The Birth of Ruby – China paint

10 years ago 40
Posted in: Work in Progress


Painting a doll is hands down the most rewarding part of the doll-making process.

As usual, I set up my painting surface with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness, knowing that even after countless faces and lots of practice it’s still all too easy to fail at creating a beautiful face. In fact, I believe I’m still in need of a whole lifetime of practice. Painting a porcelain doll takes several days because China paint is transparent and the depth of colour must be built up in layers with a firing between each layer.

While the mouth is the most sensual, the eyes are the most expressive and therefore, the most important part of the face. They are a window to the soul. To create a living face, one must not paint the eyes, but the soul of the doll. To some extent, the artist paints fragments of their own soul looking through the eyes of their subjects.

I pause in my brushwork, one of my tiny brushes balanced in my fingers while the other in my mouth, and stare unseeing into the space right in front of me, pondering what in means in the context of my work. It’s been noted by countless observes that most, if not all of my dolls have sad eyes. Just about every single media interview i’ve done up to now features the question about that. ‘What does that say about who I am?’, I ask of myself, ‘and is there a deep-seated, subconscious sadness in me, straining to escape through my doll’s eyes?’ If there is, then I don’t feel it.


Layer 2.

I shake off my thoughts and go back to painting, just to return to them only moments later. I’m in a philosophical mood today. My gaze wonders to the original Ruby doll sitting in front of me as my model and my mind drifts. ‘Does she really look sad?’, I ask no one in particular, straining to see sadness…..nothing. ‘She’s just not that sad to me.’-I conclude for a millionth time and reach out to pick up more paint from my pallet with the tip of my brush.


Layer 3

I believe that all those universally preconceived notions of artists being an emotional, sentimental mess of feelings are kind of insulting. It implies that creative people are not in control of themselves. Art may be art, but at the end of the day it is also a job. It has to be done well.

‘I suppose that there are some subconscious driving forces behind my doll’s seemingly consistent sad eyes, which are too internalized for me to comprehend, but there is also a very calculated reason for that.’- I repeat to myself and to my imaginary listener: ‘It’s a deliberate strategy, a manipulation in a sense, to elicit the strongest emotional responses in my audience and to steer their perception in the direction I want it to go. My personal emotional state has very little to do with it.’


Layer 5

Somewhere between layers two and four I decide that this particular Ruby needs freckles to enhance her face. I’ve never tried freckles on a Ruby before and didn’t know how that would work out for me. Tight deadlines are usually not a good time for experimentation as things are quite likely to go sideways, consuming precious time, but limited work time may actually add a strange sense of completion to a project as well. I’m pleased with Ruby’s new Lucy Liu freckles.

I also put some extra highlights in her pupils to see if it will give her eye a new dimension or capture any other emotions not present in the other Rubys. Perhaps there is a little trace of sadness in them. Like they say: eye of the beholder.

I believe that we are defined by what we do, and what we do is defined by who we are, but it’s impossible to say where one ends and the other begins. How far does my identity define my work, and at what point does my work begin to define me and the choices I make?

But more importantly, are my doll’s eyes indeed sad?

40 Responses

  1. Manü says:

    Now she is really in life,i love her tiny eyes absolutely enchanted.Congratulations for your hard and exquisite work Marina

  2. MigMig says:

    Thank you, Marina, for the next instalment of Ruby’s story.
    I think that your dolls have eyes which look deep inside and it is their mouths, unsmiling or slightly turned down, which look sad.
    I’m going back to the photos you just posted on your blog, to see how Ruby’s face becomes alive under your brush. This is fascinating!

  3. MissLK says:

    Love the freckles! Ruby is so alive.

    Being the lucky ED owner myself, I actually don’t think all your dolls have sad eyes. Their eyes are full of complex emotion and can be perceived as deeply pensive… Elicit the person in front of them to be engaged in silence on the surface yet revolting in imagination.

    If you exist in his time, Faust would have come to you for salvation.

  4. Jon Songserm says:

    I almost to cry when i see her eyes,

    I try to skip to comment anything about the Birth of Ruby, becuase it’s going to ruin myself and breking my heart but I can’t resist myself to say how apreciate your work,

    Viva Enchanted Doll!

