I am halfway done with a completely “for fun” project, and will cover it in two posts. There are several great tutorials on how to make a BJD already, and so I will be doing my best to give an abbreviated journal. The TARDIS may honestly have taken less time and it is at least noticeable from across a room, but I suppose good things come in small packages (yes, that is a dime). Spoilers…
I was never much into playing with dolls as a child because stuffed animals were cuddlier and more interesting. Still, every few years I get the urge to make a doll as a test of my mettle and have the chance to bring a new character and story to life.
I also like the mechanical aspect of puppets and how they have to be designed for movement. (Had I not decided to be a veterinarian, my other dream was/is to work in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.) Lately I have seen some beautiful creations, particularly in the area of ball-jointed dolls, or BJD’s. A BJD is strung on the inside with elastic strands under tension, enabling its joints to hold weight and let the doll take on very lifelike poses. It sounds creepy, and it is. (The stick was just there to tie the elastic to, but it sure helps the zombie look.) And as Aria lacks certain anatomical specifics, I am ok showing him/her au natural.
I wanted a smaller doll to be easy to display and store, and had a crazy idea about making it 1:12 scale, because of my friends in the Miniatures community. I hope to get the chance to photograph Aria in some amazing dollhouses.
I ordered most of the materials from the very friendly Morezmore on ebay, including polymer clay (Prosculpt and Living Doll), elastic cord, and wire. I chose polymer clay because it is the medium I am most comfortable with and because I could have all the time I wanted to work. I went with aluminum tubing inside to run the elastic, rather than try to hollow out the limbs. And as much as I love the gorgeous commercial doll eyes out there, they don’t come in “ridiculously tiny.”
I also found my new favorite tool: a tiny claw designed by professional sculptor Alexander Mergold. This thing is awesome for cutting and rough shaping. That and my rubber taper tool and I was good to spend a few (million) hours pushing clay around.
I used a great doll calculator at http://hpc.artofuldis.com/ and used the dimensions for rough sketches on graph paper. Many doll artists consider this step crucial to keeping the sculpture on track and I have to agree that it was helpful. But in the end I always have something different than planned, so I didn’t post the sketch.
I mixed the polymer clay (3 parts Living doll to 2 parts Prosculpt) to get the color and consistency I wanted, and made forms of glass beads and aluminum foil to remove after the parts were baked. I had never used doll-grade clay before, but it is wonderful to sculpt, and much more durable. I doubt I would have been able to put the parts through so much strain with regular Sculpey III. Here is the head base with the before and after of the first head I made. It didn’t make the cut because it turned out to be a well-fed alien baby, but you get the idea.
It took two more days of sculpting to get the head I wanted. Reference photos really helped, as did taking breaks. The imperfections you missed because you were so intent on one detail are obvious with fresh eyes (and then you cry as you realize that nose you spent half an hour shaping is just simply too big).
I made silicone molds of the beads that had made the joints so I could cast accurate and hollow clay balls. Turns out the hip balls should be as wide as you want the legs, because I had to make a rim for the legs to lock in place on the tiny hips. I call them “scepter-thighs” but they work well enough, and are going to be hidden by clothes.
I made the feet and hands by baking small balls of clay, adding additional layers until I had the forms. There are steel loops in the wrists and ankles for extra strength. I made the arms and legs by applying layers of clay to pieces of aluminum tubing using beads again as guidelines for joints. Lots of smoothing, sanding and drilling with needle files ensued. I won’t bore you with all of the sculpting process, only a photo of most of the human-shaped beads blending in with my carpet.