Indie Artist Spotlight: Debbie Ritter of Uneek Doll Designs

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Debbie in her Cullman, Alabama, sunroom studio.

I think it was Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference who first tipped me off to Debbie Ritter’s wonderful handmade character dolls at Uneek Doll Designs.

I was delighted to see so many of my favorite authors and poets (Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, Emily Dickinson, Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Joyce) in miniature form, and impressed by the quality of workmanship, attention to detail, and amazing quantity and variety of figures available (600+ items currently listed at Etsy).

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Oscar Wilde
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Emily Dickinson
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Charlotte Bronte

Debbie is an artist after my own heart. In addition to creating lots of writers, she also features the characters in their stories (Scarlett O’Hara, Anna Karenina, Anne Shirley, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Darcy!). And just as fabulous as her literary dolls are her artists, musicians, singers, historical figures, movie stars and TV personalities (love the Three Stooges, Lucille Ball, Willie Nelson, Aunt Bea, Captain Kangaroo, The Marx Brothers, the Royal Family!).

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William and Kate
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Marx Brothers
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Andy, Aunt Bea and Barney Fife

Yes — pretty much anyone you can think of is available as a Uneek Doll, and if you don’t see your favorite in Debbie’s shop, she welcomes custom orders. I love how her personal style shines through as she captures each subject’s essence and personality with her distinct panache and sense of humor. Sometimes it’s one masterfully executed element that really makes the piece stand out (Walt Whitman’s beard, Dr. Seuss’s big round glasses, Mark Twain’s white suit, Phyllis Diller’s rainbow feather boa).

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Queen Elizabeth II (love the hat!)

Can you believe these are basically clothespin dolls? It all started years ago when Debbie’s husband made a dollhouse for her mother. Because Debbie couldn’t find any suitable dolls for it, she decided to make her own, developing an original method using wood, clay, wire, fabric, fiber and paint. She still makes her dolls one at a time, freehand, without a pattern. As the original artist and sole designer at Uneek Doll Designs, Debbie signs and dates every piece.

Her work has appeared on the Today Show, at Vanity Fair online, and in publications such as At Home in Illinois, Doll Collector and Art Doll Quarterly. I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about Debbie and seeing all the interesting people she’s brought along today. Like me, you’ll be hard pressed to pick a favorite. 🙂

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Name of shop or business: Uneek Doll Designs

Year established: March 16, 2008

Items you make: I create miniature caricature style art dolls of all kinds

Studio Location: Cullman, Alabama


Three words that best describe your art: unique, miniature, characters

Self-taught or formal training? Totally self-taught

Tools of the Trade: wood, wire, clay, paint, fabric, fiber, scissors, thread, glue, and unique trims to add interesting details

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Inspirations and influences: History, classic literature, authors, writers, and old movies, people of all kinds

Three significant milestones in your career:

Three significant milestones would be the day I sold my first art miniature within hours of opening shop, winning an art doll magazine contest for unusual miniature dolls, and having my Susan Boyle miniature given to Susan herself on The Today Show by Meredith Viera.

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“I dreamed a dream in time gone by . . . “

Food that inspires your best work:

The only food I could say might inspire me is chocolate! I might grab a piece when I feel the need for a mini reward for working hard on a project!


I have to say that my author dolls are probably my bestsellers, so I am constantly adding new ones to my repertoire. I never get tired of doing them, even if they are the same ones requested over and over!

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Edgar Allan Poe
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Gone With the Wind Set

What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?

My earliest memory of being creative is when I would take whole packages of lined paper and draw pictures by the hundreds, I even drew pictures on my homework and got scolded a wee bit by my teacher!

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Marie Antoinette was one of Debbie’s first dolls.

Were you a doll collector as a child? Any interest in fashion?

I had a few favorite dolls as a child, Mrs. Beasley and my Drowsy doll, but it never occurred to me to start collecting dolls at the time. Fashion is something I like to see what is the latest, but I don’t really invest a whole lot of time with it.

What’s the hardest part of making a doll look like its real life counterpart?

I guess the only hard part would be trying to capture and paint the face on such a small palette. Since I have to paint on an area that is less than ½ inch in size, I find it takes a bit of concentration, and once in awhile a few tries until I feel I have the character’s personality showing through. But this part has gotten a lot easier since I have had so much experience at it.

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Ealdgyth, Queen Consort of England
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Queen Elizabeth I

Tell us about your favorite creation so far, some of the challenges you overcame to make it, and how it influences what you’re doing now.

I like to do royalty, mainly because of the elaborate details of their costumes, they are fun for me. The biggest challenge I really ever had in doing my form of art is in the beginning I had to overcome my reluctance to create male dolls. I started out doing only female Victorian style dolls at first because they were easier and less of a challenge. After a while, I realized I needed to push myself to try new ideas so after a few fumbles I started adding male art characters and gained more experience.

Pushing myself has been a huge boost for my business because now I can take on almost any request for human characters, even if I have never tried them before.

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King Henry VIII
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Another Elizabeth R

Please select a popular item from your shop, tell us what inspired it and how you made it.

Frida Kahlo with her pet parrots is one of my popular characters that I sell a lot of. I was inspired to make the character after I read some history behind her and thought she was very interesting.

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Frida with Parrots

I create this particular miniature by first threading wire through drilled holes at the shoulders, then using the clay to mold her arms and head shape. After clay dries, I then paint the arms and paint the fine details of her face. The final steps are then to create her costume, add her hand styled hair, and take clay and mold it on tiny bird forms to make the shape of the parrots.

