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Member Spotlight: Sarah Dressler

Welcome to Art Dolls Only's Member SPOTLIGHT! ADO shares an article focusing on it's members on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th of each month! (February's 30th installment will share on the 28th)

Today's member spotlight is Sarah Dressler. Sarah is from the village of St. Georges, in northern Delaware. She is the mother of two, a 17 year old daughter and a 14 year old son.  She and her husband have been married and lived in Delaware for more than 19 years. Sarah has a BFA from the University of the Arts, in Crafts/Jewelry/Metals.  Over the years she has worked in many mediums and honed many skills … painting, calligraphy, dolls, jewelry, flag making, and many more. Even when she is painting, Sarah prefers to work in miniature. "There is something about the intimacy required to interact and appreciate things on a small scale that appeals to me," she writes. 

What kind of Art Dolls do you create? What is your primary medium?

Fantasy inspired cloth art dolls.  I generally work with cotton for the bodies - for some dolls I am inspired by the patterns and colors of the fabrics, but more frequently I am now working with un-dyed cotton and coloring it using washes of watered down fabric paints and layering colors until I get the colors & patterns I want.

How long have you been a doll maker? How did you get your start in doll making? 

I started making dolls for my daughter when she was 6, approximately 11 years ago.  The first impulse was to replicate a series of faerie dolls she had fallen in love with that had been discontinued.  I never replicated that series, nor did I really ever try to.  But, after a few attempts at making dolls in the same style as the commercial ones she’d loved I decided I could create my own patterns and improve on the simple tube construction I had started with.  In the beginning I hand sewed everything, but over time I made peace with my sewing machine and use it more than I hand sew.  When I was still new to doll making I purchased as many doll making books as I could find.  I read them cover to cover, and used some of the techniques to replace my unsatisfactory self designed parts.  Things like where to put darts and how to construct a head with a pleasing profile and three dimensionality were of primary interest to me.  Once I grasped those concepts I felt free to draft my own patterns and over time I started playing with proportions and moving farther and farther away from the expected ratios of human proportions that I was taught in figure drawing classes when I was in college.

Where did you learn to make dolls?

I am completely self taught.  As a kid I watched my mother sew clothes and I did take sewing in HomeEc classes in junior high school, but that is about it on the sewing end of things.  When in college I did take drawing and figure drawing classes, so once I was ready to start designing my own dolls I was comfortable with human proportions.  That said, I have seldom felt so much creative freedom as when I abandoned the “normal human proportions” and started to play with extreme exaggerations and shapes that share little resemblance to the human form.

Share a little about your first doll.

My daughter found the first two dolls I made for her, so I can share an image of them with you. 

What art do you most identify with?

That’s hard to say.  Over the years and depending on my mood or frame of mind I identify with many styles and movements in art. The pre-Raphaelites and the Art Nouveau styles have been very influential in my thinking, though to look at my dolls it may not be evident they formed a ground from which a lot of my work has grown.  If you are asking about artistic influences on my dolls I suppose the work of artists like Hieronymous Bosch, Arthur Rackham, Tony DiTerlizzi, and Brian Froud inspire me.  I credit looking at Brian Froud’s Goblins with freeing me from the confines of the expected proportions of the human form and the beginning of my real experimentation with shapes and proportions.

Do you have a favorite doll that you have made? 

Like a parent I hesitate to name one doll as a favorite.  I think I am in love with each one as I finish it, and as an artist I am unsatisfied with it at the same time as not quite right, not quite achieving what I had hoped to achieve. This love and frustration keeps me coming back to the table to make more.  


What are your favorite materials to create with?

As I mentioned before, I generally work with cotton for the skins of my dolls. I fill them with polyfil, this particular stuffing allows me to fill them extremely firmly, unless I am going to needle sculpt a face I prefer to stuff them until no more will fit and the bodies feel nearly solid. Recently I acquired a stash of hand dyed silks from Reyen Designs.  Their scraps are often just the right sizes for me to work with to make “clothing” for my dolls.  The silks feel as delicious as they look and I am currently pondering how best to utilize them in my next series of dolls.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I am not always sure, as I already said some of my inspiration comes from illustrations, particularly Brian Froud’s work, both his paintings and his work with Wendy Froud (one of my favorite art doll artists of all time) and Jim Hensen.  Their collaborations on movies like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are very inspirational.  But other fantasy films and shapes found in nature often inspire new projects.  Some days a specific found object like a lichen covered stick or a tiny geode will be the spark that starts a new doll or series of dolls.

What is your favorite supply to work with?

For doll wings I love playing with Angelina films and fibers sometimes incorporating wires, sequins and beads as well.  My dolls hair is usually either Yadeno Mohair or a combination of eyelash yarns, I usually needle felt these fibers to my dolls heads to attach the hair.  

What is your favorite technique?

I don’t really have any one favorite technique.  I am glad I made friends with my sewing machine, but I still do a lot of hand sewing.  Needle felting and making wings with Angelina and Crystalina films and fibers is always amusing parts of the process.  I also really enjoy the process of hand painting/dyeing the dolls, many of them are painted to resemble specific types of trees or plants, which I really enjoy doing.

What does your work area look like? 

Sometimes my studio is neat and tidy (when there are no projects going and if I have put everything away after doing a show) but most of the time there is evidence of multiple projects in many different media everywhere you look.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I was going through a period of self doubt, which was being reinforced by a family member who was telling me to go back to making blank books or other less meaningful items to sell things that “people understand.”  I acknowledged her desire to support me, and to want me to be commercially successful, but it made me feel like what I wanted to make, what inspired me was worth less than more mundane items.  While at a low point I met Wendy Froud and some other very inspirational artists and writers at FaerieCon 2011.  Wendy stopped at my table and told me to listen to my muse, and to keep making dolls.  Wendy saw the love I poured into the dolls and the creativity I was trying to tap into.  She was lovely, she was inspiring and she made me feel like I was good at what I was doing.

What advice would you give new doll artists?

Have faith in yourself, have patience with yourself, and work hard.  Many people scoff at artists as being lazy dilettantes who do nothing but sit around and play with paint (or the materials of choice).  The life of an artist is not an easy life, it’s not an easy path, there are no more Renaissance patrons out there offering financial support.  You have to learn how to be a good business person as well as a creative one.  But most of all make what you like, if you don’t enjoy what you are creating why would you expect someone else to?  If you create with joy your work will show it.

What are you currently working on? 

At the moment I am at the midway point on a series of dolls.  They are sewn; stuffed and assembled they are waiting for me to determine just what colors they will be and what they want to look like in the end.  Will they end up as woodland spirits with their skins painted to look like bark or will they end up with clothing?  What kinds of hair will they have, what kinds of totems will they get to help define their characters?  Do they want to end up as part of a fixed scene or will they be freestanding dolls?

Where can our fans find you online? 

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