Art dolls after hair application: a rockstar mess!
Every time I start a project, I find myself looking for new methods to try or improve what I'm already doing. I'm currently working on a pair of Asian art dolls, twins, and I needed really straight and shiny black hair. So far, I've had difficulty making natural fibre super straight so I tried synthetic and that worked really well. But working on synthetic was different from natural fiber so I had to do the rounds of research again to double check that I was using it right. That thought led to this post... a collection of videos and/or tutorials I've found helpful, which hopefully, you're here because like me, you like to study different methods to finish your projects.
The same art dolls after hair styling: the girl has had her locks collected into a bun while the boy got a short haircut
There are a great many materials that can be used for doll hair from synthetic to natural fibers. It's easy to get lost in the choices and, trial and error can be taxing on the budget too. One very useful video I found is from Sugar Charm Shop – she has amazing tutorials on a variety of sculpting subjects but since we're talking about hair, she has a just as amazing overview of the different materials available out there, what's in her collection, where she bought them and what she uses them for:
Sugar Charm Shop on hair on hair materials she uses
I prefer to use natural fiber but I like I mentioned earlier, I recently tried synthetic hair for the Asian dolls and I loved how synthetic hair was shiny and super straight. Before I used it though, found this delightful Youtuber, Dollightful, discussing how to weft, make a wig and style synthetic hair:
Dollightful on wefting synthetic hair on making a wig cap and wig
Wigs are great especially if you're afraid of ruining your doll or if you want to change the hairstyle later on. I ended up following Dollightful's wig tutorial for practice but in the end, I chose to glue the synthetic hair directly on my Asian dolls.
Another method I found is rooting. The first time I saw this method of inserting hair on raw polymer clay was in an IG post by Michael Zajkov. It's like rooting reborn babies (lots of other samples out there, just linking this random video for easy reference), except using raw polymer clay. Michael Zajkov inserted each strand into unbaked clay in a circular pattern. That's dedication – no wonder his dolls look so gorgeous!
I tried this method on a smaller head but boy oh boy, it's a painstaking process! I need a ton of practice before I can really do it successfully. I also found a reference of this method in Glass Attic. If you go there, click or scroll down to "hair", the site has a lot of tips on different materials and methods, also in using polymer clay to make hair, which I will do in another post. They also have tips on what needles to use if you're trying this rooting method. Glass Attic is a great reference, it's a repository of knowledge from a lot of artists, unfortunately though, when I tried some of their links they led to dead ends. Fairys N My Pond combines the first two methods and roots (or in this case, felts) the wig:
Fairys N My Pond's felting wig process
My preferred method of applying hair to art dolls, is gluing the material directly to the scalp. First, you prepare small batches of hair and glue the ends (the end that goes in the scalp) together in what is called a weft. Once you have enough wefts to fill the head (and make the hair as full as you want), identify the hairline and start gluing each weft on the head, making sure to cover the hairline marks while going around the head in a circular pattern, working your way inwards.
If I remember correctly, I first saw this method years ago from the MadSculptor, Mark Dennis who sparked my interest in art dolls and who've I've greatly admired since I discovered his work years ago. Mark Dennis does not seem to make wefts though. He glues the cut strands directly to the head. He has a step-by-step in photos in his blog:
This method is clearly illustrated in the following video (hair work starts around timestamp 3:33) by Celodonia Studio:
Celedonia Studio sculpting a fairy from start to finish
April Jensen starts off her hair slightly differently; she puts a couple of wefts/plugs up front first to frame the face. I have yet to try this and I definitely will because it does frame the face so nicely!
April Jensen's hair tutorial
If you like Angora Goat Mohair, Tibetan Lamb Mohair, combination and the like, but you're not sure you want to invest in it or if you want to try the process first without wasting the pricey mohair you just bought, practice first with yarn. Yes, yarn! HeXtian shows us how those long, thick, twisted fibers can be turned into the light and hair-like consistency of mohair. This makes yarn a great option for practice before you break the piggy bank and splurge on pricier materials. On the plus side, this video is great for styling too. HeXtian is like a real-life hair stylist at work. I learned a lot just watching her.
HeXtian using yarn for hair
While in a workshop with Wendy and Toby Froud, I used a full piece of mohair with hide on the art doll I made. The art doll had a monkish hairstyle, starting almost by the ear and going round, leaving the top exposed. The hide worked well for that project but I find that it does not usually work with all, so you do have to experiment and see which fits the bill.
This post and most of what I've learned would not have been possible without all the generous artists who share their own methods – you're absolutely fantastic! Thank you!
I hope you found this post helpful. If you know of a free tutorial or resource for sculpting art dolls, let me know so I can add it to this collection or future posts. Good luck!
In my previous job as a magazine writer, I often needed to source free stock images and sxc was a great destination. Through the years, the site was converted to Free Images. As a way of giving back and thanking the generosity of photographers worldwide, I started contributing photos too (I have more photo contributions but for some reason they are not appearing under my profile).