G'Day from DownUnder January 2001
G'Day from Down Under!
by Jenny Dowde

G’day everyone and Happy New Year! My goodness, didn’t the year 2000 zoom by at a furious pace? I can’t believe it is now 2001. That sounds so futuristic to me! I remember seeing a movie called 2001: A Space Odyssey many years ago and thinking how far away it was, and here we are actually living it!

This month's Artist Profile is of Shirley Dougan, doll-maker extraordinaire, with a very interesting story to tell. So without further ado, sit back and meet Shirley!

I LIVE IN MT. EVELYN, a small town in the non-touristy part of the Dandenong Ranges in the state of Victoria, Australia.

I was born in England but came to Australia in 1966 on the coat-tails of my parents and five brothers and one sister. Mum and Dad were “ten-quid tourists” – sixties immigrants.

Whenever she is asked why we came to Australia, my mother replies that it was to help boost the population! Actually they felt that there was more opportunity here for them and their kids. Probably true too, then!

My first love was reading – I read all the Enid Blyton books and heaps of legends and folk tales from different countries. Don’t remember much about them, but they must have sunk in looking at the sorts of dolls I make.

I also liked to create things and from an early age spent many hours in my room trying out all sorts of crafts - from patchwork, applique and embroidery to paper maché, flower making, and dough craft. I have always made things. I used to come home from school and hide in my bedroom making things – anything out of anything.

After finishing high school in 1974, I went on to college and studied "arts and crafts" with the view to getting a teaching degree. This course lasted for four years and was a great mixture of practical subjects with a few compulsory theoretical and teacher-training type subjects thrown in for good measure.

One of the subjects was "Life-Drawing" and I excelled at this. I have a natural ability to be able to copy something that is in front of me, and so found life-drawing very easy and stimulating. I am a sucker for correct anatomy and try to create my dolls so that they are anatomically correct as far as the medium allows. This is why I find it difficult to create "primitive" or "country" style dolls.

In my final year, one of the subjects was “Philosophy of Art” – this is the stuff where they ask if a chair is a chair and “is bad art bad or is it just not art?” I failed to see the significance of this query and the teacher failed me!

So what do you do when you are not qualified to teach (and have to repeat a whole year of Philosophy of Art) and you cannot get unemployment benefits because you are still at school?

Hey! The answer was obvious – make goblins!

Actually it wasn’t as obvious as that, and I got a job in a pink fluffy slipper factory. I kid you not.

I also started mucking about at home with clay and staying up into the wee small hours, and yes, I finally got the degree to teach.

In 1979 I came into possession of the book "Faeries" by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, which started me on the goblin road.

I modelled a head from one of Brian's illustrations of a goblin and made a mould (I had learned how to make moulds whilst at college). Using stoneware-clay slip, I made the head and then modelled the hands and feet from clay. The goblin has a stocking body, wrapped wire arms and legs and leather clothes.

I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but it worked out very well. (Actually, I thought that I had invented the wrapping technique! ).

I went on to make more fantasy figures – goblins, elves, picksies (spelling intentional) and faeries – the familiar characters from my childhood readings -- and character dolls.

I first started out to make these for myself but friends urged me to sell my dolls, and in 1979 I went to St. Andrews market where I made the sum of $67.00 – I thought this was wonderful! But better than the money were the comments from people at the market who encouraged me to continue in this vein of creativity.

I started selling to several craft shops throughout the state and having stalls at other community markets. This led to contacts from shops in other states as well as a growing “fan” club.

In the 1980s, I took part in several group art exhibitions as well as three successful solo exhibitions at galleries. It was at my solo exhibition in 1986 that I met my number one fan-to-date: the owner of 80 of my “dolls.” (Goodness! I only own six of them!)

Apart from private collections throughout the world, I also have a goblin in ”The Museum of Childhood” in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1983, I met Brian Froud at his home in Devon, England, and he encouraged me to try the new polymer clays. When I returned home, I experimented with Fimo, a German product, and then Polyclay, an Australian product, which I used for many years - initially mixing the flesh colour myself and then getting the manufacturers to mix it for me. I have since settled on using Modelene, an Australian product which is available in about four flesh tones and is quite good to work with.

I mostly work in polymer clay now, but dabble occasionally in paperclay, resin and cloth. I am known for making goblins, faeries, elves and picksies, but I also like a challenge and will attempt just about anything that interests me.

I have also made a cloth dragon with polymer clay claws, talons, etc., a dog from fur and polyclay, cloth clowns, cloth dolls, resin gollies, doll-house dolls, pipe-cleaner dolls and probably heaps more that I cannot recall at this time. If I purchase a pattern, I cannot help but change it.

I get ideas from all sorts of things. Quite often I do not know how I am going to dress a goblin and I will drape fabric around its body and an idea will form. Other times it's a battle and dressing ideas take ages to come.

Sometimes there is a particular character from a book that I would like to make. Other times, I make a head that reminds me of someone, so I may put a bit of their personality into the dressing.

Often when I'm stuck, I'll go and look at art books or kids fantasy books or costume books.

I love costume books and movies like "The Three Musketeers" (any version), as the costumes are wonderful. I have an idea to make some dolls to depict the characters from "Pride and Prejudice".

I would love to make all the characters from the "Narnia" series by C. S. Lewis (my favourite books of all time), and actually did make a Mr. Tumnus the Faun. He is about 2 1/2 feet tall, but I had some problems with stress, so I may redo him a lot smaller and make the other characters too.

Heaps of ideas, so little time!!!

I sell at two shows per year (March and Sept) and privately from home. I used to sell to heaps of shops, markets and fairs, but cannot keep up with it at this time, as I am very busy with teaching doll-making.

I’m enjoying the challenges that teaching brings. The students are great fun and are always pleased and surprised by their efforts. A few of my students have won ribbons and medals in the novice sections of doll shows and both they and I are pleased as punch.

I am sometimes asked how I choose the doll or technique for a class. For beginners, we do stuffed limbs, which end in gloves and shoes — not bare hands and feet, as these are difficult. So I have to come up with characters which have gloves and shoes.

Another advantage here is that because they are "character dolls," you can get away with them turning out "silly", "ugly", "evil", or "happy," because any of these characteristics are suitable for the kind of doll you are making.

The "Elfin Spryte" is more advanced. It has a fixed shoulder-plate, bare hands and bare feet. The limbs are wrapped, which adds another technique to that class.

I have also tried to come up with something that will be a "Fabricoholics" delight. The Genie, Puss-in-Boots and the Frog are all wonderful for those people who love costuming.

The classes on offer next year include:

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