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 agosiachrysogaster@gmail.com. Thank you for visiting!

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December 16, 2014

Technique Tuesday: Making Tiny Doll Hands


As mentioned in a previous post, I am often asked about hands. Probably the most common question is, "How do you make those tiny fingers"?!  People looking at my sculptures love that the fingers move and that the hand is pose-able.  The great thing about cloth hands is that I only have to make one type, but I can change the entire look of a doll by altering the placement of the fingers.

I described the process a previous post, but it is easier to understand by watching the video.  I must give credit where credit is due: I learned the technique in a class by Akira Blount at Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft.

No special tricks involved in the process, but the key to success is t-shirt fabrics.  So simple, but it makes a huge difference!  Another benefit is that you don't have to spend a lot of money on special cloth, just visit the thrift store and buy some gently worn shirts.  If you are making needle-sculpted heads, you can use the same fabric for those.

Questions or comments?  As always, let me know. Watch the video, then try some hands yourself.

December 12, 2014

If you're an artist, are discounts good or bad for sales?

These guys found new homes, but what about the others?
I've recently decided to post monthly sales on the Agosia Arts Facebook page and the newsletter.  The first sale was for Halloween - a Mexican Freetail Bat - and a customer snapped him up pretty quickly.  I plan to have a large sale for December featuring older pieces that have been hanging around for a while.  All nice dolls but, for whatever reason, they haven't sold.

Generally speaking, I'll offer a %50 discount.  So, how can I make any money doing that?  Am I turning my business model over to one similar to that of jewelry and furniture stores (big sales, scheduled often)?  For a  number of reasons, I think regular discounts are useful and don't hurt the bottom line.

My retail prices reflect the accurate cost of labor and materials.  Generally, I calculate my costs & profit margin, determine a wholesale price, then double that for retail.  Whether someone sees one of my figures at an art fair or in a gallery, the retail price would be the same.  Whether I sell items through a gallery, at art fairs, or online, there are associated costs and the bump up to the retail price covers those costs.  Each sales platform has a benefit: galleries work hard to sell your artwork; art fairs allow me to meet and converse with patrons; online sales are fast and easy for customers and allow me more time in the studio.  I've done the financial analysis and, surprisingly, there isn't a financial benefit to selling either way.  The main point, though is that I have to sell something before I make any money at all.

So, if I have a chipmunk tagged at $395 that I made four years ago who has traveled to a few galleries and been sent home unsold, gone to and returned from a few art fairs, and is now sitting in a bin in storage, well, he's not making anyone happy.  Not an art patron and not me. When a figure doesn't sell right away, it is likely to sit in storage for a few years. Sometimes sending it to a gallery in another part of the country will lead to a sale, but I can't count on that. 

It seems counter-intuitive to some, but the longer the chipmunk is unsold, the less money I make.  He is taking up time (moving him around), psychological energy (dang!, why won't he sell?) and storage space.  Each time I move it from one bin to another, I feel sad.  He is so wonderful, why hasn't he found a home? Maybe he's not $395 wonderful.  Maybe he's only $198 wonderful.  Am I OK with that?  Yes.  I still make money, maybe not as much, but enough to pay the electric bill to keep the sewing machine running.

Another important consideration is the customer.  Let's face it, $395 is a chunk of money to plop down for something that doesn't serve an essential purpose.  Many people admire my work, but can't afford it.  When they see something at a discount, they are delighted and feel that they've scored a bargain.  I get emails from patrons who have purchased a discounted item or received a long-desired gift and they are a devoted bunch.  I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that these are some of my most impassioned patrons.  Whenever an artist has the ability to promote positive feelings through his or her artwork, it is empowering to everyone concerned.  If I can make someone happy with a monthly sale, it is a small price to pay for the profit of happiness.

