Revisiting an Old Friend

Do you, dear reader, find yourself revisiting the same characters over the years?  Finishing a painting last week, I realised that its subject was someone whose spirit has been in the background since I was in primary school.

Growing up in a small village amidst the cornfields of Suffolk left an awful lot of time for reading, and one of my favourites was Boadicea (as she was then known), whose rebellion against the Roman invaders took place in the self-same county albeit almost two millenia earlier.  I remember having an annual with a graphic version of the story very like this:


There were very few strong female role-models in books of the 1970s - Boadicea didn't even merit her own Ladybird title, although she did have the best illustration in their "Julius Caesar and Roman Britain"

Of course revisionist history has renamed her "Boudicca" and returned her to her tribal roots -no more looking like a Disney princess complete with tiara and corseted waistline, now she sports leather, plaid and war-paint.  This was the version that I looked to for a mood board last year

In case you are not aware of the story, in brief:  her husband ruled the Icenii as an ally of Rome but upon his death left half the kingdom to his daughters.  The occupiers ignored his wishes, annexed the territory, flogged Boudicca and raped the girls; she responded by leading her own people along with neighbouring tribes in revolt.  Her army of 100,000 Britons destroyed three Roman cities leaving a combined body count of 70,000-80,000, and causing Emperor Nero to contemplate withdrawl from Britain.  Eventually defeated by the Legions, Boudicca died before she could be taken back to Rome to be paraded as most defeated leaders were.

Unsurprisingly, she featured in my list of iconic women to celebrate in 2016's Women's History Month.  It was impossible to resist Cassius Dio's description of "a great mass of the tawniest hair (falling) to her hips"

And now, in my first attempt at painting in watercolour on canvas outside class (and may I thoroughly recommend Kabostudio's course), I turned to Boudicca once again.  I think it may be the lure of all that autumnal-toned hair echoing the view of trees outside my workroom window; whatever the reason, here she is, complete with the warpaint....


11.26.2016 | Add new comment

A Tableful of Projects

Many,many projects are battling for space on my worktable right now - and it was not the tidiest spot in the world anyway!  Invariably a jumble of paintbrushes, dolls-in-progress, notes on backs of envelopes, journals and the lovely Miss Fifi making sure that I don't slouch.

Doll commissions have included a rather fierce voodoo chap -

Ogun Feray now resides in Paris.  Meanwhile this handsome Kurt Cobain (I was rather smitten with him, to be honest) 

has made his way to Los Angeles to join Gerard Way. (Thank you, Chloe, for the picture)

A stranger order has been for a painting to be featured in a short film being shot in the Forest of Dean.  Looking like a traditional hunt scene at first glance, on closer inspection the huntsmen are to be foxes, their mounts unicorns & the prey a chap in a gimp suit.  Work in progress:

And on the painting front, I signed up for a year-long online course with KaboStudio exploring painting on canvas because I love Karine's faces - painterly rather than cutely whimsical.  I am utterly in love with the process of using watercolours in a handmade canvas journal! This is now my happy place

Still playing with traditional watercolours, I made a painting of the Girl in the Moon

She is currently modelling for a doll (complete with moon, of course) and this feels like a direction in which I should head - magic realism, perhaps? Artwork and dolls intertwined.  Hence a sale over at the Emporium, clearing the way for new work in the new year.  Advance access goes to newsletter subscribers - the magic word will appear on the social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, maybe Pinterest) later in the week.

Now, my friend, I am going to brew more coffee, sharpen a pencil and escape once more into the Bizarrium.  Until next time.....




11.13.2016 | 1 Comment

Looking to Frida for Inspiration

 Cinco de Mayo (not Mexican Independence Day, rather a commemoration of a famous military victory for Mexico over the French) seemed a good excuse to do a special edition doll in homage to Frida Kahlo.

As usual with my special editions, I began with making a moodboard - any excuse to break out the collage box!

For anyone who doesn't know her, a brief biography:  

One of Mexico's most famous artists and a popular feminist icon, Frida is celebrated for her passionate indomitability in the face of life's trials. She's best known for her daring self-portraits depicting the suffering she experienced in her personal life. As a child she suffered from polio and at the age of 18 she broke her right leg, spine and pelvis in a horrific bus accident, leading to a lifetime of chronic pain. Partially immobile after the accident, Kahlo began painting in the late 1920s.

