History of Sylphae Dolls – or – my life’s story so far.
I remember as a kid my mother would take me to all the art galleries in every single town we ever visited. I would walk around with her, with my hands clasped behind my back so I wouldn’t feel tempted to touch anything! It’s a habit I still have in art galleries to this day, 40+ years on.
On one of these gallery visits I saw her. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A tiny girl, with face and hands deftly sculpted in polymer clay, a soft, long, slender body made of cloth, rainbow leggings, rainbow yarn hair. I’d never seen anything like her and oh boy, I wanted to own her. I still think about her often, she was burned into my memory!
I’ve always been fascinated by dolls, how pretty and delicate they were, like characters in another, much smaller world. I had a collection of Barbies growing up, and I would make clothes and wings for them and tell silly little stories with them pretending they were faeries in my garden. One of my favourite dolls was a tiny little thing, about 10 cm tall, with articulated limbs and long, cornsilk blonde hair. She was most definitely a fae!
A child of my mother
I’ve also always been fascinated by, and drawn to, art. I was very good at it in school and would spend more time on my art homework than any other homework hehehe. I took summer classes in sculpting and painting and batik and just about anything I could. I was a regular at the art community centre in the city where I grew up. I did pottery, leather engraving, jewellery, pastel, sewing and all the things my mother did!
The influence of Robert McKinley
When I was in my mid-late teens my mother purchased a couple of books by an artist named Robert Keene McKinley. He had a rather interesting and unique method of creating sculptural mixed media pieces using cardboard cross sections to build on with Paperclay and cloth. I, being like my mother, decided to also try my hand at this new art form and enjoyed it immensely. Sculpting in polymer clay was a whole new fun experience and making the bodies with the cardboard cross sections was much easier than the method I’d tried previously with a doll body pattern.
Niada’s page devoted to the memory of Robert Keene Mckinley
Creating mixed media dolls
In the years that followed, I made a lovely winged elven fellow holding a big bunch of flowers, a portrait of Hamlet’s Ophelia right before she throws herself into the river, a whole school of little mermaids, a female cellist with wild red hair and an outrageous green and red costume – complete with cello made for me by a local craftsman, a delicate pale faerie who still adorns the top of my christmas tree every year, a geisha with tiny Japanese ornaments in her hair and handpainted fans, and a portrait of my favourite movie villain – Jareth – The Goblin King.
Unfortunately many of these creations have been lost to time, moving house, cat damage though I still have something to show for it, as Jareth stands proudly (albeit dustily) on my bookshelf safe out of reach of feline mischief. He’s had a leg replacement surgery (thanks Far North Qld Humidity), and his hair desperately needs a tidy, but he’s still there, a 30 year old testament to my favourite craft!
The dry years
I stopped making dolls, and any art at all really, after Jareth. I was living in a fairly unhappy situation for a number of years, and my art and dollmaking just kind of… fell by the wayside. I did very little art at all in those years. What I can remember of them. I had also really discovered video games around that time and what little spare time I did have was mostly taken up with Counterstrike 🙂
After my relationship at the time ended, I spent 2 years rediscovering who I was as a whole person, on my own. The first thing I did was go out and buy myself the hottest, brightest pinkest sheet set and curtains I could find. 7 years of grey and white was enough and I was CRAVING colour. The second thing I did was buy myself a new car! And then I began rediscovering my creative side.
I started out making custom maps for Counterstrike as I was well and truly obsessed by this stage. Of course this led into making textures which led to exploring 2d digital art.
Discovering love, and rediscovering creativity
2 years into my great single life, I met the man who was to become my husband. He has from that very first meeting been a huge source of inspiration and creative support for me. The very first thing we created together was illustrations of some characters from a story he was writing. And he encouraged me to start sculpting again. We began playing a game called Everquest together, and through getting involved with the game community, joining guilds and forums, I discovered creating character art for myself and my guild mates.
From there, I started to really draw again. I bought a set of very nice graphite pencils and watercolour paper and started to make portraits. The first one was my husband of course. And then his parents wanted it, so I had to make another one. I went to see David Bowie in 2004, and was so inspired I spent about 60 hours carefully rendering a supremely intricate and realistic portrait for my own collection. I was doing this while on my lunch break at work and my colleagues started asking questions, and then placing orders! I was kept quite busy during this time with portrait orders from just my co-workers!
The day I bought a digital tablet (an early Wacom intuos) was a great day for me. I went from drawing with mouse to drawing with an actual pen and I took to it like a duck to water. I was busy with my graphite portraits, character art, drawings for my workplace, as well as working full time in a job I really loved. Things were going GREAT… until the day they weren’t.
