Three Stages of Paper Doll Drawing: A Look at My Process

I get a fair number of questions about how I draw paper dolls. I have tried to answer these over the years through a variety of posts that range from showing the templates which I build to draw a base doll through the doodles I draw when planning dresses.

I’m usually not organized enough to get successive photos of the same page of the same sketchbook, but I planned carefully and am pleased to show off today the three major stages of paper doll gown creation.

Stage 1: The Light Pencil Sketch

The first step is to lightly sketch out the major lines of the paper doll gown, shoes and hair. This is one of two dresses that I have planned for a princess set. At this stage of the process the only two things I had decided were that I wanted a full-skirted silhouette, the paper doll was for Marisole Monday & Friends, her shoes were going to have stockings, and that I was going to make her black with an afro-puff styled hair. I hadn’t really thought much about other details yet.

At this stage, when nothing is really finalized, I always feel excitement and dread. More than one paper doll set has never gotten past the rough pencil stage.

At this stage, when nothing is really finalized, I always feel excitement and dread. More than one paper doll set has never gotten past the rough pencil stage.

Stage 2: The Detailed Pencil Sketch

The next step in the process is doing what I call “detailed” linework. This stage can take several revisions- that’s why I draw fairly lightly. I cleaned up some of the silhouette, added lines to indicate folds and then started thinking about pattern.

Lately, I have been really into traditional African fabrics dyed with a wax process. So, I decided to create several pattern elements inspired by those textiles that I could use to construct a pattern on the wide expanse of the skirt. I chose a lattice pattern for the jacket and then created four other motifs. I might not use all of them, but I like to have options. You can see my growing collection of African print fabrics on my African Prints & Fashion Pinterest board.

I changed the design of the tiara, because I wanted it to match the motifs I had designed for the pattern that will eventually go on the skirt. That meant altering the tiara accordingly. I really like the new design.

I changed the design of the tiara, because I wanted it to match the motifs I had designed for the pattern that will eventually go on the skirt. That meant altering the tiara accordingly. I really like the new design.

Additionally, I settled on adding garters to the tops of the stockings and decided on a psuedo-Victorian look for the shoes. Try as a might, I can’t help but associate these full skirts with the gowns of the 1860s. This is also the stage of the process when I add accessories like the hair pick and tea set. Everything on this page will be inked when I start inking.

Stage 3: Inking

After I have settled on a detailed pencil sketch, I begin inking. I always start with the major outlines and then work my way in. The last things to get inked are the fold lines on the skirts or ruffles and stitching on boots. Because ink can smear, I always take pauses while inking to let things dry a little before continuing my work. There are inevitably mistakes or I suddenly decide I want to add something I hadn’t planned, but mostly it is a slow and steady process. Inking is very meditative for me- I really enjoy settling down on my couch and getting to ink for an hour or so in the evening while watching television.

Opps... I just noticed I forgot to ink the folds in the ruffle at the top of the bodice. My bad. I'll do that after I erase all the pencil lines.

Opps… I just noticed I forgot to ink the folds in the ruffle at the top of the bodice. My bad. I’ll do that after I erase all the pencil lines.

Certain elements- like the strings on the instrument remain uninked, because I will add them with Photoshop. I am not very good at drawing perfectly straight lines.

Before I scan this drawing, I will erase all the pencil lines and check for and make any minor corrections I need to make. I’ve already noticed a mistake.

While putting all these together in a post only took about thirty minutes, the truth is that each of these photo represents weeks between stages. It takes a long time to get from Stage 1 to Stage 3 and there are still steps to go before the paper doll goes live.

So, two other little things. One, there is currently a poll on what to name my “bearded friend of Marcus” paper doll, go vote if you haven’t. Maxwell is currently in the lead. Secondly, I am currently doing a survey of my readers on Product Development for Paper Thin Personas. Sounds thrilling, I know… But it has been already very enlightening. So, if you should have about fifteen minutes and you haven’t done it already, I would urge you to please fill it out and, as a reward, you will get sent a Thank You paper doll, if you give me your email address.

Begin the Survey Here!

And, of course, a huge thank you to everyone who has already done it. I have the best readers ever. Seriously, you guys rock!

