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1:6 Solutions: Mulberry Paper Flowers

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1:6 scale bouquet of Mulberry Paper flowers. Vase is a 15ml fluted shot glass, courtesy of OneSixthSense on etsy. Vase filler is 1:1 scale vase filler from craft store.
1:6 scale bouquet of 5/8″ and 1/2″ “creamy dusk” and “light magenta” Mulberry paper roses with oblong 3/4″ leaves attached by hand, arranged with pieces of plastic Queen Anne’s Lace as scale baby’s breath. Vase is a 15ml fluted shot glass, courtesy of OneSixthSense on etsy. Vase filler is 1:1 scale non-toxic polymer water pearls (dry, straight from package) from craft store.

I’ve been where you are. I’ve been stood in the silk flowers aisle of my local Jo-ann Fabric & Crafts, bemoaning the fact that even the tiniest silk gypsophila baby’s breath is still too large to work as 1:6 scale flowers. I have raised my fist to the sky and wept hot, wet tears that despite six full aisles of silk flowers arrange by colour there are so few options for miniature floral arrangements that work at 12″ fashion doll scale.

Well, mourn no more, fellow diorama artists! For I am here to tell you about the wonderful world of mulberry paper flowers, and how you’ll never have a complete meltdown at Michael’s again, cursing your lack of a fully-functioning shrink ray.

(I often curse my lack of a fully-functioning shrink ray. Primarily because while there are myriad affordable options for 1:12 scale and even 1:3 scale dioramas, 1:6 scale means having to think outside the box. And commissioning lots of pieces from people on etsy. All the time. And crying. All the time.)

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There are advantages to mulberry paper flowers and leaves over silk/plastic artificial flowers. For one, due to the texture of the painted paper flowers, they photograph better. The way light reflects and is absorbed by the paper more closely mimics real-life flower petals, and the thin green wire stems can be bent easily, adding a touch of realism to your dioramas. For another, they are very inexpensive. For example, a bundle of 50 paper roses–available in multiple sizes from 10mm (⅜”) to 25mm (1″)–can cost as little as $5.00 USD. A wide variety of blooms can be found–from tea roses, closed rosebuds, gypsophila, daffodils, mums, and gardenias to name a few, allowing you to create bouquets and centrepieces with variety of both colours and types of flowers. Leaves in different shapes and sizes can also be purchased, and wound around the thin wire stems easily, for an even more realistic touch.

You’ll be able to find mulberry paper flower heads easily in the Scrapbooking Embellishments section of your local craft store, but for 3 dimensional open and closed roses and other flowers, you are going to have to resort to online sellers. Bulk orders can be made from craft suppliers such as Wild Orchid Crafts, Schokdiijung on etsy, or ebay sellers like MulberryCraftsUS.

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1:6 scale Tulip Chairs and where to find them

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Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Chair (first seen in 1955 for Knoll) is a classic example of mid-century modern design. With its smooth, sleek lines resembling the petals of a tulip flower, it’s instantly recogniseable and is often grouped with the Jacobsen Egg Chair and Eames Armchair as top examples of industrial design.

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Of course, I knew none of this. Per usual, my introduction to the sleek, futuristic Tulip Chair was Star Trek. Below, check out a shot of Majel Barrett surrounded by a bevy of tulip chairs of different shades of white, grey, and blue as Trek’s very first female First Officer in the 1964 pilot, “The Cage” directed by the legendary Robert Butler.

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When I began playing with the idea of doing a 1:6 scale Trek diorama, I wanted to meld the set design from the original series with the shiny new Star Trek (2009) film. The white and red tulip chair was a must-have miniature, but I was shocked to discover the only miniature available at the time was the Vitra Design Museum replica, which cost over $250. Needless to say, I passed.

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However, the design is a classic, and I soon discovered a much more affordable 1:6 tulip chair available from Lexington Modern. Sold directly through Lexmod’s website, and on Amazon.com, I got several chairs with both black and red cushions for only $15 each during a sale. I’ve made a point over the last year to point fellow diorama artists toward Lexmod, as it’s a much better alternative to Vitra for a variety of reasons, not the least of which the quality of the miniatures for the price. A similar chair (possibly cast from the same moulds) is available wholesale from China for only $7. Check it out at Aliexpress.

