My life as a doll artist by Guest Artist Neva Waldt Image working

This month we are so pleased to have Neva Waldt as our Guest artist of the month!  Neva is a National Institute of American Doll Artists member who has been creating dolls since 2004, her dolls are instantly recognisable for a number or reasons, but looking at one of her dolls, you have to do a double take to make sure they aren’t breathing!  Neva begins by telling us a little about  herself and how she came to be a doll maker:
A friend once told me that a creative person will implode if they do not create. I thoroughly agree. For me, the process is the reward. I have been sewing since I was five years old, and have always been fascinated with turning the fabrics into three-dimensional forms. With faces of cloth-covered paperclay, animated gestures and carefully implemented details, my dolls come to life. Each one has a humorous story to tell. If they make you grin, they’ve done their job.
Jim and Lilly 
Jim and Lilly 
After obtaining a degree in Fine Arts from Sam Houston State University, I logged in 25 years as a graphic designer in Houston, Texas. In 2004, I traded in my computer mouse for a needle and thread, and began my next career as an original doll artist. Since then my quirky characters have appeared in galleries and exhibits, including CraftTexas. They have also been featured in various publications including Art Doll Quarterly, Doll Collector, Soft Dolls and Animals, and the books 500 Handmade Dolls and The Art of the Contemporary Doll.
Myrtle Hits the Beach
I am a fifth generation Texan who grew up loving anything visually creative. My first memory of making a doll was at 4 years old and I still have her in a trinket box somewhere. I would make dolls out of sticks, leaves and acorns or whatever I found. At six, I learned to sew the use of fabric opened up a whole new world of dolls to me.
Fowl Play
The biggest inspiration for my leap into doll making was the doll display I saw at the 2003 International Quilt Festival in Houston. I was excited to see that this world was out there. In 2004, I took my first class at the festival. I did not know what I was doing, nor did I know of the teacher, Patti Culea, but I was invited to attend the local cloth doll club by a woman in the class. I attended the very next meeting of Material Girls and was surrounded by doll makers at last. I received my BFA from Sam Houston State University in 1976. My senior year included a soft sculpture class and I knew that one day I would create art from fabric, but I decided on the graphic design road instead. After 27 years, that road became too narrow, so I shut the doors of my firm and opened the doors of my studio. I began learning all I could about doll making.
Angie Loved a Good Party
In 2006, I joined Texas Association of Original Doll Artists (TAODA), a group of doll makers that made mixed media dolls, a direction in which I had wanted to go. We encourage and teach each other at our once a month meetings. Through this group, I have been able to show my work in libraries, museums, and galleries and been challenged to excel. Also in 2006, I attended my first conference of the National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA). I was overwhelmed by the level of creativity and craftsmanship that I saw. I attended a couple of more conferences and had very helpful critiques, and in 2013, I was inducted into the organization. I have never been so proud and humbled at the same time. Each year I am now challenged to do the best piece I have done and show it at Gallery Night at the conference. It is always a show worth seeing!
Gladys Never Eats Alone 
Gladys Never Eats Alone 
The Community of Art Dolls  All of us have been inspired to create our pieces in one way or another. My favorite commercial dolls of all time are the Lenci felt dolls. Each one was beautifully crafted and had a story within the layers of design. I do not own one, but love my Lenci books.
It’s not the Destination But the Journey
I was able to meet Susan Oroyan at IQF in 2005. Her three books, Anatomy of a Doll, Designing the Doll, and Finishing the Figure, are the to go-to books for all doll makers. If you don’t own a copies, find them and read them cover to cover. We miss you, Susan.
A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Then there are the contemporary artists… Lisa Lichtenfels—top cloth doll artist ever in my opinion. I was lucky enough to meet her at her home town show in Springfield, RI around 2007(?) and see many of her pieces. I have so much admiration for her as a person, artist and friend. Ankie Daanen and Marlaine Verhelst – “The Dutch Touch” teachers (my first real class) that have done so much to spread the art of the doll making all over the world. What a team! Both have become highly respected friends, inspiring me with their work as well. Natasha Lopusova-Tomskaya – The incredibly talented Russian doll artist that has also taught many. I use her paper Mache technique in all of my work. EJ Taylor— EJ taught me one of the most profound ideas in the artistry. You can work slow and precisely. This freed me from trying to “mass-produce” parts of my dolls. Cindee Moyer, was responsible for bringing Natasha, EJ and several others in to teach a small class. Aside from being a tremendous artist herself, she has done much to encourage doll creating. She has an extensive line of patterns that range from beginning to advanced doll making, so check out her website, Shelley Thorton and Donna May Robinson – These two incredible artists were the first to critique my work at NIADA in 2006. Their words and encouragement have stayed with me and still teach me today. My TAODA compadres: Some of the women that I see each month to feed my doll habit: Janet Bodin, Joyce Patterson, Marsha Krohn, Gwynne Ross, Theresa May and  Anne Myatt. Worth a Google! Art Doll Quarterly – No other publication did as much for the Art Doll community. Now, let’s see what Art Dolls Only can do!