Any questions about my process? The survey or anything else? Ask me in a comment.

Knight in Armor: A Knight Paper Doll for Boys

Marisole Monday & Friends Knight paper Doll for boys logoMeet the first Friend of Marcus! He doesn’t have a name yet- there’s a poll to vote for one below. Once he has a name, I’ll start calling him by it. For now, I think of him as Marcus’ bearded friend.

I’ve been wanting to do a knight with armor male paper doll since I added male paper dolls to the Marisole Monday & Friends collection. I waited a while though, because armor is actually rather hard to draw. I do think knight paper dolls make great paper dolls for boys and I am trying to be diverse in my paper doll creations.

I was complaining about how boring men’s hairstyles were and then I remembered- facial hair. Mustaches, beards, goatees, soul patches- There are many fun options for paper doll facial hair. So, this guy got himself a beard.

A knight paper doll for boys or girls with four pieces of armor, weapons and a helmet. He's free to print and color from paperthinpersonas.com

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After doing some experimenting, I think the helmet works best for the printable paper doll if it is placed underneath the armor, rather than on top of it. He’s got a broad sword and an axe.

So I have narrowed my options down to four different names. Help me decide which one I should choose by voting below. The poll is open until Sunday.

What should I name my new male paper doll?

  • Mikhail (38%, 31 Votes)
  • Maxwell (37%, 30 Votes)
  • Maurice (20%, 16 Votes)
  • Murphy (6%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 82

Loading ... Loading ...

One last thing I wanted to mention- I’ve decided to do a survey of my readers about potentially opening a shop to sell my paper dolls and setting up a Patreon account for Paper Thin Personas. The survey should only take about 10 or 15 minutes of your time. If you complete the survey and include an email at the end, I will send you a “THANK YOU” paper doll within the next week.

Click here to begin the survey (Survey is currently closed.)

Right now, my plan is to have the survey open for the next two weeks, depending on the response rate. Thank you!

Brooches and Smokkr: A Viking Paper Doll

A paper doll of a viking woman from the 10th century with two historical outfits based on the work of scholars in Viking dress in color. She also has shoes and historical accessories.In truth, we know very little about what Viking women wore, so that makes drawing a Viking paper doll sorta exciting (and scary). Unlike the 10th century Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings did not have a manuscript culture. Their art was generally metal work or stone carving and highly stylized. Making things more rather than less complicated, textiles rot extremely quickly in soil and those which remain in tact are often saved by their proximity to other materials such as metal, while metal breaks down it releases salts that protect the textile.

This means that what remains we have of Viking garments are fragmentary at best. While working on my Viking paper doll, I did my research, as always, and then made decisions based on my understanding of Viking garments. My understanding isn’t perfect. I am not an archaeologist, nor do I study Viking cultures extensively. My post Wednesday, Viking Women’s Dress in the 10th Century  covers my sources and what I understand about Viking garments.

A paper doll of a viking woman from the 10th century with two historical outfits based on the work of scholars in Viking dress in black and white. She also has shoes and historical accessories.

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Though I came away from my research with the conclusion that there is more supposition than certainty in Viking dress research, I couldn’t be more pleased by how my printable paper doll came out. Her two apron-dresses or smokkrs over shirts were both designed based on the work of some excellent scholars. I chose a closed smokkr, because I agree with Ewing’s and Geijer’s views on the shape of the smokkr. I added an apron on one, based on the work of Bau and Ewing. To the other, I added pleats based on the reconstruction of a smokkr by Hilde Thunem. She has a key, a cup, a comb and a small knife. From the brooches on her left smokkr hang a pair of scissors, a small knife and a needle case.

Her shoes are based on finds at Viking York and her stockings and garters are based on the work of Ewing who argues that Viking men wore garters. I have no reason to believe if men were wearing them than women weren’t. Besides, Scandinavia is rather chilly to be wandering around bare legged.

A paper doll of a viking woman from the 10th century with two historical outfits based on the work of scholars in Viking dress in color. She also has shoes and historical accessories.

