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Let's make Joy together!

Updated: May 22, 2021

You read that right, together we are going to make Joy from the mold of popular sculptor Dawn Adams!


She is a well-known little one who does not need much introduction.


We are going to make her starting from the very beginning, from just Porcelain Slip, but let's take it step-by-step.


Every doll is entirely unique in her construction; even as I write this, I don't know exactly how this version of Joy will turn out! I will take you through each process step by step, day by day, as we make her together.


Before dive in, I would like to make a few things clear:

  • All the materials, tools, and improvised handy-things I will use are my personal items; they are not new, but they are well-loved and I find them very easy to work with. I want to warn you now that the things I use are not pretty or in Vogue, but they are very simple and useful.

  • I will document everything that I personally do--I won't ever say things like, "one of my friends said it's best to..." You will be reading my process exactly how I was taught, and it's possible someone else does it slightly differently. It's not easy to say whether something is "right" or "wrong" here; everyone has their own process.

Well, let's go!


Everything begins with the Porcelain Slip, which is liquid porcelain. I only use Ultra Chic--porcelain from the world's leader in porcelain production. Ultra Chic is considered the best for making porcelain dolls.


Of course, to begin making any porcelain doll from scratch, we will first need the mold. I am lucky enough to have the mold set of Joy 24" (61 cm) that was made in 1994 by Dawn Adams in conjunction with the company Expressions. Production of this set stopped long ago and the only way to get it now is from someone else.





A mold is a plaster form that, for our purposes, consists of 6 parts: the head, shoulders, two legs, and two arms. On the right, I photographed the head, leg, and arm molds for you to see. I just couldn't get all of the molds to fit into the frame in my little photo area!


Fun fact: out of personal curiosity, I weighed the mold set for Joy and its net weight is 82 pounds!


You can also choose the color of your Porcelain Slip--thereby choosing the skin color of your doll. I usually work with Delicate Rose, but there are many you can choose from!


In order to continue, we need a container--preferably with a spout--and a strainer, so that various little lumps don't get inside the mold.


This is what an open mold looks like. We are going to connect it, close it tightly with rubber bands, pour in the Porcelain Slip, and let it rest so it can set.


Then, we need to pick up the mold full of porcelain and pour the remaining contents back into the container (after all, we just need a hollow porcelain part). To give an example, one of Joy's leg molds full of Porcelain Slip weighs about 24 pounds. We're going to have to lift the whole thing up, slowly and carefully tilt it so the majority of the porcelain drains out, then hold it in the air for a few minutes to drain any remaining porcelain.


This part is pretty physically challenging; I'm not going to lie, after doing this for a while, my biceps could probably rival those of Arnold Schwarzenegger!


Now, we are going to leave the drained molds for 3-4 hours on a wire rack so that any remaining porcelain can drain out and the pieces inside can set.


You will have probably reached this point in about 20 minutes, whereas documenting everything will have taken me about a week. So with a wave of my magic porcelain doll-making wand... 3-4 hours have now gone by! We can start carefully opening and removing all our pieces.



The piece (whichever it may be: head, leg, etc.) that we are retrieving is called Greenware. And in order to work with it any further, we need to leave it for a day, carefully laid on some soft surface--so it doesn't break-- and covered with thin plastic.


One day later...


Here we are getting into the first firing. In the process of making this doll, we will have three different types of firing: Soft Fire, High Fire, and China Fire.


For the first firing--the Soft Fire--we are going to put the Greenware pieces into the kiln (left).


To determine the type of firing, there are specialized cones that go inside the kiln (right). All of the cones are colored and numbered differently for easy identification. Each cone is, essentially, "programmed" for a certain temperature regime in the kiln. For this Soft Fire, we will need yellow cones. The process will take about an hour and a half, but this will depend on the size of your kiln and the number of Greenware pieces you're firing.


After that, we retrieve the parts and start cleaning them. They should have hardened slightly and are now known as Soft Fired Greenware. But before cleaning, we must let them soak in water with a drop of liquid dish detergent for about 10 minutes.


We need to work very carefully now because the parts are EXTREMELY fragile (one unlucky swipe and boom, we have to start all over; there's no putting a finger back once you've lopped it off!).


With this cautious state of mind, we start removing seams, irregularities, bumps, etc. using a Scalpel, Cleaning Brush, and Green Clean. I clean Soft Fired Greenware only when it's wet in order to minimize the risk of inhaling dry porcelain dust into my throat and lungs--which can be dangerous.


While working, we should aim to emphasize the doll's parts sculpturally: mark the nails, finger folds, etc. During the process of cleaning, there is a certain methodical approach to doing the head. First, we will need to cut the eyes out and clean them from the inside. We must work carefully and methodically, with the help of a diamond-tipped Scalpel and virtually without pressing, to make circular motion until the "eye" flies out.

