This was not the first time someone’s asked me to paint the best movie ever made on organised crime. I used to spend my Christmas breaks in Canada with my godmother’s family. They have an awesome collection of movies on VHS and my brother and I would systematically go through their entire catalogue whenever we were visiting. The Godfather trilogy was on the docket the day I was whisked away to participate in a holiday not celebrated by Americans: Boxing Day, so I missed the first one. I did come home in time, laden with several books and socks, to sit in for the second and the third one. The second one I loved, the third, not so much. So when my friend asked me to paint the original Godfather set, I was down.
This gave me the perfect excuse to watch the first one, which made me think: Why didn’t I see it sooner? My friend is the sort of customer I love, decisive but not micro manage-y. I did take some notes throughout the movie and looked at some stills and came up with this set. The cat was not suggested, but since I am now a cat person, I threw it in just for fun.
Clockwise from top: Don Vito Corleone, Michael, Tom Hagen, the horse head unceremoniously left in a bed, Fredo, and of course, Sonny.
The horse’s head was my idea, but my friend green lit it so here we are.
For my Christmas set this year, and I usually have to start brainstorming in June, I decided I wanted to travel back in time and do something nostalgic. I was in a bit of a pickle earlier this year, when the war in Ukraine broke out. The embargo on Russia affected my supplies and I was having a hard time acquiring dolls through my usual channels. I decided to save whatever stock I had and find an alternative solution. After looking at some options, I realised that one particular single doll has the exact same shape as the Peanuts characters, and I absolutely adored every single one of the characters. The idea of doing a nativity scene but with the Peanuts gang was too appealing to tamp down and I immediately got to work.
There were a lot of elements I wanted to include so I narrowed it down to the most manageable ones. The Husband helped with the major components but I still had to hunt down some bits and bobs and figure out how to put it together.
The hardest thing I had to locate was the lone red ornament for Charlie Brown’s tree. I had left that to the eleventh hour because I didn’t have time to leave my studio and do any hunting/shopping. I still didn’t find what I was looking for when I finally went to the shops. Luckily, during one of my delirious states from not getting enough sleep, I actually managed to order a string of baubles meant for dollhouse trees and it was the right size but the wrong colour. A brush over with a red Sharpie marker fixed the problem.
It’s hard bringing a 2-D character to life. The noses on my dolls were “prosthetics”, and by that I meant I had to have a hole drilled into the head and affix a little protrusion, which in itself was another item I had to source and alter in order to make it fit. Linus and Pig Pen’s hairs were also “found objects.” I couldn’t use my regular resin to sculpt the characters’ hair for fear of it being too top heavy and the dolls wouldn’t be able to balance unassisted, so I went with paper clay. They were not the easiest to sculpt, but they did the trick. I am grateful that my past experiences, mistakes, trials and tribulations have given me the ability to know how to solve many problems. A lot of credit has to go to an SVA teacher who encouraged us to hit junk shops for our creations and another who made sure we were well acquainted with all facets of materials and mediums and the proper accompanying applications in which to compliment it.
I’ve had this Christmas tree nesting doll (yes, it opens up!) for several years now. It seems fated to become the tree Charlie Brown’s friends fixed up for him.
Just to change things up a bit, this year’s Halloween set does not have a horror theme, but rather, more of a thriller vibe.
My Dad had been the one to introduce me to Alfred Hitchcock movies at an early age, that and John Wayne. Suffice to say I’d rather a good old fashioned thriller than a western. We sometimes compromised on war movies and James Bond films, but if it were up to me, I would always pick a Hitchcock on movie night.
I’ve been toying with the idea of painting the leading ladies from some of my favourite Hitchcock movies for a very very long time and I’m glad I finally got around to painting them this year…and just in time for Halloween too!
