Sunday, November 6, 2016

Queen of the Nerds

I've been enjoying a sort of creative renaissance this year.  There's been a lot of art - some drawing (which I'll get to at some point), some workshops, and my sort-of obsession:  my plushies.  Even before I saw what C2E2 had to offer, I was intrigued by the idea of making my own, and had purchased some fabric at Hobby Lobby last Christmas to that end.  However, it took seeing the injustice in their lack of anime goods (particularly for female otakus otomes.  Apparently this is the word - translated as maiden - for hardcore girl geeks), and the poor quality of the ones I did find to spur me into doing something about it, and in April I made my first doll - Kakashi Sensei from Naruto.  At the time, I was super impressed with myself.

I could look back at how naive I was now and laugh myself silly.  But if I hadn't been reasonably impressed with myself, I might not have gone on to make more, or have entered my second in the contest at AnimeIowa, so I'll forgive my own naivete.
The idea of making anime plush first came because I'd seen drawings like these where a character is snuggling a doll.  The drawings were super kawaii...the actual plushies you can buy, not so much.  I get what they are going for, with the big anime eyes and chibi heads, but their execution sucks.  I had a pattern from a service project the Relief Society did when I lived in Shanghai, and after experimenting with it some, I decided to separate the head from the body.
Here's my take on the two above characters (Erza and Jellal, from Fairy Tail).  Honestly, they are not the most perfect thing anyone's ever made - Jellal's head is a little crooked and Erza's eyes are higher than I'd like.  However each time I do one, I figure out how to make them better.  Jellal was my fifth design and Erza was my seventh, and I still get excited with the challenge of figuring out how to make them.
As an example, when I got back to Mongolia in August, I intended to hop in and get everything ready for the coming school year.  Instead, I spent basically an entire week at my desk sewing while watching Inuyasha (which I had read before so I wouldn't particularly care if I missed a subtitle here or there...let me tell you, it is difficult to sew while watching something in a language you don't speak).  Erina was my first girl plushie, and until recently was my masterpiece...the amount of work that went into her hair!  The color wasn't quite right, but since I was back here by then I kinda had to let it go.  Fortunately I got the print for the skirt pretty much right.  It was such a pain in the ass, but totally worth it to see the look on the Kawaii Kingpin's face when I gave her to him.
Having finished her, I decided I was up for a different kind of challenge.  My second plushie was Kishitani Shinra from Durarara!!, one of my top male characters in all of anime.  One of the reasons I love him so much is because of his relationship with Celty - a headless dullahan who rides the streets of Ikebukuro on her horse-become-motorcycle (I know, it sounds ridiculous.  Trust me when I say she's a badass).  So she became my next project.  Her helmet was the hard part; I spent a lot of time figuring out how the pieces would fit together.  It didn't turn out as three-dimensional as I intended, but I enjoyed a break from hair and clothes, since neither were an issue for her.

One of the things I didn't like about the way Jellal turned out was his hair.  This was one of my first challenges - starting from when I made Kakashi Sensei - and it took me until my sixth - Sasuke, also from Naruto - to come up with a reasonably satisfactory solution.  The construction of his stupid duck-tail hair was an even more enormous pain in the ass than Erina's...hers was long and involved a lot of embroidery, but his took about 6 different pieces of material stitched together.  That said, it did turn out the way I was hoping.  I also made my first kimono-style top for him.  Up to this point, I kept the clothing patterns relatively simple - the same front and back.  Erina's skirt was the first departure, but it was relatively simple to fold the bottom part and stitch it to the waistband.  Sasuke's shirt was made with a central piece, the two sleeves, and a collar.  You can't tell from the photo, but it also has a scaly pattern on it - I have been slowly pulling the stuffing out of one of my throw pillows, and when I was trying to figure out what fabric to use I realized that the former pillow had a snakeskin-like pattern on it, which seemed totally perfect.  I also had to make the rope that goes around his waist.  If Necessity is the mother of Invention, then she gets it on a lot in Mongolia, because I wasn't able to find thin purple rope.  Maybe if I'd planned to make him while I had access to all the crafting superstores in the States, but he honestly wasn't on my agenda (yes, I have an agenda).  Fortunately I grew up near Kansas City, a true cow town, and when we went to the American Royal in fifth grade, I learned how strands of fiber are twisted together to make rope.  It took an entire skein of purple embroidery floss, but I used the same principle and was able to make a pretty decent version of rope - one of my prouder moments.  One of my former students who saw him on Facebook wanted me to make his sword as well.  At the time, I had no idea how to make a sword, but I did make a very tiny kunai out of Shrinky Dink film last spring, so that's his weapon for now.  After finding it and a little research into katana construction, I'm pretty sure I can make one.  I'll get around to actually doing it eventually.

A week before I left for Kyoto, I realized that I would get a great deal of amusement out of doing photoshoots with one of my plushies (this segment of a video I showed to my seventh graders at the beginning of our plushie unit came to mind, but I did a helluva lot more than just take pictures of dolls, so I ignored it).  The problem was, I hadn't made one that would have the right look for shrine-hopping.  I briefly considered taking Sasuke, especially since I was going to the Ninja Dojo.  The problem was, I have two different sizes I've made, and Sasuke was the bigger of the two, and I wasn't sure I wanted to drag him around Kyoto with me (also, I didn't have red floss to finish the Uchiha crest on his back.  I know - perfectionists).  So with the clock ticking, I started working on Tomoe, and finished about 15 minutes before Enkhaa picked me up for my flight.  In addition to the fact that he wears a kimono, I wanted to work on him because of his fox ears and tail.  With the exception of Celty, everyone's been a pretty standard human, and although I altered the pattern a little to make more of a distinction between girl and boy characters, I felt like adding ears and a tail would add a new challenge.  One of the dolls I'm practicing for...yes, some of these have been practice rounds.  (Psh, like I was going to make my #1 guy - Yato, from Noragami - first and get super frustrated when he's not perfect on my first try...)
I did try making Yato with Sculpey, though...

As I was saying, one of the dolls I'm working my way up to has furry dog ears, and I bought a fur at Hobby Lobby for this exact reason.  Fur is a pain in the butt because it is REALLY hard to cut it without cutting some of the fibers, and it made my nose itch, so it's possible I'm allergic to rabbits (which somehow seems hilarious - being allergic to bunnies).  It's easier to sew than leather, though, so that was a nice, unexpected benefit.

I've never considered myself much of a sculptor.  Most of what I made during college sucked, but maybe that's because the projects I was given weren't that interesting for me (my attempts at clothing were even more of a joke, although my aversion to sewing machines kept me from trying very often).  However, one of the things I really believe as an art teacher is that giving students some freedom in their work brings out what they are actually capable of, and I guess I've sort of proved that in my own life.  I don't think I would argue that my dolls are high works of art (unlike some of the things I saw in Denden Town), but the definition of art is subjective and I get a thrill out of making them, so personally, I don't give a crap whether or not they're considered art.

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