Ambermoggie — doll artist interview — part two

Leather artling by Sukie, aka Ambermoggie
Leather Artling by Ambermoggie

This is the second page of a two-part interview with British dollmaker Ambermoggie.

Q. If you were stranded on a deserted island and could take just a few supplies with you, what would you need to make dolls?

A. If I were stranded on an island the items I’d need would be wool, wire, a needle and cotton and paint. I could make my own felt and the wool would also make the dolls hair. With paint I could make any colour and by thinning it down dye the fibres. I’d hate to not have a doll in progress… it doesn’t feel right.

Q. What’s your best advice for someone who’s just beginning as a dollmaker?

A. For anyone starting out I would say: Just play and let your mind lead you to your kind of doll. There are no right and wrong ways to make dolls; there are only people’s interpretation of the ideas within. I’d just go for it.

If after that you want to take classes that’s good, but don’t feel that is the only way to learn. It isn’t. I’ve never been able to take any classes in any of the arts I do but it doesn’t stop me having a go.

Q. Do you have a special way of displaying dolls that you keep, or your own collection of dolls?

A. I display my dolls that I keep on a fairy tree .It has tiny christmas lights on and the dolls. These change quite often as I tend to give most of them away.

For me the joy is in making them and then the pleasure people get from receiving them, They seem to bring something to people and that for me is the best reason to make them.

The ones that I most remember from selling were made for auctions to raise money for 9/11. People gave most generously and I received some lovely emails saying how they loved the dolls. I like the idea that my dolls are in many private collections around the world for one reason – they are loved. Not bad for someone who, up to a few years ago, was too scared to make anything.

Q. Do all of your dolls have names when you make them? If so, does the name “come to you” or do you think it up deliberately?

A. I don’t name them usually if they are going to other people; I leave that to them. I just think of them as a representation of the element they embody . I have named some of the figures that I’ve kept, from characters in books.

For example, I have one with feathers and gems who is my idea of Margaret Pye (Magpie) in the Charles de Lint Some Place to Be Flying. His work has influenced me the most. I see characters I want to make in all his books. Charles and Maryann have quite a collection of my figures and also commisioned one for a friend of theirs several years ago.

Q. Your art is always breathtakingly beautiful. Where do you plan to go with your dolls and figures in the future?

A. I look now at the first doll I made. She is sitting on my desk as we speak with her brush in hand, ready to create. The ones I make today resemble her but yet are different and that is what I’d like to continue doing: Moving ever on in different directions from this beginning.

I’m currently exploring pixie feet, faces and hands, and that is fun.

I’m also enjoying getting back to writing stories. I’ve had quite a few dolls and other items in magazines and I’d like to do more of that.

I’d also enjoy teaching some more. I did a workshop last summer at a camp we were at. There were 30 people there from around 4 years of age to 80, both male and female. It was a shock when I saw how many were waiting for the class, but we had great fun. Everyone made a doll and each one was different. It was so much fun to see how they all did.

Q. Is dollmaking an evolutionary process for you, and–if so–where do you see your dolls and figures going, in the future? Were there significant discoveries ∓ turning points for you, along the path?

A. The most significant stepping stones for me and my art were: Firstly, I could make something that reflected what I could see. Secondly, that following your heart is the most important tool in making dolls. Thirdly, that it doesn’t matter that I can’t cut a straight line or turn tiny fingers out of fabric with these stiff and clumsy fingers of mine. Finally, that I make my dolls and my art for me. That other people love them is a bonus… but not the reason to do it.

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Stefania Morgante – doll artist – interview

This is a 2005 interview with Italian doll artist Stefania Morgante. This is a very informative interview, and you may want to print it out to read offline.

Q. What kinds of dolls do you make?

A. Italian…? I don’t know; Italians tell me that I make American dolls and the Americans say that I create Italian-style dolls. I like to think that my dolls are very international.

Mostly, I like to create unusual effects with materials, especially papier-mache. For example, my Pinocchio figure isn’t really made of wood; he’s papier-mache. I’ve also developed a porcelain effect with papier-maché.