She married famed muralist Diego Rivera in 1929 and together they traveled to the United States, staying in Detroit and New York City in the early 1930s. Kahlo had exhibitions of her paintings in New York City and Paris in the 1930s and associated with some of the most famous painters in the world. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were both known for their extramarital affairs (amongst her conquests was Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky) and in 1940 they divorced for a short time before remarrying. During the 1940s, Frida Kahlo gained international recognition for her colorful and sometimes gruesome paintings (as well as for her bold public persona), but she continued to have health problems. She died in 1954, just after her 47th birthday.               Definitely a suitable subject for the Bizarrium!  In time there will be three versions of Frida - one is yet in pieces amongst the paint pots, awaiting assembly.  She is undoubtedly the most extreme version, based as she is upon the self-portrait entitled "The Broken Column".

To ease into the subject, then - we begin with a fairly traditional version of Frida in an outfit of silk habotai and vintage braid, based upon her collection of traditional Mexican clothing:

I could not resist that back-bracing leather corset, though' as this little lady discovered.



Yes, I did just happen to have a chunk of pale gold goat skin amongst my stash.  I love it when that happens - it just reinforces my belief (read "excuse") that nothing should be thrown away.  In this case, a box of leather given to me about a decade ago by a friend whose husband had recently given up restoring vintage motorbikes and therefore no longer needed the supplies to recover the saddles.  Although who would have had a bike seat in gold goat skin, I wonder?

I hope you agree that it found a better use, adorning this little lady.







05.06.2016 | Add new comment | in: art doll, icon

Bookish Heroines (Part the Second)


Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Tragic foil to the Prince of Denmark, naive victim of his jealousy, Shakespeare created Ophelia as an angelic counter-point to Queen Gertrude, the pair embodying the duality of women.  Forever a symbol of pure goodness, trust and childlike innocence, she is saved from Disney-princess vapidness by her descent into insanity.  In her madness she does become the lascivious creature of Hamlet's imagination, singing bawd songs and finally driven to a watery grave.

With water-logged clothes clinging to her body, wild flowers and even wilder hair billowing in the current, the dead Ophelia  is a powerful and perverse romantic image.

Miss Celeste Temple

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters - GW Dahlquist

Just a little less well-known than Ophelia, Miss Temple is one of three protagonists in a trilogy of steampunk tomes by G.W.Dahlquist.  She avoids cliché by being somewhat naive yet forever practical, holding her own alongside a military surgeon and underworld assassin.  And best of all, she always, always wears her fabulous green boots.

These books rank alongside Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie as my secret literary vices!

Daisy Buchanan

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

(Picture by Samantha Hahn)

The quotation in the picture says it all, don't you think?

Sarah Woodruff

The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles

Playing upon that Victorian standard, the darkly mysterious woman who symbolises all that is forbidden, Fowles created an updated Gothic heroine par excellence.  And then Meryl Streep stood at the end of the Cobb in Lyme Regis wearing that cape....  An irresistible combination when one is looking for literary icons, don't you think?

Jane Marple

Agatha Christie

(Photo of Margaret Rutherford)

Enough of beauty, glamour and dark tragedy!  Let's end the list with brains and eccentricity.  


02.27.2016 | 1 Comment

Half of my Heroines

As previously mentioned, our thoughts here in the Bizarrium are turning to cosy nights before the fire, curtains drawn against the fog and a good book upon the knee (not to mention a fine glass of red wine in hand....shh!)  And as is often the case, reading materials influence my thought of dolls.

Scanning the spines upon the bookshelves, trying to decide whether to re-read an old beloved title or begin a new find has me thinking about favourite characters contained within.  So many fabulous females who could inspire me!  With that in mind, I have created a list of ten likely subjects for the doll treatment, the first five of whom I shall introduce this week:

Hester Prynne

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Let us begin with a classic, with a strong woman described as having a "figure of perfect elegance...dark and abundant hair so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam"  Indeed, "her beauty shone out and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped".

I love the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, so often in the shadow of Edgar Allen Poe, but so much more creepy for their lack of histrionics.


Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

Well there simply had to be one of Angela Carter's creations in my list. I have opted for Fevvers, an aerialiste from the East End of Victorian London who has the distinct advantage of growing wings.  Earthy, bawdy and altogether glorious, Fevvers' character can be summed up by her early confession to a press reporter:  

"I dye, sir!...Don't think I bore such gaudy colours from puberty!  I commenced to dye my feathers at the start of my public career on the trapeze, in order to simulate more perfectly the tropic bird.  In my white girlhood and earliest years, I kept my natural colour.  Which is a kind of blonde, only a little darker than the hair on my head, more the colour of that on my private ahem parts."

