Agatha Christie and her Detectives

I have started working in my new sweatshop (and already being visited by the cutest Kingfisher, massive grasshoppers, and a few cats) on a cold and rainy week. It was quite fitting that the first set I’m working on at the new address was Agatha Christie and her myriad detectives. Although I wouldn’t exactly classify her books as one of those “cozy little mysteries,” but the gloomy weather did invoke the kind of English afternoons where tea is poured and scones are warmed and maybe a body or two are stumbled upon and I was more than happy to get right back into the game after 2 weeks of straight up moving and shoving furniture and boxes into place!

I grew up with two voracious readers for parents and both loved mysteries as much as me so there were always copies of Agatha Christie novels lying around the house. It was a wander down memory lane now as I painted Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tuppence and Tommy, remembering my parents first telling me the plot to some of Christie’s works and then later me reading it for the first time.

The set was proposed to me and even though I was given photos of the actors portraying the characters, we kept the physical descriptions of them based on the novels. Sometimes I wish they would do more of that in films because, judging from what I’ve seen of Lifetime Channel’s promos of V.C. Andrews’ “Heaven” series, I know right now I am going to be vastly disappointed! I’ll watch them all, but I will not be happy about it!

New Home New Attitude!

I haven’t gone into it much on this blog, but for several years I’ve been extremely stressed out by my surrounding neighbors’ shenanigans. It became such a toxic environment to be in that I was actually thrilled when my landlady informed us that she’d sold the house we were living in to a developer. That in itself was a bit of a nightmare due to the fact our rental agency hadn’t bothered to inform us a complete and thorough demolition was scheduled when we were still living on the property but luckily my husband was savvy enough to suss things out before a wrecking ball came swinging into our living room!

But the Great Organizer of the Universe was truly looking after us because we found the perfect house in a perfect little neighborhood that was reminiscent of the one I grew up in 10,000 miles away and a perfect suburb that I’m loving more and more each day. Let’s face it, all that waterfront view was wasted on someone who prefer a bit more mountain and forest than sea and surf.

Granted, my new studio is so much smaller than the old one, but the view from my new window was almost identical to the one I left behind at my parents’ old home in Queens, NY. It means nothing to no one else, but it feels like I have a little piece of home back and I absolutely love it.

But the most remarkable thing of all, posted right outside the entryway into my street is this:

I suppose I’ll have to schedule some early morning walks now so I can run into one of these critters!

Christian Bale

This all-Christian Bale set project had been proposed several years ago by someone and it was brought up periodically, thus allowing me to keep an eye out for any of Mr. Bale’s endeavors. And boy, that man had been BUSY. He’s about the same age as me which meant I’d basically grew up watching his movies but I hadn’t really appreciate the vast body of work he had amassed throughout the years, which is makes me question my own existence. Yes, I’ve painted over 1000 set of dolls, but it hadn’t been my life’s work, you know? I’ve actually squandered quite a few decades of my life away on all sorts of nonsense. But I will like to point out that I have always known I’d be doing arty things and had grimly accepted the fact that I will never live a life of luxury because of that decision. Still, we basically all do this for the love of art, although Christian Bale tends to get a bit extreme by drastically changing his body for his craft whereas I get unreasonably annoyed if I get a bit of glue on my hand that I can’t distinguish from my already peeling skin.

The hardest part about this set is narrowing all the roles Christian Bale has played down to 6 dolls. After some back and fourth we decided on:

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), Batman (The Dark Knight), Arthur Stuart (Velvet Goldmine), Melvin Purvis (Public Enemies), Dan Evans (3:10 to Yuma), and Irving Rosenfeld (American Hustle)

I was a bit upset and relieved that The Machinist was left out of the roster. It would’ve been a bit of challenge to paint an emaciated man on a roly poly nesting doll but I’d probably find a way around it and have a great time figuring it all out!

Boobies Boobies Boobies!

My god was this set ever fun to paint, and it was great to finally get my hands on it and really crank it out (albeit in the dead of night when the world is asleep. I’ve been the proverbial night owl for months now and I love it!).

This Valley of the Dolls set features the three ladies in the film:

Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), Anne Wells (Barbara Perkins), and of course Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke)

And, just for fun, this set also comes with two “dolls” which the women had become dependent on, like so many in the show biz.