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When selecting colors, I tried to be aware of what colors were known to be used by Vikings. There were several references to brown twills in the articles I read (sources here) and the Kostup find is known to have been blue. Her brown smokkr, or apron-dress, has different colored straps, because linen loops were sometimes used on wool smokkrs. Linen, unlike wool, doesn’t take dye very well. I wanted to make a nod to that practice. Both the serks or shirts, I left undyed in lighter colors. One shirt is pleated, as is found in many Birka graves, and one is unpleated. The paper doll has a hair covering as referenced in Ewing’s book, Viking Clothing.

I made my Viking paper doll blond really only because when I think of Vikings, I think of blonds. Perhaps an unfair assumption, but there you go.

As with my Anglo-Saxon paper doll of the same century, I strongly recommend reading my little article and then reading my sources. I would also caution that most of the research on Vikings is not published in English. Until more of the articles are translated into English, I did the best I could with what sources were readily available.

I know people have been waiting on this printable paper doll, so I hope the wait was worth it. I certainly am nothing but pleased with how she came out.

As always, if you like the paper dolls and want to support the blog than check out my Patreon. 🙂

Viking Women’s Clothing in the 9th and 10th Century

An actual Viking oval brooch from the 10th Century- The Met- Accession Number: 1982.323.1

An actual Viking oval brooch from the 10th Century- The Met- Accession Number: 1982.323.1

Today, we’re going talk about Viking women’s clothing, because I was working on a Viking paper doll. As always happens with me, I did a lot of research. This post could have been many more paragraphs, but what I wanted to do today was write a quick overview. The truth is that we actually don’t know what Viking women wore. Rather, scholars have examined various pieces of archaeological evidence and have come up with theories which, at times, completely contradict each other. In the this post, I tried to summarize the major scholars on the topic and explain what I learned while researching my Viking paper doll.

I maybe many things, but I am not a scholar on Viking dress.

Who were the Vikings?

The Vikings were a Germanic Norse seafaring culture which existed from about 700 ACE until about 1000 ACE. The main strongholds of Viking culture were Norway, Sweden and Denmark, but there where were Viking settlements in England, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland.  The Vikings also made contact as far as the Middle East, Russia, and China. Seriously, these dudes got around.  Their travels and expansion heavily influenced European medieval cultures.

Basic Overview

It is generally agreed that Viking women wore clothing; however, theories differ on what this clothing looked like.  Most agree that women wore a shirt of some kind underneath a dress suspended from two oval brooches. This dress is often called an apron-dress or smokkr. If you need to modern version, imagine a jumper. The apron-dress was held up by oval brooches, sometimes called dwarf brooches. Over top of the apron-dress women may have worn an apron in front, a pleated train in back, a caftan coat, a cloak or a shawl. That’s one of the areas  scholars disagree on. The exact meaning of the apron-dress and who was entitled to wear it is also a topic of debate. I’m not going to get into that discussion here. It should, however, be noted that this apron-dress does not appear to have been universally worn by women of all social statuses and ages.

More Below!

Space Princess: An Alien Princess Paper Doll

logo-space-princess-colorI am so excited about this week… there are going to be a Vikings on Friday and a post about historical Viking dress on Wednesday and, of course, today we have an alien paper doll in color. What could be more fun than aliens and Vikings? (Maybe pirates and aliens and vikings, but lets not be greedy.)

Anyway, I am super-pleased to be showing off this little alien. I choose blue for her skin as I have a soft place in my heart for blue skinned aliens. I don’t know why. It is always the first color that comes to mind. It does occur to me though, I have done another blue skinned alien recently.

When you are dealing with a skin-tones not in the range of human normal, than the skin-tone does not act as a neutral. Therefore, the paper dolls skin-tone becomes part of the color palette in a way that is rarely something I worry about. So, I wanted bright cheerful colors that would accent and no compete with my little alien’s blue skin.

That was why I settled on a magenta, line green, dark teal and bright yellow color palette.

I went back and forth about how to color the gowns. My first thought was that they were all one color. Later, I decided it would be more interesting to make them multicolored. You can see the results of my multicolored experimentation below.

space-princess-paper-doll-color

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Both jump-suit were colored in the same color scheme as the dresses and I made sure the boots would match the jumpsuits. I do admit that while I do think of my alien was a leader in war and a diplomat, I’m not sure going to war in platform boots makes a lot of sense.