Chiyo Sakamoto

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

(Picture by Vlad Gheneli)

Although the novel is set in the 1940s, Chiyo's ensemble is absolutely traditional: "She wore the magnificent makeup of a geisha.  Her lips were flowering red on a stark white face, with her cheeks tinted a soft pink.  Her hair was ornamented with silk flowers and sprigs of un-husked rice.  She wore a formal kimono of black, with the crest of the Nitta okiya...Beginning at the hem of my gown, an embroidered dragon circled up the bottom of the robe to the middle of my thigh.  His mane was woven in threads lacquered with a beautiful reddish tint.  His claws & teeth were silver, his eyes gold - real gold."

Oh what a doll she will be!

Tess Durbeyfield

Tess of the d'Urbevilles - Thomas Hardy

Reading "Tess" now, it is difficult to realise how radical was Hardy's view that a woman so obviously "fallen" could still be pure at heart.  Quite the early feminist was our Thomas!

She is described as the paragon of English womanhood, a perfect picture-book milkmaid with "a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was" not to mention a pout provoking trhe comment that "Surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve's!"

Rebecca de Winter

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

(Photo by Kneehigh Theatre)

Although we never meet the title character in person, her shadow falls dark upon the narrator of my favourite escapist read. Impossibly glamorous and not a little dangerous she is the epitome of the 30s femme fatale, prompting the second wife to "wish (she) was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls" whilst a more pragmatic fisherman recalls that "she gave you the feeling of a snake".

My question to you, dear reader, is who would make up your list of heroines?


11.02.2015 | 2 Comments

As Autumn Takes Hold....

Autumn is upon us here in the South West: the leaves are turning to russet, gold and even crimson; the lane is littered with conkers and crab apples; the farmers are bringing their sheep down from the hills.  Even though it is still quite unseasonably warm, the nights are drawing in  and thoughts turn to curling up with a good gothic thriller.

Blanche has been especially inspired by the season.  Over the summer you may have met her looking like this:


When the sun shines, Blanche dreams that she is in Louisiana, a southern belle drifting around her plantation home.  So as to look the part, she turned Miss Delilah's prized lace tablecloth into a rather lovely handkerchief-hemmed dress; this particular exercise in upcycling was not met with delight by Miss Delilah herself, and Blanche quite ruined her manicure during the full month of potato-peeling duties meted out as punishment.

Her finger nails recovered and peace restored at the tea table, Blanche has found the changing season is affecting her mood quite dramatically.  Scarlett O'Hara has been abandoned in favour of Madeline Usher.

I rather like this new version, and have a feeling several of her fellow Wayward Girls might find themselves following suit, revealing their inner goths.

Can you think of any characters who might inspire them?

10.25.2015 | Add new comment

Selena Cosmia, Contortionist Extraordinaire

. Selena Cosmia, like many denizens of the Itinerant Bizarrium, has led a colourful and sometimes troubled life.  Her parentage unknown, she was found as a tiny baby swaddled and left in a basket at an unmarked crossroad in the foothills of the Peloritani mountains.  Swept up into the warm embrace of Captaine Zachariah's travelling tribe, well fed by Hellige Vartez and entertained by the singing of Bombadil von Rammstein, Selena remembers no life beyond the magical bounds of the circus.

Her potential as a unique performer was put to early use upon the flying trapeze, our lovely spider lady a mere girl as she dazzled audiences with the creation of her own spangled web of a safety net between the soaring ribs of the Big Top.

Of recent years, however, Selena Cosmia has preferred to get a little closer to her admirers.  She likes to observe their amazement as she wraps her several limbs into unnatural positions, holding their gaze with her own pale eyes as she spins oh so slowly from a single silken thread.

And very, very occasionally she will invite one lucky ticket holder into her ebony lace-bedecked trailer for a sip of hibiscus tea.  Strangely, none has ever been seen to leave.

Reworking the Twins

Bing the mother of identical twins, I find the whole topic of twins quite fascinating.  Often, of course, it is used as a cheap "get-out" for thriller plots (spoiler alert: have you seen The Prestige? A fine film ruined by a lazy reveal).  But I do see an odd connection between my boys on a regular basis.

