Rosehip, Brennesle and Evie, ….. or How I became a Doll Artist

Evie, Rosehip and Brennesle
Evie, Rosehip and Brennesle

I have posted about these three before but I suspect I may have written something quite boring and short as the blog was still a bit of a blank canvas at that stage and as anyone who has ever tried to create anything on a black canvas will tell you, blank canvases can either be inspiring or they can freeze your brain until it can only squeeze out banal mutterings.   At that particular time it I am pretty sure I was only able to manage banal mutterings, and short banal mutterings at that.

Also, at that stage, I had no idea whatsoever of what anyone would think of my dolls and creatures because almost no one had seen them.  I’d been keeping them a secret from everyone except my closest friends and some people who’d wandered into a group show in a gallery in Oslo.

You see, making dolls and creatures and puppets and figures has always been a part of my life, always, since as early as I can remember, but until last year, I had never taken them seriously.

I made figures and creatures all the time, out of whatever was lying around.  I always had done.  In every design or teaching project I worked on there would be a little figure or animal somewhere in a sketchbook or corner of my desk that I’d made from left over fabric or blu-tac or paper or whatever and I would almost never show them to anyone.  Ever.  Because as far as I was concerned making wee characters was just something I did, not something that I could actually do as a real job.

I’d trained as a fashion and textile designer.  I’d worked all over the place being a serious, grown up designer, who made serious, grown up work and these wee dudes on my desk made out of paper clips, bits of lace and copper wire were not serious or grown up.  But the serious, grown up work just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  I was tired, I was bored and I was at a dead end.   I also had a lot of time on my hands and a dark Norwegian winter ahead of me.  I’d asked myself over and over for almost a year “What do I want to do with my life?” .

By the time I’d got to my thirties I’d lost focus on the career I’d strived for in my twenties and realised that I’d invested my time and creativity into something I no longer had faith or much interest in.  But what else?

Dolls.

I continued to teach and more often than not, my students’ passion for their subject was more confirmation that what I was doing was not what I should be doing because as much as I loved the subject, I just didn’t have their same love of actually doing it.  But damn it, I was in my thirties now, I should know what the hell I want to do with my life, what should I do?

Make dolls.

I made lists, wrote in my diary, made mind maps, tried to work through all the clues and possibilities, all the while aware that I was being incredibly self indulgent in a way that I really should have got over in my teens.  I had a little studio room and all I did in it was make lists about what I should or could do.   The lists were piling up and still my work was confused and half finished because I couldn’t find anything that was worth my full attention, something serious and important and valuable.

Dolls!!!

So I stopped trying.  I spent more time in the forest, learned how to make soap from nettles, play the ukulele, identify edible wild mushrooms and a whole lot of other things I’d wanted to do that I’d never got round to because I was filling every spare minute with panic and lists. Then one morning I woke up and I knew what I wanted to do but it wasn’t a new idea, it was an idea that had been there all along waiting for me to be still and quiet enough to hear it.

I would take all the characters and creatures in my head and let them out.  I’d make dolls, puppets, miniature worlds and mythical beasts and I would give them my full attention.  Instead of sketching them in blu-tac and masking tape and leaving them on a desk, I would give them my time and my skill and my patience.  I would not think about a market for them or a specific outcome.  I would let my creative instincts take the lead.

This seems easier than it actually was because I am a self confessed control freak when it comes to my work, or at least I had been.  Years of penny counting and hard work meant that I couldn’t just let go and do something for the sheer hell of it.  So I sat down and started drawing, then I started making.  Then I decided that it was all crap and that it was all going in the trash.

Then I tried again.

Something in the back of my mind was getting stronger and kept telling me to keep going.  I kept showing up and I kept on messing up, until one night I took a metre of calico and a pencil and started cutting and drawing, and along came Evie.

Evie
Evie

Then Rosehip.

Rosehip
Rosehip

Then Brennesle. The Pale Rook - Brennesle All three took shape at the same time.  All three were dipped in dyes made from plants I’d found on my forest walks.  All three taunted me with their complete uselessness and lack of commercial marketability and I still kept on making them.

Evie in progress
Evie in progress

I was and always have been aware of just how much pressure I put on myself, but I had only been marginally aware of how much pressure I let myself feel from what I thought the “world” wanted from me.  I didn’t see value in work that was so personal.  I’d let my ego lead me into a career that I had a lot of excitement about in the early years, a lot of interest in certainly, but it never had my heart and soul.  I did it because I thought it was what was expected of me.  It would make my parents proud of me, bring me a prestige that was easy for other people to understand and give me a respectability that I could rely on. (Just in case you were wondering, it didn’t.)

