The Godfather

This was not the first time someone’s asked me to paint the best movie ever made on organised crime. I used to spend my Christmas breaks in Canada with my godmother’s family. They have an awesome collection of movies on VHS and my brother and I would systematically go through their entire catalogue whenever we were visiting. The Godfather trilogy was on the docket the day I was whisked away to participate in a holiday not celebrated by Americans: Boxing Day, so I missed the first one. I did come home in time, laden with several books and socks, to sit in for the second and the third one. The second one I loved, the third, not so much. So when my friend asked me to paint the original Godfather set, I was down.

This gave me the perfect excuse to watch the first one, which made me think: Why didn’t I see it sooner? My friend is the sort of customer I love, decisive but not micro manage-y. I did take some notes throughout the movie and looked at some stills and came up with this set. The cat was not suggested, but since I am now a cat person, I threw it in just for fun.

Clockwise from top: Don Vito Corleone, Michael, Tom Hagen, the horse head unceremoniously left in a bed, Fredo, and of course, Sonny.

The horse’s head was my idea, but my friend green lit it so here we are.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

For my Christmas set this year, and I usually have to start brainstorming in June, I decided I wanted to travel back in time and do something nostalgic. I was in a bit of a pickle earlier this year, when the war in Ukraine broke out. The embargo on Russia affected my supplies and I was having a hard time acquiring dolls through my usual channels. I decided to save whatever stock I had and find an alternative solution. After looking at some options, I realised that one particular single doll has the exact same shape as the Peanuts characters, and I absolutely adored every single one of the characters. The idea of doing a nativity scene but with the Peanuts gang was too appealing to tamp down and I immediately got to work. 

There were a lot of elements I wanted to include so I narrowed it down to the most manageable ones. The Husband helped with the major components but I still had to hunt down some bits and bobs and figure out how to put it together. 

The hardest thing I had to locate was the lone red ornament for Charlie Brown’s tree. I had left that to the eleventh hour because I didn’t have time to leave my studio and do any hunting/shopping. I still didn’t find what I was looking for when I finally went to the shops. Luckily, during one of my delirious states from not getting enough sleep, I actually managed to order a string of baubles meant for dollhouse trees and it was the right size but the wrong colour. A brush over with a red Sharpie marker fixed the problem. 

It’s hard bringing a 2-D character to life. The noses on my dolls were “prosthetics”, and by that I meant I had to have a hole drilled into the head and affix a little protrusion, which in itself was another item I had to source and alter in order to make it fit. Linus and Pig Pen’s hairs were also “found objects.” I couldn’t use my regular resin to sculpt the characters’ hair for fear of it being too top heavy and the dolls wouldn’t be able to balance unassisted, so I went with paper clay. They were not the easiest to sculpt, but they did the trick. I am grateful that my past experiences, mistakes, trials and tribulations have given me the ability to know how to solve many problems. A lot of credit has to go to an SVA teacher who encouraged us to hit junk shops for our creations and another who made sure we were well acquainted with all facets of materials and mediums and the proper accompanying applications in which to compliment it.

I’ve had this Christmas tree nesting doll (yes, it opens up!) for several years now. It seems fated to become the tree Charlie Brown’s friends fixed up for him. 

Well, Merry Christmas, one and all! 

When Art Meets Man

I have to confess I was a little upset when I received the photo references for this set. There will be four dolls featuring the outrageous costumes of a drag queen. Normally I LOVE painting drag queens because I get to dig through my collection of glitter and feathers and metallic paints and go to town with the wigs and accessories. But this was more installation art on a human body…no pretty gowns in sight. But the more I studied the photos, the more excited I became because when was the last time I got to paint real art on a human form? I don’t think I have ever done such a thing.

The whole endeavour was surprisingly easy and fun despite the complicity of the abstract designs originated by the creator. I thought long and hard about how to recreate the tiny Troll dolls for several months and decided that I won’t just paint it on, but to simply print them out on card stock, put on a coat of matte gel coating, and then emboss it to give it a little 3D effect. Over the years I have amassed a huge assortment of fibre and was able to construct the hair for them, the smallest one about 2mm!

The only glittering I got to do for this set are for the earrings.

These are some of the photos I was given as reference. You can definitely see more of Kurt Fowl’s outrageous costumes on Instagram under the same handle.

The Alfred Hitchcock Halloween Extravaganza

Just to change things up a bit, this year’s Halloween set does not have a horror theme, but rather, more of a thriller vibe.

My Dad had been the one to introduce me to Alfred Hitchcock movies at an early age, that and John Wayne. Suffice to say I’d rather a good old fashioned thriller than a western. We sometimes compromised on war movies and James Bond films, but if it were up to me, I would always pick a Hitchcock on movie night.

I’ve been toying with the idea of painting the leading ladies from some of my favourite Hitchcock movies for a very very long time and I’m glad I finally got around to painting them this year…and just in time for Halloween too!