  5. The Old Maid says:

    Well, maybe it is not you who’s soul is sad Marina. Maybe the audience is. :)
    Personally I don’t think your dolls have sad eyes. Not all of them. It’s rather as they were thinking of something. Thougths deep inside, happy or serious, that is what one can see in their eyes.
    Anyway your dolls have always beautiful eyes:)

  6. Maura says:

    I agree with MigMig that the impression of sadness comes sometimes from the combination of eyes and mouth shape. Per se, the eyes of your dolls look wise and reflective. Maybe to some the beautiful highlights that bring life to those eyes suggest tears ready to fall. Yet, I would say that the seriousness of the mouth most of the time is was trick people into thinking your dolls are sad. Fern, Mayple’s doll, who seems about to start smiling does not seem sad at all. The same goes for Ilona’s Aaricia. :)

  7. Anne (UK) says:

    I love this latest Ruby and think she looks deep in thought rather than sad. The freckles are great and set her apart from all other Ruby’s including my own, which I adore!

  8. Amal says:

    I think we see mirrors in your dolls eyes, in that they reflect our own emotions and state of mind. I think we find consolation in dolls, having them as companions, so it’s only logical (!) that they should feel the same way we do.

    Echo is there keeping you company. Perhaps she is reassuring you that this face will be just as beautiful as hers.

    At the risk of being hugely unoriginal, I must say that this Ruby is looking beautiful. Looking forward to seeing her complete. Will she be totally nude?

  9. Maura says:

    I forgot: freckles = genius!!!

  10. Ms.Enchanted you are a wizz with a brush she is breath taking. Of coarse you had to put freckles, this is getting bitter sweet for me. That’s what attracts me to Noire is the innocents the freckles give. I feel the more she comes to life the farther she is drifting from me. I just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best……

  11. Amarilli says:

    Most of your dolls (save for a few particular ones, including the Beauty) look deeply serene to me, yet also very vibrant, emotional, “alive” as you said.
    I am also for the idea that one reflects his own feelings in things which are alive and soulful enough to be able to act as a mirror.
    Now that you make me think about that, I also recenly had one person repeatedly commenting my works as so sad, and I cannot make myself see what she means ^_^

  12. Eiko says:

    She was a beautiful face. I love the freckles that you added. Very cute.

    I have to say that some of your dolls do look very sad e.g Beauty & the Beast, State Property, Sapphire, etc. But like MigMig mentioned, I do think it’s a combo of eyes and mouth that might make the dolls look sad.

  13. Manü says:

    For me particulary i don’t see sadness in your dolls eyes i see emotion.They are very expressive and it’s what who make them enchanted.

  14. Crystal says:

    She’s wonderful, what more can I say!

  15. Cjoy says:

    Love the freckles! Lucy Liu indeed!

  16. Annina says:

    at first i thought that Mermaid song looks a lot like you, and after a while i began seeing parts of you in many more dolls, and then i realized that each of you dolls is a kind of self portrait, in some way. that’s how it feels like to me.

    about how they look to different people, i think each person has their own very individual viewpoint, no person is the same as the next one, and so each person sees the world slightly differently, and actually uses the things around them like mirrors. everything someone looks at mirrors back to them their inner emotions. as within so without.

    so it’s a paradox, i feel the dolls are at the same time self portraits of you and they are also mirrors for anyone looking at them.

    it’s very cool to see the different layers of this Ruby!

  17. Kirsten says:

    I do not think she looks sad. More wide-eyed. It gives her a child-like look. The freckles just add to it–I love them on her! Never stop experimenting, Marina! Although I am sitting here like an anxious child waiting to see this Ruby completed, I would be willing to wait so much more to see the new and great ideas you have for your beautiful dolls!

  18. Kimmi says:

    The freckles are ADORABLE!!

    I think some of your dolls look sad, but it’s usually obviously intentional. The rest of them don’t look sad so much as just serious or emotional or thoughtful. Some people mistake that for sad because they don’t look “happy” like traditional dolls.

