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The Art of Dollmaking: Things By Bourke

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Recently we bought a beautiful, customised doll for our daughter from Things By Bourke. Not only is Bourke, the man behind this venture, a clever graphic designer in his own right (and one half of the dynamic duo, Kinski & Bourke who built this site) but his handcrafted creations are taking the design community by storm. It’s just another example of this renaissance of craftsmanship we are enjoying here in Australia. Just like letterpress, his work bears the mark of craft – it’s handmade not mass made – so each doll is unique and the product of time and care.

How did you begin making sculptures?
I serendipitously found myself in an Eckersley’s shop one day. Being surrounded by crafty things got me in the creative spirit, and I’d wanted to cultivate an artistic hobby for some time that was not my job. So I bought some clay!

Do you model your sculptures on real people or your imagination? 
Both. At first it was just my imagination, but then my nephew’s first birthday was coming up and I thought a doll fashioned in his likeness would make an excellent and special gift! Then people began asking me if they could commission me to make a doll version of their friend/baby etc. But I don’t want to limit myself to just traditional dolls. At the moment I’m working on a doll that has ‘died’ named Gina – she will be a complete skeleton and have her own casket – I am very much looking forward to experimenting with paints and textures to create the look and feel of decay. I have a lot of ideas brewing and it would be great to have an exhibition some time. I want to start sculpting birds and other animals, too.

How long does it take you to make one?
It depends. I’m a graphic designer by day, so the amount of time I can spend sculpting depends on my current workload. It takes a while for the clay to completely dry so a project can be on hold for several days or sometimes even weeks before I can do any more work on it. Once the sculpture is dry, the most arduous process of sanding begins – I like the dolls to have very smooth surfaces, so firstly I start with a course sandpaper and then move on to a fine grit sandpaper to get the smoothest result. My Dremel power tool often comes in handy for sanding and polishing. Painting doesn’t take too long. But making an outfit is pretty time consuming – lots of sewing and measuring. I had no experience with ‘couturiering’ so it’s been a learning curve. Short answer: about a month.

What is the history or tradition of doll making? 
In ancient times dolls were often used in magic rituals. Sometimes the doll would be given to children to play with afterwards, but oftentimes a doll would be considered too laden with supernatural powers to be given to a child. There have been a lot of South American child mummies unearthed, perfectly preserved, clutching their crudely made dolls – cute but also sad. Come to think of it, I’d like to make some ritualistic, tribal-type dolls. It’s this aspect of the history and traditions of doll making that interests me, rather than the idea of an old man or lady tinkering in her workshop while drinking Earl Grey.

What are some reasons to have a doll made by you?
It makes the perfect gift. My sculptures are completely handmade and one-of-a-kind, no copies and no moulds. You will have a unique treasure that nobody else owns. Use it as a paperweight or a conversation starter.

How can one order a customised doll?
Head on down to my website Things By Bourke and let me know what you have in mind. If your doll is going to be based on somebody living or dead, I will probably request some photos I can use as reference.

Posted by watermarx on the 7th of August 2013