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More Fridas

What’s the most interesting (or challenging or weird or funny) custom doll you’ve made so far?

I think the weirdest request would be the one where a lady asked me to do a miniature of her husband sitting in a chair holding a basketball. I told my husband I am not sure why someone would want a replica of his or her spouse!

Since you make quite a few literary characters, please tell us about some of your favorite books and/or authors.

I love to read, read, read! Always have, so since I had a penchant for art, I decided I would combine the two loves so I could enjoy what I do even more. Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell, and Anthony Trollope are just a few of my favorite authors. I like so many authors that I have a goal to read as many books as I can since they often serve as inspiration for my artwork.

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The Fezziwigs from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
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Kurt Vonnegut
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Anton Chekov

Describe your studio. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?

I work in a sunroom, with windows all around. I must have light to work at my optimal level, and I also have many drawers with clear fronts so I can organize my oodles of fabric and trim and see at a glance what is in the drawers. I also enjoy watching some of my favorite TV shows in DVD form along with music from Andrea Bocelli, Susan Boyle and others. Normally I always have some kind of noise going on, but sometimes I do enjoy total silence- depending on the mood I am in!

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How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?

If I am constantly trying new ideas, then I know I am on target for growing as an artist, which is something I am always striving to do. I define success as really enjoying what I do and finding myself looking forward to the time when I get to sit down and do what I feel I am good at.

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Ella Fitzgerald
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Wizard of Oz Set

What do you like best about the creative life?

I like the feeling of knowing I am doing what I do best. I am of the strong belief that every single person has a talent for doing something, and when they discover it, they will find themselves doing that particular thing just for the relaxation or personal reward it gives them. That is what I find when I sit down and am able to incorporate all the things I enjoy doing, (reading, observing people, a touch of humor), into my artwork.

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George Washington

Any new projects you’re especially excited about?

I am always excited to try new characters I have never done before, so that is why I keep a book nearby where I write down people I want to do. If it looks like a particular person or character will be challenging, all the more better I like to plot how I will do it and often go to sleep at night thinking of what methods I can use to get the results I want to obtain.

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Charlie Chaplin

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Click here for a televised interview at Ci Living

Uneek Doll Designs at Etsy

Uneek Doll Designs Facebook Page

Debbie on Pinterest

♥ Debbie’s blog, Uneek Musings

I could look at Debbie’s dolls all day! Here are some children’s authors to close the post:

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Beatrix Potter
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Beverly Cleary
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Eric Carle
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Maurice Sendak

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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

32 thoughts on “Indie Artist Spotlight: Debbie Ritter of Uneek Doll Designs

  1. Wow, I could admire these dolls all day! Such creativity, and yet so close to form. I’m having a hard time imagining that each figure is born of an old-fashioned clothespin. Amazing. Thanks for introducing us to Debbie & all her beautiful dolls.


    1. She has an incredible selection of dolls at her shop — I’m having a really hard time deciding which to purchase :).


  2. Aww, the little Kurt made me tear up. It captures so much of his spirit.
    These are all so interesting – nothing with that much detail deserves the shallow moniker of “cute” but — amazing. A devoted artist.


    1. You’re right — I love how she’s captured Kurt’s spirit and personality. I like that her dolls move beyond “resemblance” to prompting a striking emotional reaction.


  3. Well that was a lot of smiles for one morning. This is another post I’m going to have to come back to and savor. I didn’t think I could like one doll more, than another favorite would pop up as I scrolled. And another. What sheer delight. Amazing creativity. Thanks, Jama for displaying such art.


    1. I know exactly what you mean — another and another — each amazing in its own way. Wonder what Mr. Carle would think of his likeness? 🙂


    1. Thank YOU, Debbie, for your great answers and for inspiring and delighting everyone with your wonderful talent and artistry!


  4. Returning back to a literary wonderland. Thank you for bringing this to us.
    Beautiful.It was fun to try to recognize the characters first and I was right most of the time, which means these dolls are masterpieces.


  5. Oh, thank you so much for sharing Debbie Ritter and her talent with us. As a child I played with the idea of making clothespin dolls–not much talent or not enough perseverance. The likenesses of her characters are remarkable. I am mesmerized by her talent. Thank you for having such interesting/colorful/unique ideas in your blog.


    1. Aw, thanks, Michelle. I’ve been following Debbie’s FB Page because it’s so exciting to see who she’ll create next :).


  6. Another terrific feature! Thanks to Debbie for sharing all this great work and the stories behind it – inspiring. I love the way the personality shines forth from each individual doll.

    Jama, thank you for the introduction! Off to favorite Debbie’s Etsy shop now and get lost over there I’m sure…!


    1. Yes — that’s the hard part and the true test — to capture individual personalities. Enjoy getting lost at Debbie’s shop!


  7. Sorry I missed this! Two of my kids have been sick and my schedule has been thrown off. Love the expressions on Scarlet O’Hara and Maurice Sendak’s faces. Also, Kurt Vonnegut’s hair!


    1. Sorry to hear they’ve been sick.

      I know what you mean about Vonnegut’s hair . . . there are so many dolls like that — one detail that I especially like that puts it over the top.


    1. I thought of you when I heard she was from Alabama. There must be something in the water there to nourish good artists and writers. 🙂


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