Let’s talk first about The Birds. It had not been my introduction to Hitchcock, which I found a bit surprising. I don’t think I even saw it until I was in my late teens. A few years ago, I did something boneheaded at the Sydney Airport (nothing illegal, mind you), and it required me to go into one of those “side rooms” to sort things out. I saw a girl sitting glumly near the service counter and figured she did the same boneheaded thing as me (she did) and chatted her up. Us lunkheads need to stick together, you know? We ended up flying back to the Gold Coast together and bonded over our love of seriously bad movies and she introduced me to “Birdemic: Shock and Terror.” It’s a film made by James Nguyen who modeled three of his films after his idol, Alfred Hitchcock and even managed to get Tippi Hedren to be in one. “Birdemic” was a 90’s take on “The Birds” but with far far less competence. The only thing shocking about it was the numerous scenes where the audience were treated to sensible driving and parking and the “special effects” involving bird attacks. I ended up watching the original version of “The Birds” as a palate cleanser and found that it had not lost its magic after all these years. Tip for Mr. Nguyen: Maybe don’t use paper birds that flaps in place and then call it a homage to Hitchcock? It’s kind of insulting if you ask me.
I found some plastic birds meant for models and painted it black with the now discontinued Liquitex “Glossies” paint (please bring it back!). There are so many Halloween costumes where people would fashion birds onto their green dresses like in the schoolhouse bird attack scene. The problem with doing that with the nesting doll version is that you need to be able to grip the doll with both hands in order to open it and you don’t want to disturb the birds in any way. It’ll definitely fall off if I were to just glue it on. I was also obsessed with the idea of having them hover over the doll instead of them just sitting on it and looked for the sort of wiring that will withstand the weight of the birds as well as the force it will have to endure during opening and closing of the doll. I also didn’t want the wires to show (much). Finally, I found the answer in a really thick gauge clear jewelry wire. When you shake the doll a bit, the birds will actually wiggle.
“Rear Window” was my first foray into Hitchcockverse. I loved everything about this movie. In ’83 when my family immigrated to the US, our first stop was the California and we spent a day at Universal Studios and I was fascinated by the Rear Window apartment display. It could’ve been the catalyst to my lifelong obsession to miniatures and dollhouses. I got to paint Grace Kelly for the first time and enjoyed every minute of it. What an absolute beauty she was!
“Vertigo” was one of those movies that went over my head when I was little but meant a lot more when viewed it as an adult. It was also the basis of another James Nguyen disaster called “Replica.” If you want to see one of the funniest death scenes in cinema, this movie is it.
“North By Northwest” is my second favourite Hitchcock movie. If it weren’t for my Dad showing me this movie I wouldn’t have been able to show off my cinematic prowess in my screenwriting class when the instructor showed the crop duster scene and asked us to guess which movie it was. I was shocked that no one in my class knew it. Often times I have trouble capturing the faces of some actors but not Eve Marie Saint. Nailed it on the first go.
I decided to paint “Notorious” in colour and photograph it with a filter. I’ve only ever seen two Ingrid Bergman movies and this was the one I liked most (sorry, not “Casablanca”). I’ve been painting her daughter Isabella Rossellini for years now and was not surprised by the similarities, but I don’t think I nailed this one. My excuse is that it’s rather tiny to paint.
Oh, we need to talk about “Psycho.” What an absolutely wonderful movie. The heroine was by no means an angel but of course she didn’t deserve to get slaughtered in the shower. I also liked the Gus Van Sant remake and being the purist that I am, I really liked the fact that he had copied the original shot for shot. Most may disagree with me on that front, but I stand by it because I myself do a lot of reproductions and I know how much effort it takes. If James Nguyen tries that technique with “The Birds,” he will most likely F it up royally. But of course I will pay a lot of money to see that too.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Apparently, if you are to ring the phone number on the card, you will reach a bakery somewhere in South Korea!
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!
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.