Maybe in space, your foot wear doesn’t matter. After all, gravity might not be around, so you could wear whatever shoes you want? Maybe? I really don’t know, but I do love me a good pair of platform boots.

Calash Bonnets & Chemise a la Reine: Late 18th Century Paper Doll Dresses


logo-late-18th-centLate 18th Century gowns before the waist begin to rise at the turn of the century are often defined by simpler lines. You can see in some of them the beginings of the aesthetic and gave rise to the Greek inspired looks of the Empire period in France and the Regency period in England.

Working left to right, as is my usual practice, she has a caraco jacket with a peticoat based on this caraco and quilted petticoat from the Museum of Antwerp and this outfit circa 1785-1790 from the V&A.

The middle dress is based on a robe à l’anglaise from the Kyoto Costume Institute that is dated to the 1780s. I have seen very few other examples of this style of gown in museums, though I would be curious to know how wide spread the style was. The belt is particularly distinct in these gowns and I can only recall having seen one other.

On the far right,there is a gaulle, or chemise a la reine. This radical style was introduced by Marie Antoinette in the early 1780s. I based my version of this iconic garment off a portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife from 1788. To understand the shock such a garment would have induced in the 18th century, consider the reaction people might have if the First Lady of the US suddenly started talking around in her bra and panties in public, rather than chic clothing. Never the less, as is often the case with fashion, the simple lines of the gown caught on and it wasn’t long before all sorts of women were being painted in elegant and simple versions of the chemise a la reine. In fact, this gown could be seen as a direct predecessor to the simpler styles of the Regency and Empire periods. Very few of these gowns seem to have survived from the 18th century, but here is one example from the Manchester Art Gallery.

late-18th-cent-paper-doll-gowns-black-white

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There are two distinct hats to go with today’s paper doll gowns. The first hat is a formal hat and comes from a portrait of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard from 1785 held at the Met. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was an accomplished female painter in 18th century France. She was inducted into the French Académie Royale in 1783. Also, she clearly had excellent taste in hats.

The other hat is what was called a Calash. Calashes were a type of bonnet that was boned and could fold down for storage (and also was tall enough to get over the crazy high hairstyles of the century.) Calashes can be found easily in museums. Here are a few examples of them- one, two, three from the Met and one from the MFA in Boston. The Calash isn’t just an 18th century thing, either, these bonnets can be found in the 19th century as well.

The shoes are fairly standard 18th century style and aren’t based on anything specifically. I just thought my three paper dolls might need another pair of shoes.

late-18th-cent-paper-doll-gowns-color

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The color selections were all dictated by the original garments colors, except for the caraco jacket ensemble on the left. The one I wanted to do in warm autumnal colors since the chemise a la reine always seems a summer or spring sort of style to me.

This brings us to the end of this little series. If you missed any, check out the entire 18th Century Pixie series.

2015 Goals Update: Where I am

goals2015

Back in January, I outlined six goals for 2015. Since Monday was the Rosh Hashannah (Jewish New Year) and I have a tradition of going back to my goals every year around this time, I thought today would be a good day to see where I am nine months into the year.

I will be among the first to acknowledge that I haven’t done everything on my list, but then I never seem too.

So, here we go:

Goal 1: More Historical Paper Dolls. I want to create ten historical paper doll sets in 2015.

I actually have already completed this goal which I am very proud of. Depending on whether or not you count the multipage sets as one set or not, I have either made this goal or am going to make it in the next few weeks as I have a Viking st for next week and a 1950s set for sometime after that. I want to post a historical paper doll round-up post at the end of the year with all the historical paper dolls on the blog organized by era, but in the mean time you can check them all out in the Historical tag.

Goal 2: Focus a little more on Poppets, Ms. Mannequinn and Buxom and Bodacious.

Basically, I wanted to draw ten pages for each of these sets. So, far I have posted 5 sets for B&B, 4 sets for Ms. Mannequinn and 5 sets for the Poppets this year. There are several sets for both Buxom & Bodacious and Ms Mannequinn in the wings, but not quite ten. Now, the Poppets will definitely need some attention in the coming months to get to my ten posts for each in 2015 goal, but I think I will get there.

Goal 3: Do more Featured Artists.