Let’s talk first about The Birds. It had not been my introduction to Hitchcock, which I found a bit surprising. I don’t think I even saw it until I was in my late teens. A few years ago, I did something boneheaded at the Sydney Airport (nothing illegal, mind you), and it required me to go into one of those “side rooms” to sort things out. I saw a girl sitting glumly near the service counter and figured she did the same boneheaded thing as me (she did) and chatted her up. Us lunkheads need to stick together, you know? We ended up flying back to the Gold Coast together and bonded over our love of seriously bad movies and she introduced me to “Birdemic: Shock and Terror.” It’s a film made by James Nguyen who modeled three of his films after his idol, Alfred Hitchcock and even managed to get Tippi Hedren to be in one. “Birdemic” was a 90’s take on “The Birds” but with far far less competence. The only thing shocking about it was the numerous scenes where the audience were treated to sensible driving and parking and the “special effects” involving bird attacks. I ended up watching the original version of “The Birds” as a palate cleanser and found that it had not lost its magic after all these years. Tip for Mr. Nguyen: Maybe don’t use paper birds that flaps in place and then call it a homage to Hitchcock? It’s kind of insulting if you ask me.

I found some plastic birds meant for models and painted it black with the now discontinued Liquitex “Glossies” paint (please bring it back!). There are so many Halloween costumes where people would fashion birds onto their green dresses like in the schoolhouse bird attack scene. The problem with doing that with the nesting doll version is that you need to be able to grip the doll with both hands in order to open it and you don’t want to disturb the birds in any way. It’ll definitely fall off if I were to just glue it on. I was also obsessed with the idea of having them hover over the doll instead of them just sitting on it and looked for the sort of wiring that will withstand the weight of the birds as well as the force it will have to endure during opening and closing of the doll. I also didn’t want the wires to show (much). Finally, I found the answer in a really thick gauge clear jewelry wire. When you shake the doll a bit, the birds will actually wiggle.

“Rear Window” was my first foray into Hitchcockverse. I loved everything about this movie. In ’83 when my family immigrated to the US, our first stop was the California and we spent a day at Universal Studios and I was fascinated by the Rear Window apartment display. It could’ve been the catalyst to my lifelong obsession to miniatures and dollhouses. I got to paint Grace Kelly for the first time and enjoyed every minute of it. What an absolute beauty she was!

“Vertigo” was one of those movies that went over my head when I was little but meant a lot more when viewed it as an adult. It was also the basis of another James Nguyen disaster called “Replica.” If you want to see one of the funniest death scenes in cinema, this movie is it.

“North By Northwest” is my second favourite Hitchcock movie. If it weren’t for my Dad showing me this movie I wouldn’t have been able to show off my cinematic prowess in my screenwriting class when the instructor showed the crop duster scene and asked us to guess which movie it was. I was shocked that no one in my class knew it. Often times I have trouble capturing the faces of some actors but not Eve Marie Saint. Nailed it on the first go.

I decided to paint “Notorious” in colour and photograph it with a filter. I’ve only ever seen two Ingrid Bergman movies and this was the one I liked most (sorry, not “Casablanca”). I’ve been painting her daughter Isabella Rossellini for years now and was not surprised by the similarities, but I don’t think I nailed this one. My excuse is that it’s rather tiny to paint.

Oh, we need to talk about “Psycho.” What an absolutely wonderful movie. The heroine was by no means an angel but of course she didn’t deserve to get slaughtered in the shower. I also liked the Gus Van Sant remake and being the purist that I am, I really liked the fact that he had copied the original shot for shot. Most may disagree with me on that front, but I stand by it because I myself do a lot of reproductions and I know how much effort it takes. If James Nguyen tries that technique with “The Birds,” he will most likely F it up royally. But of course I will pay a lot of money to see that too.

Happy Halloween!

A Nightmare Before Christmas Upgrade

It has been a minute since I’ve updated the Nightmare Before Christmas set. Since I normally paint this one around the holiday season, I don’t have the time nor the mental capability to upgrade it. As luck would have it, I got a chance to do so this time, and with a bigger set too!

A bigger set allows a lot more liberties as I have more of a physical wiggle room. I decided, instead of just knocking out the usual set of six dolls, I’m going to add a few more characters to it!

The usual suspects includes: Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie, Sally, the Mayor of Halloweentown, Professor Finkelstein, and Zero. I added Sandy Claws, and the trick or treating henchmen of Oogie’s, Lock Shock and Barrel.

I’ve always been unhappy with the Mayor’s hat. In the movie it’s a stovepipe hat that went too far. When I brought this up with the Hubs, he immediately designed one for me. I knew it’s a good idea to keep him around!

I have also wanted to paint Sandy Claws for a long time so this is a dream come true right here.

