I don’t talk a lot about the “craft” of paper doll making. How to make paper dolls just isn’t something I tend to discuss. I don’t know why that is exactly, though I suspect there’s some deep seeded insecurity in play there.
Well, all that stops now!
This is the first of a series of paper doll posts I have planned on how to make paper dolls.
And I sincerely hope that some of my fellow paper doll artists will chime in with their thoughts in the comments.
The first thing I want to do is introduce the my paper doll principles. The things that I believe are important when I design paper dolls.
Paper Doll Principles:
- Playability: Every paper doll must be a functional toy.
- Artistic Quality: All paper dolls must be beautiful before and after they are cut out.
- Diversity: Every person deserves a paper doll that affirms their existence.
Each of these qualities is important. However, were I am pick one to focus on the most, it would be Playability.
Playability is a term that evolved in the video gaming community. It refers to how well a video game can be played. For me, I think of it as a way of measuring how well a paper doll can be played with.
Because paper dolls are toys. (Sometimes, I think people forget this.)
- Does the clothing fit? Does the doll stand up? Do the tabs keep the clothing on?
- How many outfits does the paper doll have? How many mix and match pieces? If it’s a paper doll with just one dress, that’ll get boring fast.
- What is the theme of the paper doll? How well does the paper doll reflect the theme the artist has chosen for her?
Now, if I told you I thought every paper doll set in Paper Thin Personas got a perfect score in all these categories, I would be lying through my teeth. You have to balance these things.
The best way to demonstrate how complex playability choices can be is through paper doll shoes. (Is anyone surprised that for me, it comes down to shoes?)
The Parable of Paper Doll Shoes
Paper dolls need shoes and shoes pose a unique challenge. There are three solutions for paper doll shoes.
- Attach them permanently to the doll.
- Attach them permanently to an outfit.
- Make them separate.
Option 1: Great for functionality, because you can not possibly loose the shoes. Unfortunately, it also means the shoes can’t be changed. (Functionality over Versatility) A few examples include Cora in Stripes and Her Ladyship.
Option 2: Keeps the shoes from getting lost, but also limits the mix and match options. (Functionality over Versatility) A few examples from my site include Ethan, Best Friends, Sci-Fi Girl and Bone Fairy.
Option 3: It is easy to lose the shoes in this option, but they can be changed which is fun. (Versatility Over Functionality). Individual shoes are both too easy to lose and tend to fall off. The best two ways to have interchangeable shoes are to attach them to a base or to attach them together.
Julie of Paper Doll School often used the attached shoes together option, as does my Madison paper doll. I tend towards the “shoes attached to the stand” option, as shown at the start of this post (and with nearly every other paper doll on this site.)
Deciding Which Option is Best for Your Paper Doll
Choosing the best option comes down to the third playability concept- Theme.
If your plan is to have the paper doll in some sort of underwear that is specific to her time (Victorian doll of 1886) or theme (fantasy lady like Her Ladyship) than the best option is to attach the shoes, I think. In this case, Theme over-rides the needs of Versatility.
If you plan on creating a single base doll and then having lots and lots of different themes around that doll (most of my paper doll series) than Versatility overrides the needs of Theme and simple undies, plus removable shoes are best.
If you plan on changing the dolls poses through their clothing OR making the clothing in a single piece (not mix and match), than I think the best option is to attach the shoes to the outfits as I do in Cybergirl or Spring. This is also the technique usually used by Boots of Pop Culture and Paper Dolls for her Star Wars paper doll series.
Also remember, you can do more than one at the same time!
Her Ladyship has shoes attached, but she also has ice skates. You can also put shoes on the base doll AND put shoes on the outfits. I couldn’t find an example of this in my archives (weird, but true), however, it can be done.
Moral of the Paper Doll Shoe Parable: How you balance the issues of playability is all about your intent as the artist. Never forget you are gaining and losing things each decision you make. And you are making decisions, even if at times you don’t notice.
Playability VS Artistic Quality
So, is playability the most important factor?
Well, only you can decide that about your own work. (I know, cop out answer right?)
Some collectors paper dolls are never intended to be cut out. These paper dolls value artistic quality OVER playability. That is okay. Some of my own work falls into that category. As I have gotten more experienced, however, I have come to view playability as one of the most critical factors in paper doll creation.
The paper doll has to work, even if you would never cut it out. The clothing needs to fit. The tabs need to work (if you draw tabs) and the thing needs to be functional EVEN if you don’t imagine anyone will want too actually play with it.
And that wraps up this first installment of Paper Doll Principles.
So, I have two questions for you today:
- What would you like me to talk about in this series? Any questions about paper doll creation?
- What do you think about these principles? Is there something I missed? What makes a “good” paper doll for you?