Selena Revisited

The last time I painted Selena I felt a bit sad. Her untimely and unnecessary death hadn’t made an impact on me at the time, but whilst painting her and learning about her enormous talent and the legacies she’s left behind at such a young age did. I had hoped the sadness had lessened this time around but it didn’t. What a shameful waste of a life. I hope I did this subsequent set of Selena dolls justice. It’d been an insanely hectic and busy time in the studio so I looked forward to sitting down after a long night of painting with beads and glitter to work on the outfits. This version had two new additions: One of her in her luminous Grammy Awards gown and one in a cow print outfit, which I had a ton of fun recreating.

The last time I made this set I thought it might be fun to add a little Grammy award statue except there had been some technical difficulties. We tried it again for this set (by we I mean my husband, as I’m not allowed to touch his computer and 3D printer due to a series of Bad Luck that follows me whenever I’m exposed to technological machinery of any kind) and I consented to printing it a bit larger, which is too large for my liking, but with the fiddly bits like the arm there’s nothing I can really do about it, as it kept snapping off. I also did a little editing for this piece after completion. My customers prove themselves to be excellent art directors, as I often do not pick up little details. I was all too happy to add the little thumb ring and a band aid to Selena in the purple outfit!

Field Museum

As someone who used to play the piano, the importance of warming up the ol’ fingers before each practice session was drummed into me from the beginning. It’s the same with art. I can’t just dive into my nightly babushka-ring session. More often than not, I have very little time to indulge in anything outside doll painting so I thought, hey, I’ll use the warm up session to make something different. I’ll paint on paper! I’ll paint fun stuff! I’ll paint beetles! I so want to erect a spot in my house into to a monument of natural history findings. In order to paint bigger bugs, I thought I should start with small ones first. Eventually I will paint one where I’ll have to build the canvas in my backyard because it’s so big.

This is a cigarillo box I outbid 40 ebay users for back in the 90s. It was my first time bidding on anything so I was extremely pleased to have won it.. I also won a subsequent box for the same product except it’s a little longer and I have no idea what I’ve done with it. This one, however, came with me during my vagabond days so it’s lived in several different countries and half a dozen apartments, bedsits, and houses. It and I have a long, storied past and I want to use it for something significant, not just something I stow paperclips, pilfered fun sized lollies or tampons in.

It opens up to reveal a series of five drawers!

During my first sojourn to Sydney, I visited the Australia Museum and was thrilled to find that the patrons are allowed to open drawers and observe the many taxidermied specimens not on display. I pored over just about every single drawer available and lingered the longest in the entomology department because I LOVE insects. I’m not thrilled about having them hanging out in my house, but I’m more than happy to share my garden with them. 

So, nearly 25 years of possessing this majestic box, I decided to use it as a mini taxonomic display for selected varieties of beetles. There are so very many to choose from! I paint one or two each night before work. It’s so satisfying to knock one out within a short time span, as I usually spend days, weeks, and sometimes even months on one project. 

This small endeavor took about 6 months to complete, as I wasn’t able to actually paint it every day. But I have devoted each day to it, be it looking up beetles to paint, sketching it out, planning it, finding the right shade of green or blue and researching the best technique to paint at such a small scale or the best patina to apply to it. I am a little sad that it’s finished but I am planning on the next one, having found the next best box to house the yet-to-be-painted beetles. In the meanwhile, I really need to catch up on all the Christmas orders!

This is just to give you an idea of how small it is!

I initially had a hard time painting these beetles, as the subjects were tiny and I was in dire need of new glasses. Once that was taken care of, everything came together! I made a little stop motion video, but it cannot be displayed here. You can watch it on my Instagram account: bobobabushka

It’s hard to tell from the photos, but these bugs are actually somewhat tactile! I puffed it out so you can feel the bump as you run your (hopefully clean) hands over each and every single bug.

Charlie’s Angels

I don’t remember much about watching this show although I was very familiar with the Farrah Fawcett hair. When I was approached to paint this set I had a small panic attack because I wasn’t sure if I could faithfully paint that glorious ‘do. So I put it off as much as I could by focusing on the dresses. If you are to examine the pink gowns the angels wore for the Time magazine cover you’ll notice there are fine lines of crystal glitter running down the fabric. In order to create that I had to find the right glue, the right glitter of the right size and carefully run it down the dress in perfect parallel lines. If that’s not taking procrastination to another level I don’t know what is.

Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson, Bosley, and Charles Townsend

I once worked for an NYC/London based art dealer who spent most of my tenure at her NY office in London. I was her only employee and had access to her computer and a speaker box where I communicated with her on an hourly basis. Every so often I’d answer the phone with a very unprofessional: “Charlie’s Angels.” But instead of running around fighting crime, I was drafting letters to various galleries and museums, telling off rather rich and important art buyers I couldn’t authorise handing off their purchases without my boss present (I cannot stress how satisfying it was having these people pleading with me, a lowly gallery assistant who often had just finished setting a mouse trap) and mindlessly putting yellow Post-It notes in various catalogue raisonné. There were a few memorable occasions where I delivered a genuine Picasso to a gallery and a Matisse bronze sculpture to an auction house. On a subway. With said sculpture in a shopping bag. I aged about 10 years that afternoon while picturing various scenarios where it ultimately ended with me dead on the train tracks and the sculpture up for sale in a black market for art somewhere.