So, next time you’re looking for modern minis, don’t despair! There are plenty of affordable mid-century chairs out there, if you’re willing to do a little digging! Sometimes they’re sold as mobile phone holders, novelty gifts, and decorative collectibles rather than doll or action figure furniture. With the same chairs often sold on ebay for $40 and up, I wanted to spread the word far and wide on where diorama artists can find their own tulip chairs without breaking the bank.

Why are you so scary? (Part 3)

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4747427807_fc76f74d23_bDioramas sneaked up on me. By the summer of 2010, I was bookmarking dioramas on Flickr and trying to resist the siren call of 1:8 (Playscale) and 1:6 furniture. Then one fateful night, I kinda sorta accidently made a bed. I didn’t mean to! It just sort of happened. The frame was foamcore, and the pillows were pieces of cushion covered in fabric from a pair of opaque nylon tights. The beadspread was a piece of cushion cover I sewed to size while sitting on my sofa, watching telly.

For funsies, I mocked up a corner of my trunk like a bedroom, just to shoot silly pics of Captain Pike and Number One in bed, to share with some Star Trek friends. I thought it was over. I thought I could go back to my life of customising, and everything would be fine.

It was too late. I had been bit by the bug. In short, I had crossed the last self-defined line. I was now, officially, a scary doll person in my own mind.

Within two weeks, the “it’s not a diorama” diorama project was born. I did tests on my coffee table, and in Photoshop. I began amassing plastic Playscale furniture, discovering what many a diorama artist before me has learnt: Gloria liquor bottles are perfect, hilarious, and a necessity.

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I also learnt my first real lessons in scale.

Did you know there’s a reason film and television sets are ¾ scale? It’s to make the actors look larger and more impressive, due to the way the camera flattens everything out. So having an Excel spreadsheet where you input real-world dimensions and get them automatically converted to 1:6 scale doesn’t mean a heck of a lot until you realise that Fashion Dolls have elongated, stylised bodies, huge heads, and tiny hands and feet. And that the real test of scale for a lot of things is the width of a doll’s palm. Because while 1” should be the equivalent of 6” in a 1:6 scale world, the truth is that ½” trim is what “looks right”. That 1/8 playscale furniture will be too short, if you want the top of a dresser or a kitchen counter to hit a doll at hip-height, but that dollhouse pitcher and set of mugs may look perfect in her hand. And that 12′ x 16′ master bedroom you’re creating? Will appear cavernous once you photograph it.

Oh, and American Girl furniture? Gorgeous and beautiful and completely and totally wrong in every way, no matter what the maths tell you. I learnt that lesson the hard way, and at great expense.

For example, I still have a set of 1:4 and 1:3 furniture that I didn’t realise was way too big until it was bought, paid for, and arrived at my home. I will not lie, gentle reader; those pieces are still sitting in a corner of my dining room, waiting for me to find homes for them. I still have bags of 1:12 scale plants that were dwarfed by my dolls. I have a California King-sized bed that is orientated the wrong way, because I did the maths wrong. I have 3 different pitcher and basins, five different wardrobes and chests of drawers. Bedside tables. Lamps.

By the end of September 2010, when I declared the diorama “finished”, almost every miniature in the diorama had been switched out at least twice. Dioramas, for me, became an exercise in “close, close, so close, almost, RIGHT!”

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As frustrating and crazy as the experience was, I also found wonderful friends, as I posted Work-in-Progress photos on Flickr, and scoured Ebay and Etsy for pieces from June to the end of September.

I commissioned a custom Mission Style 1:6 scale California King size bed from the amazing Smidge, who delivered an amazing work of art. I met Partydolly, whose bright retro dioramas that popped with tropical colours were alluring and fun, and I cyberstalked Ro, whose dioramas featured architectural build-out features I could only dream of. Just getting foamcore from the Target was a lesson in how to walk a half mile home with a giant piece of posterboard against the wind.

In Chicago, the sale of spray paint is prohibited within the city limits (to discourage taggers). I don’t have a driving licence, so I begged a friend to hit up the Michaels craft store in Skokie to get me the obviously much needed Krylon Fusion paint that would magically bond to plastic. She came back with forest green, high gloss black, and a sort of khaki beige.

All of this was a HUGE learning experience in sourcing materials. It wasn’t just about surfing the Structures & Vehicles category on Ebay. It was about walking into the housewares section of Target and looking at a placemat and seeing an area rug. It was about finding a vintage wooden pencil box, and seeing a trunk. It was about spending hours looking at jewellery boxes and spice racks, to find the perfect wardrobe that looked like it could have been in the Pike family for generations, but was manly enough to be in a male 50-something Starfleet captain’s bedroom in his parent’s ranch house in Mojave.