I am slightly concerned that the pills would be too tempting for some, so I found the  biggest capsule imaginable that would give people pause should they decide popping these dolls are a good idea. It is filled with non-edible decorative sprinkles to further discourage consumption. It does look quite fun, though, I’ll give you that!

Freddie Mercury

I got a little high and dizzy while making the crown for the Freddie Mercury set and recalled an old Stephen Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park with George.” When Sondheim wrote “Art Isn’t Easy,” I’m sure he hadn’t meant that an artist would pass out from all the toxic fumes emitting from the materials used to create a work of art. Granted, I did start most of it outdoors, but had to move it inside when the night closed in. But I’d rather suffer for my art than do anything else in the world!

This set had taken me months and months to complete. I actually started it before knowing the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a thing! It wasn’t the execution itself that took ages to get it made, but the fact that I first had to experiment with the new kind of paint for the crown, how to construct the velvety layer inside and finding the right type of velvet to use. Then I couldn’t find first, the time, then the inspiration. But then it came rushing fourth and I built the crown in about 6 hours’. It had been one of the final steps to finishing the set, which, coincidentally, had also brought to mind anothe number from the same Sondheim musical: “Finishing the Hat.”

I always have a ton of fun making crowns and tiaras, and this one was no exception. All the materials needed had been foraged from my vast collection of baubles and bits and that in itself had been one of the best experiences of “finishing the hat.”

David Lynch’s Ladies of Twin Peaks

For years now I’ve been asked to paint sets of dolls as gifts to others, which is really heartwarming in two folds: That these people are so immensely thoughtful to seek out something unique and let’s face it, with a somewhat serious price tag and also that they trusted me enough to make this happen.

It is also not that unusual for me to paint a family member or friend into a set of dolls featuring the cast from a TV show or a movie. But this was the first time I was asked to paint a favorite waitress from a favorite restaurant to gift her at the end of my customers’ temporary homestead. It made me wonder, just how amazing a waitress is she and how come there aren’t more like her out there? This request in itself made me want to be a better human being not because of the material rewards it might yield in the end, but to be THAT amazing that people will remember you for your fabulousness.

This set of Twin Peaks is headed by the creator himself. As always, I had fun making the Dead Laura Palmer doll. It means I have to purchase a certain foodstuff that my husband hates just so I can get my hands on the blue plastic sheet that is eerily similar to actual body bags. We have Mel the waitress added into the cast and I hope I did her justice, as the two photos given to me were taken on the sly since this set is meant to be a surprise. There’s Audrey, one of my favorite ladies to paint, and Shelly the actual waitress as well as the Log Lady.

Well, I’m off to meditate on how I can be as fantastic a human as Mel!

Women of Horror

This set is all about the strike against patriarchy…well, sort of. I’ve had so much fun painting the Boys of Horror that I thought I’d give the female antagonists from film a shot and boy, was it F.U.N!!

When I was kicking the idea of this set around, I knew Carrie would be the main doll, not only because I get to fashion a tiara on her, but “Carrie” is also one of my favorite horror movies to date. I’ve watched the remakes and have enjoyed them all, but Sissy Spacek hands down OWNED this role. It took me about 2 weeks to work up the courage to do the blood drippings and I’ve done some studies in the meanwhile. It all worked out in the end.

Annie Wilkes from “Misery” is my favorite psychopath. I also had to paint in her pet pig Misery, whom, according to the articles I’ve read, had been a Very Good Pig during filming.

Norman Bates’ mom is really just a prop in the movie and I was tossing up between painting the actual mummified corpse or Norman Bates in drag for a while but in the end the former option won as I’ve never painted a corpse before and it was all kinds of fun.

Say hello to Regan from “The Exorcist” after she’d been possessed. It’s really not her fault that she was a bad bad girl and I had some misgivings about it, but it’s too good a movie and a pure classic to give this one a miss so here she is!

And of course I had to include Esther from “Orphan,” one of the two gals from the more recent era in this set. I loved the movie and was blown by the plot twist toward the end. If you haven’t seen it check it out!

Last but not least, Samara, the frightening Ghost Girl from “The Ring.” Can you blame her for wanting to extract some revenge? The poor thing spent years trapped in a well for crying out loud!

