Saturday, February 1, 2014

How Artists Make Portrait Dolls

Dewees Cochran painting eyebrows on a doll head modeled from a real child.
 Reproducing features, expression, complexion, and even freckles,
the doll’s face presents a remarkable likeness.
      Portrait doll artists capture similar facial features, hair and skin color of an individual who hires them to craft a doll modeled after herself or a loved one. Typically portrait artists are hired to craft wedding dolls, child dolls or dolls of a deceased loved one. Ordinarily portrait dolls are made from porcelain and may cost as much as $800 dollars, or as little as $125 dollars, depending upon the demands of the client.
The young mistress
 poses with her likeness.
      Portrait dolls have been constructed by many fine doll makers over the years. In the 1938  edition of Modern Mechanix an article called “Your Child’s Portrait in a Doll,” describes in detail, the elaborate process used in the making of a portrait doll by a composition doll artist:
      “PORTRAIT DOLLS, modeled after children or adults by Dewees Cochran, New York painter and sculptress, reproduce all the details of features, hair, and complexion found in the original. Supplementing conventional sculptor’s tools with dental instruments for fine work, Miss Cochran models the amazingly lifelike figures from real life, or from written descriptions and photographs, one full face and one profile. The doll head is first shaped in a clay-like material. From this a plaster mold is made in which the head is cast in a virtually unbreakable substance that simulates actual skin texture.
      Hair closely matching the original is used to fashion a realistic wig, and the face is tinted to the correct flesh tones. Bodies are fashioned from another unbreakable composition material, while the hands are made of hard rubber. A skilled seamstress turns out diminutive clothes that are perfect miniature reproductions of the costumes worn by the actual model. The portrait dolls, which require about five weeks to complete, are made in proportion to the size of the child or adult, running from fourteen to twenty-four inches in height. When a photograph of the child is compared with a similarly lighted photograph of the portrait doll, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two.”
      Just above, the young subject and her finished doll are pose for the camera man. Note how the artist has captured the personality of the child in a tiny figure less than two feet tall!
      Below we see the artist dressing the doll. Every detail of the sitter’s costume is copied in the diminutive garments, which are specially made for Miss Cochran by a skilled seamstress.
The artist fits the custom made clothing to the doll before shipping.
 Working from photographs, the artist first models the head in clay. In this process she uses several dental tools, in addition to scalpels and regular sculptor’s aids. This old article included also a diagram depicting the process of making a mold from the sculpted clay head.
  1. When the clay model is completed, it is used in making a plaster-of-Paris mold as seen in the illustration below.
  2. The mold is being filled with the special composition material from which the head is to be cast. This produces a virtually unbreakable head.
  3. Fresh from the mold, the head is sandpapered to a skin-like texture and painted to match the natural complexion of the subject before hair is added.
The process for making a mold from a sculpted, clay head.
Here we see the artist is working from photographs.
The body is formed of unbreakable composition material and the hands of hard
rubber. This artist makes dolls from fifteen to twenty-four inches high,
depending on the size of the child. The finished doll is seen below.
The doll is finally finished!
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The Mystery Portrait Dolls of Madame Alexander

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