Sunday, 28 September 2014

Of Hooks and Needles

Hi there!

It's been quite a while (read:ages) since I last blogged. Life has been busy for the better part of the year and while I've made a couple of dolls, none of them were worth writing a blog post about. The lull in my dolling also has another cause: I've been doing a lot of handwork lately. Handwork involving hooks and needles.

The first kind of handwork I've become quite addicted to is knitting. I tried to learn how to knit
Sweater number one.
several times years ago. While I understood the technique, I would become bored after knitting a few centimeters and quit, only to forget how to knit. Last year my mother started knitting a sweater for me (she used to be awesomely good at knitting) and I got interested as well. I was annoyed that the knowledge of knitting still escaped me. This time I would learn it and persevere. And I did! While I still am very much a knitting rookie and still haven't learnt to knit cables, I managed to knit a sweater. A simple one, made in multi-colour wool so that imperfections wouldn't stand out, but a sweater nonetheless.

Closeup view of the multi-colour effect.
Sweater number two.
I've already started working on a second one. The front and back are finished, so I only have the sleeves and neckline to knit. However, I'm also planning to embroider patterns on it, so I'm guessing it will take a while to finish the whole thing. It would have been further along if I hadn't had to pull out about 50cm of knitting after realising the sweater would be way too big for me (even though according to the instructions it should have been just fine). It was huge. All those hours wasted. Ah well, I can use the practice.

Please ignore the imprint of
my embroidery hoop >_<
The second kind of handwork is cross-stitching. I started doing this last year, or the year before that. I find it to be quite soothing. That is, until you realise you've made a mistake and end up having to pull out tons of stitches >_< Anyway, I got a couple of cross-stitch kits and started working on one when the weather was too warm to knit. It's one depicting a cat with a couple of pansies. I'm almost finished with the cat, but still have to start working on the pansies.

The famous, tiny hook.
So all that accounts for the 'needles' part of the title. What about the hooks then? You might think that they refer to crochet, but that isn't the case. My dear reader, a couple of weeks ago I've started to learn how to make lace. Lierse kant or Lier lace to be more specific. Chances are big that you've never heard of it. If it weren't for the fact that an incredibly talented lady living in my village teaches this craft and shows it at the local yearly fair. While it's not as famous as Bruges, Mechlin or Brussels lace, it's still pretty beautiful. It's a kind of tambour lace: it's created on tulle netting by using a small hook to make chain stitches. Every piece of Lier lace is made entirely in chain stitch. The technique is quite simple, but it takes practice to get it to look consistent and elegant.

First try at lace making. The corners
 still need a lot of work :/
So far I've been to two classes: the first one we ended up talking, the second one I spent all three hours getting my tulle netting and the wooden frame ready. Only at the very end of the class the teacher showed me how to do the chain stitch using a rope and a piece of plastic with big holes in it. I've practised at home, but because she's never seen my chain stitches on tulle netting I'm left a bit in the dark: is my work decent or not? Fortunately we agreed to have an extra class (the next one would have been in November), so tomorrow I'll find out. I'm a bit anxious about it: it's been ages since I've learnt a new hobby in a social setting (I usually teach myself stuff) and I don't want to let the teacher down. But even if it's completely and utterly terrible: everyone has to start somewhere. At least I understood how to do the chain stitch on my very first try. I had nightmares about just not getting it and the teacher getting impatient with me XD

The whole setup. I actually need to get trestles to put the frame on. Also, Iliana decided that the wooden frame makes an excellent pillow.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

On Colour

Most of the time I post a doll, I tend get compliments on the colours I used. People have asked me how I do them and I never had an idea of how to answer that question. Making palettes is just something I do unconsciously and I never really thought much about it. While I do know the basics of colour theory, I never consciously use them. This means that what I'm going to write is purely my personal way of doing things.
A little while ago I was making a doll for a forum challenge. The goal was to doll yourself in your pyjamas. Since I wanted the doll to be somewhat accurate, I took a reference picture and picked some colours from it. I tend to do this a lot if I want to recreate something. Not because I'm lazy though: I always end up thoroughly changing the palette. It's just easier for me to have a starting point from which I start building a palette (it's either that or start shading with the default MS Paint colours, which is what I actually do most of the time). Most of the time these preliminary palettes look atrocious, but this time it didn't look too bad. It ended up looking pretty similar to the colours in the picture.