I’d originally wanted to call this set Wicked Women of Horror but not all of them are evil (least of all Carrie). Some of them are actual victims, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t treat women (or anyone for that matter) unkindly because some will break your legs (or, in the book version of “Misery,” amputation), trap you in your own prom and blast you with a fire hose before blowing you up, or force you to watch a terrible short film seven days before you die!

Star Wars Creatures and Critters

In the past I have painted one or two of the myriad creatures in the Star Wars universe. Whenever those were proposed, I’d have to spend a little time trying to figure out how to configure an animal form onto a human-shaped doll without having to take a sander to it. This set of Star Wars creatures didn’t take too much figuring out, and the only hardship I came across was trying to fit it into my already seriously heavy painting schedule!

The first one is the adorable little Porg from “The Last Jedi,” a real treat and a half to paint. I have done a Tauntaun before so I was pleased to give it another shot and was happy with the outcome. The third in line is the Vulptex, also from “The Last Jedi,” which I absolutely fell in love with as soon as they appeared on the screen. Then we have the closest thing to a woolly mammoth in the Star Wars Universe, the Bantha. This is followed by a Fathier, also from “The Last Jedi,” and the lizard Dewback, which gave me a bit of a pause until it was pointed out to me that, if I had been able to make Smaug of The Hobbit from one of these dolls, a lizard shouldn’t be a problem. And it wasn’t!

Princess Leia

In the past, whenever I get requests to paint a Star Wars set, Princess Leia was hardly ever included. I never really put up a stink since all the Star Wars characters are always a treat to paint, but every now and again, I’d have to restrain myself from adding an extra Princess Leia character into a set. Imagine my unbridled joy when I was asked to paint an entire set of dolls devoted to the Princess herself! It starts with her in her New Hope buns to her as the formidable General with several choice looks in-between. I was in seventh heaven while painting this set!

There was no question that the buns had to be sourced and made…just painting them on would not do at all. As a packed rat I had originally thought I did have the necessary fibers to make the buns, but once I discovered it was the wrong shade, I did a desperate search to find the exact color. Several alpaca farms I contacted did not respond to my emails, thinking it was a joke because I was a bit too specific about the color. Luckily for me I found Luba at whose wares have saved me from further headaches!

This set of Leia dolls features the Princess kicking ass and taking names starting with the white hooded dress look from New Hope, as well as the gown from the awards ceremony at the very end. Then it’s onto her Hoth outfit from Empire Strikes Back, followed by the Burgundy dress from Cloud City. Return of the Jedi look features her as a Bounty Hunter and of course the very famous Slave Dancer gold bikini which fueled the dreams of many a fanboy (and girl). Last but not least we have General Leia Organa because, hey, an army rank has more gravitas!



Spirited Away Revisited

Every so often I enjoy making a “shake-’em-out” nesting doll set. I am able to utilize all the loose dolls rolling around in my drawers and I am allowed a certain amount of freedom not dictated by dimensional restrictions.

My mother had introduced me to the spectacular Studio Ghibli animation when it was still only popular in Asia. My favorite had been “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” followed by “My Neighbor Totoro.” It wasn’t until I sat down and bawled my eyes out watching “Graveyard of the Fireflies” that I realized even with Kiki and Totoro, these animated movies are not meant to be lighthearted fares. “Castle in the Sky,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” so on and so fourth are all deeply significant in their own rights. I found a lot of it be rather upsetting as it talked a lot about the impact humans have on the environment with an air of hopelessness about it…that is, until I saw “Spirited Away.” To me that is the only Studio Ghibli movie which did not leave me feeling sad in the end.

Since my life has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride at the moment and I’m sitting on the cusp of yet another great change, I felt compelled to do another shake ’em up set and the subject naturally fell upon one movie that always gave me so much hope and comfort. In this version of Spirited Away I got to revisit some of the old favorite characters I’d painted previously and I included some new ones.

Among the new characters are Kamaji the spider man who works in the boiler room and Yubird who nests inside Yubaba doll. The Kashira heads are all loose and ready for some interesting configurating.

In addition to Boh, I made Boh as a mouse. I couldn’t decide whether or not to paint Haku as a dragon and ended up doing both on the same doll.

Lin is a new addition because I liked her character so much. She reminds me of some of the teachers I used to work with, hard bitten on the outside but quite kind on the inside and I always managed to win them over by challenging myself to make them laugh at least once a day.

I really enjoyed making the soot sprites and their “food” and was happy this set allows me to make more.