Featured Paper Doll Artist: Liana of Liana’s Paper Doll Blog


A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogHappy April! This month I’m presenting Liana of Liana’s Paper Doll Blog as my Featured Artist. You can read all the interviews with all the featured artists over at the Featured Artists Page. I don’t know if I’ve ever told the full story of how Paper Thin Personas began, but it largely features Liana’s Paper Doll Blog which was my inspiration all those years ago, so I am honored she was willing to be interviewed for the site today.

Liana lives in Washington where she is raising her son Milo with her husband Brian (who, interestingly enough, gets a cameo in this interview). She shares through her beautiful paper dolls a love of mermaids, computer games and Japanese language and culture. Her work is inspiring with bright colors and beautiful movement. You can follow her on twitter or facebook or at her delightful blog.

An Interview with Liana of Liana’s Paper Doll Blog

How did you get started drawing paper dolls? What is it about the paper doll medium that you continue to find inspires you?

Paper Dolls By Boots

    I originally started drawing paper dolls as toys for my cousins and younger girls I knew, but once I started drawing them, I mostly continued to draw them for my own enjoyment. I think that paper dolls allow people to add their own story to the artwork, whether that person is just admiring the dress for two seconds before moving on to the next meme on Facebook or is actually printing them out and playing with them. With a drawing of someone in the clothes, unless the person is self-consciously bland as in fashion plates or fashion illustration, the focus changes. We can’t help but concentrate more on the person wearing the clothes, which, to me, limits the story to that single wearer. On the other extreme, if it’s just a drawing of a dress, it feels cold to me, as if it’s a museum piece that will never be used for its intended purpose again. Making a piece into a paper doll gives it potential, even if whoever’s viewing it never actually plays with it. I think this is borne out by all the other people who have tried their hands at paper dolls and paper doll blogs and people who find inspiration for their writing and art in my drawings. (I get many referrals from people’s fanfiction, role playing scenarios or original stories where I find they’ve written “Here’s the dress my character is wearing” and linked to one of my drawings.)

    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogI also feel like I’m getting away with warping reality for fun. I suppose it may cost slightly more in terms of ink to print out a complicated dress than a simple one, but it’s not like the difference between a $26 dress from Target and a couture gown costing thousands of dollars. I’m not limited by the cost or weight of fabric and lace, I don’t have to kill animals for their fur, I don’t have to spend hours and hours poking my finger with a needle as I sew on beads and I can load dresses with diamonds without worrying any of them are bloody. Limited edition Barbies or American Girl dolls with all the accessories take money, but paper dolls just require paper and scissors. I’ve also been known to draw things that can’t exist in reality, both in the sense that I like drawing mermaid tails and similarly improbable creations and that I’ve also produced plenty of what we might less charitably term “mistakes.” Take this gown, which is one of my favorites: Masquerade Gown Its being lovely helps distract you from the fact that the part where the bottom level of ruffles meets the underskirt literally can’t exist as I’ve drawn it.

Since I’m pretty sure you had the first “paper doll blog” on the web, can you reflect on why you started blogging about paper dolls? What continues to inspire you about designing paper doll dresses?

    Back in high school, I put the paperdolls I was drawing online, but it was more of a traditional website, static with a navigation system patterned after Yahoo. (It was 1999, in my defense.) I didn’t do much drawing in college, but I did start blogging. After I graduated, I A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll Bloggot married and floundered, with not enough Japanese language knowledge to really use my degree. I started temping, and I started drawing paperdolls again. Since I’d been blogging, it seemed like a fun idea to work paperdolls into a blog. And it was! I’d draw things that had to do with my life and the things that were going on, and it was delightful to get back into it.

    I think paper doll dresses are still inspiring because they’re so unabashedly fun and they offer so many different directions I can take them in while still creating something that reflects my own style and personality. I keep my list of paper doll ideas on a mind map (an example) and when I look at it, I realize I’ll never be able to draw everything I want to draw, but with some research and sketching, I can make some truly lovely things.

Do you have any “rules” for designing paper dolls? What do you believe are characteristics of a great paper doll or a really poor one?

