Human Behaviour

I cannot believe this is only the second time I’ve attempted to paint the near magical songstress Bjork in the whole decade+ of making matryoshka dolls. She rose to power when I was still a young and impressionable art student and I wholeheartedly adored her. Her unique vocal stylings got me through the long nights when I had to churn out paintings, her unique fashion sense (anyone remember the swan dress at the Oscars?), the imaginative and vivid videos…she’s every art student’s muse, I believe. My friend had gotten wind of her production team making the video of “Big Time Sensuality” down the street from my former high school and we literally climbed over the fence to go and watch the shoot (yes, it was a literal fence, about 20+ foot high and on the second floor terrace of our school building and nimble truants such as myself would scale this fence and parkour our way down to the street below. The fact I never grievously injured myself is a miracle through and through.

The giant teddy bear in the woods, Goddess Bjork, and the hedgehog from the video of Human Behaviour.

I’ve been meaning to do this set for the longest time now. It wasn’t until I got a request to work on yet another Bjork set that I decided to add this one into the mix. It brought back a lot of 90’s nostalgia, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine in an apartment that was not equipped for artists, the late late nights of Bjork warbling her songs as I painted, the joy of discovering that she was to sing a set at the Tibetan Freedom Festival that made me forget I was badly sunburnt and dehydrated because I refused to pay $10 for a bottle of water at the venue…I used to lament the fact I was born too late and missed the whole Flower Power era with bands like ELP and Jethro Tull and Jefferson Airplane etc that I would give my eyeteeth to see perform live (I did get to see Pink Floyd and Yes and King Crimson multiple times in the late 90s and early aughts but it’s not the same, you know?), but you know what? I DID grow up in a really cool and uncomplicated era of grunge music and Oasis and Blur and a slew of female artists like Alanis Morrisette and Jewel and Fiona Apple and Tori Amos and…of course, Bjork (and yes, I saw all these people in concert except Blur, but I did meet Damon Albarn in front of the shop where I used to work with half a sandwich crammed into my mouth and he had acknowledged me with a sarcastic, “that’s a good look” look on his face and that had made my whole year).

The hedgehog was 3-D printed, but I added some resin to its face and backside to bear more of a resemblance to the one featured in the video. The bristles on its back was sourced from some very fine synthetic wires that I uprooted my entire studio in search of.

The Ultimate Mr. Fox Shake-Out Set

I honestly cannot recall when I began this project. Two years ago? Three? It was one of those ones I painted completely exhausted from a long night of painting and cannot remember how any of them were executed. It was put on hiatus for months on end whilst I combat various rush jobs so when it’s finally finished, it didn’t really hit me until a few days later. The Hubs is not around to rejoice with me…he’s currently on a rugged bike-packing expedition which involved a lot of pub lunches and a wine and art gallery tour. It did not however, stop me from getting myself a pack of chocolate cupcakes (which I immediately regretted upon consumption. I may still crave junk food like a teenager, but my old lady body is beyond capable of processing such treats).

This set starts with a majestic 8″ doll, something I cannot remember painting at all.
I do remember picking out all the single dolls, however, and assigning each one with a character I never got to paint before.
I had to be very choosy as only 17 dolls can fit into Mr. Fox.
Petey and Rat are two of my favourites in the movie!
Kylie and Mrs. Fox.
Kristopherson, Ash, whom I’ve painted multiple times before, so I was thrilled to be able to add their little friend Agnes into the mix.
I’ve stopped painting Badger with the main set so I was happy to make a miniature version of him, along with Coach Skip and Weasel. Bob’s Burger’s “The Weasel Song” ran in a continuous loop in my head the whole time I was painting him.
Here is Rabbit and Chef.
These two were my absolute favourite. I LOVE beavers. They’re always so…busy!
Adding the humans into the mix is also quite a lot of fun. Here’s Boggis, Bean, and Bunce
Just to give you an idea of how small these little guys are.

