Thursday, January 31, 2013

My 500th doll

On Tuesday I finished my 500th doll. These days I only take photos once a week so I had to wait a bit to have time to dig out the pieces of the photo tent, the lights and set everything up. And as usual the photos are better than my photos ever were in the past but don't showcase the doll as she is in real life. I swear, she is MUCH nicer in person.
I wanted to do something really spectacular for my 500th doll. After all, it's a pretty big milestone. So I searched around and found the reference photo for this doll's top. I didn't make it exactly the same but I based it on a real show top. And to make her fancier still I gave her a bendy neck.
The cross on the back is all done in glittery Swarovski crystals. You wouldn't know it by the photos though. Anything that look sort of like a silver nail head is actually a crystal.
So as not to distract too much from the elaborate pattern on the back of her top I made the front simpler. It's still pretty fancy though. I really wanted this lady to be worthy of being the 500th doll. And now I don't really want to sell her :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Method Behind My Madness a.k.a Why My Dolls Are Priced the Way They Are.

As far as doll pricing goes I make dolls priced in the middle range. Sometimes I wonder if I am setting myself up for failure. If I am pricing my dolls in the middle range do people think that the dolls are of a lesser quality than the higher priced dolls out there? I'm pretty sure that there are people that think that way. I also have a feeling that because I run sales (less often than I used to, but I do have them) people may also be thinking that the dolls are worth even less than what I normally charge. I thought it would be interesting to share why I price the way I do. There really is a method to my madness.
   First let me share some about the creation of the dolls. I have had people make comments that lead me to believe some people think making a doll is easy. Well it's not the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life but it's not the easiest. On average a doll takes between 6 and 12 hours to make and sometimes more. That's 6 and 12 actual hours, not playing online or doing other things hours. It also doesn't include all the time it takes to email back and forth, do any additional research, plan the doll, shop for supplies or anything else. That 6 to 12 hours is really just construction time.

The above doll was pretty fun to make. While she is not the most complex doll ever she was not one of the simplest. All of the silver swirls on her coat were hand painted without any patterns. Just the painting took a couple of hours. She was very interesting to make and the asymmetrical pattern was easier than mirror imaging (which I have a lot of trouble with still) but it still takes time, patience and a very tiny brush.

This doll was made in a very similar style to the black and silver doll. She has ultra suede chaps with no decorative edging, custom made ultra suede boots, a fancy top with asymmetrical swirls and Swarovski crystals. A bendy neck (I think, hard to tell in photos) and a new face. Plus her hat was custom painted to match her chaps. Western dolls like this take longer than the average hunt seat doll.
    But lets talk a bit about hunt seat dolls. The lady below has rebuilt soft-sculpted legs that are shorter than the factory dolls. Her legs fit better in most English saddles which makes the overall picture of doll and tack look better. But when I shorten the legs of a hunt seat doll I also shorten the doll at the waist. That means time with the dremmel and restringing the doll so they stay together. Again, not the hardest thing I have ever done but not the easiest. And it all takes time. The doll underneath the clothes takes longer and longer to make. I think the results are worth it as you will have a doll that looks more human, is more user friendly and just an overall better doll. I think the finished product is worth the prep work. And just to share, the prep work on a rebuilt hunt seat doll such as this also takes several hours. That's just rebuilding the body, not hairing the head, painting the face or redressing.
The dolls that I have been getting recently actually need a lot of work just to function as a show doll. Many of them have floppy legs, loose arms and crooked waists. Not to mention strange wide hips that make the finished doll look lumpy in strange places. I spend a lot of time with the dremmel, armature wire, medical tape, bandages and other assorted things (including dental floss) to improve the doll just enough to make a basic doll. It all takes time. And money, none of the rebuilding materials are free.

Remaking patterns takes time as well. I don't have to do it all the time but sometimes you really need to just rework a pattern to make it work. And to make things that look like they do in the real world. If I had a Shrink ray like Dr.Gru (Despicable Me) I would totally use it. But then I would have to pay more for materials so maybe that wouldn't be a good idea... anyway, shrinking a pattern down to 1:9 scale doesn't just happen. Sometimes you have to create things from other patterns or just out of trial and error. There is actually a lot of trial and error in pattern making. As an example I have used at least 3 different boot patterns since I started making leather (and ultra suede) boots. I have redone my shirt patterns at least as many times. Pants patterns, chaps patterns and anything else I have made probably isn't the same as it used to be. Improving takes time as well.
So far I have talked about a lot of reasons why the dolls cost as much as they do but not why they don't cost more. Well that reasoning is simple. I don't want to make it so only a few people can afford to own and enjoy hobby dolls. I think dolls add a wonderful amount of realism to a model horse set-up and I want to make it easier for more people to have them. And to help the hobby in that way I am willing to make less on my dolls. Because after cost of materials, time taken to research and make the dolls, time taken to improve the way I make dolls and taxes (yes, I pay taxes, LOTS of taxes) I really don't make very much per hour. But I do get to stay home and raise my own kids and I get to make dolls that are priced in the middle range that are high quality, realistic and easy to use. I try to make it possible for people to afford my dolls. Sometimes I take trades I don't necessarily want (not often, but it has happened) I take time payment if needed and I do run sales. If that leads people to believe that my dolls aren't worth the cost...then they are welcome to not buy from me. I enjoy making dolls that people can afford without making them compromise on quality. When I say I am always working to improve the ease of use, realism and so on, I really do mean it. I enjoy making dolls and I enjoy the excited emails from customers telling me of the recent wins they had using my dolls. Whether it is a small local show, NAN or just people playing on their kitchen table, if I can make people happy with my work, it makes me happy too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Photo showing