I’d extended my storytelling from prose fan fiction to 3 dimensional miniatures. And once I finished the Pike ranch Bedroom (circa 2258 CE), I looked at everything from hardware stores to Hallmark ornaments as diorama shopping plazas.

Four years, many dolls, and two storage boxes full of Re-ment later, here I am. A very scary doll person with an expensive yet hugely satisfying new hobby. I’ve only created 4 “real” dioramas (i.e. with walls and floors and miniatures) but with each one, I’ve taken on new challenges, learnt via trial and error, had triumphs and failures, and lost what little storage space I had in my basement flat.

And I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat.

Why are you so scary? (Part 2)

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To promote JemCon, our con chair, Alysia Robinette, had purchased a dealer’s table at a local convention called “Anime Central”. At ACEN, I manned the table with another Jem fan and doll collector, Shevona McKenzie, and our co-chair, Melinda Rubbens. She had brought her dolls to display, and I had brought magazines and wore a sparkly pink Jem tee-shirt I’d got made at a local head shop.

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Alysia, Min, and Shevona and I joked all week-end that my Stormer would not be my last doll. I swore up and down that I would become a “scary doll person” with a complete collection, custom dolls, and horror of horrors, dioramas.

Alysia knew me better than I knew myself.

Before long, I started redressing my Stormer in playline Barbie fashions I bought from my local Target. I had shown my sister the custom Riot doll that a collector named Tommy had commissioned, and her immediate response was “I want one.” I told her that Hasbro had never produced a Riot doll, but she was not to be swayed. She demanded that I make her one.

So I began the process of my very first custom doll–a Riot for my kid sister. A kid sister I should point out was 32 years old and a highly-respected history teacher at university.

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I laboured for almost three years over that first doll. I experimented with different heads and bodies, finally settling on a Mattel articulated Ken body and Rebelde head which I rerooted very badly, but passably for a first-timer. It was also my first brush with Fashion Royalty, as I purchased a FR Homme shirt for him, only to be utterly shocked at the price. The seller filled me in on all the backstory of Integrity Toys, and I was completely baffled that someone could or would spend over $100 on a doll that wasn’t vintage.

(I can hear you laughing. I know! I was still a baby “doll person” and didn’t know better.)

The Chicago JemCon was held in September 2007, three years after my article was published. As head of programming, arranged an entire track of programming for the two day con centred on the Hasbro doll line, running parallel with a track focused on the animated series. There was an entire workshop dedicated to telling the different shades of pink shoes apart. I was bewildered, but figured we were all fans, even if the “doll people” seemed so different to me.

The con was a crash course in what I now call “fashion doll fandom”. There were displays of prototype dolls, long tables of customised Hasbro Jem dolls and kit-bashed custom Jem dolls created from other fashion doll lines, rerooted, repainted, and dressed in hand-sewn fashions. Christy was out sole “pro” guest, and had four panels where she discussed the entire process of the development of Jem, from Hasbro’s original ideas to the series’ cancellation following the doll line being retired in 1988.

As part of the 2007 con, we put up a website, and I was the moderator of the forums. When the Jem & Friends board closed, the collectors migrated to the JemCon boards en masse, and I remained active there even after I had to step down from the board and hand over moderating to another convention committee member.

Then, in 2009, Mattel released tie-in dolls to the new Star Trek film. I was a huge fan of the movie, and fell madly in love with the Uhura doll, which featured the Mbili sculpt. I started looking up every doll released with that sculpt, and started buying o In Style dolls, my first doll purchases that had nothing to do with fandom, and everything to do with just the beauty of the dolls themselves.

My first customs centred around Trek. I decided Uhura was lonely without her roommate Gaila, and started putting together a Gaila doll, using a Wicked Witch of the West Barbie as a base doll. Then Barbie Basics were released, and I was hooked. I learnt the names of all the sculpts, thanks to a fandom friend, Jan Fennick who was an authorised Barbie Collector dealer and had authored a book on Barbie collecting. It got to the point where I could name a sculpt without thinking, and Jan thought I was a little frightening.

(She still does.)