My work… had a management change. I still don’t fully understand what happened. I went from happy and thriving to utterly beaten down. It was the absolute lowest of lows in my life. Something had to change.
My doctor put me on medical sick leave and I spent the next few months driving my husband to work, driving home, crying into my homemade juice all day, picking him up and watching television all night. I was low.
A Second Life?
It was around this time that I logged into Second Life. It wasn’t exactly in it’s infancy – it was 4 years old by that time – but it FELT like it was in it’s infancy. It had just gotten a surge in media attention due to someone making a bunch of money in real estate and some big brands deciding to try it out as an advertising vector.
I went in there with no expectations at all. None. It was a way to pass the time. I went looking for a long coat for my avatar, couldn’t find anything, so I decided to make one. How hard could it be? I’m a dabbling artist right?
I was walking around the building sandbox in my newly created coat , testing out the cloth simulation, when I got a message from someone “I like your coat, where did you get it?” “I made it” I replied. “Oh cool! Can I buy one for my girlfriend? She will love it!” comes the answer. Huh I thought. There could be something here.
And there was. Over the next few years I built what was to become a massive clothing and avatar brand in Second Life. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing in the beginning and there was very little information online because the market was so niche, so I had to learn a lot of stuff the very hard way. In the beginning it was clothing and skins and accessories because Second Life did not allow custom mesh uploads. As soon as they did in 2011, I started learning Zbrush and then Blender, and began creating shoes based off my own designs, and then feet to fill those shoes to replace the ugly, offensive default avatar feet.
I had started my Second Life business with the humble goal of paying for my and my husband’s Everquest and World of Warcraft subscriptions, and had surpassed that goal in the first 6 months of opening my store. Within 12 months I was confident enough to just outright quit my awful job situation, and in 18 months I was *just* earning enough to be called a full-time income.
The crazy years
My big break was in replacement avatar body parts. I had been doing very well with shoes and clothing and accessories but then I decided to release a set of feet, without shoes attached to them (as was the fashion at the time – SL is a weird place), and a 3rd party creators kit which would allow other people to build shoes to my foot templates, and my business really took off. Residents loved it, creators loved it, and I was the only one doing it at the time so I had the market monopoly as well as the benefit of setting the market standard for build quality, user interface, and customer service.
in 2013 my husband also quit a job he was very happy in to join my business, as I was SO busy that I could barely keep up without him. I took on a part time assistant/customer service representative, and the three of us set about hitting the big time.
At one point, it was impossible to turn around in Second Life without seeing my brand.
In 2014, I released one of the very first full body avatar replacements, followed by a male version, and a curvy version in 2015. Those were… successful. 🙂 in 2021 I released my third female body, innovating and improving on my previous bodies.
All this backstory is to say that – I have a little bit of experience in creating girls in 3D! 🙂
BACK TO THE DOLLS!
I’ve been following creators like Nicolle’s Dreams, Dollightful, Hextian, Poppen Atelier , Enchantarium, Sang Bup Be, and others for a very long time and absolutely love how beautiful their creations are. I tried doing a faceup on a couple of Brats dolls for my little nieces but I knew I didn’t want to work on mass produced dolls. I have a huge collection of ball jointed doll images on my pinterest and I follow a bunch of wonderful dollmakers such as Inamorata Dolls, Popovy Sisters, Nigel Chia, Marina Bychkova and Lutsenko Dolls on various social media.
A Sea Change
In 2020-2021 I started to really feel as though I needed a change in my life. My husband landed himself a really good job, and I started to feel a little less pressure to keep up with Second Life, and thought maybe, maybe there is something else I’d like to do?
At the end of 2021, I took a much needed month off work and thought perhaps I’d try to build a doll of my very own. I bought a brilliant course by Adele of Nymphai Dolls, which is for hand sculpting with paperclay, but still full of very good and useful lessons for general doll creation. I researched joints, I sketched bodies and ideas and I finally came up with the design you see on this site! That beautiful rainbow girl is never far from my mind as I work on my own doll designs.
Having years of experience building human bodies in Blender has proven to be very advantageous and I found she came together pretty quickly. The hardest part was designing the joints without a physical object to work with – one of the advantages of sculpting in actual clay!
A new girl is born
I printed a small version of the prototype doll to test the joints, made some adjustments and printed her at full size! That was pretty cool. I had her laid out in pieces on my table, looking at her and saying “I.. made that!” It’s SO cool to be able to go from ethereal virtual sculpture to a real thing you can hold in your hand. 3D printing is magical to me.
She’s gone through a couple of iterations since that initial full size and I’m now on version 3 of the body, with improved joints, multiple hands and feet and new head sculpts. I will keep this site up to date with developments on this project as I go along. Join me on my dollmaking journey and maybe we will learn something together!
Thanks for reading!