Somnolence.

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"Early on I discovered a curious thing about carving. Fifty percent of the effort will achieve ninety percent of the effect. Another discovery followed on quickly. If you allow yourself to stop at that ninety percent, then the carving can never succeed, never really succeed. Never raise the hair on the back of anybody's neck. The last ten percent, that final zone of difficulty, is everything. Even to a casual viewer, casting a single passing glance". The Lost Carving, a Journey to the Heart of Making, by David Esterly. 

I am reading this autobiography and I can't help to stop and constantly compare his insights on woodcarving to dollmaking. To me and the way I work, how I approach what I do, and how I feel about it. I wholeheartedly believe in the above phrase. Fifty percent of your effort can go into ninety percent of the outcome. Most dollmakers stop right there. Because we are making toys, because we are not obsessive-compulsive, because the amount of hours already invested is daunting for something that will get played with by little ones, who usually smother their toys with love. But, and there is always a but when you have dollmaking as your profession, there is the other ten percent that you strive to achieve, and the only way to get there is to invest almost as much time as you already have on details and work that can hardly be perceived. But that creates the so called "white space" that allows your work to be perceived with depth, with fresh air. A work that can stand on its own merits. 

"The consequences are cruel. Pursuing this marginal advantage means devoting vastly more time to the carving, maybe even half again as much as you have already put in. And just as the end is in sight! It means plunging into uncomfortable, unglamorous, thankless-seeming tasks (...) Watching your earnings from a piece dwindle with every extra day of work. Poverty and sore muscles, as the old carver warned. The fascination of what's difficult will dry the sap out of your veins, Yeats complained. 

But there's every reason for this perdition of carving in an underworld where few eyes will penetrate. What you don't see influences what you see." (again from The Lost Carving by David Esterly)

Her First Lesson, by Eugenio Zamphigi (1859-1944)

Her First Lesson, by Eugenio Zamphigi (1859-1944)

And this is what brings me to the next pondering: there is so much of a doll that you can't see. Under stitches, the way you close the inside parts of the doll, the way you roll the head, how neatly (or not) you hide your threads, what kind of knots you make (quality versus aesthetics), trimming seams, gathering and finishing, basting, etc. All this work can be done either very briefly, or it can take hours and hours, and in the end product it won't be visible. 

The clothing brings another level of dantesque fervour. A lot of effort for me goes into the clothes, in finishes and techniques that are normally not required, or expected, in  doll clothing that is meant to be a toy. You expect a level of craftsmanship in art dolls, because they are meant to  be admired and handled by adults, but when you are making toys you are delving into strange territory; a land vast with regulations (necessary, but daunting), quality control to ensure children's safety, plus perhaps desiring to bring your level of aesthetic beauty one step higher tipping the line towards art toys. It is like a moor of dangerous thoughts and inclinations, in which you are constantly asking of yourself that which is necessary, and that which is a mere speck of pride and indulgence.

Attempting to dive into that world, the dreaded ten percent that can bring your work to a different appreciation, involves for me letting go of some ideas, and I am struggling leaving the world of toys behind. I always see my dolls as toys not as art, not as children either, even though I treat them like that, and I converse with them as if they had feelings and thoughts. To think of my dolls as an objet d'art means that they are no longer an object in use. But there is a lot of argument to that, as beauty is of use.

The photography and storytelling that comes with my dolls truly tips the scale of the amount of time I invest creating a doll. Working hard to achieve that elusive ten percent means strategically waiting for certain times of day, some times even days, in order to be able to portray (and photograph) the doll in its best light, in the best possible way to communicate the emotion you want. It means taking time off dollmaking so that you can replenish your inner fire, reading all sorts of material so that you can have a rounded opinion and bring forth more depth to what you do. I think what I am trying to convey is that to achieve the remaining ten percent you have to create with mindfulness. Not just of the finished outcome you desire, but of every single step along the way. Conscientiousness. 

And that my friends, and dear readers, is where it all boils down to. More and more and more time. I want to spend more time on my dolls, I want to reach that ten percent, I don't feel deprived of anything when I do it (I could literally go without eating because my excitement carries me away). I am ecstatic that I get to shape and create dolls, but I also feel a little somnolent. Like I went to sleep and there is something I dreamt, and that dream must come to fruition in my life if I am to feel like I am in motion and not stagnant, but the dream is elusive, because I have to let go of my notions of what my dolls are. Tough job. As always, wish me luck on this new adventure!.

I leave you with one last excerpt from this wonderful book:

"...They look easy. They are not easy. The paradox of the admiring gaze: what looks most spontaneous and fluent is often what's most painstakingly mechanical to produce. Conversely, if a thing looks as if it was difficult to bring off then it hasn't been brought off (...) Yeats again: a line of poetry make take hours, but if it doesn't seem a moment's thought then your work has come to nothing." The Lost Carving, a Journey to the Heart of Making. David Esterly.

Posted on March 3, 2013 and filed under dollmaking.