Diorama-rama: Outlander Edition

In my old life, this is normally the time of year I’d begin the unit on diorama in the art room. It’s the only time I ask the kids to bring something in from their home, namely a shoe box, but I was never mean about kids without because my mother had never kept a single shoe box in her life when I was growing up so I couldn’t participate in that particular unit in art as a fourth grader. I couldn’t seem to make my teacher understand not all people get their shoes that came in boxes or explain about my mother’s disdain for one. Also, at the time my English wasn’t proficient enough to go and beg my neighbours for one either. All in all that incident was traumatic because I would have LOVED to make a diorama. Fortunately a friend/colleague of mine was really into shoes and kept all the boxes they came in so she was able to help out some of my shoebox less students and nobody was left out.

I’ve been DYING to create more dioramas and one such opportunity landed on my table recently. The woman asking for one even provided a chance for me to paint some seriously dramatic landscape for the background. I was feeling a little trepidatious at first, as landscapes aren’t my forte. The last time I painted the highland sky was when I was in Scotland about, oh, 26 years ago maybe? I was more than eager to relive that experience, and fortunately the weather here in Oz have cooled down considerably so I got to pull out my “painting shawl” and got to work.

It’s always fun putting all the pieces together. I made some terrible mistakes cutting up the canvas papers, but as that always happens, I didn’t grouse about it. Just kept calm and carried on. A bunch of annoyingly trivial matters have been plaguing my life as of late, so it was really lovely to sit down and lose myself in the tranquility of painting a scenic landscape. And a castle.

This one features Lord John Grey, Jamie Fraser, Claire Fraser, and Murtagh, who seems to be a fan favourite as I have painted him in just about every set of Outlander so far.

Bjork Revisited

Ten years ago, while my friend made the arduous trip from NYC to Australia to visit me, we would spend evenings convalescing from our intense daytime excursions by lounging in front of the TV, binge watching, and I’m not proud to admit this, Bret Michael’s Rock of Love and the subsequent Rock of Love Bus. As I’m not one to just sit idly by, a trait that my Dad absolutely hated, I had to do something while watching women competing for the former Poison frontman’s affections. I began working on a Bjork doll. Bjork, for those of you who aren’t familiar, was the frontwoman of the Icelandic rock group The Sugarcubes, and then embarked on a highly successful solo career. Between the daily sightseeing tours and Rock of Love fest, I sewed a miniature version of the Alexander McQueen bell dress featured in her music video “Who is It.” Over the years people have asked me about the availability of the doll, and I decided not to part with it as the “bells” on the dress have tarnished. I also politely refused making another one as I have to be in the right mindset to embark on extensive sewing projects.

And then it happened: I happened to have a lull in my schedule back in April when someone asked me to recreate it again. This time I researched the right kind of beads to order so it wouldn’t tarnish. There had been sourcing trips and a more comprehensive dive into the construction of the dress. My schedule allowed me to work on it only half an hour or so a day, most of which I did whilst Facetiming my Mom, who was also working on a knitting project of her own as we chatted. I also managed to find the three seasons of Rock of Love on Amazon Prime and chortled my way through it as I sewed the dress every night. It took 4 months to make it. By then I have discovered another material from which to make the face braid from. The only regret is that I didn’t have more time to experiment with it.

There is always room for improvement, of course. Maybe in another 10 years I’ll make another one!

Here is the original version made 10 years ago…almost to the day!

Housewarming Gift

I LOVE it when people come to me with a conspiratorial glint in their eyes as they task me with surprise presents. I myself is a terrible gift giver and have been known to present an ex with a toilet brush when he moved to a new abode, wrapped in such a way that there was no question as to what it might be. But I do enjoy being the person that people come to for gifting concerns.

This first one is for a sibling and significant other, the former a huge Doctor Who fan. I happened to have a spare Tardis lying around and suggested it being the “first” doll. That worked out brilliantly. Before that I was using the Tardis to store coils of wires so I’m glad it went to a good home.

Later on a Dalek was added and sent separately to the recipient.

The other one was a housewarming present. This is a bit on the nose, but I thought giving someone a house shaped nesting doll set painted to resemble their new house would be kind of fun. The buyer agreed and here it is:

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these exterior/interior homes and I was glad I could squeeze the guest house into it as well!

Come Play With Us, Danny

I didn’t have the intention or the time to make this latest diorama but I’ve long since given up on ignoring the little voices in my head. Snippets of time were carved out so I could work on it a little bit each day. I’ve had some plans to install a chandelier in another diorama project but thought this might be a good place to start.

In the past, whenever I paint “The Shining” sets, I always have a breakdown when it came to the Grady Twins. First of all, they need to be the same size and super tiny in order to fit into the preceding doll. Second of all, the hunt of two identical mini dolls are usually a nightmare. It’s gotten to a point that I had to have them 3D printed. Since they are so little and need to match up with one another, I have to place both between my thumb and index finger and paint them simultaneously, often under the magnifying lamp. It doesn’t take as long as one may think, but in the hour or so of execution I barely take a breath and cannot revert to my usual airy fairy approach to painting. If I misplace one, that’s the end of that.

