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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

Then Rosehip.

Rosehip

Then 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

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
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