December 9, 2014

Technique Tuesday: Making a Vulture Head

 What is my favorite bird species to make?  Well, I have a lot of favorites, but high on the list is the vulture. Up until now, I've always made Turkey Vultures.  These guys have lots of personality and they are always popular with the public.  I think there are three reasons for this: folks like anything with an aspect of:  1) creepiness, 2) grossness and/or 3) death.  People just don't understand vultures because none of these things are true.  Our vultures are not birds of prey, and are actually more closely related to storks and cranes! I try to do my part by having a vulture around so that I can help dash some of the inaccuracies out there.

But, that's not why I like to make vultures.  I like them because they are some of the easiest bird heads to make.  Why?  I don't have to worry too much about the shape of the actual head part.  The beak has to be the right shape and color, but the head itself could be square and still look good.

When I've made Turkey Vultures in the past, I've covered the head with leather.  Leather is a good match for the texture for the naked head of the bird, but sadly, I'm all out of aged burgundy-colored leather.  I have a current love affair with the Black Vulture and have decided to make one of those. This species also had a naked head, but it is more of greyish color. I don't have any leather the appropriate color (black is too dark and looks too 'nice'), so I decided to use silk. The basic process for making my new vulture follows below:

The vulture beak was made using my usual technique (see this older post) and a wool strip was wrapped and glued around it.  I wound some more wool onto the beak to approximate the size of the head I wanted.  I didn't do the usual layering of wool to create a specific shape and size as I would with any other bird head, but I did cover the back with some black fabric.  This part of the head has feathers and will not be covered with silk.


I cut a piece beige-grey silk about three times the size of the head and pinned it into place around the beak.  I didn't try to center the fabric or gather it evenly at all.  I decided that the piece of silk wasn't big enough, so I cut another for the back of the head and pinned that down as well.

The edge of the silk that represents the edge of the skin is sewn on using small applique stitches.  The excess fabric is tacked with small back-stitches all along the head.  This process requires many passes, but the excess is slowly gathered into folds and wrinkles covering the head.  Because there are so many folds, they completely hide the stitching.

Unlike other bird heads, the eyes (red glass beads) are added before the surface is complete. Two strips of silk are added above and below the eyes to create the eyelids and brow areas.  More stitching tacks everything down and creates subtle expression.  I've left larger wrinkles on the bottom of the head because it will be attached to the neck, and then covered with more silk (vultures have naked necks as well).  I may add more stitching along the neck to fit the wrinkles properly with the final costume in place.

Describing the process makes it seem like this is a lot of work, but in reality the whole process took less than 1/2 hour to complete (not including the beak).  The stitching doesn't have to be even or carefully done - the wrinkles hide any sewing sins. If I were using leather, the process would be similar, but even faster.  I would cover the head with glue, mold the leather into random wrinkles and wrap the head firmly with a soft cloth until the glue dries.  Either method results in a unique head that approximates the appearance of the real bird and has a lot of personality.  Stay tuned for upcoming images of the completed figure.

December 5, 2014

Updating Some Old Friends

I recently took a hard look at the figures I have in storage.  A number of them have been traveling with me to shows, out to galleries, and back home for a long time.  Because most of them are over three years old, and I've changed some of my methods in that time, I felt like I had to update the figures before I put them for sale online.


Old leather feet with glued seams.
Two updates were necessary.  First, they all needed new boots.  A few had leather boots with glued toe seams, but most had fabric feet with turned under and sewn toes.  Not bad, but not great either, a bit lumpy.  All of the leather boots had to be remade in wool.  All of the fabric feet/toes were opened up, attached to new wool-covered soles and resewn smoothly.  Everyone has nice, neat feet & boots now.


Simple faceted bead eye from 2010.
Much better!
The second update was to the eyes.  Over the years, I've used a number of techniques for eyes.  All of these older figures have fluted or faceted glass beads as eyes.  The texture catches the light and gives a lifelike sparkle.  Occasionally, I'll still use a faceted eye, but most of the time, I use smooth glass beads.  The new beads are larger, but I tug them farther into the head and add eyelids over the beads.  The change gives an eye that doesn't sit on top of the face, but is sunk into the 'skull' in a more realistic manner.  The news eyes are a subtle change, but give more expression to the face.