Wow what an ordeal that was. I wanted to post to the blog and share a bit about photo showing for anyone that hasn't tried it yet but first I had to learn how to post photos (not easy, blogger seems to have changed some things).
   So first for anyone that doesn't know what photo showing is it is similar to but completely different from live showing. In a way it's easier than photo showing because you have as much time as you need to set up the photo just right. But on the same note the judges have lots of time to stare at your photos and pick them apart for faults. With that being said here are some examples of photos I am currently showing. This is my Leggs resin sculpted by Liesl Dalpe and painted by Joan Yount. This was actually a pretty good halter photos and has qualified for the MEPSA champ show (more on MEPSA later). Her name is Caramel Latte and she has been shown as a quarter horse but I may change that in the future.
Next we have Little Man Mango sculpted by Morgen Kilbourn and painted by Meghann Hoscheid Lorei. His name is Pacific Redeemer which is the name of my sons favorite horse from therapeutic riding.


I am not that into halter showing even in photo showing. So I have been working on making a large collection of performance photos both in CM/AR and OF. A lot of things have to come together to allow me to take photos though so I usually do a bunch and then none for awhile. I like to take all my photos outside because, until recently, I couldn't take a decent indoor photo of a horse or doll.So I took all the pictures in my back yard. That made things interesting because I could set up my table with my coffee footing (really, it's coffee), put up the arena walls and as long as I made sure there were no strange weeds in the background I was usually OK. Sometimes I would mess up and get the neighbor's truck cab in the photo (it's in the woods) but for the most part it all worked out. I had to try to take photos on a sunny day but I had to be in the shade of a tree or it would be too bright and the photos would be washed out. It also needed to be still. So when all the stars align and nothing falls over I can end up with photos like this. The horse is Cloud Dancing and I can't for the life of me remember who sculpted or painted him. But he's one of my favorite horses. Sadly he has developed cracks all over his body so he has been abruptly pulled from his live showing carear. And he was doing really well. He can still do nice things in photos shows though. 
Photo showing can get pretty creative. I think this is an "other English" scene I set up and for the description I said the rider was getting instructions before going into the ring. And I got to use Cloud Dancing again.
One of my favorite events in either live or photo shows is showmanship. It is so easy to screw up but not very complex to set up. Plus it's one of the few things I have any real life experience with since I was once given a showmanship lesson with a properly trained horse. It was to help me with some judging that I had coming up but it has helped me a lot in the show rings. I think showmanship is one of my favorite events. And Caramel Latte does pretty well in it.
I don't much collect OF horses anymore but I do have a few that I show in performance. This one's name is Just Because and she got that name because I couldn't think of anything else at the time. But she is proving to be a fairly versatile performance horse and has done well in live and photo showing. 
Have you noticed yet that my background keeps on changing? If you knew my yard it would let you know (somewhat) the season in which I took the photo. The ones I like the best are in early Spring before the giant weeds have started growing back. There is a little hill that goes up and out to the back field and it has a great little path (the trail photo of Cloud Dancing has a good shot of it). Ocassionally people have commented that my backgrounds are out of scale. But I think sometimes they just look more tropical. After all, those are Massachusetts palms (I don't know what they are really called but they get very big, are weeds and are shaped like palms sort of).
   Anyway, this last horse is Enchanted Eve. She is a Victrix resin sculpted by Carol Williams and painted by Angelica Nelson. 
I used to search out mail-in photo shows (I don't really like online shows) to send pics to but I started losing photos that way. So now I do all my photo showing with MEPSA they are a really great group that has been around for years and years and years. The year end championship show is a lot of fun and well worth the wait. I am really glad that MEPSA keeps on going as it gives me a place to keep on showing my horses even when there are no live shows to go to. Getting the results for the qualifiers is always fun and the champ just exciting. I recommend if you have never done any showing with MEPSA to check out the group. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! 2012 Doll Review

Happy New Year everyone!

I meant to post my year in review yesterday, or at the very least in 2012, but things got away from me. We have some fairly major construction projects going on around here and I have spent a lot of time moving things around and bringing pieces of my house outside. Pretty crazy. Anyway, a few weeks ago I started going through my order book and making a list of the types of dolls I made last year. Not surprisingly I have made more western pleasure ladies than any other type of doll. But they are popular and interesting (and sparkly!). So here is a list of the types of dolls I made this past year:

43 western pleasure ladies
12 Hunt seat ladies
7 casual western ladies
7 casual hunt seat ladies
5 saddleseat dolls (and 3 of those were in the past couple of months!)
2 showmanship dolls
11 unusual specialty dolls
3 English side saddle dolls
1 Western side saddle doll
14 cowboys
6 youth hunt seat dolls
1 western youth doll
3 cross country dolls
1 upper level dressage doll

For a grand total of 116 dolls if I didn't miss anyone. Wow! Really, I might have missed someone because once I start making count lists I usually mess it up.Though I do sort of feel like a slacker as I know I took more time off than I should have. But as we all know, life happens and sometimes things get in the way. I have a couple more posts I have been mulling over in my head. I just need time to take the photos for one of them and a push to do the other one. I am going to try to post a bit more often. I know I did much better the end of 2012 but the beginning of the year...was quiet. Let's see if we can have a little more noise this year.