Sunday, July 15, 2012

Can't See Your Doll Faces? Try A Magnifying Lamp!

To make a quality small doll you need to sculpt and paint it under a magnifying lamp. You may find that it is confusing to shop for a magnifying lamp, because magnifying lamps come in various lens dimensions, lens shapes (round or square), bulb types, diopters, and clamp –on, and floor and desk stands. So which to choose?

The most important thing to consider (aside from where you want to put the lamp and how much you want to spend) is to get a lens that will enlarge as much as possible at the correct focal distance for how you work.

The diopter of the magnifying lens refers to the power of the lens, i.e. how much it will enlarge. Focal length refers to the distance at which a lens will make an image appear to be in focus. So why do you need to know this? If you want to work on a doll head under a magnifier lamp, you do not want the sculpting tool or paint brush to hit the lamp. You must have enough space to work under the lens. To calculate the power of a lens needed to focus at a particular distance, first convert the distance you need work into centimeters, and then divide 100 cm by that number. The result is the dioptric power. Another way to determine that is to consult a chart. One is found here:

Clear as mud? Try taking a doll head and sculpting tool and placing it under various lens power lamps set up for display at an art store  : )

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Wire To Use?

What wire to use for an armature for small dolls made from polymer clay? We have found that it depends on the pose.  Here is what we wish someone had told us when we started making dolls.

·         For fixed pose dolls a single strand of wire is sufficient but you use a larger gauge (diameter) wire and it is bound together with small gauge wire. See posts on making armatures for more information.
·         For poseable dollhouse dolls, the best armature is stranded steel wire, because multiple wires twisted together have more strength before it breaks from repeated bending or becoming loose from the clay from rotating the wire as the doll is posed. We have found that 6 strands of 26 gauge wire twisted together is sufficient for a dollhouse scale doll.
·         For both fixed pose and poseable dolls the wire can be augmented with tiny brass tubes with the limb wires threaded through. The tube reinforces the armature for added strength, to prevent stress cracks in the clay and to attach the doll to a base.

Some metals are too soft or too stiff; you need one that is stiff enough for the doll’s legs to stand without flexing but soft enough to bend at the joints.  Galvanized steel and aluminum are the 'go to' wire types. Each metal wire has its own properties. Some doll makers use Fun Wire; it is plastic coated and is compatible with polymer clay.  Others choose copper or brass wire, but they are very soft.

All metals oxidize. It is a good idea to wrap any wire armature with masking tape, floral tape or aluminum tape prior to applying polymer clay because it keeps the oxidation from showing through the clay. It also keeps your hands clean because metal leaves a residue when you touch it and then transfers to your clay leaving dark marks. Some doll makers coat the wire with a white glue or corrosion resistant liquid (like Rustolum paint).

Cost  and availability are also a factor; both aluminum and galvanized steel are affordable from a home improvement type store (aluminum wire is sometimes sold as electric fence wire). Aluminum wire is also sold as armature wire from art suppliers. Hobby supply stores carry many types of wire. Tiny brass rods and tubes are available from hobby stores. 

Here is another doll makers opinion about wire:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More About Metal Armatures

Most polymer clay dolls have a metal armature embedded inside. Armatures can be made from a variety of metals; common types for small dolls are aluminum and galvanized steel wire, aluminum tape, copper tubes, and aluminum foil.

Aluminum tape is used to secure wires together.  All aluminum tapes are rated for maximum temperature. Some take higher temperatures than others. If baked at a higher temperature than rated, the tape will bake without damage to the aluminum surface but the glue becomes soft and melts. A tape rated at a temperature lower than that used to cure polymer clay (up to 280 degrees F) does not seem to react badly to that firing temperature because covering the tape with aluminum foil and masking tape may shield the tape from the higher temperatures.

Copper Tubing is used to increase strength and/or to function as a stand or connection to a base. Wire is threaded inside the tube and is secured by tape or crimping.

 Aluminum Foil is used to pad the armature. It bulks out the doll body to reduce the thickness of polymer clay covering the surface. You need to compress the foil lightly so air pockets have room to expand inside the body during baking (air expands when heated and could crack the clay). Some doll makers do not recommend using aluminum foil for small dolls.

 Masking Tape or Floral Tape is used to cover all metal surfaces of the armature (wire, tape, tubing, and foil) to keep the polymer clay from picking up oxidation from metal surfaces. Wrapping armatures in masking tape also keeps your hands clean and avoids getting the clay dirty while sculpting. Covering the armature helps hide the metal armature under the polymer clay where it comes close to the surface. For small dolls, masking tape is also used to secure wires together.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Mermaid Tails & Fins

Mermaid tails and fins for small dolls can be made of any material; they are all imaginary so be creative. All use wire armatures to form the shape and add strength and are attached to your doll's main wire armature. The main armature usually goes down to where the feet (human) would have been and a loop is made for attaching the fin. I found these tutorials that show you how to make a tail and fins:

The second is a fin made from thin cellophane, such as Angelina or Fantasy Film. 

The third uses cloth for the tail.

Here is some information on two ways to create scale texture on a polymer clay tail.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Porcelain vs Clay Molds

Have a doll mold that was made for using with porcelain slip and you want to use it with polymer clay? You can press polymer clay in it but the plaster the mold is made from is softer and will show wear faster than the plaster used for making a mold for pressing clay, and once you press clay in a mold made for porcelain the plaster will absorb oil from the polymer clay. The liquid porcelain slip shrinks slightly as it is fired so a polymer clay doll will be a little larger than a porcelain one from the same mold.