So when it came time to choose the size of the box to put the Grady Twins in, I went for the biggest one I could find. This is probably the only time I get to paint a fairly large version of them, one at a time! The first part of the project went without a hitch. I actually quite enjoyed painting the girls as I was able to breathe normally whilst doing it. The second part involving getting the rest of the room together was a bit problematic, as I am shockingly absentminded when it comes to measuring things. After several attempts I managed to get all the bits and pieces measured and cut, painted and pressed and mounted. I also wanted the box to look as though it’d been framed and looking for the trims was both tedious and upsetting. Back in the day when I was building these boxes and mini rooms, I would pop down to Pearl Paint on Canal Street in NYC and shoot straight up to the fifth floor, that’s right, often on foot up those rickety stairs without stopping, because I was young and took my healthy lungs for granted. There was a section up there where I could pick and choose all sorts of trims and then go home and proceed to mis-measure and mis-cut all of it. I missed those good old days, with art supplies at my disposal and the ability to mount countless steps without collapsing.

I did manage to find some decent ones online and made sure it’s put in a safe place while I worked on other elements. Naturally, I couldn’t remember where I left it and spent a solid hour looking for it. I had also ordered a mini mitre saw to make precision cuts so the edges would join up. I won’t go into the shipping fees to Australia but let’s just say I’m so glad my mom lives in the US and is kind enough to send me stuff from there so I won’t have to pay through the nose for my supplies.

Naturally, this shipment from my mom got stuck in customs for nearly a month, during which Husband and I obsessively tracked its movements through a myriad apps.

So it was with great relief when it finally arrived and I assembled the box that very night. The light is my favourite element, and best of all, it required no internal wiring!

The Forever and Ever Twins

I took a much needed nap after the photoshoot while waiting for night to descend and snapped this one. It made me seriously consider taking a photography class after this.

Phantom of the Paradise

We all have one of those friends whose sole purpose in our lives is to enrich it by any means possible and I am grateful I have one in my friend Irene (yes, my BFF and I share the same first name, and my brother shared the same one with his BFF, which always delighted my Dad when the four of us were in the same room). I met her in the sixth grade when I was a new girl at her school. We were introduced to each other for no other reasons than the fact we both shared the same name. Later that day, I saw her walking home and turned into a street so close to mine that I could see her house through my bedroom window. Funny how I’ve never noticed her before. We ended up being BFFs not only due to the close proximity of our homes and that we were classmates for three solid years, but because she was insanely creative. She’s the one who introduced to me great many things that are now the main staple of my cultural diet. We saw dozens of Broadway plays and hundreds of movies together, we nerded out over Monty Python and Murphy Brown and The Kids in the Hall and Gordon Korman books and show tunes and we played Barbies well into our late teens because that’s our way of acting out plot lines for our potential screenplays/novels. We didn’t do any of the normal teenage girl things like joyriding in her father’s jalopy (the only places we took the rust bucket out to was to Kohl’s in the summer to get away from the heat or to Princeton Review to enhance our SAT scores). If podcasts were available back then we’d definitely have our own program, judging by the hundreds of cassette tapes featuring us acting out all the parts to a never ending epic saga of a poor immigrant from a fictitious island nation and marrying the rebellious daughter of a theatre owner. This includes recordings of us butchering musicals as these colourful characters we’ve created complete with radio shock jocks forced to air these recordings and original commercial ads from made up sponsors. Our mothers were witnesses to these recordings and I’m certain they wished we were blasting New Kids on the Block or painting our nails or sneaking booze to add to our 7-Eleven Slurpees and hanging out with boys at the school parking lot instead of spending our weekends pretending to be drug dealers crashing a helicopter into the Minskoff Theatre for the evacuation scene in “Miss Saigon.”

Till this day my friend is still recommending all sorts of things I will never have discover on my own, one of them being a Brian De Palma rock musical horror comedy extravaganza called “Phantom of the Paradise.” My friend, who is now a mother of four, took a break one day from running after her kids and put on this very movie and immediately decided I needed to, no, must, see it as well. If we were still in our teens we’d be down in my basement watching this film over and over. On top of the right kind of camp, the music is fantastic and my only regret is that I couldn’t watch it with her.

This movie has inspired me to paint a set of the Phantom dolls and she will be the recipient of it…who better to have it in her home (and on a high enough shelf so the members of her younger brood won’t get their hands on it)?

The Phantom of the Paradise cast featuring (large to small) The Phantom, an earnest and pre-Phantom composer Winslow, pill-popping prima donna glam rocker Beef, Swan’s right hand man Arnold Philbin, Phoenix the ingenue, and the unscrupulous record producer Swan.

We discussed this movie at great lengths but it still took me over a year to get my act together and churn it out. I finally found some free time and was able to finish what I started. It was great fun putting it together.

This is us when I visited her three years ago and our selfie was photobombed by her husband.

Wedding Toppers

It’s funny that often I get repeat customers wanting something painted and they would remind me of work I’ve done for them with their pets. Yes of course I remember those customers, especially if the said pet are bulldogs, like

Isn’t he a handsome boy? I have a soft spot for Harold because I’d painted him before, as a key chain for a birthday party favour!

Oh, and here are Harold’s Mom and Dad, all gussied up to be placed on top of a wedding cake!

We’ve had some technical difficulties in the sweatshop so I can’t create the little stands to glue on the bottom of the dolls for a firmer placement on the cake. After a quick rummage through my box o’ crap, I did manage to find some vintage buttons that did the trick. It actually looked a little nicer than what I had originally planned so all is not lost. It goes to show that one should never throw out any bits and baubles when you’re in my line of work because you have no idea when you’re going to need ’em!

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.