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!

A Family of Three

Most people don’t know this about me: I am a miniaturist. I’ve wanted a dollhouse so badly growing up that I made them out of tissue boxes before my aunt eventually bought me a dollhouse kit whist visiting her, which my brother had built for me. In high school I designed homes as an interior design major and eventually built a multi-tiered theater, complete with a comprehensive backstage area…which I made my parents drive all the way to my school in midtown Manhattan, find parking, and carry it several blocks to my classroom. For one Christmas I asked my BFF to gift me with cold hard cash so I could buy supplies to complete a SoHo loft I made from scratch. She complied, but packed it inside a sweater box, prompting me to think: A sweater? A F*#$ing SWEATHER?!? She laughed as I tried not to strangle her. I needed those wainscot panels for my project! I made a tiny little moss-covered cottage to hide contraband items in which my mother threw out because she feared bugs living inside the thatched roof even though I had assured her many times the materials were all artificial. I was more upset about the disposal of the contraband goods than the cottage being unceremoniously thrown out. I’ve built dioramas all my life and eventually got my students into it just so I could wallow in a sea of miniatures. I’d look at my work schedule every time a miniature item crept into my social media feed and I’d sigh dramatically and dream of retirement where I would clear a space in my house devoted fully to the construction and displaying of miniatures.

In the meanwhile, I never turn down a request to paint a house-shaped matryoshka project. It’s not exactly the same as putting together a dollhouse, but close enough. The best thing about it is I don’t have to source for supplies and demand my love ones to gift me with money to put toward it.

This is for a very lovely lady who had the patience of a saint because this took a very long time to knock out. Her home is absolutely gorgeous, quite like the dollhouse I’d like to make one day.

The one request is that I put her cat somewhere inside the house, a task I gleefully agreed to because I have allowed to let a stray cat live with me and then steal my heart so I understand now how they’re the true residents of any home.

Spot the kitty!

Pen15

It took me a while to sit down and watch Pen15. The premise was interesting enough. It’s about two middle school girls navigating through one of the most awkward time of their lives. That sounded like every other show on TV except the two girls are adult actresses with a bunch of 13 year olds as their classmates. That right there is comedy gold. The show was very cringey but in a nice nostalgic sort of way. My god, was I ever that awkward in middle school? It’s actually a good thing I found myself in a Catholic school at that time so fashion faux pas wasn’t an issue except I managed to even geek out on that front. At my mother’s insistence I wore a pair of orthopedic shoes that was identical to the ones my ex-nun religion/homeroom teacher wore and she dressed like a middle aged man living out of his mother’s basement. On picture day, also at my mother’s insistence, I wore one of her vintage ensemble that resembled one of Fraulein Maria’s outfits when she first arrived at Captain von Trapp’s home and was told that she would have to get a whole new wardrobe. Only one boy made fun of me then, and he wasn’t even mean about it because he’d only just asked me to draw the Guns n’ Roses logo on his binder so he didn’t want to risk offending me, or charging him money. Looking back, being the weirdo transfer student sporting bad hair (well, it was the 80’s so technically no one’s hair was really all that), braces, and these unironically awful nerd glasses, my classmates were kind/indifferent to me. I was never invited to parties, which was fine since I’d gone to a few at my old school and wasn’t impressed with the usual of pinning tails on donkeys games or Carvel’s ice cream cakes. It also helped that I met my BFF there, who was introduced to me as soon as I revealed my name. I stared at this girl with short hair, a complete antithesis of what an 80’s style bouffant was, and was told that she and I shared the same first name. Later in the week, from my bedroom window, I saw her walking to her house, which was right behind my own and after that we were friends for life because we not only shared the same classroom, the same name, lived in the same neighbourhood, but we had the same nerdy taste in Broadway and TV shows, movies, literature and so much more. She is my Anna and I am her Maya, except we never got into New Kids on the Block or other trendy tweenage things. We were watching Murphy Brown together and making up stories involving murder, madness and mayhem with our Barbie dolls and taking photos of each other in various costumes like we’re characters in a community theatre. Nevertheless, Pen15 was a nice trip down memory lane.

Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone
Unfortunately all the photos of us in our youth are at my Mom’s house. This is a fairly recent one of us as adults. You can see we still haven’t mastered the art of taking selfies. Also her husband took advantage of our camera ineptitude and photobombed us.

The Hours

Like a lot of sets that I paint, this one was suggested by the buyer. “The Hours” is something I wouldn’t have thought to paint on my own and I’m glad I got to do so. My father had passed away two years ago around this time so I try to stay away from tear-inducing literature and films and I chose not to watch this movie before painting it. I did have to look at some clips in order to get a few details right and what I saw was horrifying in the sense that it made me sad, not in a delicious jump scare sort of way.

I remember seeing Nicole Kidman winning an Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf and thinking, good for you, gurrl!

This set was commissioned while I was juggling close to 27 other orders at the same time with more still pouring in so it had been pushed back to the end-of-the-work-night slot where I only had about 45 minutes to an hour to paint it.

I could’ve chosen a simpler dress for Virginia Woolf/Nicole Kidman, but decided to challenge myself by painting her floral print outfit. The dress took me an entire third season of “You” to paint (that’s right, I measure how long it takes to work on a doll by movie/TV air time) and then some. It’s actually quite therapeutic rendering the tiny flowers.

As with a lot of pieces that I do requiring long periods of time, I feel a little lost now that it is finished. But there are some new and interesting sets to tackle so this feeling won’t last too long!

The Goonies Extension

Way to ring in a new year with this new Goonies set! I’ve always wanted to expand this one, adding in the girls, maybe some baddies, but this will do! In this version I got to paint Brand (the pre-super hunky Josh Brolin, not that the teenage version of him isn’t cute, but my tastes, such as my age, have matured), Mama Fratelli (and oh my goodness was she a treat-and-a-half to paint!), and One Eyed Willy.

I absolutely love making a big set for the new year so this one fits the bill. There are so many interesting projects percolating in my head, desperate to bubble over, so I’ve been busier than ever in the ol’ sweatshop hammering it all out. There’s no such thing as transitioning smoothly into any new year, but I have made a resolution to completely filter out any distractions and unpleasant things, plan waaay ahead, finish all the projects I’ve started that’s simply languishing in the corner of my closet somewhere for the last few years, and crank out as many projects as I can in 2022! What are your resolutions for the new year?