Okay, so chalk this one up as a failure. I mean, seriously… the problem is that this always takes way more work on my part than I think it should. Anyone who says curating guest posts is simple is lying to you. The truth is that these posts can easily take as much time, if not more, than doing my own work. I think they are important, but I might change up the format a bit or something. I dunno.

I need to think about the options available to me. I really like interviewing other artists in this community and it is a very small community, so I think we need to support each other. At the same time, it is far more time consuming than it appears and I don’t know if other people are as interested in these posts as I am.

Maybe there’s an easier or simpler format I could use? Thought from the audience?

Goal 4: Actually send something into OPDAG Newsletter.

Not only have I not done this, but I think my membership has lapsed. Opps. I need to renew that and, you know, get my act together. I think part of the problem is that I only want to show off my BEST work to OPDAG since it has members whose work I admire so much. Anyway, I need to get over that and just do something. A completed “okay” project is far better than an incomplete “perfect” project.

Goal 5: Have another Mini-Series set.

This year my 18th Century Pixies Series rather took the place of having a mini-series since it has run for six weeks and wraps on Friday. I have some ideas for doing some special in December or transforming this goal into something else entirely. I have been doing a lot of non-series related drawing, but none of it is ready for prime-time yet. A lot of it is part of a project I’ve been working on for the last few months that, hopefully, will debut in December. More on that later. While I guess I haven’t really done this in a traditional sense, I do think I have been good about giving myself permission to draw “outside” the Series this year- even if some of that material hasn’t made its way onto the blog.

Goal 6: Upgrade the images on the blog to larger format images.

This is an ongoing mess of a project. You see, I don’t use WordPresses image management system because when I first started this blog, I didn’t understand how it worked and I could write raw code, so I did. Now that I am five years in, I have found that I just don’t like the image management system, so I continue to manually code most of these posts. As a result, changing something like image size means actually going into each post and manually re-coding the image width tags. Of course, if I had been smarter at the beginning I would have written that into the CSS, but well… I wasn’t that smart at the time, so I have to manually fix it all. Anyway, the result is a lot of mind-numbing copy and paste work. Never the less, I have gotten through May of 2013 so far and am chugging along. This is the problem when you know just enough code to get yourself into trouble.

Though I haven’t met all of my goals this year so far, I am actually really pleased with where the blog is. I think it is going to grow in fun and interesting ways this year and I have some cool stuff planned already for next year.

Most of all I am proud that I have been far more consistent in posting this year than I have ever been before. That is something to be very proud of, I think.

Space Princess: An Intergalactic Princess Paper Doll

logo-space-princess-bwMany eons ago (okay so, like three months ago in June), I did a little poll about what paper doll I should draw next for Marisole Monday & Friends. The winner was ballerinas, but the second place winner was space princess.

To be honest, I was much more excited about the idea of a space princess than I was about ballerinas. Having fulfilled my ballerina paper doll promises, I can now move on to space princess paper dolls.

Our Space Princess is neither a Marisole, a Monica, a Mia, a Maeghan or a Margot paper dolls, rather she is a unique face, because I drew her hair and her features as one. She’s living over in the other friends category with my other alien paper doll (who you can see in black and white or in color).

I don’t always spend a lot of time thinking about aliens or what makes a species, but I imagine that this alien species is a highly advanced race with a strict social structure. Our princesss wears a crown, but also has ray guns for defending herself. Along with her gowns, she has jumpsuits that she wears when leading her people in times of war. She is not a shrinking violet who just stands around, rather she is someone who is willing to fight to defend her people and their way of life.

space-princess-paper-doll-bw

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I used to fight the whole “princess” thing. These days, I am trying to embrace the fun of the whole concept. I remember the my grandmother used to give us paper doll cards for our birthdays. I know I’ve mentioned this before and while I can’t recall everything from my childhood, I can recall those cards with fairly vivid recollection. I seem to recall this Space Princess card being among them and you have to love a paper doll with a “moon moo moo” (yes, they spell muumuu like that…I don’t know why).

Lastly, I’d like to wish a L’Shanah Tovah or a Happy New Year to all my readers who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah like I am. I made my annual loaf of challah and ate it with apples and honey last night after sundown. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and this year is 5776.

