the background of SMALL FANTASIES
During the month of October 2015, Cliff Kepple and I displayed my costumed ball jointed doll (BJD) collection on a series of five sets, three large sets and two vignettes. This project spanned 16 months between 2014 and 2015 with me creating 18 costumes and Cliff designing and constructing the sets to showcase them.
This page details the background of how we designed and created the show and my interest in BJD's.
This page details the background of how we designed and created the show and my interest in BJD's.
I started collecting ball jointed dolls in 2014 because the very first one I saw on Facebook reminded me of M'pelane H'non, one of my Lallourean book characters.
I discovered that the doll was from Iplehouse, a South Korean manufacturer. There are hundreds of ball jointed doll companies mostly centered in South Korea, China and Japan. I investigated many of them and while I have dolls from several other companies, the majority of my dolls are from Iplehouse because, in my opinion, theirs are the most beautiful and realistic ones on the market.
If you are not familiar with ball jointed dolls (BJD), they are poseable, resin cast dolls with interchangeable parts making them entirely customizable.
As I purchased more dolls, I realized the best impetus for making their clothing was to reserve a show at the Community Arts Center of Cambria County (Johnstown, PA) where I'd had six previous shows, though those had been displays of my adult fantasy and science fiction costumes. Cliff Kepple, my former boss from the Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown's daily newspaper) and a good friend, suggested making ‘dioramas’ on which to display the dolls.
This quickly evolved into something much more elaborate.
During the month of May 2014, Cliff and I planned four doll sets, miniature stage sets with three walls, four feet deep by six feet wide by four feet tall. Our original idea included The Spider Pearl Cave, Victorian Fantasies, Glaceglitter Hall and The Court of Jewels. Cliff made all four set floors at his home during late May and into June. I started collecting set materials, ordered more dolls and by July 2014 had started making doll costumes.
We collected many of the props for the sets at Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul and various antique shops. As I’ve always loved things miniature, I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the repurposing of objects and looking at them in unique ways. For instance, tiny old perfume bottles became wine and whiskey decanters for the Victorian set.
I drafted patterns for all the doll costumes in the show which proved to be a challenge until I got the hang of it. For some reason I thought making doll clothes would be easier than making adult costumes. Not so! Resin doll bodies don’t squish and if clothing isn’t properly fitted, the result is messy and unprofessional looking. I made many, many fitting garments for the various costumes until I was satisfied with their fit.
Another consideration was the trimming and detailing on the costumes which must be in proportion to the dolls. Too big and it appears clumsy and unrealistic. Too small and not only is it nearly impossible to work with, it can also disappear. While much of the fabric and trims came from my extensive stash, I also found shops online that cater to doll costumers, ordering fabrics and trims from as far away as India and Malaysia.
Over the course of the project I worked with over a half-dozen artists on Etsy, commissioning doll furniture from Florida (Carol Ley, The Chair Diva), fairy wings from England (Linny Shephard, Candy Kitten) miniature fantasy food from Singapore and Cleveland (Cindy Teh, Snowfern and Katie Baker, Mary's Remedies) tiny books from Florida (L. Delaney and Green Gypsies), a formal tailcoat costume from Estonia <the only doll costume I did not make myself> (Tea Tanav, Tea Time Doll Apparel), and wigs from Russia (Amadiz).
Many of these artists had never tackled a request quite like mine, especially the furniture and fantasy foods. More than one artist told me that I had both challenged and inspired her.
spider pearl preliminaries
Cliff holding a broken rhododendron branch while we visualize the Spider Pearl set with cardboard boxes.
Bare bones right side of set with Rasong, branches in a PVC pipe base and a few weeds for placement. The stream bed is carved, painted and mostly finished except for the water effects.
As a long time landscape artist, Cliff created distance and depth on the set with his murals.
The lyrille tree was put together from broken rhododendron bush branches, built up with newspaper and plaster cloth, then plastered and painted brown.
Cliff prepares to cut a piece of plexiglass for the top of the stream bed.
The first set, The Spider Pearl Cave, depicts a forest scene with a rocky cave, a scene alluded to in my first novel Ten Thousand Gods. Cliff carved building insulation foam and used layer upon layer of acrylic washes to create the look of weathered rocks. I made trees from broken rhododendron branches, carpeted the ground with grass and flower petals, plus added bushes and weeds. Cliff used water effects materials from a model train shop to create a stream and waterfalls.
The rocks and cave with their initial base coat of paint. Cliff has started to paint the bottom rocks with acrylic washes.
The yellow brightbird, one of four birds on the set, refashioned and refeathered from puchased floral decorations. I call this one my showgirl bird.
I took the petals from faux flower sprays and strung them on heavy thread with glass beads at the bottoms for weight. These were then tied on the tree.
I took apart a faux Japanese maple tree and used brown floral tape to apply each leaf cluster to the branches.
The water effects were white when first applied, then dried clear.
The Spider Pearl Cave was complete in early December 2014, having taken five months. (We'd started calling it the never ending set.) At this point Cliff and I realized we would not have time to make four large sets and gave ourselves the option of doing the last set, The Court of Jewels, as a vignette. Before this we had already added a vignette, Black Butler, to our schedule.
victorian fantasies preliminaries
Visualizing the Victorian Fantasies set with mock-ups and several furnishings such as Carol Ley's upholstered chair.
My friend Cindy Chapple gave us a left over roll of wallpaper from her greatroom to paper the set. The wainscotting is faux textured leather.
