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.

A rough pencil sketch of a future paper doll set featuring a full skirted princess gown, shoes, tiara and wig.

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.

A penciled in sketch of a princess gown, crown, wig, instrument and two pairs of shoes. These penciled sketches are then inked to create a version for scanning.

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.

The inked sketch of a princess gown, wig, accessories, shoes and a tea set. The pattern elements that will eventually make up the skirt are on the far left side of the page.

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.

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

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  dress. 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 working on 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!

2015 Goals Update: Where I am

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.

When Ignoring Constructive Criticism Is Okay

Once I got an email from someone suggesting that “you should consider making [my male paper dolls] look happier.”

Once I had someone describe my work as all looking like aliens and suggesting that “smaller eyes make more realistic faces.”

Once I got an email informing me that if my paper dolls wore more underwear than they would be appropriate for classrooms and that this would “make them much more popular.”

I reply politely to these emails, as the best that I can, and then I ignore them.

When you are learning a new skill, it is common for teachers or classmates to provide constructive criticism. This is a very useful process and I would never suggest otherwise, but when you’re not in a class and someone offers you unsolicited constructive criticism, often in the guise of advice, it is hard not to feel obligated to accept it.

It is okay to ignore constructive criticism that you never asked for and constructive criticism you did ask for.

Ignoring doesn’t mean that the advice isn’t reasonable. It is true that my paper dolls have huge unrealistic eyes. It is true that my male dolls don’t smile (none of my paper dolls really smile, but that’s a whole different issue.) More covering underwear would likely go over better in a lot of school classrooms.

It is also true that if I wanted to draw realistic paper dolls, I would be working a lot harder on taking some figure drawing classes to try to learn to draw  realistically. If I wanted to draw smiling paper dolls, I would. If I wanted to make dolls in more conservative underwear, I would.

It takes a long time to be comfortable enough with your art to say, “You’re right. My paper dolls could smile more, but you know… I don’t like smiling paper dolls.”

I want people to communicate with me. I love hearing from my readers. I get a thrill every time there is a comment and every time I get an email. When I think about abandoning the blog or I really don’t feel like doing it one evening, it is these comments that keep me going, but I do not have to please everyone.

I really only have to please myself.

And I am still, despite emails recommending more happy looking paper dolls, my harshest critic.

But you know, I don’t have to listen to me, either.

It is okay to just let go and say, well… maybe, but I like my skimpy underwear and my frowning males and my huge eyes. This is how I draw. I will always want to get better, but I don’t have to listen to everyone’s advice.

Fantasy and Sci-fi Sets in the Future!

It’s sketchbook preview time!

This is a totally random collection of stuff. Normally, I try to at least nominally theme these posts. There is no theme here except that htese are all sci-fi or fantasy sets.

This first one is going to be for the Ms. Mannequinn series. I’ve been watching a lot of 1980s sci-fi with my boyfreind lately, so I blame him for this set. Truth be told, I do have a place in my heart for cyberpunk, so this should be a lot of fun.

Sketches of Future Paper Doll Sets

One of my contest winners from January, Kitrona, asked for a Fallout inspired post-apocolyptic set with some armors and things. Here she is. I have this set colored and should have it up Monday. I haven’t done layout and I suspect not every piece is going to fit on the page. We’ll see how it goes when I get there I suppose.

Sketches of Future Paper Doll Sets

Last, but not least is this set of two sets of Pixie paper dolls. Both fantasy themed. One is pretty classic fantasy and the other based on Chinese dress of the Han Dynasty. How is that for random?

Sketches of Future Paper Doll Sets

So, here’s a fun little poll for the weekend…

Which of these paper doll sets are you looking forward too?

  • Post-Apocalyptic Marisole Monday & Friends (40%, 17 Votes)
  • Sci-fi Ms. Mannequinn Set (26%, 11 Votes)
  • Fantasy Pixies- Ancient China Inspired (26%, 11 Votes)
  • Fantasy Pixies- Traditional (7%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 42

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Blog Goals 2015

Blog Goals for 2015

I’ve been hesitant to post blog goals this year. I don’t want to be too ambitious, so I am going to keep these fairly simple. Ideally also concrete, so that when I check back on them mid-year, as I usually do, I have some idea how I have done.

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

Ideally, I want to work in periods that I have done in the past, but also some periods that will requite lots of research. Right now, I am planning on a Tudor set, a Viking set (they won my poll), a 1300s set, and a new 1920s set for Marisole Monday & Friends. I also want to do some historical guys, so I am thinking a Victorian guy and an 18th century guy (probably Marcus, but maybe Puck… Puck needs a redraw.) I’m also planning on some historical children’s clothing for the Poppets, likely from the 1920s to 1930s, as those are one of my favorite periods for children’s clothes.

