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?

It’s a Wonderful Life

This Christmas classic had been on my holiday wish list for a long time now, but I haven’t gotten around to painting it until this year! Someone had ordered this back in June as a present and it really got me into the Christmas spirit as my Christmas season usually begins at the end of August. Plus, it was winter in Australia then so the chilly weather, the annual flu shot, and the fact that I’m painting one of the few major Christmas movies ever made really puts me in the yuletide mood!

(Large to small) George Bailey present and George Bailey past, Mary Hatch, Clarence, and little Zuzu holding an angel.

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!