I am smack dab in the middle of a few different projects right now so I’ve decided to look backwards for this week. Last semester I had an excellent teacher/class combo: Myth, Magic, and the Human Form with Denise Richard. This course was set up to encourage independant historical research on a project-specific basis.
There were four projects: a mask, a talisman, an apron, and an effigy. For the latter the expectation was to create a self-portrait effigy with some nod to an existing doll-type. I have always been enamoured of Russian nesting dolls. After much research (especially this lovely article) I set out on that path.
I tried using gum paper, but it became apparent that it didn’t work well with my fingers, small objects, or time constraints. I moved on to a technique this same teacher had shown me a couple years ago for making this custom dress form:
You wrap yourself in plastic wrap and have someone lay down several rolls of packing tape over your body. It is a very dizzying project for at least one of you, but at the end you are cut free and what’s left is a you-shaped plastic torso.To use this method on my nesting dolls, I first made a tiny newsprint form, only a couple inches long. I squished it around until it look like a stomach, an organ which has a lot of meaning for me. Then I wrapped it in red cotton (which took the place of the plastic wrap), and strapped on the packing tape. This gave me my smallest doll shell. I put more newsprint over the top of that, then cotton, and so forth for a total of five more layers.It was a dense and satisfying little package by the time I was done.
I chopped up the back with scissors and pulled off the shells one at a time. After taping the back split up again (and filling the smallest one with stones) I was left with five functional and durable red nesting dolls.But the red was just for the guts and I wanted to be able to paint the surface. I covered each piece in cotton muslin, découpage-style. Around this time I started getting really nervous about painting them. Something I really liked about the quality of the surface, they were fun to squeeze and manhandle. I didn’t want to ruin it.
I pressed forward and painted the surface with gouache very slowly, just putting lines where they fell. Meaning came out of them as I suspected it might. While they do have a curious monster quality, to me they are mourning dolls, and each represents a different facet of mourning as I’ve experienced it.I won’t get into any sensitive elaborations, you can read into each one as you will. I suspect in the future I will make more lighthearted versions of these guys. As it stands I do not anymore find these upsetting as I had expected. I got all that out in the making and now they seem to symbolize release. They are called The Procession, both for the funeral rite, and for the act of moving onward.