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Making a Ball-Jointed Cat Doll Pt. 1 - Sculpting from Scratch

This blog post will be Part 1 of a series that follows the journey of making my first ball-jointed doll.


I decided a while ago that I wanted to re-design my dolls with ball-joints, because the poseability you can achieve is very diverse. Unlike my original dolls, which were made with a wire armature for posing, my new dolls will be able to sit down, kneel, twist on the waist, turn their feet etc. Ball joints are also very robust, meaning the doll can be posed time and time again without weakening the joints.


But making a ball-jointed doll from scratch is no easy feat. In order to achieve a beautifully poseable doll, it must have lots of joints. My doll is made up of 19 parts - that's 19 different pieces that had to be sculpted seperately, but made to work in harmony with each other.


This blog post isn't a tutorial, but it might give you a better understanding of the steps I've taken so far to have a completed BJD sculpt.



1. Creating a Scale Drawing


Before I could even begin sculpting my doll, I had to create a scale drawing which marked out the proportions and all of the joints. The doll's proportions and features are based upon a pencil and pastel sketch I completed earlier in the year.


Unfortunately I stumbled at the first hurdle, because upon completing my initial doll sculpture I decided that she was too small, especially given that the finished doll, cast in porcelain, will shrink by 15% in the kiln.


I made the decision to cut my losses and re-sculpt the entire doll from scratch. This time, I took more care to make sure that I was happy with the scale before getting too far along. The only benefit of having already completed the first doll sculpture was that I was able to use her as a reference.



2. Preparing the Ball Joints


Ball jointed dolls are articulated with ball and socket joints. My scale image helped to determine what sized balls I would need for each part of the doll - i.e. the elbows, ankles, knees etc. I used plastic and metal spheres to create the ball and sockets. I initially used wooden balls, which I would not recommend because they swell and warp during moulding. That's another lesson learnt through trial and error.





3. Sculpting the Doll


Once I was happy with the scale drawing and had the spheres of various sizes prepared, I was able to start sculpting my doll. I used a hard plastiline clay called Chavant NSP, which is oil-based and it can be heated to soften it. I initially used a softer plastiline (in a cream colour) which was easier to work with, but when I scaled up my doll I decided to switch to the terracotta clay, because it's less likely to get dented when I come to moulding the doll.


When sculpting anything, it's always best to try and block out the basic shapes before focusing on refining and adding details. I wouldn't say that sculpting is a skill which has come naturally to me - rather, I've improved at it steadily through hours of gritted, determined practice. I used only a few tools to sculpt this doll - a scalpel and a couple of steel dental tools, plus my thumbs for smoothing.


Aside from being happy with how my doll looks aesthetically, the other really important thing is to make sure that the joints are functional and can perform in the way I would like them to. For example, I want my doll to be able to kneel/sit on her lower legs. I had to remove quite a lot of material from the back of the calves to make this pose possible, whilst at the same time trying to make the curvature on the back of her legs look as natural as possible.



4. Refining and Finishing


For me, this is the most tedious and time-consuming step of sculpting anything. Once the shapes are blocked out and the details have been added, there are many passes of refinement and finishing that need to be completed.


To get a clean finish on the surface of the sculpture, I use sanding pads to remove any surface nicks and lighter fluid applied with a brush helps to create a smooth finish.


Now that my doll sculpt is finished, the next stage will be making a master-mould in silicone, followed by the final moulds in plaster. Although I'm aiming to cut back hugely on my plastic useage during the process of making these dolls, it's important that I have a master mould, as eventually my plaster moulds will deteriorate and will need to be replaced.



I hope that you found this blog post interesting, let me know if you have any questions in the comments!


My next post will cover the process of moulding and casting the doll. Until then, I hope you are all keeping well and see you over on Instagram!


Rachel x






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