    I also think that it’s not you or your dolls that are sad, it’s that looking at your dolls’ faces make people FEEL sad, because they are so heartbreakingly beautiful and alive and full of emotions that people don’t know how to understand or separate. So people just associate sadness in your dolls and see it in them, but your dolls themselves aren’t sad. Does that make sense? I guess the emotion and realisticness bewilders them :D

  19. Lin says:

    Huh. I don’t see sad, I see placid, serene.

  20. Such a beautiful creation of Ruby. I love her freckles. I think she looks like a deep thinker…not sad at all. Lovely. The new owner is going to be thrilled beyond expectations.

  21. Eva says:

    The only doll I’ve gotten to handle for long periods is Alice. I think she changes. She can be peaceful, happy, contemplative, content, yearning, weary, confused… I think a lot of it has to do with the angle I view her at. Her mouth shifts between a smile and a slight frown and sometimes her eyes look like she’s tired, other times they peer curiously out at the rest of the world.

    I think your dolls’ faces can be very soulful and they’re sometimes serious or calm looking, but not so much sad. Some of them, like Fern are clearly joyful, I don’t see unhappy in her no matter how I look.

    You take your art very seriously and I don’t think you need to be afraid that you’re reflecting some sort of sadness into your work. If anything, you’re reflecting hidden depths and nuances into their eyes that make them more alive than any sadness could.

  22. Elizabeth Plaid says:

    I would say that there are multiple examples of “sad” expressions in your dolls. Even with a powerful expression, the mood will shift when the doll is posed or styled in different ways. I have a Mattel doll who is supposed to look “breathless” and in love. I’ve seen her looking “dreamy”, “grumpy”, “smug”, “sad”, “jealous”, “content”, and “sleepy” on various occasions. By taking a braid out of her hair, she went from “grumpy” to “blissful”.

    While Ruby may look “sad” or “innocent” or even “afraid” in other instances, I would say that she looks sleepy here. I can picture her with braided pigtails, pajamas, and a teddy bear in her new home.

  23. Jessica says:

    To my mind, she is wistful or pensive rather than sad.

    I think her expression is quite subtle.

  24. iki says:

    At once i have already talked in your blog about that your dolls have always some kind off sadness ,a lot of factors in your painting features are guilty of that , like the eyebrows, who have a turn down arch , who gives the appearance of sadness, in the painting of the eyes, there are a lot of lights who give an appearance of a tearful glassy eye, but that it’s not a factor of the sadness of your dolls, i think that its kinda easier a sad face, more than a euphoric face, for me as an artist turns a little bit difficult to make happy faces because of the wrinkles in the cheeks, and mostly of the time it gives more a old face feeling than a happy feeling, and also your dolls mouth is very limited , in your face mold you have basically two tipes of mouth shape ,the half open mouth like cinderella or noir ,and the fully closed mouth, the other variations are in the size of the lips , who can go since thin lips to lower thin lip with fully upper lip, and in the only dolls where we can see a chipper feeling is because a turn up of the sides mouth ,but that turn up isn´t becase a different mouth shape it is more because a different china paint style, and also that chipper dolls have a different eyebrow shape.
    i have two theories about the sadness of your dolls, first: you don’t like to make happy dolls because of the disgust that you feel about the mass produced dolls with a plastic smile jiji, second you simply can´t make happy dolls.
    i also have to add your twisted ideas that you have about fairy tales, like the stockholm sindrome in the beauty and the beast, and i truly have no idea of why would you make a sad cinderella or a sad alice.

  25. Marina says:

    Good point, iki, I do need more faces. I have been longing to sculpt some new ones for months now, but this resin line and the constant exhibitions have been keeping me crazy busy.

    I guess I’ll just have to clear my schedule and prove to the world that I can do anything-even smiling dolls!

  26. monika says:

    Whilst I hate to have to be the comment that comes *after* one like the one above me, here it is.

    Maura already pointed out that my doll “fern” could hardly be said to have sad eyes, or mouth, or face, or expression. I remember I asked you to give her a mischevious look, and I was blown away when I saw her. You got mischevious perfectly, but indeed, you managed to bring alive so many other complex emotions too… Fern’s facial painting can morph seamlessly between cheeky, mischevious, serene, alive, and very very alert. Another doll owner (ruth, lovely ruth) commented how much she resembles a doe – Sweet and big eyed, but psychologically alert and highly attentive. There is every bit the appearance of a sharp mind behind those eyes.

