Spotlight interview with Art Dolls Only member Ioanna Tsouka of “Anima ex Manus”

This month we are excited to share with our readers our very own mistress of the dark, doll maker and Art Dolls Only member Ioanna Tsouka of “Anima ex Manus”. We asked Ioanna to share a little about herself and her wonderful gothic style dolls:

I’m Ioanna Tsouka, a teacher for children with disabilities by day, but I moonlight as a doll maker.  Each one of my pieces is handmade and unique, telling their own tales “of woe and misfortune”. What I love most about my work is the connection that creates between me and the world, my collectors and everyone that supports and encourages my artistic endeavours. It’s truly a magic thing: when my work resonates with people on a deeply emotional, almost subconscious level, leaving space for interpretation through the metaphors and symbolisms that I integrate in my dolls and stories, it feels as if we’re all weaving our most well-hidden secrets into the fabric of this world, each one telling their own tales and narratives, and altogether telling a bigger story.

Q. What kind of Art Dolls do you create?

A. I make dark (but not limited to) gothic- and Victorian-inspired mixed media dolls. Each one of them has their own story to tell. I like to think of them as characters; mythological and folklore creatures, dark silhouettes, dreadful witches, doomed ghosts and circus figures, which blossom from a magical world, of a past and a future that never existed. 

Q. What is your primary medium and/ favorite item/s to work with?

A. I make mixed media dolls. I think there is no primary medium in my work. For example, my dolls have clay faces, hands and feet mainly paperclay, but I’ve also used stone clays in some dolls. Sometimes, hands and feet are made out of polymer clay. I’d say I prefer air-dry clay, paperclay and stone clay, as I feel it “holds” and allows for more expression. My dolls have either Tibetan lamb hair or merino wool, although I’ve made a few dolls with Teeswater locks and pure silk hair. And of course, there’s also the element of fabric: all these delicious textiles that I hand-pick, making sure they’re of best quality, either fabrics from my frequent visits to local textile stores, precious finds from thrift stores wherever I travel or vintage garments that I’ve been gifted by my grandmother. Now, their bodies are either cloth (stuffed and weighted) or clay.

Q. How long have you been making dolls, how did you get your start in the art?

A. I made my first doll in August 2010, during a very painful period of my life, as a way, I now believe, to persevere and maintain my sanity….well, that, plus having grown up among fabric scraps and lace,my grandmother and mother were, and continue to be, seamstresses, which I think influenced me in costuming my dolls. I felt that making dolls would somehow magically downsize what I was experiencing, and would make it easier for me to deal with. Only a few dolls were born during that period, and I stopped around 2012. There were many long-time pauses in between. I created Anima ex Manus Art Dolls in March 2015, when I decided to leave my country (Greece) and start a new life in a Northern European city, a new beginning that took all the weight off my shoulders, in a way that I could breathe free again.

Q. Are you self taught or did you learn another way? Do you have training in any art field that you use in your doll making?

A. I am completely self-taught, absolutely no training in any art field. Everything I know comes from books and tutorials, and I’m always looking for new ideas to try and new ways to make things, which I incorporate into my continuously developing technique.

Q. Share a little about your first doll and/or your favorite doll created. We’d love to see a photo or two

A. July 2010. I remember just browsing on the internet, one warm, summer night in Greece, when I stumbled upon some photos of Sarah Faber’s exquisite art dolls. That’s when I read the term “art doll” and I started researching. I was fascinated. A whole new world opened up. I always loved crafts, and I decided to give it a go. This is what my first effort looks like. She lives in my hometown, back in Greece. At first, I would hesitate to share her, but now, looking at her, doesn’t make me feel embarrassed. I can see the difference with my latest dolls, and I’m happy to observe all these details that I now do differently, how my methods keep changing, I keep experimenting and my technique is progressing over time.

Q. What research do you do before you create a doll ? Do you sketch, write a story, or follow some other practice when coming up with the concept for your art dolls?