And, I love materials of all kinds. They spark my imagination. I love weldments in copper, I love essential oils and terracotta, spices, leaves, beads, stones, bells, and… anything that piques my curiosity!

Last but not least, I love my dolls to have a “lack of perfection.” You will never see symmetry in my dolls.

For example, see my cloth bears. One of my recent teddy bears, Ichnusa, won First Prize (Undressed Bears category) in the 2004 Italian Festival of Teddy Bears.

Q. How did you become a dollmaker? How long have you been making dolls and figures?

A. I have been creating dolls since I was a child, and I have been collecting them for years, too. I think that I inherited my mother’s passion for creating things. She specialized in dresses made with little pieces of fabric that no one would ever have thought to use.

As I grew up, I used to paint, create sculpture and, when I wasn’t studying or reading… Well, I followed my mother’s example and kept creating.

I went online about five years ago and discovered the international world of dollmakers. I met many people, and soon my American friends encouraged me to open my own dollmaking workshop. That has become Soon I will have dolls patterns, dollmaking kits, and cross stitch patterns.

Also, I hope to offer art lessons, including instruction in painting. And, I have an idea for a challenge to connect the USA and Italy! 2005 will be a very exciting year for me.

Q. Did you study art in school?

A. Yes. I studied at the Art High School in Lecce. Lecce is in the little region of Puglia, and it is best known as southern Italy’s most important Baroque city. Lecce’s craftsmen are respected worldwide for their papier-mache art, especially for religious sculptures.

Then, I attended the DAMS University in Bologna (Art, Music and Performance) where I got my degree in Shapes Theory. My thesis was based on a Sylvia Plath poem that was, in turn, inspired by a de Chirico painting.

Q. When you make dolls, do your ideas arrive all at once? Or, do you have a few ideas, and then later think of some more, and–eventually–this becomes a doll?

A. I plan a doll as I would plan a sculpture. It’s the same approach. I start with something that I saw while traveling, a note, a sketch, or perhaps a fabric in a shop. Sometimes the idea comes from a dream and I’ll sit down to work on it that same day.

At other times, I think-think-think and then–when I see a decoration or a fabric–actually start work after some days or months.

I think that a doll, like any artwork, emerges from layers of ideas, and from things already seen: from books read, vegetables of flowers in my garden, or something that I noticed on TV.

Q. What inspires you as an artist, and as a dollmaker? Do you ever run out of ideas?

A. My country inspires me. I get inspired by the remarkable artistic tradition we have in Italy. For example, this was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and Italy has always been one of the world’s great artistic centers.

The food, the music (Rossini, Verdi, Paganini and so on…), and our characteristic creative spirit inspire me: colors and shapes of our small region, our rich history, culture, and Italy’s legendary wine and food. And, I love our continuous capacity to renew arts and craft. I attended the Bologna university, Europe’s oldest continuing institution of higher learning, and possibly the world’s oldest university!

And finally, my parents are native Italians, one from the south and the other from the north, so I think I can say that I’m completely Italian. And so, my country inspires me.

I won’t make the same doll over and over, just as I don’t want every day to be the same. I love to make things–dolls, sweaters, patterns, kits, angels, witches, amulets, talismans, and thousands of others things–but each one is different!

Q. Tell us how you make each doll unique.

A. Do you need cuddles? Do you want a new atmosphere in your house? In your life? Do you want an angel to protect you? Do you want a special gift for your wife? These are some of the requests that I get as a dollmaker, and I love this!

In Christmas 2003, I was asked to make a witch doll for a girl passing through an awful period. So I wrote a “magic formula rigamarole” and I tied it to the doll’s arm. The girl has been so happy, the lady who ordered it bought a second one for herself! I think to dream is indispensable for everyone!

Q. How do you name your dolls?

A. Well… sometimes my dolls haven’t a name until they are finished. And, sometimes the name is in my mind when I start, but it doesn’t suit the doll, after all. I love the sound of some words like “Camilla,” “Desiderio”(one of my angels is called Desire), and “Coriandolo” (coriander). These words inspire figures.