As for Oogie, I rooted around my supplies until I found the glow-in-the-dark paint I had initially procured for the Guillermo Del Toro set. It was almost all dried up, but a little water revived it. I didn’t have enough to make him really glow, but he does illuminate a bit in the dark and that’s all it matters!

I have painted Lock Shock and Barrel a long time ago but they were their own standalone set, so I’m thrilled to be able to put them into this set. They’re my absolute favourite in the whole movie!

Tiki Star Wars

I felt a little apprehensive when I was approached to make a Star Wars set, but as Tiki statues. As someone who often went mad with details, a lot of it architectural, I wasn’t sure if I could correctly execute something so stylised and simple. The buyer sent me photos of Tiki statues as reference, which I pored over with a discerning eye and decided I’d love to give it a go.

Clockwise from left: Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Storm Trooper, C3PO, and R2D2

The buyer also mentioned that he’d like to have a lei added, as this is for a special birthday boy who is set to celebrate his special day in Hawaii. It didn’t even occur to me to paint the leis on. I looked for some flowers to make a physical, removable lei and couldn’t make up my mind about what colours to use. In the end, I ordered a bunch of white ones and figured I’ll decide when the time comes.

When the time did come I’ve made up my mind to hand dye them, which was so much fun that I had to tell myself to stop after reaching a certain point!

They’re soaked through, then dipped into watered down paint, tips only, and laid out to dry.

As there are two extra dolls in this set, I kicked in Boba Fett and Yoda, hoping the buyer or the birthday boy wouldn’t mind! It’s really the only the limit of time that made stop, which happens sometimes with a set.

Happy Birthday, Ryan!

Let Them Eat Cake (2022 Edition)

I’ve only ever done 2 other Marie Antoinette sets before. It kills me that I don’t have the time to do more. Then, last year, I said to myself, let’s make another one…while eating cake! Well, the cake part I ate plenty of, but actually sitting down to make this set was almost impossible.

But I did it! It took a little over a year and it’s finished. While working on other sets I thought about making an actual wig for the main doll and chose a material to manipulate in such a manner that I’ve never done before. There were a lot of trials and errors–from ordering the wrong size ribbons to figuring out how to secure it in such a way that the coils don’t loosen as well as experimenting with the different types of glues.

One of my favourite aspects of this set was the ship on the first doll. The original piece was forged in metal, then duplicated via computer and projection imaging wizardry and then 3-D printed to the size of my specification. BoBo Babushka is utilising a combination of old school painting and 21st century tech. It’ll be while before I can even think about making another version, but I can dream, can’t I?

A Double Lebowski Christmas Ornament/Nesting Doll Set

I resolve to do a holiday themed set every new year and then these plans would have to be abandoned by mid-April because of the volume of work I’m slammed with. There are still such projects languishing in my supply closet because I just don’t have time to tend to them. But those days are over! I started working on one of the many holiday projects immediately after Christmas ‘21 and the first Christmas set is finished by mid-March! I am extremely pleased by my get-with-it-ness this year. 

This is an idea that slapped me so hard across the face that I had no choice but to start planning and working on it as soon as I could. It may not be 100% Christmas themed, but it can be hung all year round. I ordered these globe-shaped nesting dolls on a whim, not sure what I was going to do with it, but all the moving parts in my head fit into place and here is a double nesting doll set: One is a standard Big Lebowski character set that can nestle into each other, the other are the bowling balls corresponding with the characters used in the movie. The fun part about this set is that the dolls can also fit into their bowling balls, thus creating a bit of a meta feel to it, a fun gift to give to someone who loves bowling or is constantly high.

The Kids in the Hall

I did not have complete control of the TV remote until I was a senior in high school. My brother was finally away in college and my parents got a second television, moving the first one for their own personal viewing into the living room where the climate was a bit more stable. I had free reign of the basement with the BIG TV and was finally allowed to have it on while I worked on my senior art projects, which required a big table and solitude. In a way, that was when I developed my lifelong joy of watching TV while I work.

Unlike most teens, however, I did not just leave the channel on MTV or VH1. I was all about Comedy Central and Bravo, which had aired mainly indie movies and no reality shows. At the time, Kids in the Hall, a sketch comedy show comprised of five men, was knee deep in its popularity and had the coveted prime airtime of 9PM. I started watching it without paying much mind, occasionally remarking to myself, “boy that was a weird sketch” or “those men look bizarrely beautiful in drag.” I just chalked it up to some weird Canadian humor and left it at that. But the sketches were so outrageously charming and infectious that I decided to give it another chance, and then another, until I was a huge fan. As it wasn’t customary for my BFF (also named Irene) to hang out with me on weeknights, I taped the episodes and showed it to her on the weekend, and she, too, became a lifelong fan. Later, when we were both in college–she in Boston and I in Manhattan–the comedy troupe did a live performance at the Academy and I secured tickets for us and she made a special effort to come back into town for it, such were the devotions we had for this show.

