Interview with Art Dolls Only Member Rhissanna Collins
Art Dolls Only member Rhissanna Collins shares with us a little about herself and her doll making this month, we hope you enjoy learning more about Rhissanna and her beautiful dolls.
Rhissanna Tell us a little about yourself and how you started creating art dolls.
I make paper clay and cloth dolls, with soft bodies and sculpted head and limbs. My dolls are about 19 inches/48cm tall with simple joints at the hip, shoulder and elbow. They have painted eyes, bent knees for sitting and lambswool or alpaca hair. They are designed to be tactile and poseable in natural, relaxed positions. I will dismember a doll and reattach limbs if she (or he) can’t sit properly! I think of them as dolls first, and art afterwards, partly because I hope people will play with them. That’s why it’s important that the dolls are pleasing to handle and be positioned in their environment. That they have an identity people can respond to.
My dolls are soft-bodied with paper clay heads, hands and, occasionally, feet. Paper clay is a wonderfully forgiving medium to work with, even though it can feel like sculpting with stale marshmallows. I’m a terrible fabric snob! I love the softness of vintage cottons, the intricacy of old lace and the deep colours of handwoven dupion silk and I hoard the pieces I love, waiting until the right doll comes along.
I’ve always made dolls, one way or another, I’m self-taught, learning a bit at a time. I love it when a doll teaches me something new. As a kid, I made peg dolls and I got a wonderful doll book out of the library which a pattern, which made a pretty ugly pancake doll, (no matter how carefully I sewed it). I made cloth dolls for boy friends, I made dolls for my children, and I made dolls as an apology when I got shockingly drunk at a fancy party…
When I left school I did a year’s Art Foundation where I didn’t make any dolls at all. None. I didn’t know if it would be allowed. And the art school told me I couldn’t draw or paint or sculpt, so I didn’t. For about two decades. I took up doll-making again at about the same time I took up writing. I wanted to find a way to make three-dimensional doll faces and so I tried papier-mâché and moulded leather. The moulded leather heads were the real beginning of something I felt I could manage. Even now, most of my dolls are made to the same scale as those early ones.
I regard this little doll as the start of my real, proper grown-up doll making. He has a leather head with feather hair and he came in his own box as a valentine for my husband.
I have dolls in my head, demanding to be made, all the time. I know that sounds weird….Most of my dolls are inspired by fabric, it’s usually the starting point for my dolls. I want a doll to wear a specific piece of cloth and I design the doll around that. Often the doll’s identity is a literary or mythological figure. Sometimes I have to wait until the doll tells me who she is. Usually there’s a kind of dialogue between me and the doll while we establish what they want, sometimes it’s not so much of a dialogue as an argument, while I pin on fabric, try on wigs, or repaint faces at the whim of an inanimate creature who refuses to cooperate.
Doll making can be frustrating at times, I hate making hands. I hate it! If I could pay someone to make the hands, I would. The best hand-making tips were given to me by Anita Collins, and I’ve made a little progress. I still hate it, but the hands now look more like hands. I do like making feet though, Yeah…
I spend ages making clothing, I like costumes to fit well, and I like them to be fully constructed, even if they’re not removable. Sometimes the clothing can’t be fashioned as a separate piece and needs to be sewn to the doll, but I’d much rather everything was real, real petticoats, real bloomers, real stockings….
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What advice would you give new doll artists?
Start now. Don’t stop. Keep doing it. As long as you keep doing it you’ll make progress. The dolls will teach you.
Q. Do you have tips or tricks to take great photos of your dolls?
I wish! Light coloured dolls on dark surfaces. Dark coloured dolls on light backgrounds. That’s about it. Oh! If you can take photos outside, in nice weather, do that. I’m very, very lucky when it comes to natural spaces and sitting a doll in a bed of clover and daisies and taking photos is very satisfying.
Q. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Creepy! People assume that, because they think dolls are creepy that somehow I also think of my dolls as creepy. I’m still trying to think of a polite reply to that kind of comment, other than shouting Boo! and waving the doll at them in a threatening manner. What I really enjoy is when someone bonds with a doll, when the doll means something to them. That’s the best response I could have.
Q. What other art do you create? What do you do for fun?
I write. I have two co-written novels on Amazon right now and I am editing the third in the series. I also have a stand-alone novel which is, hopefully, appearing in the first half of this year. And yes, I’ve made dolls based on the books.
Q. What is your dream project? or who would you love to do collaboration with?
Oooh…. I like to make sleeping/dead/undead dolls and I’d like to make a complete cast of characters from stories and myths that are usually portrayed that way. I have a long list. The aim is to make a doll that naturally falls into a sleeping position when it’s laid down. I’d love to dress someone else’s doll Those travelling dolls look like such a fun project.
Q. What are you currently working on?
On my work table right now, I have four dolls-in-waiting. An 18th century courtesan who just needs new shoes, a pensive vampire who just needs hands, Annabel Lee who needs a burial shroud and a widow who’s waiting for her weeds (and limbs). It can take me forever to make a doll. Forever. Years, sometimes.