Every time I do one of these sets, I always wish there is more time in the day to make everything rattling around in my head. It’s true I can delete all the game apps from my phone (but in all honesty, I only have about 2 games) and maybe not be as militant about keeping my house in shipshape order. A little cutter and dust never hurt anyone, right? But I can’t complain, because apart from having to deal with the real world for a few hours each day, I get to squirrel away in my sweatshop at night and just live my best life. I have another shake-em-out set in the works. It will be done in 6-8 years!

Safari

I might have mentioned once or twice in the past how much I enjoyed making dioramas. It’s the sense of capturing a moment in time within the confines of a box. I also enjoy looking for or making different elements to put it all together. It’s my inner miniaturist coming through and I often lament there isn’t enough time in a day, nor do I have the energy, to do these side projects that’s a little different from just painting dolls. 

The nesting doll dioramas satisfied a few of my needs. I got to go on hunting and gathering expeditions for different components, indulge in a little landscape painting, figure out how to best showcase the accessories, and best of all, still keep the basic nesting doll aesthetics within the confines of the box. 

This time I truly want to make this diorama interactive, and that is to steal various magnets from Husband and test out the best ones to embed into the dolls and the box so the dolls can either be displayed without being knocked around inside the box or on their own. I even went as far as ordering lights to illuminate the box, but sadly ran out of time. 

This one is a gift for one of my favourite people on the planet. The dolls are painted after her lovely family’s likeness and in old timey safari costumes. It is the best kind of family portrait to paint, as I am a sucker for those sepia photos you can take, in costume, in tourist traps.

This was an after-after-after hours project, but I was determined to have it finished before the daughter enters kindergarten…and I did!

Party Girl

The other day the Hubs asked me whether or not I missed New York City. I do and I don’t. I was fortunate enough to have access to the entire city pre-911 as a young adult and absolutely took advantage of it. This was why I related to Parker Posey’s character in “Party Girl” so much…from the carefree lifestyle of staying up and staying out all night long, the unapologetic 90’s fashion, the fantastic music, the great people I met who were into the same things as me…it was a great time to be alive. All that’s changed now. The vibe isn’t the same. I’ll leave NYC to the new generation!

I was a little surprised when someone presented me with the notion of painting “Party Girl.” It was one of those movies I saw at the Angelica and have forgotten about. Somewhere in the depths of my memories I also remember there was a TV version of it starring Christine Taylor, Swoosie Kurtz, and John Cameron Mitchell, who had been very nice to me at the Broadway on Broadway fundraiser event. The brief was easy enough, but the execution was very involved. I had a hard time finding the right images that’s not blurry so I could accurately depict all the details. It is also one of those sets that I worked on after after hours so it took a really long time to execute (not as long as my current after after after hour piece that’s been ongoing for the past 10 years, though!). At one point I decided that enough was enough and powered through it. I don’t remember much of it, except there was a bit of a dust storm in the studio, a mild panic attack at one point when one of the doll parts got stuck inside another one unbeknownst to me and I nearly accused the cat for being a thief (he’s not. The only reason he’s allowed to hang out with me in the studio is he never touches any of my things. Once I had accidentally left a piece of paper on the cabinet where he sleeps and he managed to curl around it so as not to disturb the paper. What cat does that, I ask you?) 

The photos aren’t the best, due to the fact that South East Queensland is experiencing the kind of rain storm that brings to mind Noah and his ark. I had to deal with an array of weather-related events as well involving an entire colony of ants moving from underneath my house into my door. Not through my door. On my door. They all carried little egg sacks with them on their heads and were ready to live on my door screen. As Liz Lemon would say, “Blurgh!” Still, I love how, living in Australia, if someone mentioned a particular set of dolls I’ve done, I always automatically think, “Oh, I was doing that set when that huge kangaroo jumped into my backyard and refused to leave (true event, I kid you not)”, or “Oh yes, when I was painting that one I accidentally left the back door open and a plague of baby cane toads came inside to have a look around.” 

The different “lewks” of Mary the Party Girl from different scenes. The last doll is “Natasha,” whom she danced with at Renee’s, featuring a very kicky soundtrack.

The bottom of the dolls are fashioned to look like vinyl records (still a “thing” in the 90’s. Bleeker Bob was an old haunt of mine!). All the records depicts the song played during the scene.