    There’s a lot to think about when designing the doll’s pose.
    – Hand position
    If the hands are inside the body area, then you have to redraw them every time you do a dress. This would likely be good practice for me, but I’m really not that dedicated. If the hands are just barely touching the body, it’s possible to cut the hand away from the body so that a dress can fit underneath the hand, but it’s kind of finicky. So I like to have the hands away from the body.
    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll Blog– Where the hair goes
    If the hair is long, it has to go behind the shoulders, not spilling over them, otherwise it’d look pretty goofy with a dress on.
    – Underwear
    I wouldn’t like to send my dolls out into the world naked, but from a design standpoint, less underwear is better; for example, if a doll is wearing a one-piece swimsuit, then there’s no room for mermaid drawings that leave the midriff exposed unless you redraw the skin.
    – Mermaid capability
    Since I like to draw mermaid tails, that means my dolls have to be mermaidable. That is, their ankles have to be crossed or close together, so that I can make a mermaid tail that fits properly over them.
    – Fashionable pose
    The natural, attractive poses that Tom Tierney does for his paper dolls are what I aspire to. Thinking about my own doll series, Sylvia and Iris had a little more of that, while Ivy and Grace are comparatively stiff. I’ve improved, I like to think, by studying a book that was recommended on this very site, “Drawing The Head and Figure” by Jack Hamm.
    – Kimono suitability
    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogI love Japanese clothes and I did a couple of kimono for Grace and Ivy, but the exaggeratedly tall style that you can get away with in Western fashion illustration doesn’t work so well with Japanese clothing styles. (Well, Grace and Ivy were less fashionably exaggerated and more a product of my being not so great at drawing humans.) So one reason I finished working on Grace and Ivy and designed a new doll was to have a better platform for various types of Japanese clothes.

    Now, these last two points are rather in opposition to each other, which made it hard to come up with a design for Mia. That is, if you look at Western fashion illustration, you have models posed with their weight all on one leg, their bodies bent in interesting ways and their curves highlighted. However, if you look at, say, ads for kimono for young women, they are often standing ramrod straight, legs right next to each other. This draws attention to the glorious patterns on the kimono itself and de-emphasizes the body. There are certainly different poses, but they all highlight the clean lines and lovely patterns of the kimono. What I ended up doing was looking at a kimono ad from the 1950s that appeared to be influenced by Western poses to an extent. Mia’s arm position is different, but her lower body is modeled after one of the pictures. That’s how I got everything I wanted out of my paper doll pose!

    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogI also don’t draw any sort of fabric that is transparent or semi-transparent over the skin, like lace or sheer sleeves. This is so any of my dolls can wear any of the clothes that fit them, regardless of skin tone. I think it would be fun to have that freedom, and it’s something I’ll be able to do for the iOS apps that my husband and I are designing (slowly).

    I can’t imagine what a really poor paper doll might look like… I suppose there may be some that are less suited to actually cutting out and playing with, if perhaps they have lots of fiddly bits that are hard to cut out and easy to tear, but even if the genesis of the form was as a plaything, it doesn’t mean that paper dolls that wouldn’t necessarily make great toys are somehow lesser creations. They’re all expressions of the artist’s vision, after all.

So I know you love mermaids and I have to ask, what is it about mermaids that you like?

    I love the water, and I think that the fantasy of being a creature of the water with a lovely tail is a powerful one. Mermaids have always been trickster figures with a dangerous edge, but they can also be sympathetic characters. As with any mythological figure, there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and I like to think about how they’d live and think, given that their world is so different from the land. Designing mermaids also gives me a chance to work with a lot of elements that I like: flowing fabrics, cool colors, shiny tails, jewels and pearls, water plants and design elements.

Recently you’ve moved from physical mediums (colored pencils) into digital mediums. What do you enjoy about digital work and how do you find it different from working in colored pencil?

    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogI like the level of detail I can bring to each dress. Some things that are finicky for me to do with colored pencils, like small patterns, are incredibly easy to do with Photoshop. And yet, so far, each outfit I’ve done has taken me much longer than an outfit drawn by hand. When I worked with colored pencils, it took me about 2-3 hours to do most drawings, not including the time needed to sketch it out, and I’m easily spending 5-8 hours on these digital ones. I’m sure that part of the discrepancy is because I’m just starting to learn how to work digitally and I’ve been using colored pencils for over a decade, but it’s also because I have the ability to add that level of detail. If I get something wrong with colored pencil, I fix it the best I can and keep going, but if I get something wrong with digital coloring, I want it to be right, and I have the ability to fix it. So I feel like the average quality of each drawing has gone up, too, but also my frustration with things not being *just right*. I have a lot to relearn, too. I’m still figuring out the best way to shade things with digital coloring.

