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Mama Kringle Work-in-Progress Part 1: Design, Sculpting, Painting, and Assembly

Published April 4, 2017 by baileyquillincooper

As promised, I took a lot of work-in-progress photos of Mama Kringle. Normally I like to write a series of many entries as I’m working on a doll and so I can post my progress photos as I go along, but let’s just say that I have a lot of catching up to do this time. Due to the sheer volume of the photos I have taken since I first started on her, this entry and the one that will follow are going to be mostly photos with very brief explanations in between. If you guys have any questions about any of them or my process in general, please feel free to comment below!

I. DESIGN

Without further ado, here are first some images of Mama Kringle from my children’s book, Kris & Krampus Kringle, to serve as a reminder of the character design.

Mama Kringle Design

I usually make my dolls just based off of a singular idea or sketch and sort of make the details up as a I go along, so making a three-dimensional version of a pre-existing fully-formed character is somewhat rare for me and a lot of fun.

Mama Kringle Portrait

II. SCULPTING

I took inventory of my massive polymer clay collection and gathered an assortment of colors to make a custom skin tone. Some of them were quite sparkly.

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My workspace, complete with weird Netflix documentary about men who like to dress up as giant masked dolls.

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A pair of beautiful glass eyes that I found on eBay.

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A lot of the more ornate and unusual glass eyes that I buy are intended for Dollfie ball-jointed dolls. I know that the Frouds and many other doll-makers out there really don’t like glass eyes because they can be somewhat restricting and a little bit tricky to focus, but I personally really have a thing for them. There’s always such an interesting variety of them online that sometimes I will even get an idea for a character based solely on a pair of eyes that I find.

I always start by making an internal structure for the neck and skull out of looped armature wire, epoxy putty and fine jeweler’s wire for some extra grip, shaped pieces of aluminum foil, and then masking tape.

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I made sure to gore out some eye sockets before putting any clay onto the skull.

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Then I mixed up all this clay by hand. It took a while.

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I seriously need to get me a food processor.

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I then set the eyes into the sockets as I began to cover the skull with clay. This is how I started to form the face with basic shapes first.

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This is what she looked like by the end of my first all-too-brief sculpting session.

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This one is from my Instagram, probably after I returned to her for another brief session a day later.

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Another Instagram photo after she was ready for her first trip to the oven.

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A wonderful thing about polymer clay is that you can bake it in layers to better save your work. It definitely helps you to prevent stressing over things while you’re working quickly, like delicate facial features that you wouldn’t want to accidentally smash when you’re working on the ears or the back of the head. You can bake most polymer clays at least three times before the coloration or texture changes that much.

Into the oven with you!

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Creepy…I really love my Amaco craft oven though.

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The glitter clay shines even more after it’s been baked!

Ears next.

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Next I made her hands, while watching my old Wendy Froud DVD and rocking out with my rod puppet, Lucia.

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As per Wendy Froud’s hand sculpting technique, they actually do start as a simple throwing up the horns shape before I add the other fingers on one by one. Apparently I didn’t take any pictures of that, but here they are going into the oven.

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Just waiting around for some hair.

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I think all the glitter clay worked out great for her skin, but by this time I had also discovered another kind of special effects Premo Sculpey clay at Blick called, “Opal.”

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I thought this one was so cool, and was pretty excited to try it out in her hair!

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I made the basic structure of her hair by twisting many different other colors of polymer clay together into tapered rope-like shapes, fixing them onto her scalp, and then adding additional little branches onto the larger ropes in the same exact way. Working my way in a circular pattern from the forehead and the nape of the neck to meet in the middle on the crown of the head, I eventually ended up with this.

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III. PAINTING

Time for some paint!

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I love that photo.

After trying out many different kinds of paints and doll-painting techniques over the years, I now prefer to use many thin glazes of acrylic paints over the polymer clay until I can build up the depth of color that I want.

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I occasionally will also use glitter and metallic paints, acrylic varnish for varying levels of shininess, and even stuff like nail polish and clear nail varnish for things that I want to be really shiny and wet-looking (like a tiny doll manicure!) Mama Kringle ended up being very colorful and sparkly, and a very fun one to paint.

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Next I made her some feet, which were even balanced enough to stand on their own!