The doll on the left is the one with the original colours. Not that awful, right? It's
actually passable and a few years ago I would have been happy with it.  On first glance this is a perfectly ordinary doll. Something about the colours of the pyjamas bugged me: though they were true to the reference pic, I felt that there was something off about them. It was then that I came to properly realise what probably earns me the compliments on the colours I use. In this doll the colours of the shirt and pants aren't connected to each other. There's no trace of pink/purple in the shirt and no trace of blue in the pants. While this was also the case in the reference picture, I felt that it made the doll look bland. So I played with the colours and got the right doll as a result. It's a subtle change, but I feel it ties the different elements of the doll more together and makes it slightly more interesting to look at.

This is something I do with every single doll I make. If I don't do it, my dolls don't look complete to me. It's probably most noticeable in bright and light colours. When colours are especially bright they're more likely to look disconnected on your doll. I've made some dolls with bright colours (like this one) and have always used this technique of mixing colours. In the doll I just linked to, you can see that the bright blue has purple shadows, that the purple cloth has blue shadows and that in the corset the pink highlights of the over dress are used in the shadows, along with darker purple tints. The purple and pink are also used for the highlights of the hair. It doesn't matter that the shadows of blue fabric aren't usually purple in real life. Or that purple cotton pants don't display blue shadows in regular lighting. Sometimes you have to observe reality and then disregard it. Just play with the colours: if you have a pink skirt and a green shirt, try to see if you can incorporate the pink in the green shirt and vice versa. Just try. See what works and what doesn't. If it doesn't work, try something else. Have fun with it.

A little extra on white: I tend to use a variety of colours in my white palettes. One palette can have purple, green and peach tints in it. Usually I don't want my white to look like a really light blue/purple/green/grey/... and using such a variety of colours helps me to achieve that goal. The amount and place of each colour in the palette depends on the rest of the doll. On the left are three white palettes I've used. The first one I used in this doll. The peach-ish tones used in the rest of the doll are used for the shadows of the white palette. To keep it looking white enough for my taste, I added some greens and blues in the middle range of colours and ended with another light peach tone for the first highlight. White is only used in the brightest highlights.
The third palette was used in this doll. This time there was a lot of purple in the rest of the doll. This time the shadows are blue and bright purple, while a peach tint is used in the middle range. A very light blue is used for the highlight. All of these colours were in fact taken from the skin palette. There's a mix of cool and warmer colours that's used in the rest of the doll. The colours in the white palette reflect the ones used in the  rest of the doll and background.
The second palette was used in this doll. While it bears some similarities to the third palette (the middle shades and highlight are the same), the colours used for the shadows are much cooler and unsaturated. This changes the entire look of the palette. If I were to use the third palette in this doll, it would look too bright and warm. In the image on the right you can see most of the palettes I used for the entire doll. W is the white palette, the first D is the blue palette used for the bodice and cloak, S is the skin palette, H is the hair palette and the second D is the palette of the under dress. You can see that the darkest shadows of the first three palettes are the same. I numbered the rest of the shades of the white palette and put those numbers on the same shades used in the other palettes. Except for shade number four, the rest of the shades are used in various other parts of the doll. A lot of the shades and colours are repeated throughout the entire doll.

I'm not good at explaining things and, as I said before: I don't think much when I'm making my palettes, but I hope this somewhat explains why I use colours the way I do and what's the reasoning behind my palettes. The most important thing of it all: have fun with colours!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Joys of Working With a Tablet

The final result of all this.
A graphics tablet that is. Several years ago my parents gave me a Wacom tablet. After playing around with it for a bit, I came to the conclusion that I didn't like using it for pixelshading. It's not as precise as I need it to be. Seeing as I always got too frustrated to finish a toolshaded doll, I never really used my tablet. However, since I managed to finish a toolshaded doll a few weeks ago (done with a mouse, since I hadn't figured out how to get pressure sensitivity working), I decided to give my tablet another chance. And what a wonderful thing it turned out to be! It's so much easier to toolshade with a tablet. No more changing brush opacity by hand every five seconds! It also helped me to get further away from my pixelshading habits.