What I’d never put time into or faith in were the ideas that didn’t yet make sense in the context of the rest of the world.  I couldn’t see the value in my imagination from the view point of those around me, so I ignored all the ideas that were only mine.  Then I wondered why my work didn’t give me the same joy and satisfaction I saw in others.

The last person to see my new work was my Mum, ironically the first person to see the things I made when I was a little girl.  I was so worried she’d think I’d gone nuts, that I was having an early mid-life crisis and finally given in to my hippy fantasist leanings.

Just writing that last sentence, I realised that that is not too far from what I have done but that is no bad thing.

There comes a point where you need to at least ask yourself what you would do with your time and your talent and your skill if you only had to take your own needs into account.  I know that life is not that easy or straight forward.  It’s easy to keep that little voice small when it seems to be talking shit and you’ve got  a million other important things to do.  Maybe try listening to it though, because none of what you see on this site existed outside of my head this time last year.

When I finally started listening to that tiny little voice and giving it my time, all of the skills I’d learned in my career, at college, from random Youtube videos, from Pinterest, all the seemingly unrelated crafts and techniques that I’d used for whatever, finally came together, en masse to help me out. Instead of being a time wasting, self indulgent departure from everything I had worked for and built up, this “new”work had become a culmination of it.

And if no one paid any attention to my work, would I keep on making it?

Yes.

Without a doubt, because as wonderful as it is to have support and appreciation and clients who want to own and commission my work, my work has only become that way because I created it with just my own needs in mind.  And I’ve realised that one of my, and probably your fundamental needs is to create something beautiful or wonderful or terrifying or ugly, and quite possibly useless for no other reason than because it is in your mind and deserves your attention.

So whatever is in your imagination, go make it.  If you can’t sew, knit or draw then learn.  If you can’t sing, dance, write, do it anyway and keep doing it until it feels good.  What ever it is you need to learn or do to get what is in your mind out into the open, do it.  Do it over and over again. No matter how silly and pointless it seems, no matter how frustrated you get, keep going.  You have no idea what it may turn into.

Dolls in progress
Dolls in progress
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68 thoughts on “Rosehip, Brennesle and Evie, ….. or How I became a Doll Artist

    1. I’ve just caught this, and it has hit me over the head with the certain knowledge of its truth, my truth, and I thank you for writing it. I’ve been an artist my whole adult life, lately have been flailing about with polymer clay, forming bits that speak out of ancestry and long ago lives. The work has no “purpose” . . . well, yet it speaks eloquently of reverence, joy, grief, the stuff of the universal journey. Your words give me further impetus for keeping on keeping on in the words of the old civil rights folks I marched with so long ago.

      Thank you.

      1. Thanks for sharing your story. I flailed around with this work for a good while before finally finding what I wanted to do with it, even then it took another good while to get to grips with it. If you ever set up a website for your work please send me the link, I’d love to see it. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

    2. Thank you… I just read this and cried! I’m in my mid forty’s my daughter is hoping to go off to uni soon. I don’t know what I want to do with my life but I am going to double my efforts to find out!
      Thank you …..

  1. What an incredibly inspiring post… I’m so happy for you. And ofcourse, I am completely in love with this work! Thank you for sharing it with us jx

  2. What a gorgeous post. It even gives the 67-year-old me courage to do what my ‘self’ keeps imagining — just for the sheer joy of doing it.

  3. Loved reading about your journey – a really inspiring post! I love your work and am so glad you have had the courage to take the path you are now on xx

  4. Thanks for sharing your heart. Your words made me smile and reflect on my own life. Good writing… good words.

  5. I love your posts so much!! I can really identify with your journey as I too embarked upon a career that I didn’t particularly enjoy but I thought was expected of me and would please my family. I understand the courage it takes to break away from that. I’m so very glad you did 🙂 xxx

  6. So love your dolls – they have an amazing ethereal quality about them – so admire your courage to follow your heart ♡ – someday I hope to have the freedom to do the same and bring out all the tiny images floating at the edge of my conciousness – in the meantime I shall follow your adventures

    1. I hope you do too! I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to make the work I make, and there were a lot of years where it just wasn’t possible. I hope you get your chance soon xx

