Artist Stephanie Blythe creates a heartwarming collection of original dolls and miniatures. She shares her techniques and information about the world of dollmaking.
ABI: How did you get started making your dolls and miniatures?
SB: I graduated from The Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) with a degree in Fibers. I worked for Vera as a designer then moved to rural Maryland to raise my children. Being an avid antique textile collector with a need to justify my habit, I began collaborating with Susan Snodgrass to create miniature fantasy dolls.
Doll making and collecting began to become a business and soon our work sold at doll and ACC shows, and was carried by over 100 shops and galleries around the world. The mid-nineties brought changes, with a move to California and working as a solo artist making more one of a kinds and less production.
ABI: What is your process?
SB: I begin by sculpting a head, arms and legs and sometimes a full body. Plaster molds are made from these and cast in porcelain slip. I then sculpt and refine the greenware until I get the desired results and often fire and make more molds. When the piece is removed from the mold, each piece is often cut apart and hand sculpted to assure that every figure is an entirely different being.
Often a piece requires multiple molds that are assembled in the clay stage. After a bisque fire of cone 6, each is individually china painted requiring several more firings. These parts are then assembled and dressed in antique textiles or botanicals to create the persona. I enjoy creating intricate details combining patterns and textures from my extensive collection of antique textiles or found botanicals.
ABI: How do you sell your work?
SB: I currently do a few retail shows a year; NIADA and UFDC, both doll organizations that have annual conventions, as well as the Good Sam Miniature show. I wholesale to a few shops as well as accept commissions from a 35-year collector base.
ABI: Tell us about NIADA and the classes you teach.
SB: I am actively involved in NIADA, the National Institute of American Doll Artists, a worldwide organization of doll artists, supportive patrons, and friends whose purpose is to promote the art of the original handmade doll. NIADA Artists are passionately drawn to the depiction of the human form as an effective way to express their ideas and emotions, despite it being an art form that is neither as respected, nor as highly compensated or acknowledged, as most other mediums of artistic expression.
I am currently the Standards Committee Chair which is responsible for applications for artist membership. Application for membership is a three-part juried process and open to artists around the world. Artists applying for membership must submit work for peer review that is consistently well conceived, expertly executed without technical faults, and shows an individual identity of design.
We meet once a year at a Conference held in a different location in the U.S. Classes are held before the Conference. I have been teaching a workshop titled the Business Side of Dolls. I feel that being a talented artist is not enough. We must also know how to sell our work or work with people that will do it for us. In my one day class, I discuss and have exercises that reveal our strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons of wholesaling vs retailing, the value of a diversity of price points to build collectors, websites and social media, creating an artist’s statement and setting goals as well as a monthly review to evaluate student’s progress.