paper doll & stage how to

I'd always wanted to make paper dolls. I'd had a bunch as a kid, this one was my all time favorite, and when I dug it up recently I was flooded with distinct memories of carefully cutting out all the dresses. I loved that it came in a package with a little window like a puppet theatre stage. (This is clearly a pretty strong continuing theme.)

I wasn't sure what to make a paper doll of, until my friend and go-go partner's birthday came around. Dot Mitzvah is an aerialist, roller derby skater, and burlesque artist. Her own wardrobe of costumes was ripe with paper doll possibilities. When this shot was taken at one of our go-go shows with the surf band, the Clams, I knew this was the pose for it.

I printed out the photo to the size I wanted the doll, just big enough to fit on 8.5 x 11 paper. I traced her on tracing paper, changing her costume to something easily coverable with other paper outfits. I xeroxed the sketch (copy machines have waterproof ink, unlike inkjet printers), glued it down to bristol board, and painted directly on top with acrylics. I printed her out on card stock, cut her out, and I had a doll to work off of.

I used the same method for the costumes. Using photos from her events I sketched her costumes on trace paper right over the doll so they would be precise. It was tricky figuring out which body parts to include in the costume, and which of the original doll would be exposed. This took a lot of trial and error.

Again, back to Staples to make black and white copies from the sketches on tracing paper, pasted them down on bristol, and painted them in with acrylic.

I painted four costumes, then scanned them into Photoshop. This is where most of the work was. I drew all the lines in on the computer so I could revise them. This was all the tabs for each costume that fold back on the doll so they stay on. This was hard, and took a week of experimenting, by printing them out and trying them over and over. I had to manipulate some of the painting in Photoshop because they were never quite perfect. It's a very precise art form. I had little paper dresses all over my studio.

I wanted her to have her own stage that was part of the packaging of this kit, so I scanned in some theatrical etchings from a Dover book of ornamentation, and with piecing elements together in Photoshop, built up a proscenium and back drop.

I altered the color to be a nice old sepia tone. Because Dot is a burlesque performer, I wanted an old vaudeville look.

Packaging was an important aspect too, because I wanted to give these to her as if they were a printed published kit, and I wanted her to be able to sell them or give them to her fans. To economize on paper I placed the Dot doll in the proscenium to be cut out. Here I had to go into Photoshop with that darn pen tool to make lines for her stand, and add directions for construction, also a very important and complicated task.

Engineering the stage was also tricky, but I went with a tab system, and with just 2 pieces of nice card stock made a sweet little 3-d stage. I am so excited about this stage! It's a step towards those elaborate paper theaters I've been obsessed with since I first saw them in the Albuquerque folk art museum.

Then I set her costumes up with titles, honoring each of Dot's many characters. These two are from our go-go group, the Nouveaux Pony Banditos.

After I'd tested all of these endlessly with print outs from my Epson, I took them to Tyco printing in New Haven and had the amazing Kick do her color copy magic with them. On good card stock paper, they came out gorgeous! I'm so happy with the rich color, sharp details, and the feel of the paper.

The kit is backed with an instruction sheet with photos of the constructed piece. The 5 sheet kit fits in a clear print sleeve, and looks very handsome. They'll be up on an Etsy site soon.