Agosia Arts is about celebrating the natural world, fine craft and conscientious recycling. My main goals with this blog are to : 1) provide a peek behind the scenes at how my work is produced; 2) document my problem solving process; and 3) encourage others to try new things. If you have questions, email me at Thank you for visiting!

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February 27, 2015

February Photography

I am constantly taking photographs of my work.  Some are quick shots for this blog, but many others require a full photography set-up.  The finished image may look nice and neat, but the process in the studio is actually a little crazy.  For formal shots I use a black to gray photography background, but for informal shots, I use paper from a roll of newsprint.  The backgrounds are pinned to my design board and the figures sit or stand on my the ironing board.  In this shot you can see the February Figures of the Month getting their photos taken for Etsy (the lights are not on).

As recently as a few years ago, I would only take formal photographs of my 'best' figures.  These would be the ones I put on the website, or I used for jurying into shows. I've since realized I don't have a visual record of many works from the past.  I have written descriptions of every figure I've made, but I miss having images of some of them.  So, if I've finished a set of figures, each one has to be photographed.  I take multiple shots of each from various angles, including the whole figure from head to toe.  Each subtle change in pose makes a difference in the outcome of the shot, so there is a lot of manual manipulation during photography.  I also take torso shots, and  if the work has an interesting feature, I will take close-up shots of that. It's a lot of work!

My studio is not large and when I set up the three photography lights, there is very little room to move around. When you are taking 100 shots, it takes a few hours and things can really heat up with incandescent bulbs. I recently switched to 5000K florescent bulbs, which made a huge difference in the temperature of the room. These aren't like the bulbs you have at home; they are about four times larger, 10 times more expensive and 20 times brighter!  I fear dropping one.

For digital work, like my haiku on Facebook, I often have to place a figure in a more realistic pose.  I may have to pin arms or legs in place, but thankfully the hands are fully wired and are easy to move.  I use a white doll stand for upright poses and a newsprint backround so that both can be easily edited out.  I try to anticipate the poses I will need because I have to install the entire set-up for even one photograph. 

Mainly I shoot at night or very cloudy days because my studio has a large window - natural light alters the color balance of an image.  The goal is to get the best image during photography so that very little has be done in Photoshop.  Although I alter images when creating digital collages, images intended for my archive, sales or advertising are edited very little.  Cropping, slight color editing and watermarking are the most I do. 

All this goes to show that it isn't enough just to be an artist these days.  You have to wear multiple hats, including photographer.  Photography isn't difficult, but honestly, I would much rather be sewing!

Stay tuned...

February 20, 2015

Custom Crocheted Coats, Faster Than Sewing For Dolls

Recently I made a design decision:  I would make all my rabbits and possibly, jackrabbits with crocheted coats.  Why you ask?  Because it's faster than sewing a coat.  And I make a lot of rabbits (they are quite popular).  Shown at left is a new Desert Cottontail wearing his custom-made linen coat and knit wool scarf - spiffy, no?

Although it sounds like a lot of work, it's not.  The coat is based on a simple rectangle, with crocheted-in openings for the arms.  There are only three things to consider: 1) the size of the body, 2) the yarn and, 3) the stitch used.  Unlike crochet or knitting for a human body, I don't use a lot of fitting for my dolls.  I measure only two parts of the body, the circumference of the hips and the width of the shoulders.  If the coat can close at the hips without gaps and hangs properly at the shoulders, everything else looks right. Actually, that's good advice for human garments, too!

As with fabric, I prefer natural fibers for yarn.  Linen, wool and silk always look appropriate for my figures and they are easy for me to overdye if I need a particular color.   I usually try a few different stitches to find a yarn/stitch combo that has some texture, but isn't too overwhelming at doll scale.  I don't use a foundation chain when crocheting, but instead use a variation of foundation single crochet that looks like picot edging - a nice touch for the hems.  I am a very rapid crocheter, so swatching only takes a few minutes.  After picking a nice stitch - in this case a shell stitch - it only took 30 minutes or so to complete the coat.  Much faster than knitting.  Buttons are easy to add because crochet is so open that buttonholes are unnecessary.  This coat has one button and a leather belt to hold it closed.  The belt is made from an old watchband and has a beaded thistle dangle - visit the website link above for a look. 

In this case I'm using a hook on the small side, but it isn't smaller than what the yarn requires.  I think chunky sweaters look bad on everyone - dolls included, but that doesn't mean you need to go miniature in every case.  If you are using a tiny crochet hook just to obtain a scale correct garment for a doll, you may end up with a lot of hand fatigue and a garment that is difficult to finish. 

This type of coat is easy to complete and doesn't require additional embellishments.  Most of my sewn garments require a similar amount of time to comple, but embellishments add to the total; in some cases a few hours more.  So for the rabbits, this really is faster.  I can meet the demand for richly textured, unique garments for each figure, without spending a lot of time completing them.