How much more complex must the relationship be between conjoined twins?  It is almost impossible to imagine sharing a body with a completely separate consciousness, having to agree on every single move you make.  And yet several pairs did have successful careers in entertainment, starting with the original Siamese twins Chang & Eng.


Chang & Eng

Off-stage, these brothers were equally remarkable in their co-operation: they married sisters Adelaide & Sarah Yates, Chang & Adelaide going on to have ten children, Eng & Sarah another eleven.  Their mother had refused to have them separated at birth, the brothers themselves refused such intervention before their marriages, and Eng again declined the opportunity to be parted from Cheng after the latter died in his sleep (although it led to Eng's own demise just three hours later)

Equally famous were the Hilton sisters

Daisy & Violet had an unhappy time on the vaudeville circuit, to say the least, being exploited by a decidedly shady manager.  They famously appeared in Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic Freaks, before fading into a sad obscurity.

Hopefully the Bizarrium's Jazz Age twins will have a happier time of it, although they have taken their time in blossoming.  Months ago, a remake of my conjoined twins pattern refused to follow its sisters down the Goth path; for some reason they wanted to bob their hair and dance the Charleston.

Still something was missing, they had not quite found themselves.  And so they sat upon the shelf, waiting for inspiration to strike, for some magic to happen.  Hallelujah, it did!  At long last I feel that they have emerged from their chrysalis and I am proud to present the newly grown-up version of Milly & Molly; they have donned make-up and a flowered headband (racy, but then they are in show biz!) and can now pursue their career with heads held high.

There are more pictures of the lovely ladies alongside their listing in the Emporium, should you like to take a look.



Words of Wisdom

Have you ever stumbled upon something that makes you stop mid-stride, in sudden recognition of a blindingly obvious truth.  That, my friend, happened to me this week as I went about the prosaic business of checking the Bizarrium's Facebook feed.

Sometimes you have to turn away from creative endeavours, even when many hours/weeks/months have been invested if that magical spark has gone.  I had lost my passion for corsets and was merely going through the motions when the urge to make dolls arrived out of the blue.

It was an odd choice, since I was never terribly taken with dolls as a child myself, & having three sons have spent the past few years stepping over Scalextric and Lego rather than Barbie and My Little Pony. Yet the drive to create little characters was there, and any spare time in my workroom was spent experimenting with various methods & styles of construction.  It has taken two years of trial and error to find something that truly resonates with my creative spirit, two years of wondering whether I was right to turn away from more lucrative creations.

So it feels good to read Anais's words.  The corsets were fine, but no longer something I felt marvelous about - should I have stuck with them nonetheless?  My new mantra says NO!  

09.13.2015 | Add new comment

A Stash of Vintage Inspiration

Once in a while I get the urge to spend an afternoon tidying up my workroom: sifting through the boxes of buttons, ribbons & beads hoping to be able to thin them out (rarely does that work out!), refolding fabrics & straightening the shelves.  As well as being rewarded with a rare glimpse of flooring, I get to rediscover forgotten treasures.  Amid the modern books, & 1970s volumes of decidedly questionable taste (but strangely useful toy patterns) were a selection of genuine vintage gems.

Atop this pile, for instance, is an Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese de Dillmont dating from about 1900.  It may be small in size, but it is crammed full of instructions & diagrams for all kinds of needlecraft from tatting to mending, monogrammes to netting.

Then there is "The Thirsty Sword", which I picked up at a charity shop for the grand sum of 50p.  Again dating from around 1900, it is a historical novel telling "A Story of The Norse Invasion of Scotland 1262-1263".  Which makes the cover art a very strange choice - what do a sailor, a Boer War era soldier & a colonial-style settler have to do with Vikings & medieval Scots?  But thank heavens the editor didn't ask that question!  They may be anachronistic, but don't they look divine?  

Almost as special is this Carmen Miranda-inspired puppet gracing the cover of a slim 1947 volume .  (In colour she is terrifying!)

But the piece de resistance has to be this little beauty:

Rediscovered just in time to be part of my autumn/winter holiday designs.  Hurrah!  

And this page of aprons is most timely as I set about a couple of new Alice's.  

So having imposed order upon one set of shelves, I can now return to business as usual with a clear conscience - & some ideas for rather splendidly-decorated critters too.

Does anyone else have a favourite vintage reference book, I wonder?


08.31.2015 | Add new comment
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