I made a slew of Trek characters, all the while looking for the perfect sculpt for Majel Barrett’s character from the original pilot, “The Cage”. Then another Trek fan, who became my best friend who is sitting in my spare room laughing at me right now, found her. The perfect Number One. On ebay, she’d purchased a 2007 Queen of Hearts, and dressed her in a Kirk uniform she’d altered to fit the Model Muse body.

I was sceptical at first, until I bought my own. After boil-washing her hair and putting her in my own altered Kirk uniform, I was hooked. Not only was the sculpt perfect for the character, she was gorgeous. I started collecting dolls with the Tango (aka New Hispanic) sculpt to make over into Number One dolls, but only the Queen of Hearts and the 2004 FAO Schwarz Tango Giftset dolls had the black hair and pale skin I was looking for.

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I bought brushes and paints and began teaching myself to repaint, just so I could paint their eyes blue.

I joined the Barbie Fan Club, and started sharing photos of my custom dolls. I started rebodying my Number One dolls onto articulated bodies. But I kept insisting I was not becoming one of those “scary doll people”.

Oh how my friends laughed. But I swore that no, no… this was just me finding a hobby I could enjoy using my hands, as opposed to only working digitally since the 1990s! I wouldn’t be a “scary doll person” unless, I actually started making dioramas. As long as I resisted making a diorama, I was still not scary at all. A little obsessive, but not scary.

(to be continued!)

Why are you so scary? (Part 1)

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I wasn’t always a “doll person”. Sure, I had Sindy and Barbie dolls as a child. As a matter of fact, I used to create elaborate settings for them thanks to a 2-shelf cupboard next to my bed in my childhood bedroom. I never had any Barbie doll houses, so that cupboard, and the area beneath my white, girly corner desk, were routinely transformed into Barbie flats thanks to shoeboxes and folded pillow slips for beds, with face flannels for blankets. I would steal the cardboards out of my father’s dry cleaned shirts, and routinely make dresses out of socks, dish rags, anything I could get my hands on.

But by my late teens, I’d set my dolls aside, sold them off at rummage sales, left them with the children I looked after. Left them behind, as I found new outlets for my creative energy. I began writing short stories for media fanzines, attending science fiction conventions, and after I was taught the basics of HTML at university back in 1994, building dozens of fan websites for TV series I loved.

As an adult, between web design gigs and temping, I worked as a freelance journalist–first in fandom, then in print magazines. By the summer of 2004, I was one of the editors of a pop culture website called MediaSharx, published by half of the original team behind a popular news site called Zentertainment. And my publisher wanted articles for a proposed 80s Month.

I have been–and will always be–a huge animation geek, and two of my all-time favourites of the 1980s was Jem, which was the soap opera of my tween and teen years. I immediately proposed an interview with Christy Marx, who had developed the series for television and written the lion’s share of the episodes.

It was interviewing Christy that pretty much changed my life.

The first two series of Jem had just been released by Rhino on dvd, and like a good little journo who does her homework, I bought the dvds and watched all the special features, including interviews and commentaries from Marx, to make sure I wasn’t asking her any questions that she’d answered publically dozens of times. I also read through the archives of the Truly Outrageous mailing list, where Christy was a frequent poster.

I compiled my question list, arranged the interview, and then had a fantastic 45 minute phoner with the amazingly talented Marx. Though the interview was focussed on the Jem animated series, we did talk about the line of Hasbro dolls, and Christy told me that there was a small but dedicated fanbase who still collected the dolls, fashions, playsets and other licensed products.

I was amazed; I’d had no idea that doll collected was such “a thing”.

(Laugh all you want; at the time, I was a complete and total neophyte.)

I joined the Truly Outrageous mailing list and a message board called “Jem & Friends”, to publicise the article. And, because I had taken the dvds with me to my sister’s and rewatched the entire dvd box set, my passion for Jem was reignited.

I bought two MIB Stormer dolls, as she was my favourite character, and gave one to my sister. I kept mine in her “on stage” fashion for years, displayed proudly on my bookcase, and posted to the list and board now and then, even after the interview was posted in September, 2004.

Then I found out one of the Jem & Friends board members was planning a one-day gathering in Minneapolis that she dubbed “JemCon”. That first JemCon was tiny, but it spawned an annual convention. I took my mother and sister to JemCon 2006, which was being held in Orlando near where they lived. At the con, I met some Chicago area fans, and was talked into helping to put together Chicago’s bid for JemCon 2007.

Thus began my long, slow slide into becoming a “doll person”.

(to be continued…)