Anyway, enough about my tablet, on to the doll. It all started by looking at a historical fashion book of The Kyoto Costume Institute. I saw all the pretty Rococo dresses and decided that I wanted to doll one. Soon the realisation dawned that pixelshading such a dress would take ages. So I decided to give toolshading another try. Using my tablet allowed me to get a more 'painterly' effect than my previous tooled dolls had by helping me break out from my pixelshading mentality. This is the first time I've toolshaded a full-body doll (the other two were portraits), so I had to pay more attention to the folds. I started out by laying down very rough shadows and highlights according to the lightsource, not paying attention to the folds yet. It looked very ugly, but that didn't matter. Then I started to shade over that basic shading and tried to emphasise the shading and folds by using crosshatching. While I liked how the stomacher looked with the crosshatched shading, I didn't like the effect on the rest of the dress. It wasn't the texture I was going for, so I started shading again. This time no crosshatching was used and the result looked much smoother. In the end the first layer with the basic shading was completely hidden.
Bodice process: the ugly stage, the crosshatching stage and the final result.
After finishing the dress, it was time to make a background. I looked at several Rococo paintings for inspiration, especially for the trees. I started with roughly blocking out the different background elements. Of course I had to add some mountains. No background feels complete without some mountains (I just like them too much XD). Trees are a weak point of mine, so it was a bit of a challenge drawing them. Using a tablet really helped though. I also used a brush set while painting the trees and bushes, though you don't really see it in the end result, except at the edges of the foliage. At this stage the foliage looked way too light. It distracted from what's supposed to be the focal point: the doll. So I darkened the foliage drastically and drew some leaves over the dark base by hand. The end result looks more balanced (at least that's what I hope ^^'). It might not be perfect, but I liked making this doll so much that I want to toolshade again in the future.

1. Blocking in the shapes.
2. Refining the background.
3. Added the details.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

I Tooled!

Although I've been dolling since November 2005, I never actually finished a toolshaded doll. Oh, I started
This is about as far as I
got with tooled dolls.  Base.
making quite a few of them, but never got any further than the sketching/colour blocking stage. I didn't have the patience to work with Paint Shop Pro and had so many pixel-shading projects that were so much more interesting to make. Lately I felt as if my pixel-shading skills have stagnated, so I felt it was time to do something new. I came up with a plan: make a series of portraits of various of female characters seen in The Song of Ice and Fire series by G.R.R. Martin using different techniques for each doll. The sketches were made during the last school year (I tend to sketch all the time during class), but I didn't get around to using till now. I don't know if I'll ever complete this series of dolls, but doll on has been made ^^

For the first doll, I decided to make a portrait of Cersei using 'regular tooling techniques'. Now I know that there are as much tooling techniques out there as there are toolers, but there seems to be a certain aesthetic that is often found in tooled dolls. I don't think I actually succeeded in capturing it, but it gave me a chance to experiment a bit with the different tools. Toolshading wasn't as difficult as I expected. After all, the basic knowledge stays the same (i.e. colours, where to place the shading,...). It's just the tools that change. I mostly used the brushtool, changing the opacity all the time, and combined it with layers... loads of layers... as in more than seventy (not counting the merged ones) layers for a simple portrait doll. Don't ask me how I managed to create so many layers, because I don't even know. Layers are quite handy, but it gets confusing when you got dozens of them named 'laag 23', 'laag 24', etc. ('laag'='layer'). I did start by neatly naming every layer, but forgot to do so when adding new ones. Thus a lot of time was spent by trying to work out if a certain layer actually contained something necessary to the doll or not XD All in all it was a fun experience, though I do prefer my old MS Paint (not the Windows 7 or 8 one, that one is not pixel-art friendly anymore). Anyway, here's the end result:
My own Alina base
Obviously I didn't doll Cersei as seen in the HBO series based on the books. I read book one before the series came out, so I did have pictures of the characters in my mind before I saw the series. Since Cersei is a) the queen and b) the daughter of a very wealthy man, I always pictured her wearing over the top dresses and jewellery. Loads of jewellery, especially gold jewellery. She's also described wearing emeralds to compliment her eyes, so I put her in a green dress and, of course, emeralds. I wanted to add in a picture frame as well, but got sick of working on the doll, so she'll have to wait for her frame. I would rather make another doll than spend more time on her now. On to the next character!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Dolling WIPs