I blanked out whilst making these records so don’t ask me how it was done.

Once Upon a Cross

I’m not a big fan of death metal, yet somehow I’m surrounded by it for most of my life. My brother was into it, the kids I used to hang out with in high school were into it. Even in my Catholic junior high school I used to have a side hustle drawing death metal album covers on some of the guys’ Trapper Keepers. I was all kinds of nerdy and a weird ass kid back then, but if the guys wanted depictions of Cannibal Corpse albums on their binders, they knew better than to give me a hard time.

I thought those days were behind me, but apparently not. I was asked to create the two versions of the same album “Once Upon a Cross” by Deicide, a band mired in controversies, hence the two versions of this cover. The buyer was extremely concerned about my mental well-being when I was working on it, and I am quite touched by their concern. Sure, the subject matter is a bit grotesque, but I saw it through a clinical eye, as I had once contemplated going into medical illustration and had gone through all of my brother’s anatomy text books (he was a med student at the time) with a fine tooth comb. I’ve also been starting my work nights by going back to the roots, doing some warm ups by painting beetles.

The mainstream album cover plus the original version which the band themselves were afraid would offend their listeners.

The first doll had me contemplating for days as to what to use as a sheet. I finally came up with the perfect thing: A white plastic bag, which was painted over with acrylics. It was a surprisingly malleable material to work with and the variety I had gotten was almost wrinkle resistant so I was thrilled with the result. The second one involved some engineering, as I wanted to not just paint the bowels but make it 3D with removable parts so it can be stored inside the doll when not on display.

The Hubs helped me with that since I’ve been forbidden to touch the 3D printer but I did all the sculpting myself. I was thrilled to find there were miniature surgical tools for sale to further mimic the album cover even more. The sculpting wasn’t as hard as I’d thought, but trying to bury tiny yet powerful magnets inside was a bit taxing.

The buyer and I discussed my mental health throughout the process and after. I usually work on about 6-8 projects each night and streaming TV shows, movies, or listening to podcasts and audio books while I’m working. Lately my friend had recommended Peppa Pig, which is, of course, for children, but it’s so delightfully British that I couldn’t help but get sucked into the innocent little world of Peppa and her little friends too. It also helps that I tend to leave my emotions at the door when I’m working as not to get too attached to the pieces of art I create. There’s nothing worse than selling someone a project and then realising you can’t bear to part with it when it’s finished.

Audition 2.0

If you’ve been following this blog throughout the years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a big horror movie fan. Back in my teaching days, my work friend/science teacher and I would compile lists of all the horror movies we think the other would enjoy. Some eighth graders found the list and my 50 minute intensive art clinic became a discussion session of horror movies. Let me tell you, you will not enjoy a horror movie more unless the plot of it is described to you by a 13-year-old in under 30 seconds.

Takashi Miike’s “Audition” was on the list given to me. I often find Japanese horror movies to be a bit disconcerting. The gore, the jump scares, the storylines, the villain…etc., are always exceptional. But as the Japanese as a race are exceptionally introspective and that reflects in every aspect of their culture, including horror movies, they are often slow with deep philosophical component to it, which is fine, of course, but sometimes you just want a dash of Michael Myers efficiency in your movie and then go on with your life, you know? I hadn’t liked “Audition” at first, but I’m glad I stuck it out and it quickly became one of my go-to films when someone asks for a recommendation. I liked it so much that I had painted a set of the film’s villain very early on in my career as a matryoshka artist. It sat in my drawer until a fan of the film took it off my hands…and asked me to paint an extended version.

My painting style has evolved over the years so I decided to re-paint Asami, the villain/heroine again. I did maintain the original style for the extended version, just so it would match the original set.

The original “Audition” set painted in 2011 featuring Asami as the torturer, the demure ingenue, and as a child where things in her life decidedly went downhill after enrolling in a ballet class.
The 2021 version.