For example, right now I’m creating a cross stitch pattern of a colorful cat, and I don’t know why, but it’s called “the dreams of Theo”.

And, occasionally I give dolls to my friends’ children, and they have changed the dolls’ names. For each child, the doll seems to have another name. I don’t know why, but this always delights me.

Q. If someone wants to become a professional dollmaker, what advice would you give them?

A. Consistency, perseverance, discipline, and a sense of your own artistic identity. Learn from every person you meet. Remember, communication is essential! Keep these in mind, and good fortune will result.

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JJ Buch – doll artist interview – part two

Q. Did you play with paper dolls as a kid? Do you have a favorite vintage paper doll that still makes you smile?

JJ Bush's doll, Vanessa, Latin dancerA. Yes, yes… the Ginghams little girls from the 70s, and Betsy McCalls from my Grandmother’s magazines. I made a paperdoll of my Grandmother in her honor, it is called “Amazing Grace”.

I was a tiny tot–not even two, they said–when I sat on her kitchen linoleum and made a paper coatdress for my doll out of the waxy paper liner from a cereal box. It was primitive, a basic rectangular shape with two carefully torn holes for the doll’s arms to go through. I know, it’s not exactly a paper doll per se, but I think it counts.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of being in the paper art doll business?

A. The responses! Sometimes as an artist I think, “Well, I wonder if my art is as good as they told me it was?”

You know people won’t say it’s awful even if it is, so I wonder…Am I really a good artist?

The responses to my art have been overwhelming, just beautiful! I’ve made friends and they make me feel like making more art. Even if it never gets me famous or rich…even if I die a pauper, I made someone smile! I made them love me! That’s really all it is.

Q. If someone wants to pursue this as a career direction, what’s your best advice? What are the best books to read, if any?

A. First, go to eBay. Look at all the types of paperdolls there are, what sells commonly, and what is considered “rare”.

Realize that there are stupid people who won’t recognize true art but will pay ridiculous sums for things that can be easily mass-produced and resold on auction sites.

Then realize that one day you may be one of those stupid people because you’ll pay a million dollars for a tattered old stained copy of a Ginghams girls paperdoll booklet. Heh heh.

Then notice what the original artists’ works are going for; it may be exciting or depressing. I felt both.

You may notice other things selling by the same artists in other categories, such as art or books or jewelry. This is common because it’s very very rare to make enough money creating paperdolls alone, without a side business to help support it.

Most paper doll artists, serious ones, also make things to be sold at paper doll conventions, paper doll parties, and online at their websites. They have newsletters and fan-based groups to help support their promotions. They give programs or speeches at doll clubs.

Some famous paper doll artists are collectors or experts in related fields, such as regular dolls or dollhouse miniatures.

The really savvy artist will make use of all these things together to bring new viewers to their work.

Here are some important points:

  1. Make a website. Title it with the word(s) “paperdoll” in it, and submit it to the major search engines.
  2. Join several webrings to bring traffic to your website.
  3. Begin a list of contacts and send them updates on your latest works, life, everything! Let them get to know you.
  4. Also start a paper doll collecting group in your area. This helps with networking and keeps you busy!

From there it’s up to you. I wish you the best of luck!

Aisling’s note: JJ has generously shared one of her fun paper dolls, here. Right-click on that link to save it to your hard drive, and then print it at 200 pixels/inch. (216kb) To use it at a larger size, I recommend using to vectorize the image, then adjust it to the size you want.

Be sure to look for JJ’s websites for more of her paper dolls and related art. As of mid-2015, I don’t have a current link for her work. If you do, please leave the link in a comment, below. Thanks!

The following links were part of the original 2005 article. They may not be current.