I have been wanting to do a Kids in the Hall set for so long, but there were too many memorable characters to choose from. Just a few years ago, when I was visiting Irene and her family, her husband mentioned something about creating a set of dolls featuring all the characters we liked as children. That notion stayed with me and then, after seeing a VHS tape, everything clicked into place. My friend and I have watched so many shows and movies together on VHS tapes. Her parents had a grand video library–they were more organized, however, with a single movie for each individual tape, whereas mine were more chaotic. How many movies, shows, music videos I loved were crammed into a single tape? I knew the answer when my parents were moving and volunteered me to sort it all out.

I have made many “shake ’em out” sets in the past with a large doll as the storage for the myriad mini ones inside. Instead of a doll this time, I created a facsimile of a VHS tape, which was a nightmare…let’s just say it had something to do with me not being so good with math. I would also like to thank my friend Doug for hooking me up with the labels. The Kids in the Hall cast were one of the best group of men playing drag. They portrayed their female characters justly and all of them, and I mean all of them, could really pass for real women when in costume.

It was hard, but I narrowed it down to some of the more memorable recurring characters: (left to right) Buddy Cole (Scott Thompson), Mr. Tyzik the Headcrusher (Mark McKinney), Cabbage Head (Bruce McCulloch), Hecubus (Dave Foley) and Sir Simon Mulligan (Kevin McDonald)
The female counterparts are: Cathy (Scott Thompson), Kathie (Bruce McCulloch), The Chicken Lady (Mark McKinney), Jocelyn (Dave Foley), and Darcy Pennell (Kevin McDonald)

This set was created for my BFF’s birthday. I figured what with the both of us sprinting toward our senior citizen discount cards, we ought to have a little keepsake of what had been such a big part of our youth!

Side note: This wasn’t the first time I made Kids in the Hall dolls. Back in college, when I didn’t have cable television or VCR in my apartment and had to wait until I was visiting my parents in order to watch the reruns, I made do with sewing little dolls of THE ENTIRE COLLECTION OF CHARACTERS they portrayed across 5 seasons out of panty hose and scrap fabric. There were so many of them that I finally had to throw them all out due to a lack of storage. Not a single photo of them were taken either, so their existence were limited to my classmates who’d watch me sew them during break at SVA and my BFF, whose memories of them might have been compromised by other more important things in her life.

Squid Game

I hadn’t planned on watching Squid Game when it first appeared on Netflix. I kept hearing great things about it and then my brother, who knows my taste in movies and things very well, sent me a rare text demanding that I give it a go. I’m glad I did because it was one of those shows I had to keep myself from binging so the novel experience of watching it for the first time could last. I spent several days living in the violent and very upsetting Squid Game universe. As soon as I laid my eyes on the Killer Robot Girl I knew I had to paint the set.

The show is about 456 people who are deeply in debt to play a series of children’s games for a chance to earn a huge cash prize. Sounds innocent, right? WRONG! It’s far more sinister and horrific than what the players had originally thought. The show is rife with symbolism with an unwavering motif of how the wealthy control the masses.

As there are far too many characters to fit into a traditional nesting doll set, I decided to make a “shake ’em out” or a “Trojan Horse” set. These sets often allowed me to defy the laws of physics, so I went out of my way to look for accessories to make the entire Squid Game experience.

First up is the Killer Robot Girl, which was an easy one to paint, but I had trouble deciding on how to make her little pigtails. In the end I sculpted it, having an absolute horrible time but they’re done and dusted.

Next, I picked the essential characters: Main guy, Gi-hun (456), his childhood friend Sang-woo (218), Sae-byeok (063), Ali Abdul (199), Il-nam (001), Frontman, Jun-ho, and the guards. And then I decided to add the baddie Deok-su (101), the crazy Mi-Nyeo (212), and the adorable Ji-yeong (240).

Gi-hun, Sae-byeok, Sang-woo, Jun-ho, Frontman, Salesman
Il-nam, the guards, Ali Abdul, Deok-su, Mi-Nyeo, Ji-yeong

As with my side projects, this one took about six months to execute. Every night I looked forward to making a little bit more progress than the last.

As for the accessories, I spent some time tracking down these miniature tins to create the Dalgona Challenge, wherein if the contestants break the paper thin honeycomb treat, they are executed on the spot. The business cards were a lot easier to source, but I had trouble initially finding the right size marbles and bag that will fit into the doll. In the end, everything came together.
While I was emailing my brother, I decided to make two more totems to represent the remaining games: Tug of war and the hopscotch game involving tempered and non-tempered glass steps on a (gulp) bridge. For the uninitiated, you can guess where the loser ends up.

Apparently, if you are to ring the phone number on the card, you will reach a bakery somewhere in South Korea!