The extended set was a little difficult to make, both mentally and physically. In the film Asami kept a giant sack in her home, which later revealed to be a man missing a couple of important parts of his body. I was asked to create the actual sack, the man inside, and the hapless dog which sadly was also mutilated by Asami. I had a bit of an issue with making the dog because I’d just acquired a cat/sweatshop mascot who had been abandoned and, judging by his behaviour, I guess he’d also been abused. I’d also recently caught a little boy hitting him and had not been in the best frame of mind to depict animal abuse of any kind (don’t worry, I’d gone straight to the boy’s mother and tattled the heck out of her son and subsequently made the kid cry). But I understand that the dog’s demise was part of the film and the actual dog had not been hurt in the making of it. Still, it was a hard one to paint. The sack relied heavily on the draping created with plaster bandages so I was working against time as it does dry rather quickly.

In the movie, someone told the lead character that they found a dead body plus extra body parts. That line always freaked me out so I decided to make those extra body parts, which were three fingers, an ear, and a tongue. When we finally meet the man in the sack, you can see he’s missing a couple of digits, an ear, and a tongue.

Everything went well because I’d established a safeguarding system when I make itty bitty little things. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I finished the final stages and set it aside to dry, I managed the knock over the entire tray containing the dolls and body parts. The fingers were so small that I lost one and began to panic straight away because it was A) 3 AM and I hadn’t slept in the past 32 hours and was eager to go to bed and B) it had taken me 2 days to get the finger sculpted, cured, and painted and I wasn’t about to go through it again. Luckily my new sweatshop mascot sashayed in at the moment and seemed to know what I was looking for and made a beeline for my supply cart. Wouldn’t you know it, the finger had rolled right down there! Whew. Crisis averted. I do like to think the cat had helped me locate the finger, but in reality, he probably wanted me to move the cart because he likes to sleep on the mat right on top of it.

Melvins

Music has always been a big part of my life, mostly due to the fact that quite a few members of my family are musicians. I did grow up listening to classical and eventually became a huge musical theatre nerd, so I am grateful to my brother for introducing me to more contemporary music although that particular era was already deemed as “classic rock” by the time I got around to it. It doesn’t matter anyway, because as long as there’s something that jives with my soul while I’m painting, I’m happy.

In these trying times, I rely on music more than ever. The sheer amount of work confronting me each night, compounded by what’s going on in the world today plus some personal issues, I begin every work night singing while getting my work station ready. It’s a little ritual that I find which keeps me sane.

I agreed straight away to a recent request because A) it is a band I’ll be painting and B) it is a band I’ve never really listened to and is keen to get on top of. When the buyer sent me photos of the band members, I knew I was going to have a great time making this set. Just days before I received the request, I was looking longingly at some wigs, lamenting how I don’t have the time to make a real doll with fabric clothes and actual hair. I was enthralled by the weft of crinkled hair and wished really hard that I would get a chance in the near future to work with it and lo and behold! My wish came true!

The members of Melvins (clockwise from top: King Buzzo, Dale Crover, Jeff Pinkus, and Steven Shane McDonald)

In the past I have only really worked with wool or crepe for hair, never synthetic doll hair so it took me a while to figure out how to apply it. I could watch some YouTube videos but didn’t have time to hunt down a real one although I’m sure I could benefit from the tutelage. It did necessitate a trip to K-Mart’s lady’s intimates department for some hosiery, though, and I also walked out with a bunch of things I didn’t really need so it’s not a complete loss! Now I have all 23 Melvins albums to listen to as we sit and wait the fate of the world to be decided.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

This year has been tough for a lot of us but somehow we made it, with actual hope on the horizon. I started making this set last year but had to put it on hold due to a family crisis. Perhaps it’s a good thing this set got delayed because whilst working on it this year, I have found a new vendor that I adore, a way to fashion corkscrew curls without screaming in frustration, and a fresh approach to time management that gave me energy to do everything I needed and still spend time with loved ones. I wish you all the joyous of all joyous year to come.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

My best friend from high school Fadi is someone who, if you are to meet him for “a drink or two,” you better clear all the events from that day on your calendar because you will NOT get anything else done. He’s the kind of friend you ring up when you want some adventure without having to pack a suitcase because adventures find him. He’s the kind of friend who is so into living in the moment that he sucks you into his world and you end up doing or seeing things you will not otherwise experience. He’s the kind of friend who, if you are to “just go out for a quick walk,” will end up bringing you to places unexpected and meeting a celebrity (whom he almost always knows) or two along the way.