Hope: A Late 18th Century Paper Doll Set

logo-hope-1700sHope is based on the styles at the end of the 18th century. So, something major happened around the 1789 in France. It was, for those who weren’t asleep in high school history class, the French Revolution. To say that “everthing changed” wouldn’t be an understatement and the ripples of the events in France spread across Europe in dramatic ways. It is tempting when looking at the end of the 18th century to simply assume that after 1789 everyone just jumped into Empire styles and that was the end of it, but the reality is that there was a very slow evolution to the high waisted gowns we think of as “empire” or “Regency” dress.

So, I was less interested in worrying about the Empire look and much more interested in the every transitional styles that are easily forgotten and often ignored.

This all brings us rather neatly to Hope. Hope is our paper doll model for the later part of the 1700s. Her dresses will never get up the high waisted styles that characterized the transition into Empire. Rather, I think of her as being a woman of means right before everything gets radicalized. And, for her sake, let us assume she lives in England which was always behind on the fashions a bit anyway and a much safer place to be than France at the end of the 18th century. They don’t call it the Reign of Terror for nothing, after all.

hope-18th-cent-paper-doll-black-white

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Hope’s hair is done up in a style known as coiffure à l’enfant. This was a style popularized by Marie-Antoinette in the early 1780s. The style is a frizzy halo of hair with several longer strands curled, braided or left straight. Here is a portrait that shows off the hair style from the Met and here is a fashion plate featuring it from the V&A. I have to confess that I am not totally pleased with her hair. I fear that it looks a little bit too “mad scientist” for my comfort.

hope-18th-cent-paper-doll-color

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Moving away from her hair for a moment, Hope has undergarments, of course, and then a gown known as a Redingote. Redingote’s started their lives as actual riding coats, but eventually transformed into women’s gowns which were coat like and then cut away to reveal the petticoat underneath. The word “redingote” is believed to be a French transliteration of the English term “riding coat”. Hope’s redingote was based on this gown from LACMA circa 1790. The term “redingote” sticks around into the early 20th century as a term of long coats.

Her hat is from this hat from the MINT circa 1770. Her shoes are based on this pair from the Met from 1780. Her muff and her mitts are both from Colonial Williamsburg.

I think that’s all the sources I need to list for Hope. I might have forgotten something, but I think that’s everything. Next Friday, there will be the last set of outfits for the 18th Century Pixie Series all from the later part of the 18th century.

En Pointe: A Printable Ballerina Paper Doll in Color

logo-mia-ballerina-colorMore ballerina paper dolls!

Okay, so this is the last one, but I did have fun with this little foray into dance clothes for the moment. Now that I have done these, I feel like I should do some tap dance clothes or something.

Anyhow, today’s Mia ballet set is in color. While Monica is the white swan from Swan Lake, Mia is the Black Swan for Swan Lake. Of course, traditionally, these parts are danced by the same dancer, but I thought it would be more fun to break up the two tutus across the sets.

Her Giselle costume is from the second act and therefore had to be white. After the character Giselle dies, the whole second act of the ballet is done in white costumes. It is sometimes called the “White Act” for this reason. I couldn’t exactly make it purple.

Don Quixote costumes are often based on Spanish flamingo dresses and this one is sort of in that vein. I settled on a golden bodice, black tutu and red roses. I’m not entirely pleased with how it came out, actually. I do think this tutu could also be for the Nutcracker’s Spanish Chocolate dance.  I chose teal for both Romeo and Juliet and Scheherazade (which I think I finally have memorized how to spell).

asian-ballerina-paper-doll-color

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For those of you who have been paying close attention, you have likely noticed that the en pointe shoes were copied for both sets. I thought about drawing two of basically then same thing and then came to my senses. The dolls leg positioning doesn’t really allow for “other” en pointe poses then this one. The leg warmers are also duplicated across both sets. Once again, I didn’t really want to draw the exact same thing twice.

Generally, I try to avoid copying from pervious sets- which is how I have draw way more pairs of skinny jeans than any person should- but sometimes I give myself a break and do it.

Lastly for those of my readers in the United States, Happy Labor Day! Let us all take a moment and be grateful for the people who fought hard to provide their fellow workers with a better way of life. Also, eat barbecue.