Stay tuned!

February 17, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Stumpwork Beetles!

One of the design elements on each of my cloth figures is it's beetle companion.  Those beetles are created using a variation of stumpwork, a 3-D embroidery technique.  I wish I had the time to make each insect by hand, but I don't, so I've altered the methods to add a machine stitched shortcut.  I get a lot of questions about the beetles and always try to explain the process as best I can.  In previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I outlined my methods, but this month, I made a video.

If you would like more information about stumpwork, there are quite a few good books out there.  The technique is hundreds of years old, but is going through a well-deserved revival in popularity.  My two favorite books are by the same author, Jane Nichols.  Stumpwork Dragonflies is lovely, but The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection is a stunner.  I think it deserves a spot in every embroiderer's library.  If you don't want to purchase the books, they are available through interlibrary loan - visit your local library for more info.

February 13, 2015

What Quilt Design Should I Try Next?

Around this time every year, I really start itching to make a new quilt.  The funny thing about that is that I am almost always working on a quilt.  For example, right now I'm finishing the quilting for a lovely Ocean Waves replica.  In any case, I'm thinking of trying something new - a red, white and blue quilt.  I don't want to go all out patriotic, but I do like the combination of the three colors and I know it appeals to a lot of people.  The scraps from other studio projects have been piling up and I have plenty of white and off-white linen and red and blue silk.

I am a fan of star quilts and have always wanted to try a five pointed star.  I drafted a possible pattern, but I'm on the fence about it because I will need to do a lot of Y-seams.  Not a big deal, it just takes up time.  It is pretty though.  Maybe more white around the stars...

The second option is a replica of a sweet School House quilt I saw in the book New York Beauties: Quilts From the Empire State by J. Atkins and P. Tepper.  The original is one of seven identical quilts Ella R. Hill Fatz made for her grandchildren around 1916.  I like the graphic simplicity, the way the colors are used, and the slight variation in reds and blues.  Oh, what to do!

Stay tuned.

February 3, 2015

Technique Tuesday: Work Habits and Communication Skills

As part of my New Year's clean up, I was going through all my old archived emails and ran across this 2008 letter from a fan and my response.   I receive letters like this every once in a while and they always make me smile.  So today's technique is found in my response to this person: work everyday, use what you have, and most important, be positive.  I still offer the same advice.  I would only change one thing- I would now add Pinterest!

Hi Alana,

Thank you for taking the time to read this. First, I love your dolls-- I first saw them in a magazine (I can\'t remember which one, however! It was a long time ago), and jotted your name down on a post-it note, which I just found and googled..

 I'm a 40-year old, stay-at-home mother (have been for ten years) . As my youngest heads to kindergarten this year, I feel like I'm at a bit of a crossroads and I guess I'm looking for some inspiration-- Reading your bio has helped me in that. (Thank you!)

I have degrees in Business and Biology, but actually started college as an art major. I think the switch to business was in panic, and the addition of biology was my realization that I needed to be studying something interesting (which business didn't afford me.)

Because in the last ten years we've become used to living on one-income, I can finally follow what my heart whispers to me without the panic of having to pay bills-- I realize how lucky I am in that. (I'm a very practical person. I think somtimes it's a major fault.)

I love to write, paint, sew, spin wool, and just started knitting about 6 months ago. (I used to quilt, but haven't in a long time) I, too, have a love of nature, biology, and natural materials.

I wanted to thank you for sharing your story on your web-site. Somehow, it has helped me to read that you have a PhD and have now found success as an artist. While I have confidence in what I do, I still feel pangs of doubt as friends return to work in "real" careers, while I plan to take temporary, much lower paying jobs so that I can still have free time to follow a more creative path.

If you have any tips or cautions, I would love to hear them.

This summer has been preparatory for me-- I've gathered supplies, created a work space, and took a couple on-line classes (They focused on writing and the process of submitting work and getting published) On Sept. 1st, my kids return to school, and I begin to act out on plans. I have 3 areas that I'm interested in that I will begin feeling out more. (I think it is like you having ten dolls going all at will feel more inspirational on certain days and that is where I will focus at that time.)

 Thank you again for inspiration. I love the dolls. L.

Hello L.,

Thank you for a wonderful email and your generosity of spirit. 

I can't tell from your comments if you want to try to sell your work, or if you are still exploring your creativity. 

In any case, the first thing you have to do is work.  This is the hardest part, especially when you work at home.  There are always chores to be done, but think of going to the studio as if you are going to work (because you are!).   Be disciplined.  You MUST do something creative each day.  On days where nothing really inspires me, I'll do something necessary but mindless (like making 50 hands - I always need hands).  This keeps me in the groove.  Other times, I don't feel like any type of animal or bird is interesting and I don't want to work on figures. On those days, I'll work on texture samples (embroidery, crochet, beading, whatever); little bits that can be incorporated into clothing or bodies later.  I am currently making recycled silk quilts and some days, sewing lots of little pieces or quilting is what feels right.