On one of those adventures, Fadi and I discovered a brand new nightclub on 6th below 30 and made a tour of it. I immediately decided it’s not a place for me since it was much too glitzy for my taste and also I just wanted a $5 beer at my favourite Irish pub. Fadi, whose senses were much keener than mine, immediately sussed out this was no ordinary nightclub/bar and dragged me further inside where we were swallowed by incredibly tall and good looking women all dressed to the nines. And then we realised these glamazons were all men. I have always been quite comfortable with my overall appearance even though I don’t wear make up, I live in jeans and tees and my art school days during the Age of Grunge had allowed me to get away with chained wallets, plaid shirts, paint-covered pants and pass my unwashed locks off as fashionable. But I did feel incredibly inferior to these amazing looking women, or, er, men, who put in the extra effort to achieve supermodel looks. And what’s more, they’re all sooo nice. We stayed and talked to a few of them, turned down drinks (they went from about $15 to $50 a pop and you know those queens need to save every dollar for makeup from Patricia Field). I have nothing but fondness and admiration for drag queens, so I was thrilled to bits when a request came asking me to paint a set of them for Christmas.

I have never seen RuPaul’s Drag Race but it looked like fun. When the pictures came in I literally gasped and cursed my bad luck for having this project presented to me so close to Christmas but quickly decided to do something about my workload so I could really focus on this set.

It looked challenging at first glance, but after breaking it all down, it wasn’t all that bad.

Biggest doll to smallest: RuPaul, Sharon Needles, Alaska, Sasha Velour, BenDeLaCreme, Jinkx Monsoon as Little Edie, Alyssa Edwards, and Bianca Del Rio.

The best part of this set is hunting down all the supplies needed for the “extras” such as finding the right shade of wool for the wigs, looking for the right size rings to fashion them into earrings for RuPaul, etc.

I decided to go a step further by creating a removable wig so one of the dolls can do this:

It is also around this time that we have officially adopted a stray cat. He’d been around ever since we moved in a year and a half ago and he decided he wanted to live with us. Since he has also gone feral after being abandoned, there were a lot of trust issues. Eventually he came round and wanted to be a permanent part of our little family, giving us very little choice in the matter. As I work late into the night, he often sat with me in my sweatshop and, being a long haired puss, he would often leave in the mornings covered in all manners of glitter, sequin, and later on, fibre I used for the wigs. Maybe there’ll be a new feline version of Drag Race soon and I can enter my new cat. After all, he already has a reverse ombre thing going with his tail.

And here are the real queens:

RuPaul
Sharon Needles
Alaska
Sasha Velour
BenDeLaCreme
Jinkx Monsoon as Little Edie
Alyssa Edwards
Bianca Del Rio

A Family Portrait

For the past few months I’d been slowly working on a family portrait for a very special lady. She is celebrating the big 6-0 and I was tasked to paint a set of dolls of her and her family. Her friend thought it would be fun to put in 60 elements that represents her, an iSpy sort of situation. As someone who likes to be on all kinds of conspiracy (good ones, mind you), I was down.

The family are all Warriors fans. This reminded me of the time I had to paint a baseball team, twice, but at least there are a ton of varieties to the outfits!

Even the animals got in on the action!
Not the cat, though. I kind of have a cat now and I can see how difficult it is to wrangle one into a costume.

I don’t really sketch out any of my ideas unless it’s absolutely necessary. Luckily I was left to my own devices after given the brief because I had absolutely no plans as to what I was going to do with the iSpy doll until I sat down each night to work on it. It was almost like putting a puzzle piece together and all my previous leanings, such as writing teeny tiny letters, or making this crazy free writing journal, had given me the skills to work within the confines of the doll and get everything, all 60 elements, down.

As you can see, this is a highly personal project and I got to know this lady quite well despite not knowing her at all! Hey, anyone who works in a zoo, loves CSN, Joan Baez, lived in NYC, interacted with a chimp, and rode horses are definitely people I’d want to know!