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

These three series are my most neglected. I have a bunch of unfinished Poppet sets and a bunch of unfinished Ms. Mannequin sets. I want to really buckle down and get some of those sets done. So, my goal is to add at least ten sets to each of these series by the end of 2015.

3. Do more Featured Artists.

Okay, this is totally a goal from last year, but I want to keep it up this year. I think that it is really important to see what people say about paper dolls and there aren’t a lot of us around and I want to try to build some community among us.

4. Actually send something into OPDAG Newsletter.

I am SO BAD at this. I always promise myself I will and then I don’t and then I feel guilty. Anyway, this year I am going to buckle down and even if I don’t like the theme, I am going to make something for the newsletter, darn it! I am! The next two themes are Favorite Mysteries and Chanel. I can do something for those. I know I can… I just have to not procrastinate.

5. Have another Mini-Series set.

Last year, I spent ten weeks posting my Her Ladyship paper doll set. It was so much fun to get away from my series for a while and play. She also got a great response, so I want to do another mini-series this year. I have no idea what the theme will be. I have to think about it.

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

Back when the blog started, I used smaller images (350 pixels wide- to be precise) for my post images. One of the things, I want to do is update these to larger images for the blog, since I think the larger images look nicer and since the internet is no longer quite so slow for most of us. This is going to be a very long, rather painful, slow process.

And those are my goals for 2015! Wish me luck!

End of the Year Wrap Up- Plus Contest/Drawing

Back in June, I formally posted my goals for 2014. In hindsight, I think I was overly ambitious. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking when it come to some of them.

Still, I’m not displeased with how 2014 went which is good because it ends tonight at midnight.

I might not have gotten ten male paper dolls done, but I did finish up Marcus 2.0 and there’s two of them up now. (There will be another one of his series posted on Monday… but that’s going to be 2015.)

Meanwhile, I got one tutorial up on cleaning up linework and four featured artists (not six, but I’m at peace with that). The thing I am most proud of is that I have regularly checked out other people’s paper doll sites and regularly commented on them. This was perhaps the most important of my goals for 2015.

So, what blogs do I regularly look at? In no real order… Liana’s Paper Doll Blog, Pabernukublogi, A Paper Closet, Lina’s Historical Paper Dolls, The Paper Doll Bag and Miss Missy Paper Dolls. I read these because they are updated with some regularity.

Did I miss a really good one? Do let me know.

Meanwhile, it’s the year end, so it’s time for my annual contest.

Contest Announcement: Ending January 14 2015

So, it is time to ask what people would like to see on the blog in the coming year. Post a comment with what you’d like to see up here (repeats of other requests are completely acceptable) and you’ll be entered in my drawing to win a custom paper doll.

Usual rules apply:

    1. You can only win one contest a year. (I’m considering this a new year…)
    2. I announce the winner (choosen via random number generator) on the blog on the day after the contest ends. I will also email the winner at their email address attached to the comment. If I do not hear back from the winner within a week, I will use a random number generator to select the next winner.
    3. The winner will receive a one page custom paper doll based on one of my paper doll series within a month of the end of the contest. This one page paper doll can not violate trademarks or copyrights (aka: I can’t draw something under some one else’s trademark or copyright).
    4. If there is a delay for some reason, I will contact with winner and we will make other plans.

So, feel free to enter by posting a comment on this post about what you’d like to see on the blog in the new year. The contest will end on the 14th of January (midnight, Central time). I will announce the winner by drawing on the 15th, likely in the late afternoon since I will have to actually do the random number generator thing… you know the drill by now.

This drawing/contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. :)

Hey! Why isn’t That Paper Doll Available in Black and White?

The most commonly asked question I get on this blog is, “Can you make (insert paper doll title here) in black and white?”

The answer is usually… “Depends.”

Step back in time with me to when the world was young and the blog was fairly new before Disaster struck.

During the first few years of PTP’s existence, the paper dolls were only done in black and white and in the heavily shadowed style of Curves or Shadow and Light.

I drew Marisole in early 2009, long before the site crashed, and used her to teach myself how to color paper dolls in Photoshop. My plan, at the time, had been to add a color paper doll, Marisole, once a week to my black and white site.

But then… in December of 2009… Disaster.

I  crashed the blog and my backups didn’t load properly and I didn’t know how to fix it. So, I decided to delete it and start over. You can read the public post about that here.

Even then, I never ever thought I’d publish Marisole in black and white. I never thought I would publish a Pixie in black and white. I never thought about any of this.

The result of my lack of forward thinking is that there are paper dolls on this site for which the original Photoshop files are long gone. I have PDFs and I might have random old scans, but rarely do I have the original Photoshop file. Tracking down the files, extracting the line work (if I can) and processing the new black and white version takes time.

Sometimes, it works well and I get a good black and white copy. Sometimes, it doesn’t and I won’t post sub-par work on my blog.