In order to clean the inside of the eyes, we will need special tools that resemble spherical files (above). Due to their roughness and roundness, the files grind down the inner slides of the eye, shaping it to the form of the glass eye--which will later need to be inserted from the inside. We will need several different sizes of these spherical files.


Now it's time for the artist to leave their mark! Though artists can choose to write what they want, how they want, it is generally accepted to write your initials and the date.


Here I chose to write 4/20 to represent April of 2020. Others may choose to write the long-form of the date, 4/28/2020. This is the doll's birth date.


Another nuance that I would like to bring your attention to are the teeth. According to the "rules of making a porcelain doll," the teeth should be painted at this point in the process. A specialized blend is used, called Pearly White--Perfect for Teeth, which I applied only to the sculpted teeth that are visible on the mold, being careful not to create my own teeth where none existed.


And so, all of our Soft Fired Greenware is ready for the second firing!


The second firing is called High Fire, and it's thanks to this firing that we get porcelain parts.


Refined, cleaned, and sculpted Soft Fire Greenware go into the kiln the same way as before, but on a VERY high heat. This firing will involve pink cones (#6) and will take about 5-6 hours until automatic shutdown (a.k.a when the cone burns out), after which it will need a day to cool. The thing that differentiates High Fire from the other types is that parts are fired in the kiln on special sand called Silica Sand.


5-6 hours and one day later...


I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but the parts become noticeably smaller after firing. Pictured below are two arms: in the photo on the right, the bottom arm is Soft Fired Greenware and the top arm is High Fired. At this point, you could call it either a porcelain part or a High Fired part.


Here's another comparison with three heads (in order as pictured, left to right):

  1. High Fired Head -- porcelain

  2. Soft Fired Greenware Head -- completed Soft Fire and ready for cleaning

  3. Greenware Head -- Just retrieved from its mold


Before we begin to paint, the porcelain parts must be cleaned with a light sandpapering and brushing with a regular dry powder cleaner (like Comet). After rinsing and drying, the parts should be perfectly smooth.


We are close to the third firing, the China Fire. The porcelain parts will be painted with specialized paints, whose permanent drying takes place only within the kiln. The photo above and right shows our head after the High Fire. As you can see, the teeth have become white with a glaze.


Let's start painting!


I am using Basic Eye Colors, which I bought from Dianna Effner. They are set using cones #016, #017, and #018; they come dry and are diluted with special water.


For those who might like it, there exist instructions for painting dolls, but I like to wing it!


I won't tire you with the details of painting every brow and lash at this step, but you should know China Fire is done multiple times. Some people do it three times, others do it five times--it's up to you.


You want to begin by using light brush strokes to find shadows and accentuate blushing. Then, all of that goes into the kiln for setting, which lasts about an hour and a half. The paint we're using here will never air dry, it can only set through firing.


Prior to the second firing, you want to paint the smaller details. For example, paint each eyebrow hair, make the lips more pronounced, frame the lips around the teeth, etc. What makes China Fire so convenient is that after firing, you can't smudge the work you did prior to firing. After the previous layers of paint are set, you can add to them as you like, since the layers will not mix. Another fun thing is that after you complete your last firing, you could even submerge your completed head in water--for a week if you wanted-- and nothing will happen! The paint will not smudge even a little, everything will stay perfectly in place.


Between China Fire and painting, you can test out eyes. By choosing your eyes early, you can better visualize how the doll will look in the end and thereby base your subsequent work off of your desired aesthetic. I know that this is approximately how she will look when I'm done (left), so I painted her face in light pastel tones that complement the color of her eyes.



I absolutely love the color lilac. When lilac blooms, it's like healing for the eyes :) so I decided to dress her in shades of blooming, spring lilac.

 

We'll continue this a bit later, but right now we are going to take a little detour. I want to show you that even if you happen to have two sets of completely identically painted porcelain parts, your two dolls will still turn out differently. As an example, I am going to take Dianna Effner's famous doll, Emily.


Here she is in her promo photo:




















And this is what her porcelain parts look like:






















Here are their practically identically painted faces and heads:



Even if the painted faces and parts are totally identical, the final version of each doll ends up unique. On account of different colored eyes, different directions of their pupils, different wigs, different outfits...


This is all to say that if you want to create a certain image with your doll, you're guaranteed to craft a doll unique to you!


The same principle applies to Joy. You could just buy her parts and if you work with a professional, they could make her blonde, brunette, red-headed, anything you can imagine! If she's red-headed, then she'll need some freckles... and on and on. In this way, you can craft a doll that is entirely your own, even if she is made from a preset mold.