A. I’m quite intuitive in my doll-making. I rarely sketch out my ideas, perhaps I’ll write a word or two on a post-it, on my ‘operating’ table, and that’s that. I’ve observed that I mostly jump right into the actual making, letting the dolls’ stories emerge as I work. I do accompany my dolls with a story, which I always leave last to write, when the doll has finally come together as a whole. Of course, my dolls tend to turn out differently than I had originally imagined – defiant little souls! – but the truth is that letting the doll guide me is one of the spellbinding things for me in doll-making.

Q. Where does your inspiration come from? How do you deal with a creative block?

A. My inspiration comes from memories, personal experiences, books, dreams, stories, films, music, really, anything that captures my eye and heart. Many times I doubt myself and sometimes I do feel discouraged, that’s for sure. But I can’t complain; inspiration finds me, thankfully – so many ideas, so little time! My main creative block, whenever it happens, is usually a result of other factors, and for the most part, it’s the struggle with time: late nights, tight deadlines and little sleep. However, I’m grateful to be living in a beautiful city, in a loving house full of music, together with my partner and our 2 cats. When I’m feeling down, they function as the gunpowder to my creative fireworks! Other things that also help is getting some sleep, communicating with other doll artists (and of course Art Dolls Only has a big part in this, so happy to be included in such a talented and positive community!), going to a concert, taking an inspirational walk, among my favorite corners in the city, meeting up with friends, visiting an art museum…And it works!

Q. What is the most difficult aspect in your process, and how do you manage it? What is your favorite part of making your dolls?

A. Hands! My goodness…Definitely the hardest aspect for me (but so rewarding, if everything goes well!). I’m quite patient and won’t move on to the next thing, if I’m not happy. Hair used to be quite hard, too, but not that much anymore. I’ve tried so many different ways to make hands, and different mediums, and I’m still exploring…

Q. When you are creating your dolls, what part of the dolls you spend the most time on?

A. I haven’t really thought about it. Time for me is a somewhat relative concept when I’m deep into the doll-making process. Making the face? The hands? Costuming? I wouldn’t know…I believe I spend an equal amount of time in all different parts. But then, again, when I’m making my dolls, I feel like I’m in some kind of a limbo, so don’t take my answer for granted!

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What advice would you give new doll artists?

A. It might sound a bit cliché, I know, but the best piece of advice I’ve been given is that there is no “best piece of advice”! It’s less complicated than what we tend to believe. Just listen to your heart, stay authentic, true to who you really are, fully immersing yourself into whatever it is you’re creating. And something interesting will happen!

Q. What memorable responses have you had to your work?

A. I’m truly, whole-heartedly grateful for all the responses I’ve had so far to my work! I’ll treasure them, always, and I’m beyond honoured to have a little bit of myself travelling and living all around the world! I love the connection that my work creates between me and the world. One of the most recent responses is from a lovely, sensitive and beautiful soul, who wrote to me that my dolls hit her right in the heart, while at the same time comfort her from her depression, every time she looks at them on her wall. Such a precious feeling. When my work resonates with people on a deeply emotional, almost subconscious level, it feels as if we’re all weaving our most well-hidden secrets into the fabric of this world, each one telling their own tales and narratives, and altogether telling a bigger story.

Q. What other art do you create? What do you do for fun?

A. I love creating art with my students at school! Every little new piece of (any) art I make brings me so much joy 🙂

Q. What is your dream project? or who would you love to do collaboration with?

A. One of my dream projects is to make a stop-motion animated film, featuring my dolls. I’d love to see them animated, coming to life, incorporating stories and music. It’s a very demanding project, but it’s something that has been in my mind for quite a long time now, and I feel ready to take the next step, given the right opportunity.

Q. What are you currently working on? (Share a photo)

A. I am working ‘behind the scenes’ on a new secret collection… I can’t reveal more yet! It’s a project of a special, emotional importance for me. It’s extremely demanding, I know it will take several months in total, but the originality of it is absolutely thrilling, and I can’t wait to share more with you soon!

Ioanna online

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