I must confess that I'm one of those dollers that have way too many ideas and not nearly enough time to execute even half of them. In the last few years at university, I've made dozens of concept sketches during various classes. Only a very small percentage of those make it to the pixelation stage. And not all of those who enter that stage go on to the finished doll stage. I'll show you some of the many WIPs I have lying around.

Pink just is not my thing.
Specimen one was inspired by an advert in a fashion magazine. The entire photo was in these gorgeous yellow and pink tones, so I tried making a doll in that style. It went quite well till I got stuck on the background. It has been lying around for about a year and now I don't like the doll enough to finish it anymore.

How do folds work?
Then we've got specimen two, which was started more than a year ago. I began making it after I finished my Eowyn doll (which can be found here). It was supposed to be instalment number two in a Mucha inspired doll series, this time depicting Goldberry. I got stuck while shading the overdress and moved on to other projects, including those shown below. In the meantime, I did release instalment number two in the series, but instead of this doll of Goldberry, it was a doll of Galadriel (which can be found on the same page as Eowyn) XD I will probably finish this doll some time, along with instalment number four, which will be a doll of Arwen. Maybe I'll manage to finish it next year?

Look! The dreaded claw-hands!
 Specimen number three is a personification of the planet Neptune. Neptune would not be a nice person. I started it for a 'solar system' contest, but didn't have the time to finish it before the deadline. While I loved the concept (I had loads of little symbolic details I wanted to add), the pose gave me too much trouble, even when I made it less crouch-y, and I couldn't find a good reference for the windblown clothes. I have since then found some useful references and hope to eventually finish this doll. Here you can actually see how I tend to work: I usually start with a pencil sketch that I scan in. I then resize it, sometimes reduce the amount of colours and start dolling over it, correcting mistakes as I go. Various parts of the doll will be shaded in atrociously bright colours (mostly of the standard MS Paint palette), which will be replaced in the end with better palettes. While the end result might look decent, the WIP stages look pretty atrocious XD

Why, yes sir, mountains do come in standard MS Paint colours.
 This is the WIP I'll most likely finish soon. It started out as an entry for a 'inspired by snow' contest. I was pretty much finished with the PG rated version of the doll when my laptop decided to crash. Since I had to wait for several weeks till I received my current laptop (Hex 3.0), I didn't have access to the file till after the deadline. It seems that life does not want me to enter any doll contests. Not that it mattered much with this one: I haven't seen any awards for this particular contest. Anyway, I just have to finish the background and one hand plus sword on this one and tweak the thing that she's holding up (surprise, surprise, it actually isn't a badly drawn smiley. Let it suffice to say that I do not have an optimistic view about snow). I really want to finish this one since I like the dress and hair.

I have yet another WIP, but since that one is going to be a gift for someone I can't show it here. I actually hope to finish that one in time XD Also, all of these dolls are baseless or on my own base.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Hallo daar!

Hi there!

I suppose I should welcome you to my new blog. There's not much to see here right now, but I plan on making a real post soon. Anyway, I will mainly blog about the various 'creative' undertakings that I start. This means that you'll see quite a bit of dolling, sewing and cross-stitch WIPs. Maybe even some traditional drawings, once I get back into it. Why did I start this blog? It's simple: I like to talk (or ramble) about things I'm working on. And I hope that this blog will answer some of the questions people have about my dolling. Sometimes it's hard to explain something in words, so maybe showing the WIPs as I'm working on them will help. We'll see.

Anyway, I hope to make a real post soon (I am actually working on a few things at the moment). Till then!

P.S.: my native language is Dutch, so I apologise for any language mistakes I make. It's been a while since my last English class.