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).
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!).
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).
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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♥ MEET DEBBIE RITTER ♥
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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♥ ENCORE ♥
♥ Check out this video for more of Debbie’s dolls:
♥ Click here for a televised interview at Ci Living
♥ 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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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.