527 glue or Liquid nails for crafters they are great and will stay put.

Fairy Settings
Manzanita is the most wonderful wooden setting you can find to put a woodland fairy on. It comes in the raw wood or you can purchase it polished with stain and varnish. You can find it on display web sites, on eBay or taxidermy web site. I prefer the natural, as you would find the fairy sitting on it in the wild. But have used a highly polished piece for a Sun Goddess or other Amazon type lady before.

Making Your Own Tools
Hard to find tools?  Make your own tools from clay and household items.    A sewing ream ripper is a wonderful sculpting tool.  A very small crochet hook is useful inside ears and navels.  A wooden cuticle stick is great.  The plastic tube inside a bic or other ink cartridge is useful in making mermaid scales.  A rolling pin makes semi-soft clay softer by rolling it out in a plastic freezer bag.  Old small paint brushes clean up lumps on your dolls hips very nice. Old party dishes and cups make wonder palettes and thinner holders for Genesis polymer paints. And if all else fails make the tools you want in polymer clay. Do get a good pair of scissors, wire cutters, small needle nose pliers, sewing needles, small paintbrushes and Xacto knife. Everything else can be made or found around the home.

Make Mermaid Scale Tools
Mermaid scales are easy to make if you’re neat! You can make a scale maker out of a small hollow cylinder of brass or stainless steel. Cut the end off at a 30% angle. Or just use a small drink straw cut at the same angle. Too much flex is not a good thing, I prefer the metal tools and it’s hard to find a small straw in diameter.  Remember necessity is the mother of invention.

Don't Copy...Create!
One of the biggest topics of conversation with the artists that are the cream of the crop is… why does everyone copy us!!! Yes, it is a form of flattery, but most of us girls prefer you flatter yourself and develop your own style or tastes. We worked hard to get here, and it was by doing our own thing that brought us fame and notoriety.  If you don’t have an original idea one… here is a trick I learned in college… Write down on paper a list of all the things you like on one page and all the things you hate on another. Even if you are a negative person, soon the like’s page will be fuller than the dislikes. Write every thought you have down. If you like stainless steel milk trucks, write it down. Or sheeting rain on your window. Then take the list and start to look for things to relate to your dolls and your art. There is a pattern in there, trust me! If nothing else comes of it, you’ll know yourself better and be on your road to finding your tastes and style!

Dying Tibetan Lamb
How to dye Tibetan lamb fur. Leave the fur on the hide, cut the hide into smaller pieces, if you want, by cutting on the raw hide side only. Draw a line, cut close to the surface when you cut so that you don't cut off too much fur on the other side. Boil some water, put it into a large enough bowl to submerse that section of the hide. Before putting the hide in, thoroughly mix in some liquid RIT dye the color you want. Don't use Cocoa thinking you are going to get brown, it turns purple. Put the hide into the boiling water with the dye in it and stir it around for 5 minutes. Take it out, run clear water over it to rinse out the dye and hang it on skirt hangers to dry. That's it. If the color is not what you want, you can re-dye it after it is dry. Do not use a blow dryer on it. Sometimes it takes two dyings to get the desired color.

Smoothing Your Sculpt
Smoothing is done in three ways- on the bigger areas; I use the side of my thumb to smooth out. In tight areas like the face, I use an old, short, flat, small oil paint brush with stiff bristles first, go in different directions to smooth, don't keep going the same way because it leaves ruts. Then I use a small flat watercolor brush to pat down and feather over those areas. Smooth one area into the other. If you hold you work up to your light just right and see some sharp edges and depressions, those will be the troublemakers later when the first firing is done and they will require sanding and scraping.  I also sand with 320-600 fine grit wet-dry sandpaper now. It's black in color. This is done after the first firing. Be gentle with your work, it's very breakable at this point. Scrape first as usual, then sand with the paper. I put a small bowl of water in front of me and dip the paper into it. You'll get the doll very wet, but that's OK.  Keep rinsing the sandpaper to clean the degrees off of it. Use only small pieces of paper at a time. Double over the edge and make a small point with the paper if you need to get into a tight area. If the area is too tight to get with this method, I use small fine files with curved edges on them. I work on the doll until she is a polished piece of art. Only after everything is finished do I use a light coat of acetone to eliminate the white scratches. I dip the medium soft brush into a cap full of acetone and work a light coat in a small area. Do not let it run, that's an indication of too much acetone, and that will make that white haze as it dissolves your polymer surface. To fix that, should it happen, you'll need to scrape most of the white out after it has dried and the clay has hardened again, that could be an hour or more. Then use that same light coat you where suppose to use in the first place. If all else fails and your marks are still showing... the Genesis paint glazing medium will save it some. Fire your doll hard at 270 in an accurate temp. oven. Then go to the painting stage.

I work the paint like you would if you painted a porcelain doll with china paints. I use the glazing medium or thinning medium, for less shine, right out of the tube, brush it on in a very small area at a time. Wipe some of it off with a clean rag. Then paint in the areas you want to color, like the features and the pink and taupe mixture for the body fold areas. Fire the art at 250 degrees for 5 minutes at that temperature to seal the paint. That glazing medium will hide some of the scratches. You can go over the paint a second time with the same process to hide a little more.

The whole key in making these dolls is....  Don't get in a hurry to fire the first time, take your time, try not to use metal tools on your work (it does make it dirty, and don't beat yourself up if things go wrong, it happens to us all). Most things can be fixed. This doll sculpting is different every single figure we make. And it is a learning process. I'm still learning what works and how to make it easier for you to understand thru my experimenting. I know you all appreciate it and that is why I do it.

Hugs, Patricia

Consider joining my Fantasy Art Guild for more information on how to make dolls. We will assign you a personal mentor to help answer questions you may have daily. Lifelong friends interested in the same thing you are creating are waiting there to help you learn.

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