A Very Beetlejuicy Wedding

This is an unusual one. There’s a bit of a history with the buyer for this Beetlejuice set. First she had me build a little engagement ring box into the Ruth Gordon doll of a Rosemary’s Baby set so she can propose to her man. Then, due to the pandemic and a canceled wedding, her man had me paint The Shining set to gift her on the date of the canceled festivities as a consolation prize. Now that the wedding is finally happening, her man is receiving a very special Beetlejuice set (there’s another fun one in the works for her!). I thought it would be fun to have Adam and Barbara in their morphed Afterlife monster form dressed in their wedding outfits because it’s a wedding present.

This is the first time Adam gets to be the main doll so I decided to go all out and sculpt his entire head. I used plastic pellets to mould the nose and crown and my studio that night was filled with me screaming, “That’s HOT!” and “SSSSSSSSssssssss” because I had to dip my hands into boiling hot water in order to retrieve the pellets once it’s melted. We suffer for our art, don’t we?

The rest of the set is quite fun. Beetlejuice is dressed in his purple wedding tux and Lydia in her red wedding gown. Another new addition to this set is the little bone priest presiding over Beetlejuice and Lydia’s underworld wedding.

Happy wedding day, Ana and Matt!

Here’s the Story

Well! It’s been a long while since I’ve written a new update (the last post was written in April!) I’ve been working non-stop for several months now, which is why this Brady Bunch set had taken so long to materialise. The bulk of it was painted after after after hours, and by that time of, um, early dawn I was in this surreal state between “Zombie” and “Speedy Gonzales” so it’s a real miracle that anything requiring symmetry was accomplished at all.

I had so much fun with it, though. I don’t remember watching any Brady Bunch episodes when I was growing up in Taiwan, only the re-runs when I finally moved to the US. It was the mid-80s then so the show hadn’t completely lost its kitschy charm. My parents had bought a house from a family who had decorated its interiors in the late 60s/early 70s and never updated it. We’re talking shag carpets, we’re talking wood panel walls, we’re talking bathrooms with splashy blue and silver wallpaper–even on the door–and we’re talking bulky mid-century wood furniture and a kitchen done in orange and olive green. My bedroom had a wild orange wood panel walls, a chandelier in orange and yellow and matching wall to wall shag carpeting. In lieu of curtains there were these semi-opaque plastic orange casement windows. When the sun hits it just right in the late afternoon and you happen to be in my room, you’d think you’re a Roald Dahl character except instead of being inside a giant peach, you’re in a square orange. Even the layout of the garage resembled Greg Brady’s eventual attic “bachelor pad.” So it was in the basement of our house, also panelled in wood complete with a second kitchen with an adjacent honest-to-goodness bar, atop the bulky brown tweed sectionals with attached side tables, that my brother and I watched The Brady Bunch re-runs after school.

It’s not the wittiest TV show, but it was very cute and it gave me some perspective of what American families are like. I always liked the fashion sported by the older Brady girls because it looked like the outfits my mother and aunts had worn in the photo albums. Ever since I started the Babushka game, I’ve been wanting to do a set of the Brady Bunch dolls but had hesitated because there’s just so much material to cull from…that is, until someone requested it. Dozens of emails were exchanged before I sat down with it. We went over everything from the outfits of each family member to the objects that makes them identifiable in a particular episode. I’m glad the buyer has very definitive ideas of what she wanted because I couldn’t have chosen anything otherwise.

I had complete freedom as to what to do with the outfits for everyone else (with the exception of Peter Brady), and boy that was a hard one. Even harder than painting them!

This set is a little unconventional from the word go because of the Johnny Bravo alter ego of Greg Brady. The buyer is absolutely enthralled with what Johnny Bravo represents and even named her cat after him. After much discussion we’ve decided to make him a stand-alone doll and work her cat into the mix.

Her cat, named after the titular character, is painted as the embroidery on the jacket.
For Mike’s papers, I found TV listings from a California newspaper circa 1974. Carol’s needlepoint is the exterior of their house. The Alice doll pays a homage to her boyfriend Sam the Butcher. There’s Greg Brady with his guitar (if I had the time I would’ve liked to work in the goat), and the football aimed at Marsha’s nose.
Peter Brady’s bad luck with a tarantula comes from the tiki idol. Jan is sporting the locket from her mystery admirer. Bobby is holding the “Safe” laundry soap that eventually floods the Brady’s laundry room. Cindy, is, of course, holding her Kitty Karry-All.

It took me over three months to crank this out and I felt so bad about the hold up that I kicked in a little bonus doll.

Tiger, their “sometimes” dog! (You thought I was going to paint Cousin Oliver, weren’t you?)

I have to admit, although it took so long to paint and some nights the task I was scheduled to do was downright daunting, I had an enormous amount of fun making it!

…and that’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch!

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.