I Make Creepy-Beautiful Dolls For A Living, But I Swear I'm Not A Psycho Killer

Photo: Mixed-Debris
creepy doll

I love to make dolls. I love to call myself a doll-maker, or a dulmacher because that name reminds me of Batman and dark mad scientists, like myself.

I haven't made that many dolls in my life, but I have made them all my life, starting when I was very, very young.

When I show them to people, everyone always asks the same thing, and with the same mysterious quiver in their voice. "Why? Why do you make dolls?"

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Dolls stir something up in people; they unnerve us somehow. They seem soulless, undead ... yet, they feel like they have a backstory.

Are they alive? What do they want? Why on earth do we want to admire these beautifully crafted dolls so much? They're obviously from Hell, right? 

Photo: Author

Only the dulmacher knows the doll's secret story. 

We'd like to think that whoever made this doll is a mad person; an artist who weaves into their fabrics dubious bits of this and that while reciting incantations in an ancient and forbidden tongue.

This doll-maker carries with them the wisdom of the ages and they pour that wisdom into the doll's eyes. The doll eyes see you, don't they?

Maybe the doll is made out of the soul of the doll-maker and is watching your every move. Or, maybe the doll will eat your soul up in one big gulp if you get too close. 

Making dolls is a meditation. I know, it would be so much more romantic if I told you the spirit of the doll possessed me, but the truth is, it just feels good to make a doll.

It just feels good to be an artist, and if I can do it, in part, I do it.

The work is finger-stabbing, and it's way too intense on the eyes. And it takes a long time. But it is a meditation because it's soothing and one-pointed. The focus is what it's all about. There's art in focus. 

For me, it started as it does for kids who play with dolls, especially Barbies. First came the haircuts and dye jobs, then came the Sharpie bikinis and full metal eyeliner. They always ended up looking like S&M witches, my Barbies.

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The real 'gift' started showing when I revamped a Raggedy Ann to look like Alice Cooper's rotting, hung corpse.

At a very young age, I was already showing a deep love for macabre beauty. I may have been just a kid, but I really loved Alice. I slept with that doll every night and ended up meeting Alice himself when I was a wee 12-year old. 

I was always making effigies.

Back in the Rocky Horror days, I made statues and busts of Frank. I made life-sized paper mâché horrors. Did I want to create these heinous mistakes? Hell no! I wanted to make beautiful statues.

The fun part was, I liked the horrors and accidents. I didn't care if I made a freak show. I liked not knowing where the whole thing was going. I still do.

Photo: Author

I made my first really nice doll, Dabs MacClintock — A Raven for All Occasions. Oh, now there's a chap that comes with a tall tale. That's how it is with the dolls; they all have a tall tale, a back story. Dabs could thrill you for hours, he's so debonair.

Photo: Author

I had the most hilarious time building my Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter doll.

It came out looking a little too much like the man himself but in the most uncomfortably caricatured and freakiest of ways. I did a little photoshoot of him and in one shot, he really looks like he's considering who to eat tonight.

I do like to make clumsy, horrifying faces, and I sort of dance between making dolls and making strange masks for the dolls themselves.

As Mordrake, the two-faced sorrow-eater, I wore a bizarro head attached to the back of my own head. I needed a headpiece that would be disturbing. Mission accomplished.

A lot of the times, I am part of the doll aesthetic; I will dress myself up as one. Sometimes I paint dolls into my paintings.

Photo: Author

Sometimes the work is simple; I still like to mess around with little girl dolls, the kind you can buy in Target.

For instance, I fell in love with the TV series, What We Do in the Shadows, and needed to have my own version of the Nadja doll, which lead to my creating a grand, WWDITS-style gothic painting of my housemates and myself, in our vampire best.

Photo: Author

My latest doll is Jindal. Phew, that was a lot of work. I really need a magnifying glass after that kind of detail.

Jindal's made of Sculpey, wire, fabric, yarn — lots of sewing and gluing. Part of the thrill of making Jindal was sharing the works-in-progress with people on social media.

People absolutely go bonkers watching the growth of a doll from scratch to finished work. Because, to tell the truth, I have just as much of an idea of where it's going as they do, which is not much. The process just happens and I'm on board from inception to completion.

Then I'm out. Doll time is over. It's a phase. Drawing is what is calling me now, today.

If I'm not making a doll, I'm painting, or sketching, or composing music, or writing a novel, or designing a costume. It's what I do.

I didn't get the gift of math. I got the art gift. And part of the amazingly fortunate package that I did get, is the variety of creative categories I get to play with.

The main categories are Art, Music, Theater, and Writing. Under Art, there are a few subcategories, and Somewhat-Grotesque-Yet-Weirdly-Beautiful-Sculpted-Dolls became a specialty.

I make dolls because I can, because it eases my mind and lets me be me. 

I am an artist, and I am perpetually grateful that this onslaught of abilities happened to me in this lifetime. Never in my life has a day gone by where I am not conscious of the gift that's been bestowed upon me.

Doll-making is a gift and I am just lucky.

But lucky I am, because I am an artist, and when you are as compelled to create art as I am, the ride is always on, almost to the point of insanity.

I never stop creating; it's compulsive. There is no down time in Dori the Dulmacher's world, and yet, it's an unending thrill ride. 

Creating art, for me, is like an ongoing whole body-mind-spirit orgasm. Exhausting, but exhilarating.

Art never lets me down; it flows forward and gives me an amazing life at every age. I am never bored. What a boon. It's an electric ride where I am aware and alive beyond words throughout every second of it.

It is the most exciting life, I am so thankful to be an artist.

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Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily and The Stir. Her books, 'Angels and Echoes', ‘Beauty’, ‘Antler Velvet’, and 'Mads Mikkelsen: Portraits of the Actor' are all available on Amazon.