I hardly ever write in my posts, but I decided to do it today because I had a cool experience that I wanted to write about and because my son asked me why I make him write so much, even though I never do it. He basically called me lazy and he's right. I'm also very private, so I find it difficult to share what's going on in my head with others. The good thing about my blog is that almost nobody reads it, so it's pretty darn private. Hey Allie, Patrick and Christopher - I do hope that you're reading this. If I make a bunch of mistakes, you can correct me. Now it's your turn to be the meanie.
Last week, I loaded my kids and my mom into the van and started on an adventure. A really awesome lady named Edyth O'Neill said that she would show me how she paints ringlet curls on dolls with oil paints. She's the coolest lady in the world. Her house is filled with incredible early American antiques. She has an antique doll collection that makes me drool - it's a huge collection of early paper machiers, china heads, parians...I can't even think of them all. Some of the dolls are dressed in antique toddler and baby clothes. Everywhere you turn, there's an antique textile that jumps out at you. It's really spectacular. There are hooked wool rugs all over. Gorgeous. But my favorite thing about visiting her house is seeing her paintings - she has painted on canvas and also on her dolls that she made over 25 years ago. I'm lucky enough to own one of those dolls, so I can visit her painting any time that I want. When I bought that doll, I asked her if she would ever show me how to paint the curls and she said yes and invited me to her house to show me how!!! That's why we were there last week.
Okay. So here's what we did. We sat at her kitchen table and I just watched her. Her pal, Penny, was there too. Penny is also an avid doll collector and is learning to make dolls. She's cool too! My kids played their magnificent new DS games that their grandmother, Martha, had bought them for the occasion - they were plugged in and completely immobile and non-conversant for exactly 4 hours - those new games were like baby Nyquil for 12 year olds. Uh oh, now I'm giving away my parenting secrets. I need to save all of those for my parenting book that I'm writing : How To Pretend That You're Educating Your Triplets While You're Really Spending All Of Your Time Making Dolls. The inventors of the DS are geniuses. Now I'm digressing.
Edyth showed me how to first do a light golden undercoat of curls - little wavy brush strokes, cascading downwards. Then she showed me how to take a darker brown and outline the little shapes, connecting them to each other in just the MOST perfect way - - for some reason, this had been a mental block for me. Then she dragged her brush through the brown paint into the golden, without mixing the colors too much - you don't want to blend the colors. She called it a decorative painting technique that she learned from someone else years ago - - she was adamant that I include this in anything that I wrote about our time together - - that she didn't invent this technique, but learned it from someone else. She also showed me how to use a similar technique to do the top part of the hairline. She used oils, but said that slow drying acrylics would also work well.
Something that surprised me was that she said that she would paint an entire doll head in one sitting! I never do that! I guess that's the difference between slow drying paints and quick. I always use straight acrylic - the cheap bottle craft kind, which dries quickly. She also said that she wouldn't first do an undercoat of skin color on the head - that she'd just go right in and start painting hair onto a blank canvas of a head. Shocking!
She talked about color a lot. She's really into color. She said that you want contrast - that it catches the eye and creates something special in a work of art. That's why she used golden undertones for the curls - it's like how the curly head of a little child catches the sunlight and makes you go aaaahhhhhh. She also said a bunch of stuff about browns - how she doesn't like certain shades, but loves others. She showed me how to mix a pretty brown. It went right over my head. Brown is brown - I can't tell the difference between one brown and another. Maybe I'll understand some day...
She also mentioned that she thought it's prettiest to soften the edges of the hair line with hair color plus a bit of skin color. I love this idea. I tried it on a doll that I just painted with my junky acrylics this morning. I just watered it down and went over the hairline with a water color frame of mind and I love the effect.
Edyth said something else. She said that black doesn't really occur in nature except for when there's been a fire. Ash. Or obsidian. She even said that she wasn't sure that ash was really black. She's just not sure that black is really there, I guess. She paints the impression of black with a deep, deep, DEEP brown. By the way, she used all of those technical names for colors of paint - crimson, burnt umber, etc... I know nothing about art and real paint names. My color education comes straight from Crayola - I know my periwinkle blues and violet reds very well, but that doesn't help if you're trying to paint doll curls with real artist paints.
She showed me a lot more than this, but it was hard to take it all in because I felt like she was speaking in a language that I didn't know. It taught me that there's a whole field of art/painting/color study out there that I know nothing about. But it's exciting because I didn't even know it was there and now I do and so I have a bunch of stuff that I can learn some day.
Whenever I meet someone new and inspiring and when I learn from them, I take a snapshot of the whole experience with my mind and I really have to mull it over for a long time before I can absorb what I just experienced. Then little bits jump out at me when I see or hear something else that reminds me of what I just saw. It's like there's a big puzzle that needs to be put together, but I know that I don't have all of the pieces and I've learned to not try to understand the whole thing right away - - that eventually, it'll just happen...the understanding, I mean. I love blogging. Blah, blah, blah.
Has anyone else watched the documentary about the life of Phillip Glass? It's on Netflix instant play. He talks a lot about his creative process in the movie. He says that his songs are like underground rivers...that they are always there, flowing along and that he just needs to be in the right frame of mind to tap into them. I love that. I feel that way about doll making. My son showed me a really cool youtube video about a guy called Nice Peter who writes songs. I love it - it expresses how I feel about the creative process too -
When I got home, I tried to implement what Edyth had shown me with my junky paints and brushes and I got depressed because it didn't work right. I was going to throw in the towel and start fresh with new paints and brushes, but I decided to just keep working on this doll head with my old stuff because I KNEW that I could do something different than before, after hanging out with Edyth. And so I kept on trying and I think I finally did get a better hair effect than I used to get, even with my old junky tools and paint. The photo at the beginning of this post shows my efforts. Whenever I learn a new skill, it always leads to other things and I just need to trust that even though I didn't get it just right the first time, my experience will tap into a bunch of new possibilities that I never knew were there. Everything leads to something else, if I just let it happen.
Edyth has posted the photos of our doll party on her blog - we did more than paint curls - it was a blast! Here's her blog. I'm going to put photos of the curl painting process on Maida Dolls Group.
I'm so proud that I was able to include Nice Peter, Phillip Glass and Edyth O'Neill in the same blog post today. I'm probably the only person in the world who has ever done that before.