Do not be afraid of "failure".  Remember that what looks or feels horrible or unattractive to you, will be the best thing ever for someone else.  Try really hard to finish what you start.  If an item is truly horrible, don't just put it out of sight.  Analyze the project and find what aspect of it isn't working.  Try to say 5 good things about the project (nice colors, feels soft, pretty stitches, etc) and 5 distinct reasons why it doesn't work (poor contrast, crooked seams, uneven thickness, etc.).  By doing this, you will figure out what appeals to you and what doesn't. 

One of the most difficult parts of being an artist is finding your style.  And yes, you have one.  Lots of people start out by copying someone else;  I think this is fine because you will never be able to truly copy something.  Just start working on whatever; its a good idea to start small.  Keep trying new things until something "feels" right to you, but analyze the projects as you go. There is no way to quantify or describe the creative process.  It may take a while, a long while, but you will get there.  Also, keep in mind that you may find quite a few things that appeal to you.  As for me, I make figures, but also quilts and jewelry. 

Use what you have.  Don't be fooled into thinking that if only you had that tool, or that piece of fabric or those buttons everything would be perfect.  Limiting and using your resources forces you to be creative and now is the time to start getting used to it.  Your most important tools are your brain and your hands - that's it.  I won't argue that certain tools make the job easier or faster.  For example, I do have a super snazzy sewing machine, but 99% of my sewing is straight stitch on my old Singer.  And clearly, looking at my figures, you can see that there is a ton of hand work.  The super snazzy machine can only do so much for me.

Read, read, read.  Look at lots of magazines.  Go to the library and check out the latest in fashion, architecture, gardening periodicals.  There is a huge cross-reference in styles for these areas.  Look at textures, colors, geometry.  I have a huge notebook of little snippets from magazines and I use them all the time when making clothing for my figures.  This process will also help you focus on your personal style.

I always laugh when people are surprised that I have a Ph.D.  I don't know where the dicotomy between art and science came from.  The process for both is identical.  The skills I used when doing research, are the exact same skills I use as an artist. You should also know that I have met more science Ph.Ds (women and men) working as artists and doing art fairs than anywhere else (except in academe).  So many people become disillusioned by the academic grind that they leave.  All scientists are inherently creative people and that drive must be expressed in some way.
Last, do not compare yourself to other people with "real" careers.  These are people who often come home exhausted after commuting 2 hours a day, doing who knows what (and often they can't even say).  They complain about how they never have time for whatever, are surgically attached to their cell phones, and don't have real relationships with real people.  Who needs that?  Be proud of your endeavors.  Respect your work. 

Good luck to you.  Be positive.  Best regards, Alana

January 30, 2015

New In The Studio: Small Rodents

If you are familiar with my work, you may have noticed that, although I recreate most of the mammals of the southwest, I don't have any rodents.  Rodents are the most numerous of mammals, but historically, not in my studio.  I've decided that I really do need to work on this technical weakness and have a selection of rodents for sale - after all they are some of the most beautiful of the region's inhabitants.

The first step is creating a good body.  Most of my figures use one of two basic patterns.  I use an alternative smaller pattern for a few birds, and I decided to alter this one for the rodents.  I knew I wanted larger thighs and shorter legs.  I drew the changes and cut out a sample in muslin.  It is important to put all the parts together to see the final dimensions so I strung some string through the appendages and body and tied a simple bow to simulate the joints.

In the first sample, I thought the thighs needed to be bigger still, the forearms more slender, and the butt smaller.  I pinned out the excess fabric, measured the changes and transferred them to the pattern.  A second muslin sample was much improved.

The next step is making a body with 'real' fabric.  Because this figure will be much smaller than others I make, I have to be more mindful of fabric choices (smaller figures are more difficult to sew than larger ones). The arms and lower legs are narrow, so using mid-weight wools -my favorite- would add some difficulty.  The best choice is light or mid-weight linen or silk. In this figure, the front and inner legs and arms are off-white mid-weight linen, with the back and outer appendages beige handkerchief linen lined with muslin.  The lining is necessary to give strength to the seams and a quality 'feel' in the hand (you can always tell if cloth is flimsy just by touch).  You can see the finished body in the photo.  With a head, it will be about 2/3 the size of my regular figures. 

I played around with the rodent body, and it became apparent that the knee joint was not as flexible as it should be.  When the knee bends, there is too much fabric behind it and it wants to spring back straight.  The solution is to remove a portion of the back of the upper leg to make room for the back of to the lower leg. I will alter the pattern for future projects, but in this case, I took in the fabric with needle and thread.

Stay tuned for more about the new rodents...