One More Time
One More Time
Anatomy of a Neva doll  I always start with a proportional drawing of the doll I plan to make. This gives me the size of the head. Using utility wire, I form the armature, constantly laying it over the drawing to keep the size right. I then use either aluminum tape or Apoxie Sculpt to secure the long bones of the doll. This way, I can pose the doll without loosing the shape. The spine is shaped for the appropriate gesture. I then form hip bone and rib cage out of aluminum tape and sometimes styrofoam to start the body process.
The torso is then fleshed out using Warm and Natural batting. This way, I can add weight to the figure as needed. The lower limbs, including hands and feet, are sculpted from paper clay and paper mache. I weight the lower limbs well if the figure stands. I weight the bottom is the figure is seated.
The size of the head is determined by the proportion size of the body. Most of my figures are about 16-18”, so I can use a similar size styrofoam egg to start the head. I shape the egg into a rough skull shape, cover it with a layer of paper clay, and then begin sculpting. I usually work on the face for several days, drying it different times in my dehydrator. (It’s seen many more body parts than it ever saw fruit.) I love PaperClay because you can add to it, carve it, and reshape it as many times as needed. When the head seems right, I paint the eyes and mouth, let it dry well, and then add the fabric over it.
I like to use 2-way stretch cotton and the best I have found have been women’s cotton underwear. It’s a very fine weave and can be found in natural colors, although I do overdye pieces sometimes. A large pair can do several dolls for me, so it works out to be a cheap way to go as well. I cut a piece, stretch it well in all directions, then apply Tacky glue to the bridge of the nose, brows and around the eyes with a stiff brush. I apply the fabric there, without stretching it too much. The glue grips quickly, yet I can pull if back if need be. I just keep working the glue and fabric around the face, smoothing wrinkles as I go. Because my noses are very pronounced, I end up having a small fold under the nostrils that I simply clip and press down. You just have to mess with it until it works. The nice thing about this knit is that it can almost disappear when you press the seams together. When it’s done, I trim out the eyeholes with some very sharp scissors and use glue and a straight pin to secure any loose fabric. Color is added with pastels.
Here is one of my latest pieces in the production stage:
Creating the Illusion of Reality  A believable gesture is very important is creating a figure with any kind of movement. I pose my dolls in the final gesture, weighting their lower legs so that they will stand on their own before dressing them. If they are a seated figure, I weight their bottoms. Although they are balanced to stand alone, I use a base to define the space in which my characters live so that the viewer is sucked into their world. Most bases are very simple, but similar so that my entire collection is related. I embed quarter-inch super magnets into the base at the point of foot contact to add stability to the piece.
Thief of Hearts
Leo Was Allergic to Dogs
The scale of fabric, trim and accessories is extremely important in capturing the illusion. I use small scale prints and very light weight fabrics for the clothing of my dolls. I shop a lot at resale shop in order to fine older, worn fabrics. Wrinkles are good. To check for whether or not something is the right scale, simply enlarge it 200% on a copier. (16” figure) Would it be too large in real life? If the answer is yes, it’s too large to use on your doll. I use this method for all accessories as well!
Orville Takes a Sick Day
I recently had an issue with finding retro fabric the right scale. I found a design on Spoonflower that I liked, contacted the designer and had the fabric printed at 25%. I lost some of the detail of the original design, but the overall print worked. This is the fabric used for the pajamas of “Bedtime!” Spoonflower is a great resource.
Shoes are my absolute favorite part of doll making. I now sculpt the shoe shape on the lower leg and then cover it with kid glove leather. Old gloves are easily found at estate sales and resale shops. Many have tiny details that you can make use of as well. I also like to scuff the final shoes up some, again adding to the illusion of reality.
Accessories chosen are important as well. Google images saves much time. I can find anything I need (and a lot I don’t) on the internet. For the mechanical horse on “Back In the Saddle Again,” I found pictures of the horse from all angles, so that I could sculpt it correctly. I even found a YouTube tutorial on how to make a saddle, so the saddle is made in the same method as a real one. Just not as big…The results is a prop that reads as a life-sized mechanical horse, even though it’s only about 10” wide.
Back in the Saddle Again
Back in the Saddle Again
A Few Favorite links:

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