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Although you can only ever see the tips of Mama’s shoes poking out from her robe in all of my illustrations of her, I decided to make the the tops of the shoes a little bit fancy. I looked at lots of photos of Victorian shoes for reference.

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I think they looked way better after I stained them with acrylic paints so that they would more closely resemble worn leather.

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Here she is all painted and ready to be assembled!

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IV. ASSEMBLY

To assemble her body, I began by making a basic skeleton out of armature wire with a spinal cord, pelvis, and stick limbs. I used more epoxy putty on the pelvis, kneecaps, and wherever I needed to make some strong joints that would’t shift around while I got the proportions on the shoulders and the limbs right.

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I also added some wooden skewers to the femurs and other larger bones for some additional strength.

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I made her elbows on loops of wire like hinges so that I would be able to pose her arms later.

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Next came the foil.

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In case you are wondering what I was watching this time, it’s “The Secret of Roan Inish,” a charming Irish film about Selkies. It was great to watch it again along with my small collection of other Irish movies around St. Patrick’s Day!

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Side view:

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First layer of masking tape to hold her all together:

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I later added a bit more masking tape to bulk up the limbs and strengthen the skeleton.

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After I get a strong yet still posable skeleton, I begin to flesh out the body with batting…yes, just like in the Wendy Froud video in the background.

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Batting sticks to itself and is pretty easy to shape and sculpt with a little finagling, so I usually tend to make a pretty detailed body shape with this step.

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The very last step that I do before I move onto the costuming is I make a cloth body stocking over the batting. This creates a more cohesive “skin” and holds everything underneath in place. To do this I use some kind of thin, stretchy fabric; lycra in this case, and carefully stretch it over the toro and the limbs. I cut it all to size and then glue and hand-stitch it tightly over the batting “guts.”

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And there you have it, the design, sculpting, painting, and assembly of Mama Kringle! The last bonus photo I found on my camera roll before I moved onto the costuming was one of Mama standing next to Lucia for a size comparison. For the record, Lucia stands at about 17″ tall, and Mama Kringle is about 19″ tall without a stand. I’m really enjoying working in this larger scale!

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Ok. Well that was pretty exhausting, and I again apologize for all the major catch-up posts that I’m having to do now! The good news is, you won’t have to wait very long at all for part two of the work-in-progress post since she’s already finished now, and I just have to type it all out. Be sure to check in again for that sequel soon!

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Christmas Ornaments: Process

Published January 2, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

This is part two of a three-part post, so make sure you check out the last one too! This one is about the process of making the pet portrait Christmas ornaments. I didn’t take a lot of in-progress photos…I was working on a bit of a time crunch as usual and also I’m kinda bad at that part anyway, although I’ve been trying to get better at it as part of a long and complicated New Year’s resolution that I have. This here is what I do have. After I designed each figure with the few sketches from my last post, I set up my workspace with all my materials.

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I have a stockpile of different gauge wire which I have collected from craft, hobby and hardware stores, which I use to build the armature, or understructure, of all of my sculptures. I don’t have a standard size that I always use or anything, it really just depends on the size of the piece I’m making and how flexible or rigid I want the inner skeleton to be. Since I wanted these sculptures to be more bendable and less breakable, I think I mostly used the more bendy steel galvanized wire for them. I started with Clancy, constructing a basic skull and spine shape and then wrapping it with masking tape.

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I made sure to that the armature wasn’t too bulky to leave room for the layers of batting and fur that I planned to add later, and I didn’t include any of the limbs because I knew from my design that I would be making them out of pipe cleaners. I also used my original drawing as reference for the general size and shape of the armature.

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Normally after this step I would continue sculpting each figure individually, but due to the time crunch and of them all needing to be shipped to the same place for Christmas anyway, I made these in more of an assemble line fashion. Right after I made the Clancy armature, I moved on to Bridgette. I think a quintessential element of the Bridgette form is the angle of the little nub tail and the aggressive hunched back, so I spent some extra time getting that part just right. I also wrapped the spine with that thin and flexible paper-covered florist wire before I covered it in masking tape just to make sure that nothing went anywhere.

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The armature for MaxiMilt/The Brothers Orange was definitely the most bizarre of them all. Because I gave them two heads and one body like a pair of cojoined twins, I had to make sure to leave enough space between each head that I would be able to sculpt each one individually. So as a result they pretty much just ended up with weird freakishly long necks which I planned on covering and padding out later.