The second set, Victorian Fantasies, was started in mid-December 2014 and completed in late May 2015, another five months. As this set depicted a Victorian parlor, it required a tremendous amount of woodworking and staining. We purchased wood moldings when we could, but Cliff hand crafted many more such as the chair rails, crown moldings and baseboards, plus stained and painted wood grain on all of them. He built window frames, crafted a Victorian fireplace complete with marble hearth and brick firebox, and fashioned a sideboard from a cassette tape storage box. I made drapes, a tablecloth, worked on set furnishings such as a bird in a cage, dried plantstuffs, and pillows. We used actual wallpaper on the walls and real parquet wood tiles for the floor. When we did not have enough of an item, such as the fireplace decorations, Cliff molded an existing piece and cast duplicates.
Cliff frames in a window. The fireplace is half complete in the photo, constructed but not decorated.
Another styrofoam bird that I reinvented by covering it in fabrics and feathers.
The miniature hats under construction, including a rather Steampunkish top hat.
The Victorian Fantasies set about half completed. As cutting holes in the walls for the windows and doorways destablized them, we came up with the rail across the top to make the set look more like a room. The parquet floor was laid in at an angle for more visual interest (and to drive Cliff crazy).
Victorian fireplaces were often constructed of wood with intricate carvings and painted white. We used 1/12th size dollhouse architectural supplies and furniture moldings for the carvings, brick backsplash tiles for the firebox, marble tiles for the hearth and a reconfigured chafing dish for the log grate. Flicker lights create the effect of fire. The fireplace weighs around 20 pounds.
Dried flowers being arranged in a little filigree carriage for a corner of the set.
Delicious looking goodies for a Victorian tea, created by Snowfern on Etsy. I found the dishes at antique shops. Some were obviously dolly furnishings, but many others started life as salt cellars.
I repurposed a circa 1970's polyester wedding gown from a thrift store by cutting off all the beaded motifs and dying them purple. Here they are in the process of becoming the skirt of my take on a Charles Frederick Worth gown.
The rough layout for Glaceglitter using styrofoam blocks and cardboard. I'd purchased the genderless mannequins at a home goods store years before I'd ever heard of BJD's.
The basic shell of the set including the cross pieces to support the chandelier.
Cliff's sky and cloud murals.
One of the most time consuming parts of dressing this set is the draping of the corners, walls and chandelier supports.
Above, right and below: crystal sculptures for Glaceglitter crafted from various candle holders (many turned upside down), crystal containers, beads and sprays. Calico Chloe is not impressed.
Many of the scenes in my second novel Gods of Crystal, Gods of Dreams, take place in Glaceglitter Hall. Consequently it was a set I very much wanted to see visualized. We began the Glaceglitter Hall set in late May 2015 and completed it in mid-August. Due to time constraints we had decided to turn the last set, The Court of Jewels, into a vignette renamed The Queen of Faeries so the majority of the materials we’d collected for both sets were combined into Glaceglitter. Just like it sounds, Glaceglitter is a fantasy of gold, silver and crystal. A real chandelier hangs from supports above the set, the crystal floor consists of textured ceiling panels over glitter paper, golden satin and brocade fabrics drape the walls. As this set depicts a grand hall perched on a cliff edge with a sweeping vista beyond, Cliff made windows and painted blue sky and white fluffy clouds behind them. He also created faux marble with his talented brushwork. I hung crystals and beads, draped fabrics and created sculptures from glass candle holders, mirrors, beaded spays and jewelry bits. I designed the couch/throne in this set and it was constructed by Carol Ley from Florida, who also made chairs for the Victorian set and the Black Butler vignette.
To find an unusual couch reference, I googled ugly couch and the top photo was one of the results. I sent this, along with photos of Cliff's and my styrofoam mock-up, white stretch velour and color instructions, to Carol Ley and told her to “knock herself out.”
Which she did with a vengeance! Her creation fit perfectly on the set among all the over-the-top glitz and glitter. M’pelanae’s couch/throne is described in the novel as “Elevated above the floor, a row of curving steps on either side led to its glittering splendor. Gilded carvings, hanging streamers of mirrors, drapes of tufted silk, sequins, tassels, fringe and crystals—the entire thing was almost comically overdone.”
I colored clear resin with food coloring and suspended tiny glass beads inside halfway through the resin curing process.
Pressed glass salt cellars from antique shops made perfect dishes for Glaceglitter Hall.
We finished Glaceglitter Hall in three months, giving us a scant six weeks to complete the two vignettes. As there was literally no time to break down this set and no place to store it, we covered it in heavy drop cloths until the show.
Cliff constructed two table tops, two feet by four feet, with a three wall surround each. Once constructed these moved as single unit, floor and walls, unlike the large sets that broke down into numerous pieces for transport and storage.
For the Black Butler vignette we covered the side walls in decorator fabric, the back with a photographic background on canvas and the base with vinyl wood flooring.
With only a month and a half before the show, Cliff and I worked seven days a week to finish. The vignettes were smaller and simpler than the full size sets, but no less detailed.
Cliff holds a fairy wing as we visualize the layout for the fairy vignette. The walls are draped sparkle sheer fabric and the back wall another photographic background. The gate came from a craft/home goods store. Cliff cut off the bottom, cut it apart, decorated it and painted it gold, then attached it with hinges to painted cardboard tubes.