The Birth of Ruby – China paint
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.
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.
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.’
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?
This entry was posted on Monday, November 22nd, 2010 at 2:59 am
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