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Here’s what it looked like from the front:

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After I had the armatures ready, I just dove straight into sculpting the heads without taking a whole lot of photos in the process. I remember that after I spent the longest time blending several colors of polymer clay together to create the perfect shade of haystack blonde for Clancy, half of his face got singed brown in my Amaco polymer clay oven for being too close to the metal ceiling. It would have been great if that had happened to the Bridgette figure, who is supposed to have a two-toned face so it actually would have saved me a step…but of course that was not my luck. This was only my second project using that oven, and although it is infinitely easier and safer to use than a conventional oven, I guess I still have a couple of things to learn. Anyway, it all ended up being alright in the end because I’m a pretty decent painter and was able to fix up his face like it never even happened. This is what he looked like painted and after the big correction:

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His eyes are 6mm glass cabochons which I purchased from a wonderful Etsy seller based out of Spokane, Washington. Her name is Megan Peterson and her shop is called SteamPunk Dream. She designs all of the eyes herself and makes a lot of really unusual and hard-to-find colors and patterns, particularly miniature animal eyes. I ended up ordering all of the eyes for this project from her, and they were a great deal as well, since glass doll eyes can get really expensive. Also in this photo, Clancy’s got an empty socket nose to be filled with a red pompom later. I used a lot of gloss varnish and even some clear nail polish to add shine and drool to all of the appropriate places.

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Later I would even add a little stringy drool with varnish and dried hot glue, because he’s a really drooly dog.

Next I sculpted Bridgette, which was a lot of fun getting in all of the little nose wrinkles on her hateful snout. Here she is before I painted her:

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In case you were wondering, I made her little teeth with broken toothpicks. Here is the most hideous and hateful little thing that you have ever seen going into an oven:

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Next up I guess was Max, and then Milton, but I really just sculpted those guys at the same time:

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I was referring to the basic sketch that I had done while adding a lot more detail as I went along, since I never spent a lot of time on that drawing and it was really only for me to get the gist of what kind of facial expression to sculpt. They turned out quite different from the drawing but I definitely like the end result much better.

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It was a fun an interesting challenge to sculpt in both the pumpkin orange clay and the white clay simultaneously to include both of their face markings without too badly smudging the colors together. Milton also had a generic super sculpey flesh colored tongue and two toothpick teeth. Here they are all cozy and fresh out of the oven:

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I think a big part of the reason why this project was so much fun was all of the different fur patterns and textures that I later got to paint or glue onto these guys…Clancy’s shaggy blonde flyaway mane, Bridgette’s two-toned face, and Max and Milton’s stripes and facial markings. Looking back at my photos, I think one of the very first things that I did was attach Clancy’s red tinsel pompom nose:

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As you can see, the drool just kept progressively getting bigger, and I wasn’t even done with it when this photo was taken!

I didn’t take many individual photos of the painting stage, but I did take a couple of neat group photos:

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By the way, these were painted with a combination of acrylic paints and all-purpose air-dry ceramic paints, with touches of acrylic varnish and clear nail polish. Hangin’ out on a toothpick box to dry overnight:

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Ugh…this post is so long and exhausting…please remind me never to save all of this work until last ever again! I should have broken into several more parts than this. Oh well. There’s only one more in-progress step that I even have any photo documentation of anyway, and that’s padding out the armatures with batting before I covered them all up with a fur skin. It may also be noted that at this point I had already glued fur and big sappy eyelashes to Clancy’s face, because his sappiness is just as big a part of his essence as his shagginess. The others had also gotten some fur ears before this photo. Anyway, here you go:

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I was extremely lucky a few months ago because I had been in need of a lot of batting for my future projects, and I walked right into SCRAP PDX to find an enormous trash-bag-sized lot of someone’s old batting collection for like three dollars. I frickin’ LOVE that place. Here’s another batting stage photo of The Brothers Orange, who definitely needed to use the most of it:

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I even added more layers of batting to them later, but unfortunately this last blurry group photo is all I got:

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So there you go, there’s all the in-progress photos that I got of this project. I’m gonna take at least a ten hour break before I write the last post that will feature the final products. See you.