JJ on Webring (2005)





$1 Download Paper Dolls by JJ Complete Catalog w/ Viewable Thumbnails

Owner of “Portrait Paperdolls” To join, send an email to: [email protected]

Owner of “Ephemera Restoration” To Join, send an email to: [email protected]

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JJ Buch – doll artist interview – part one

JJ Bush holding a small paper doll (older photo)In January 2005, I had the great good fortune to interview paper doll artist JJ Buch.

She’s one of my idols, because her art has a very clear “voice” and her concepts are consistently innovative and often delightfully witty.

Here’s the interview*, on two pages:

Q. How did you get started with paper dolls?

A. In 1998, after receiving the grim news that I would never bear any children of my own, I was surfing the net for distraction. I happened upon the OPDAG (Original Paper Doll Artists Guild) website and saw all the inspiring paper dolls and artists there…I said to myself, “I can do that”, and made my first official paper doll.

The doll got rave reviews from my friends so I made another, then another, and now I have over 100 sets under my wing.

Q. What inspires you? Why paper dolls… instead of some other medium?

A. Emotions and anything that draws them out…the news, counter culture issues, the black market, tragedies and also victories of science and, yes, even religion. But moreso spiritual things than religious ones.

I feel more inspired by caves and tunnels and falling down gorgeous old architecture than I do cathedrals, but gorgeous stained glass does take my breath away.

It’s only things of beauty that are already perfect, that don’t seem to stir my creative urge as do things more carnal and dark.

I do love children, I feel very protective of all children. I do not think all of my paperdolls and art are appropriate for the little ones. But I do nevertheless make dolls of all ages and wages, heh heh.

By that, I mean dolls representing all incomes and ethnicities.

Also big women and voluptuous, even figures with overflowing flesh and aged to perfection…real life and unreal expectations: both the holy and the hideous, the innocent and the ones who’ve “seen it all, kid.”

Paperdolls are low cost to make, so no boundaries there. I made the first one out of a church flyer taped to my front door, a placemat from the local IHOP, and ink pens my husband brought home from work. Snip, snip… voila!

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take the bare minimum of supplies to make paper dolls… what would you consider “essentials”?

A. Scissors; it’s very tedious to tear out the dolls by hand. I suppose one could use berry juice and a stick to draw them on dried palm leaves…

Q. How long does it take you to create one of your fabulous doll sheets?

A. Ooo, a black-and-white one-pager only takes an hour or two. But to finish it out and make it flawless, I use a computer graphics program and I scan it with a scanner. I print it out with a good quality printer, and make back-up files on a CD.

To make a custom one-page 8 1/2 x 11″ full color paperdoll plus, say, 2 outfits and the background accessories, I can do it all in a week, or a few days if the pay is good.

Q. Do you sit down and the ideas flood your creativity, or is it something where you get the basics down, and then you add a little here & there as it occurs to you, until it’s done?

A. No, I am always thinking of things and they all go into a mental kitchen where there are always things cooking up in various stages of ready to finish.

The new ideas always go on a back burner to simmer UNLESS it is something for a paid commission or a publication.

Then, it gets a front burner and I move all the other pots full of ideas back, to make room.

Money definitely gets a paperdoll moved to the front and it will get done first!

I am a starving artist but do not intend to remain that way; I have a husband and 3 fat dogs to feed, after all.

Q. What would you tell someone who wants to find their own creative “voice” in paper art dolls?

A. Hahah! Don’t go into it without a job, or someone who is willing to support you financially and emotionally because the money that does come, has to pay for materials and postage and to pay the bills… to cut back on when the water won’t come out the faucet, the electricity won’t make the lights bright, the mortgage holder is going to come take the house away, and you’re so sick of ramen noodles you could throw up.

NOW! If–after all that–you don’t care to make a living with them, and just want to enjoy making them for fun and for love? It’s beautiful…you just keep drawing them and coloring until you realize one day, “Hey! My paperdoll art is really good! I like it… No I LOVE it!” And there you go.

I really like the first 10 dolls I made, before I saw all the other artists’ work.

Your own ingenious designs are always more authentic and more… BETTER… than after you’ve been influenced too much by other opinions.