I’ve always referred to the 1989 debacle “Teen Witch” as “Top That” because of the epic cheese rap off between the lead’s BFF Polly and the Vanilla Ice wannabe in the middle of a deserted suburban neighbourhood. The movie, when I first watched on TV, was met with sheer disbelief due to the out-of-nowhere musical numbers, the fact that it never made it known if it was a comedy or a drama or even a straight up musical! It was so bad, and vaguely uncomfortable to watch but that’s most adolescent-hood isn’t it? I can’t even look at pictures of me from that era without shuddering a little.
I have been wanting to paint this set for a very long time, and finally got to it after having a session with a tarot card reader. She was someone who had helped me out with a few issues in the past but this time I’d just wanted to see how she was doing because she was undergoing a serious operation. As always, we always ended up chatting before and after the session and “Teen Witch” came up because she had just been on a podcast discussing this very movie. She encouraged me to go ahead and paint it, which naturally took a while to get to but I wanted to make it happen this time as it would be a gift for her for having to go through such an ordeal.
The problem with making dolls from the 80s era are the hairstyles. They are always so voluminous and don’t usually translate well painted on, so I decided, even though my wig-making skills are still sub-par, I should give it a shot. Creating Louise’s hair happened at 2 AM one night after one too many cups of coffee and pain tablets the day I got a cortisone shot on my shoulder so I was a bit cranked to the max, so to speak, fuelled also by the most exciting chapters in Ruth Ware’s One By One on audio. When the dust cleared, there were wisps of hair everywhere, coffee splotches here and there, and me nursing only a few injuries from felting needle related accidents. Still, I wonder if I could ever Top That night.
Happy Halloween! I am swamped as always this time of year and hadn’t originally planned on doing a Bob’s Burgers Halloween set but I had mistakenly ordered a tiny set of three dolls and decided it shouldn’t take too much time to knock them out after after after hours.
This year features only the Belcher kids in their costumes from season 8’s episode Wolf of Wharf Street where Tina is dressed as “Mom-bie” (a zombie Linda), Gene as a bunch of grapes, and Louise as Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Man.” She is so cool. For years I’ve been trying to talk my niece into dressing as a shirime, which is an easy enough costume to make (a body suit and a big styrofoam ball cut in half) but so far no joy. Louise would’ve been all over it!
A shirime is, as far as I know, is a step above a flasher. As you see no naughty bits are really on display as the “winking brown eye” is an actual eye but those who were flashed by a shirime find it upsetting all the same.
Due to the descending diminutiveness of nesting dolls, I don’t often offer the option of mini sets past six dolls. I did, however, for the Addams Family set because I had been able to procure a smaller sized set of 7 dolls in the past and knew I had one more of those left in my arsenal. Unfortunately, when I went into my supply bin to unearth what I am convinced now is a mythical product because I couldn’t locate it, I spiraled into a mad panic. Now, panicking is not allowed in my sweatshop for more than 2 minutes at a time so I got my act together and quickly pulled out all my bins and attempted to Frankenstein a mini set. “Frankensteining” is a term I use to put together a set of dolls using loose ones sitting at the bottom of these bins. In the past I have successfully put together many sets using this method and the belt sander so I was hoping to do the same here.
The only problem is that in order to put together a set of 7 dolls with this method, the last two dolls had to be extremely tiny, the girth approximate to the other ones, the descending height not incongruous, and that they all fit together. I was so relieved to have found two extremely tiny, specks, really, dolls for the last in the set. The best one is just a hair too big for the sixth doll so I got to work with my Dremel, which died as soon as I turned it on. I had no choice but to use Husband’s one, which is plugged into a coil of messy cords out in the garage. A minute later the speck of a doll skittered out of my hands and promptly disappeared. I conducted a half hearted search and knew exactly how people who were tasked to find a needle in a haystack felt before giving up and went to examine the second and last speck doll.
It was a little tinier than the one I lost, but I was confident I could successfully paint Wednesday Addams on it. Just in case, I made a tiny barrier in my work space and hardly breathed at all whilst painting her. Between painting she is kept in a sealed jar, just in case. I’ve learned my lesson.
So here it is, the set that I’ve painted many times before but made me think a lot about eye and mental health nonetheless.