  7. Oh, I love this post, almost as much as I love your dolls! I’ve been skirting around doll making for years- I make Waldorf dolls and just have to take the (giant) leap towards Art dolls… You have inspired me 🙂 Out of curiosity, how tall are your dolls? I always imagine them to be approximately 12″ high. Your detail is stunning x

    1. Hi Emily, the ones on this post are about 60cm, which is about 23.5 inches. Most of the other dolls are about 12 inches though. I don’t think there’s a giant leap between Waldorf dolls and art dolls. I say just go for it! x

  8. thank you for your words of inspiration encouragement and pure honesty! I’m still in the phase of being scared to get my head ideas into real forms in the physical world. My next project making mixed media sculptural works will take the courage and gusto to just do it. Your post was perfect timing for me. I’ll try to keep you posted x

  9. Reblogged this on vicki reisima and commented:
    This mornings inspiration to just show up and create whatever is in my head. I take these words of authenticity and courage into my next project, praying that it will sustain my reasons for making and being an artist. Thanks to The Pale Rook for your insightful words!

  10. Great lesson for creation. Thank you for your post. I follow you on Facebook and every post I’m seduce by the poetry of your figures. Hope once to get one home 🙂

  11. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story! I really feel inspired and encouraged to keep going. And by the way your dolls are enchanting. 🙂

    Greetings from Vienna, Austria
    Rubinskaja

  12. This post has encouraged me too as I am going through a why bother stage at the moment even though I know I love to create for its own sake. Your dolls are so beautiful.

  13. I’m sitting here, crying my eyes out. You’ve just put into words, exactly what I feel, and now the tears are for the dissappointment and rage of having listened to others telling me I was wasting my time. I ended up very depressed, with no energy. Painting and making things is what makes me happiest and gives me energy.
    Drinking my coffee this morning, and contemplating what to do with my life in the coming year, coming across this post couldn’t have come at a better time.
    I’ve got my mojo back. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    1. Julia, you have no idea how amazing it is to read your comment, thank you. I had exactly the same experience and tried really hard to do as I was told and be sensible. The best advice I can give you is to use that rage! In the lead up to starting this work, I made a decision that put me in, let’s say an “angry place” ;). It was pure rage that pushed me to keep going through the time when I had no idea what the hell was going on and how I was going to get to where I wanted to go. Glad to hear you’ve got your mojo rising again! Happy New Year xx

  14. I should have read all the comments before posting! Your story is just so incredible and it gives me the push to give up what’s become a struggle and give in to making dolls. Since childhood I’ve been a ‘dolly’ person and now that I’m a great grandmother (yes, I’m that old) I feel the need to satisfy my creative urge. I’m in Scotland too!

    1. Hi Evie! I’m glad you’ve found me, thanks for the lovely compliments. I will DEFINITELY be teaching workshops in Scotland this year and I am really hoping to tour some other parts of the UK and maybe even Canada and the USA. I wish you lots of luck with your doll making 🙂

      1. Hi Johanna, Please be kind to let me know yours workshops in Scotland or UK, I don’t know yet if I could attend but I want to study it. I’m so fan, every day in seeing Devina. I would love to learn how to make such dolls, as yours. Sincerely Muriel

      2. Johanna, I’m really excited at the prospect of attending a workshop of yours, hope it’ll be soon! Xx

  15. What a poetic post! I’ve been there, down deep in the muck, climbed out into the sunshine complete with an “aha” moment. Since claiming the title of artist, I’ve slipped back down but never to the bottom since I’ve found myself once I know it is the way of my creative journey!
    It’s always important to be reminded.
    I’ve always loved dolls, and have made various kinds….lately I’ve found great pleasure making what I call my “chemo” dolls. They’re clutchable. And fit in little girls suffering through their chemo sessions! So nice to meet a kindred spirit!

  16. It’s almost exactly a year since you wrote this post, but I’ve just found it. It did something really wonderful to my soul, and reached me at exactly the moment I most needed it. Thank you so much for writing it. This is the year I’ve started (only started) listening to that insistent whisper, and the things I am making are weird and frivolous and I’ve had my share of angst about it. This has quieted the doubtful rumblings so that I can hear the whisper more clearly. Thank you.

  17. So inspiring. It’s wonderful to be able to see these gorgeous dolls while reading about how much resistance you had to allowing yourself to create them. They are so incredibly wonderful!

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