And that causes me some tension…

Do I work on converting old work to black and white or do I work on new work?

I don’t have limitless time (does anyone?) and so, I prioritize. For me, creating new work is more interesting and more fun than going back, dredging up old files and reformatting them, if I can.

Does this mean you should stop asking for paper dolls in black and white that you want to see?

Absolutely not, sometimes I can do it, but at this point I have done most of the “easy” sets (particularly for Marisole) and the remaining sets are much harder.

So, keep asking, but don’t be surprised if my answer is “Nope.”

Questions? Thoughts? Lemme know in a comment.

Meet Violet, A Paper Doll of my College Years

Last year, I posted two of my childhood drawings. One was of Ellie and the other was of Riven.

Here is another paper doll from years ago. When I was college in Oregon, my parents were having the boat refitted up in Washington. For spring break one year, I went with my best-friend up to visit them. It was a really fun, though at times a little crazy, trip and was the first time I had ever ridden the Greyhound Bus anywhere. While I was traveling, I drew and colored this paper doll using a set of permanent markers in lots of different colors.

Violet a paper doll drawn in college

I don’t remember much about her and her clothing certainly doesn’t resemble what I was wearing in those days. I spent my entire college life in a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and flip-flops, regardless of weather. Still, when I stumbled across her in my files, I thought she would be fun to share.

Also, last note, the drawing ends at midnight central time tonight. Enter if you like. :)

Reviewing the Blog Goals for 2014

Creating Concrete Goals for Paper Thin Personas

Wow… it’s already June. This year has just zipped by. However, since it’s nearly halfway over, I suppose it is time to consider how I am doing on my various blog goals for 2014. When I started this post, I set out to find if I had ever actually posted my goals for 2014 and found, much to my own embarrassment, that I hadn’t. Opps.

However, I do have some goals and they were saved in my Red Binder.

When I looked at the list it was a little upsetting, because I hadn’t succeeded at any of my goals. So, I decided that I would try to make my goals more concrete with specific things I would try to achieve.

The Goals for 2014

Original Goal: More male paper dolls.

I look at Boots wonderful men and I feel such guilt over my lack of male paper dolls. I gotta get better at drawing dudes, so that has been one of my big goals which I have to admit I haven’t succeeded on very well this year. I’ve barely attempted it. You can see my male attempts for the past few years.

The Concrete Goal: In the next six months, I will create at least ten male paper dolls.

Original Goal: Create monthly featured artist pages.

I’ve missed two months. However, I am climbing back on the wagon. I have emailed two paper doll artists to see if they would be willing to be featured on my blog. It’s a slow process, but I am doing my best. :)

The Concrete Goal: I actually think I have a pretty concrete goal here… I’d like to have at least six of these a year, maybe more if I can do it.

Original Goal: Create a paper doll tutorial.

Wow, this has been hard. I’ve got the first part written, but I need to illustrate it. I thought this would be easy and I was SO WRONG.

The Concrete Goal: Have the first part of the tutorial finished by the end of July.

Original Goal: Encourage more paper doll artists online.

So, one of the things I have been trying to be better about is going to other people’s paper doll blogs and posting comments on them. When I started PTP, before the big crash of 2009, I went nearly a year without any comments. I still remember my first comment and it was from Liana and I was proud that Liana (whose blog had inspired mine) had seen my work and she had said something nice about it. It made my day. I remember that feeling and I want to support other paper doll artists who are beginning their blogging journey.

The Concrete Goal: Visit other blogs weekly and, if there is new content, comment on it.

Original Goal: Provide more “behind the scenes” looks at my process and work.

I am so not doing well at this one either. I am trying and I like writing those posts, but they always seem to take more time than they should.

The Concrete Goal: Post one “behind the scenes” blog a month.

Original Goal: Create more historical paper dolls from periods prior to 1700.

Okay, so it took Gwendolyn’s 10th century anglo-saxon paper doll to kick me in the butt, but I loved working on that paper doll. I learned so much about the period and I had so much fun doing it. I want to do more of historical dolls. Right now, I am researching the 1300s and German costumes from the 1500s. I really want to do something Tudor, but the complexity of the fabric patterns make me whimper in fear.

The Concrete Goal: Create three paper dolls from before 1700 this year.

Original Goal: Build stronger ties to others in the paper doll community.

Honestly, I wrote this down, but I’ll be darned if I know how to do it. I have to think about this and I did and so I came up with some specific things.

The Concrete Goals: 1. Do some more collaborative paper dolls with other artists. 2. Send some art into the OPDAG magazine. 3. Contact someone to be a featured artist whose work I admire, but who I can’t imagine would say yes to being on my tiny little blog.

So, these are my goals. Now, that I have them written down publicly, I guess I better actually achieve them.

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