Can you describe the process you use for drawing paper dolls and dresses? How does one start and how does one end? How do you decide a dress is done?

    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogSince I’ve been working digitally, this is my process:
    1) I draw a small sketch of the dress in black and white in Procreate, an iPad app.
    2) I add some preliminary color to get an idea of what it might look like.
    3) I take the sketch over to my doll and redraw it directly on her. Using different layers helps to get the lines right.
    4) Once I have everything to my liking, I redraw the dress with small black lines.
    5) I export it to Photoshop and redo the lines with Photoshop’s path tool. This makes them precise. I do the different parts of the dress on different paths, making shapes out of the different parts of the dress.
    6) The reason I do them on different paths is because my next step is to fill each part of the dress and add thin black lines over them. The pieces of the dress don’t fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, because that makes things more fussy than they have to be. If I did it that way, it would be hard to get all the lines to match up right without leaving extra space between them. Rather, they’re on different levels, and the levels that are on top cover up parts of the levels beneath them. For example, with the dress I did for this interview, the top layer is the belt, and the bodice and the skirt are on layers underneath it. So they both extend into the belt, but the belt covers them up. This way, the finished dress looks perfect, even though the layers are kind of a mess.
    7) Next is coloring and adding patterns. This is its own novel in and of itself!
    8) At some point, the dress is done. This is, perhaps, a disadvantage of digital coloring: with colored pencils, I can only redo so much, but with digital coloring I can change everything at any time. I’ve found that it’s best to have a really good idea of the dress details before I put it into Photoshop, otherwise I wind up tinkering too much. It’s done when it doesn’t look flat to me anymore, I can’t see anything I’m really dissatisfied with and I want to show it to people.

Do you have any favorite paper doll artists? Who are they and why?

    I know you weren’t fishing for a compliment, but I really do love Paper Thin Personas! When I wasn’t updating the page for several months, I would see your updates and it made me happy to see such fun drawings and regretful that I wasn’t putting any of my own out there. I think the outfit sets have a great style and you put so much thought into them, and I appreciate that they have different body shapes and skin colors. I tend to focus on the clothes and think of the doll as an afterthought, just the shape on which those pretty dresses go, but I’m overweight myself and would like to do dolls with different body sizes at some point.

    A paper doll by Liana's Paper Doll BlogIt goes without saying, but Tom Tierney’s lovely dolls, particularly those based on movie costumes and historical clothing, always inspired me. They’re always so dynamic and full of color, and the sheer amount of books he’s done is impressive.

    I enjoy Paper Dolls by Cory; he mostly does sets that are based on existing characters, such as Disney characters and characters from musicals, and he sometimes adds outfits that he’s designed which are always just as good if not better. He is a man after my own heart: he did a lovely set recently of Thranduil, from The Hobbit, and wrote that it wasn’t complete until he added some sparkles to the background.

    One artist, Crystal Collins-Sterling, did a book of Victorian mouse paper dolls which I had as a kid. It’s a set of four sisters who have several sets of outfits: fairy outfits, masquerade outfits, nurse outfits, wedding outfits. It’s a gorgeous, delicate set with so much detail and variety in the pieces. I was very young, but I still remember how my mom cut them out so carefully for me with a pair of fingernail scissors as a reward for doing something, and I played with them all the time. We probably still have the originals somewhere, and I bought the book again when I was in college just so I could enjoy it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

    When I told my husband I was being interviewed, he was amused, and asked what kinds of questions was I answering? Did I like shiny things that sparkled too, or did I prefer sparkly things that had some shine?

    I would like to state, for the record, that I prefer sparkly things that have some shine.

    Thank you for the thoughtful interview questions! I enjoyed thinking about them and answering them.

Thanks Liana! Be sure to check out her site, Liana’s Paper Doll Blog to see more of Liana’s fantastic work.

You can download the blue princess gown with sheer overlay in black and white by Liana of Liana’s Paper Doll Blog if you prefer.


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