Thursday, 26 July 2012

Elephant No. 298: Paper Doll


While folding a pile of clothes yesterday, the thought occurred to me that it might be interesting to try making a paper doll. It wasn't something I'd ever done before, but it seemed like it might be relatively simple, and would involve drawing, which is more or less what I felt like doing today.

Paper dolls have actually been around for centuries. The earliest paper dolls were folded origami figures, puppets, and jointed toys like jumping jacks, and it wasn't until the late 1780s that paper dolls with changeable clothes made their debut. These were generally produced in hand-painted sets, and are occasionally seen in museum collections.

Set of hand-painted early Victorian paper dolls.

The first major American producer of paper dolls was the McLoughlin Brothers company. Founded in the early nineteenth century, McLoughlin Brothers was the largest American game manufacturer for over a century. The company produced sets of paper dolls for many years, until it was absorbed into the Milton Bradley company in 1920. Milton Bradley produced a new range of paper dolls, and over the ensuing decades paper dolls would become highly popular among little girls.

Sheet of paper dolls featuring silent-screen star
Norma Talmadge, from Photoplay magazine, 1919.

Commercially produced paper dolls can feature celebrities, children, animals and even inanimate objects. They have been produced in books, boxed sets, newspapers and magazines, and have even been given away as advertising premiums. Although most paper dolls are printed on thin cardstock with clothes made of paper with folding tabs, there are also newer versions made of plastic or even magnetic sheets.

Today, paper dolls are still being produced by companies such as Golden Co. and Whitman, and some artists are creating art versions. There is also a sizeable market for vintage paper dolls. Hand-painted paper dolls are particularly collectible, with mint uncut sets selling for anywhere from 100 to 500 dollars. There is even an international paper doll convention held each year in the United States, attended by hundreds of people.

Frida Kahlo paper doll by Lisa Perrin, 2010.

For today's elephant, I started by sketching out a girl elephant on artist-quality bristol board. It took me a few sketches to get it right, because I needed her legs and arms slightly away from her body to give me room to manoeuvre clothes onto her body. I also added a half-moon shape at the bottom for the base.

When I was reasonably happy with the sketch, I went over it with a pigment liner, then heat-set it with a hairdryer.

I painted her next, using cake watercolours, then cut her out. Because I gave her a trunk that's hanging down, I took a craft knife and cut around the trunk. This would allow it to lie outside any clothes I made.

I also cut out a separate half-moon, and sliced it halfway down from the top. I then sliced the base on the main elephant halfway up from the bottom. The idea is to cut each shape only halfway, from opposite sides, allowing them to interlock and make the elephant stand up.

To make her clothes, I placed the finished elephant on top of plain white bond paper, and traced around it. This would give me the basic shape to use in sketching clothes. I drew the clothes over these outlines using a pigment liner, then set the lines with a hairdryer. You can still see my underlying body outlines and clothing sketches underneath.

I painted all the clothes next, using the same cake watercolours. When I was finished painting and they'd had a chance to dry, I made a little template for the tabs, and added tabs wherever I could.

The most important tabs are the ones at the shoulders, but I also added tabs on either side. All of the outfits were made in single pieces, except for the striped shorts and yellow shirt. When I was done, I cut out all the clothes.

Next came the moment of truth. I tried on the overalls with t-shirt first, and actually laughed when it fit perfectly. It struck me as rather silly-looking, but I was quite pleased.

I tried all the other outfits on, one by one.

Two unplanned things I particularly liked were the way the elephant showed through the puffed sleeves on the party dress, and the way a touch of red bathing suit showed when she was wearing the sailor dress.

I took a couple of hours with this whole activity, primarily because I wanted to paint everything nicely. It was very easy, however, and actually kind of fun.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

1. Make sure there is a bit of room between the arms and the body, and between the legs. This will give you room to add tabs to the clothes if needed. Also make sure the shoulders are clear to accommodate tabs. For instance, I I had to adjust my elephant design to keep the ears from touching the shoulders.

2. If you make an elephant, and have the trunk hanging down, you'll need to slice around it to allow the clothes to slip underneath. Don't slice all the way up, however, or you'll cut off the elephant's head.

3. When drawing your clothes, keep the tabs in mind. For example, the shoulders of your clothes should be flat to allow the tabs to fold securely. All of your tabs should also fold relatively tightly to the body, so you may need to adjust things like the widths of sleeves, or width of a dress, and so forth.

I'd never made paper dolls before, so I was very pleased at how well this worked out. I don't think this set would necessarily appeal to a little girl used to commercially printed paper dolls, but it might be a fun thing to create for an adult. There are no limits, after all, on the figure you create—it could be an alien sea monster if you wanted. The only thing you really need to worry about is how you're going to attach the clothes. With a pair of flat shoulders, reasonably flat sides and an interlocking base, however, you can pretty much do as you please.


Elephant Lore of the Day
Much is made of attacks by elephants; most of the time, however, elephants would rather flee than fight.

Solitary rogue elephants—and females with calves—are the exceptions to this rule. Male rogue elephants will often make unprovoked attacks on passersby, and will even take up a position next to a road, making it impassable to vehicles.

When an elephant charges, it will curl its trunk tightly and run at its victims. It will then trample its victims either with feet or knees, or pin the victim to the ground with its tusks. During musth, male elephants are particularly dangerous to human beings as well as to other animals, and trained elephants who go rogue are usually chained almost immediately to keep them from harming anyone.

Interestingly, elephants charge without uttering a sound, primarily because their trunks are curled. Apart from an initial shriek and the thundering of their feet, elephants charge in silence—a pretty unnerving experience, I'm thinking.

I particularly like this description of an elephant charge from a Wikipedia page on Asian elephants:
A grander animated object than a wild elephant in full charge can hardly be imagined. The cocked ears and broad forehead present an immense frontage; the head is held high, with the trunk curled between the tusks, to be uncoiled in the moment of attack; the massive fore-legs come down with the force and regularity of ponderous machinery; and the whole figure is rapidly foreshortened, and appears to double in size with each advancing stride. The trunk being curled and unable to emit any sound, the attack is made in silence, after the usual premonitory shriek, which adds to its impressiveness. The usual pictorial representations of the Indian elephant charging with upraised trunk are accordingly quite incorrect.

African elephant about to charge.
Photo: Elephant Country

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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