    Like you said, – many things are in the eye of a beholder. Someone might look at your dolls and only have the emotions within themselves to see sadness. Whilst someone else might perceive subtle and strong emotions shining through: Deep thought, calm, contemplation, wariness, unease, resignation…. there are so many more appropriate words than just “sad”, it to me is a sign of limited vocabulary and an inability to look depper.

  27. Marina you so have nothing to prove to the world. This is what makes your dolls special. You are unique same as your dolls….

  28. Sarah says:

    Although I agree that most of your dolls appear sad, something is different about this one. She doesn’t look sad, she looks serene and peaceful.


  29. Carla says:

    Marina, I love your dolls. They are beautiful and so well made, and indeed, some of them look sad to me, although, not all of them. They are so expressive that it’s hard to believe that a human beeing has the capacity to do soemthing like that with some china and paint. COngratulations for your amazing work!

  30. I find this eyes kind of nostalgic and fragile

    I love your work, it really looks like you put all your passion on it

  31. Nathalie Ortega García says:

    Dear Marina,
    This is the first time I write a post in your blog but I’ve been following your marvelous work since a year or so. I agree with the others when I say I don’t see sadness at all in your doll’s eyes,it’s more like if they were concentrated in a thought deep in their minds. I make dolls myself,since I discovered your work on Flickr, your work has always inspired me and what you are doing now,making a little diary of Ruby’s creation process is priceles for me, not only for the manual process itself but more for the things you explain you feel during each part of this process.I think you really put a piece of you in every single doll you create. I’m an ilustrator from Spain and I’ve allways been interested in human figure; your dolls are so perfect and delicate… .Please, keep doing this awesome work and, perhaps one day I will be able to buy one of your resin dolls(my economy is modest).
    Thanks for sharing all this with us.

  32. Maura says:

    In the end, how many layers of china paint did you make? was the fifth the last one? Do you need these many just for the face or also for other body parts? :)

  33. Kim says:

    Dear Marina,

    Thank you for sharing the birth of Ruby. It is truly fascinating. I look so forward to each and every step you painstakingly achieve. Please don’t let the opinions of so many (regarding supposed ‘sad’ eyes) change a thing with what you are doing. Your work is magical and the world can not get enough.

    Since the first time I saw your dolls, ‘sadness’ was definitely not one of the emotions I felt from them. In my humble opinion, your dolls express to me an irresistable far away, dream-like expression…perhaps an extension of your creative, imaginative artist heart :)


  34. MollyTheWanderer says:

    Some, yes. But not all. Elizabeth of Bathory certainly does not have sad eyes.

  35. Jenn says:

    Thank you for this series.

    I think that for the most part, your dolls are not intrinsically sad-looking. Some are, with eyebrow posture and down-turned mouths. Vega, for instance, looks more than a bit worried.

    I think the effect is mostly from the finish gloss you add to their eyes. When it’s welling from the edge of the eye, it makes them look like they are just about to cry.

    It does evoke a strong emotional response, and this is an intrinsic part of your work.

    Thank you for sharing your own thoughts on this topic!

  36. Silvana says:

    Hi Marina, it´s wonderful to see how birth an ED. I think how you work to hard for this, and when all is done, we to see a incridible amazing dolls! I saw to much beautiful bjd´s around , but for me no one is irresistible amazing like yours ED.

  37. Sage says:

    I do think that many of your dolls first appear as sad with a glance. It’s their first layer, and after flaking them apart I feel like there are so many other emotions. I love the dolls, though!

  38. Charles says:

    Very nice work!
    Are they really sad eyes or is it a sad (or bored/neutral)mouth that makes the face look sad?
    Make the mouth smile more and the eyes will reflect the emotion in the mouth.

    I have noticed when I paint the mouth on the women in my paintings that just the slightest change in angle of the line of the mouth makes a huge difference in emotion shown on the face. (Which is why it takes me 2-3 times of repainting the mouth to get it right.)

  39. Constance says:

    but this is high fashion! like a cover of vogue magazines. u dont always see models smiling. they all seemed a little far away and unpredictable. thats what we all love, a tinge of mystery in a character. its inside u Marina, ur high fashion. and we love it.

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