Finding your own voice, is just not listening too much to the other voices. and let me tell you I am bipolar (manic-depressive) so I know all about other voices, Ha hah!

* Aisling’s note: When I interviewed JJ via email, she replied in mostly lower-case. I wanted to leave it like that, because I generally write in lower-case, myself.

But, to make this more readable for website visitors — and with very mixed feelings about doing this — I edited it into a more traditional format.

But, be assured that JJ’s unique “voice” in emails is just as clear as it is in her art; it’s another reason why I admire her tremendously!

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Alice C. W. Dennis – doll artist interview – part three

Q. If someone is new to dollmaking, what’s your best advice?

Go for it. Don’t worry about how it is done by others. Experiment first, create your style, then read what others have to advise.

Some of the best things I have done I have done not knowing the correct way. I feel there is more creativity when there is more freedom.

Sure there are some things you will need to know for some projects but take a look at the best known doll artists their work is unique.

Do your own thing. Be unique.

Q. What book or books would you recommend to a new dollmaker?

Any and all of Susanna Oroyan’s books : Anatomy of a Doll, Designing the Doll, Finishing the Figure.

Q. What tools or products do you recommend for the best possible results?

For needle-sculpture–good value NEW nylons, never support hose. Or, a very stretchy swimsuit fabric, or loose weave linen. A small-eyed slender long strong needle, and upholstery thread.

The glues I prefer are for fabric, Fabric-tac by Beacon. For gluing embellishments of different materials together, I like E-6000 or Goop.

I don’t like to use hot glue because it does not stand up to temperature changes. Many times my wreaths are hung outdoors.

Q. How and where do you sell your dolls?

I sell my dolls at fine art and craft fairs, and I have a booth at a local craft mall. I will soon be opening a portal at the I have received a few orders from people who are members of the doll lists as well. (I would like to sell on eBay, but haven’t yet.)

Q. Where do you see your dolls going in the foreseeable future?

In the future I  hope to take part in selected Fine Art and Craft shows. I also hope to be able to take part in a doll conference.

The portal at the website will link the viewer to my site. In the future I hope to have my own web-site.

I would like to have photos of my work in national publications. My long, long term goal is to be a dollmaker that is as well known as elinor peace bailey! I want to continue to make more expressive wreaths as well as design more one-of-a-kind dolls, each with a full body.

I want to expand the media I use. Of course I will continue with cloth and needle-sculpture, but also want to do more with polymer as well as other clays and papier mache’.

I love the Bossons Heads that I  purchased a couple of while we were in Germany. I would love to do a line similar to those… only “ala Alice”.

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Alice C. W. Dennis – doll artist interview – part two

Q.  What’s your greatest influence today?  Do you get your ideas from other dolls, other art, or something else altogether?

I read Soft Dolls & Animals, Art Doll Quarterly, and I belong to several internet doll lists. I love all of these, but things and people influence me the most.

Things?  Well, here’s an example:  Once while shopping, I went down the cleaning aisle. I stopped at the Chore-Girl display and picked up one and stood there studying the copper fibered scouring pad. I envisioned the pad unraveled and as hair on a cleaning woman wreath. She was hilarious and got plenty of laughs.

People? I am a people watcher. I love studying faces and expressions. Expressions say more than words ever can.

Q. When you make dolls, do you tend to include consistent elements such as striped legs, glittered hair, wings, etc?  Has this changed?

I think it is the expressions of my creations. That is where I got the name for my business–“What an Expression!”

When searching for a business name I asked my husband for advice. He said, “Why don’t you call it what everyone says when they come into your booth–“What an Expression!”

Needle sculpture was my only media but I have begun working with clay and papier mache’ as well. (I entered my first all-polymer clay doll in an internet challenge and won beginner level–since it was my first in clay–plus best of theme and people’s choice.)

Q. Tell me about your design process:  When you design your dolls, does the idea pop into your mind fully formed, or do you sketch it out, or what?