Knee surgery.
The last change for everyone was to the knee joints.  Generally, I use simple bead joint, but I decided to give these figures a big upgrade to complete button knees.  I don't often do this because knees require two buttons each, but what the heck.  Now these guys have fancy button knees.

Two of the figures had non-movable arms and I don't feature fixed appendages anymore (people like arms and legs that move around), so off came the arms and new shoulder button joints were installed.  One of these figures has a sleeveless jacket, but the other had sleeves that have to be remade for movable arms.
An old, fixed position shoulder.

These figures have had a long life on the road.  They are all in good shape, but I think its time for them to find a new home.  The plan is to discount their prices and place them on Etsy.  Why the discount?  Stay tuned next week for my reasoning behind the sale prices.

December 2, 2014

Technique Tuesday: Italian Knotted Tassels

A tiny tassel that looks like berries.
Recently, I did a Pinterest search on Italian knotted tassels (my favorite) and sadly, found few pins.  (Visit my Embellishments board for a few historical examples.).  Ahhh, you've never heard of Italian knotted tassels?  What makes them so special?  First, they have a complex visual texture that draws the eye.  Depending on the yarn used, the knots can look like beads, pom poms or embroidery.  Second, knotted tassels have more volume than the usual kind.  A few strands of knots can make a tassel as large as a 100 strand normal variety. Third, these tassels don't swing and swish, they bounce!  They have an enormous amount of movement that is amazing to see; truly, they are an underutilized embellishment.

Pairs of knots to be strung
Making a knotted tassel is pretty straight-forward.  You take a doubled length of yarn, make a series of knots, cut out pairs of them, then string them onto another length of yarn with more knots.  For the basics, and pictures, jump to my previous post describing the process.

The look of these tassels can change dramatically with the yarn used.  Silks and wool yarns can have lot of sheen and make the knots look like beads - a very complex look for little effort.  Usually my tassels are a single color, but multicolored tassels are super-easy.  Make knots in the yarn colors of choice, then string the pairs of knots randomly or in a pattern.  Tiny multicolored tassels and fringe made of these tassels are shown in multiple examples in Fashion In Detail by Avril Hart and Susan North (see my list of reference books for  more info).  If you leave longer tails on your pairs of knots, that also changes the look. 

If you are looking for a simple, classy and inexpensive gift, what about a knotted tassel?  Make one from yarns in your stash, or go out and buy some inexpensive cotton in a pretty color.  Knot up a tassel and attach it to a keychain ring - you are done!  Trust me, it will look great.

November 21, 2014

Your Cloth Sculpture Is Worth ... Forty Cents!

Cloth dolls tend to be lightweights.  If the doll is a toy, that's great.  If the doll (or, ahem, cloth figure) is meant to be a work of art, well, a featherweight isn't so great.  Items for display need some heft.  For practical purposes, this is so your artwork won't fall off the shelf, or move with a slight breeze. Fixed position figures are usually attached to a heavy base and that solves the problem.

My figures are posable and people like to move them around.  To keep them in a stable sitting position, or to keep them hanging straight, I add weights to the body before stuffing.  Over the years, I've added various things.  I started with tiny sacks of pebbles, but those were tricky to get down the neck.  I moved to marbles and glass nuggets, but it was difficult to string the hip joints around them.  For the past few years, I've been using pennies. 

I turns out that $.40 is just the right amount of weight.  I add the pennies to the neck opening and they fall to the bottom of the torso.  They form a thin layer and the stuffing sits right on top. The pennies don't interfere with the hip joint and because the torso is so firmly stuffed, they don't shift around at all. With most of the thick wools I use, you can't tell there are coins inside (no jingling!), but the dolls have a nice weight that allows them to sit firmly. 

The only tricky part of the process is finding pristine pennies.  Post-1982 pennies are copper coated zinc, and quite a few develop odd patterns of corrosion.  I have to sort the coin jar regularly and when I'm making a lot of figures at once, I actually have to go to the bank to get pennies. 

Stay tuned for more interesting tidbits!