Now let's get back to the star of our show!

 

The first thing we are going to have to do is connect the head with the shoulders. Oh! Wait! The eyes! How do we attach them? I completely forgot to show you and I didn't take a photo, so I'll demonstrate on a different doll. It's all the same between dolls and fairly simple. These are also all my photos, taken a few years ago when I was putting eyes into a doll for the very first time. The person helping me in the pictures is my teacher, who is 80 years old.


You will need your choice of eyes and eye setting wax. First, we line the eye with wax.


Then, we attach the eye inside. First one, then the other, and thanks to the eye setting wax, they hold without moving.


Then, we need to dilute any plaster mixture. I am using "Perfect Plaster" and adding water until it obtains the consistency of sour cream (but slightly thinner, except not too liquid, otherwise it'll just flow out of the face). We can then fill the eyes with it inside the head, completely covering them with our mixture.


We should then let it rest and set for about a day, then we can attach the eyelashes.


Right, let's continue onward.


Before we connect the head and the shoulders, we need to line the point of attachment on the shoulders with elastic tape (or a taped felt cutout)


In order to connect the head with the shoulders, we'll need a special holder-device like the one pictured below. Thread a string into the metal loop at the top.


Then, we will need to thread this entire mechanism through the holes in the head and shoulders. Using the rope, pull the spring until the metal loop appears through the inside of the shoulders, then quickly insert the metal pin into the ring. You can now remove the thread, everything is ready.


This is what it should look like; this is a different doll, but the mechanism is the same. I had trouble photographing the inside of Joy herself because her shoulder piece is large, it was hard to see inside.



However, it can sometimes be hard to find such a holder-device, so I'll also show you how you can make your own!


For this, you'll need a wooden sphere with a hole through it, an elastic string, and a small metal rod. The process is essentially identical.


The most important thing during this process is tightening the string as much as possible, and when you're tying it off and inserting the rod, make sure you don't loosen it! The string should be taut when you're finished.


Let's get back to Joy!




Now we need to connect the body, here it is. I didn't sew the body myself, a lady sewed it for me, but as you can see, sewing it wouldn't be particularly hard and cutouts are available!


Honestly, I don't really understand why those bits of elastic are sticking out of her arms. It's probably for attaching the arms, but I have no idea how to do that, but I will check the instructions! But first, let's insert the body into the shoulders and pull the strings out through the arm-holes in her shoulders. Then, we'll connect the legs.


Inserting the legs is super easy! Just use regular glue and stuff poly-fil inside the leg. First, untie the wax thread, then apply glue around the etched circle at the top of the leg, insert the leg into the untied leg hole, and knot the wax thread as tightly as possible so that it locks into the etched circle.


Now let's look at these instructions...


Oh! I see! We are going to need to make a hook in the arm. For this, we're going to need a hook and to stuff the inside of the arm with cotton or poly-fil.








Now we're going to need something that resembles putty; I use Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty. We need to mix this powder with cold water until it has the consistency of sour cream.








With the help of an ordinary syringe, we'll pour this thick mixture right onto the filling and place the hook inside.









Sometime within the course of a day, this should all set.


One day later...


Before we connect the arms, we are going to want to wrap the hands in bubble wrap, then foam, and tape them. In order to connect the arms using elastic through the hooks, we are going to need a clamping instrument called a hemostat.


We are going to need to tighten the string as much as our strength allows and clamp it with the hemostat to prevent it from flying backward. At this point, we'll need to tie a tight double knot and drip some glue on it. When we remove the clamp, the arm should snap into place from the tension. Do the same thing with the second arm.


Our little lady is going to be draped in lilac, so let's make her a pretty little stand with lilac flowers--which, by the way, will help her legs stay put.


Well, that's pretty much it!


All that's left to do now are finishing touches: cutting loose strings, removing glue, glue on the pate, choosing a wig, etc.


And of course, dressing her!


She turned out super cute, I think!


I can't really say what the hard part was, but there were some inconveniences. Plus, working with a doll 24" tall presented its own challenges! Regardless, I liked doing it! So much so that I even ordered her 19" (48cm) mold. She comes in two heights, 24" (61 cm) and 19" (48 cm).


What you really went through here, with me, was a broad exercise of how to make a porcelain doll. However, between every step there are even more, hidden steps, and masters' secrets to uncover. The skills you gain from repeating this process and heeding the advice of 80-year-old teachers are invaluable to your continued growth.


Now that you know the whole process, you can imagine everything a doll has to go through to stand beautifully on your shelf, radiating love for you. When you have a moment, walk up to them quietly, smile, and thank them once more for their selfless love.


Always yours,


Marina--AllforDoll

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