Oh, wow…hmmm…  Usually, I have an idea. It stays in my head until I can envision it completely. I may spend hours, days, even months, thinking about it, and getting to know it, until it becomes “real.” Then, I make it. I don’t sit down and sketch it first because I can’t sketch. Well, sometimes I have drawn a stick figure, but my mind can see it better on its own.

It is funny because it may only take a day or so to “make,” but that is not counting months of thinking.

Q. If you were in the cast of “Survivor” and could take just a few dollmaking supplies with you to a deserted island, what would they be?

Just My Size nylons, poly-fill, upholstery thread, needle-sculpture needles, scissors.

Q. What do you like best–and least–about dollmaking?

Best:  I like making faces. I love to sit and make faces all day. LOL

Least:  Making the rest of the doll. That is why I like making the wreaths.

Q. Do you collect dolls by others?

I have dolls that I have received in swaps and one from a round robin.  They mean a lot to me.

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Alice C. W. Dennis – doll artist interview – part one

Alice C. W. Dennis makes art dolls with wonderful facial expressions.  In this interview on three pages, she shares her insights, inspirations, resources, and recommendations for new dollmakers.

dolls by alice c. w. dennis (c)2005

The interview starts here…

Q. How do you describe your dolls?

I sometimes have difficulty with this. My “creations” are of everyday people, mainly. I am known for my “people wreaths”. These wreaths are wall art; busts of people.

Using a wreath for an armature, I do a caricature of a person of a certain occupation, interest, hobby or character. I needle sculpt the faces from nylon or swimming suit fabric. I use gloves for the hands. I either paint the eyes right on the fabric or sometimes make them from polymer clay.

Q. Are your dolls intended for play, or mostly for display?

Display mainly, although sometimes I do make dolls for play as well.

Q. Did you play with dolls when you were little? Do any of them influence your work today?

Yes I had dolls. The only one that really impressed me was also the only handmade one I had. It had been made for my older brother. It was a cloth doll sailor, with an embroidered face, and tight curls for hair that I think were made from french knots.

Q. Are your dolls “real”? Do they seem to dictate how they are created, what facial expression they wear, and what you name them?

Definitely! They evolve with each step. Once I thought I was making a sea captain. Boy was I surprised when It turned out that I was making a likeness of Dame Edna!

The older characters I make seem to be full of stories. I feel like they are eager to sit and talk for hours about their experiences. When finished their name seems apparent, as if I have always known them.

Now and then I do see the actual people who have influenced the faces. I have seen them in the line at my bank or at the coffee shop. It always surprises me when I realize I have needle-modeled a face from a person I might have seen often but don’t really know.

Q. How long have you been making dolls? How did you get started?

The Christmas eve after my first child (a daughter) was born, my mother gave me a sewing machine and a book on how to sew.

The first thing I made was a rag doll for her. I used a pillowcase for the fabric for the body and old clothes of mine for the fabric for the doll’s clothes. I found an old foam pillow and tore it up to use for the stuffing. LOL what a lovely doll it was!!!

I continued sewing and made dolls and stuffed animals for gifts over the years.

In 1981, I bought a little old lady face magnet. I looked at it and thought, “I can do that.” I began experimenting with needle sculpture.

In 1984, I bought Judy Mahlstedt’s pattern, Emily. I learned so much from that pattern. I showed the first Emily I made to some friends and they all ordered one! I got permission from Judy to make and sell the little puppet baby. I have continued making that little puppet baby for these past 20 years.

The success I had with Judy’s pattern gave me the confidence to experiment more and create my own dolls. Often people asked if I couldn’t make something in the line of home decoration. I made life size figures, which people bought for antique cars and front porches, and living rooms. I made vacuum cleaner covers as well as tree ornament angels, tooth fairies, and “angels of the month.”

One day while watching the Carol Duval show, there was a young man that fashioned a scarecrow wreath. He gave it a simple muslin head. I saw it and thought, “That is it! I can make people wreaths using my needle-sculpted heads and give them much, much more detail!”

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