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Beginning Again

Updated: Feb 11

2020 marks the beginning of an exciting new era for Moon Whiskers Dolls. For those of you who are new to following my work and might not know my backstory, let me take you back a few years ago, before Moon Whiskers was founded.


My Brief Career in the Film Industry


I began makin my first dolls in early 2017. At the time I was working on the Wes Anderson stop motion film, 'Isle of Dogs' in London. Having graduated from university with the desire to pursue a career as a puppet maker in the animation industry, I was lucky enough to be employed as a junior model maker in the puppet department for 6 months. It was during this time that I went from having absolutely zero capability or understanding of how to sculpt, to being thrown in the deep end and given the task of sculpting sumo wrestler faces for a particular scene in the film. I had to get good at sculpting, very quickly.


Being under pressure to work to a deadline on a feature film probably accelerated my competence at sculpting more quickly than if I were casually practicing at home; this combined with working alongside very experienced sculptors. As my confidence grew, I began working on designing my first cat doll during the evenings and the weekends at home. What started out as an itch soon consumed my every thought, and by the time my contract on the film ended, I knew that I somehow wanted to turn these creations into my full-time career.



A Year of No Income


With a strong sense of purpose in mind, I moved back in with my parents and spent eight months designing and making my first 5 cat dolls from scratch. During this time period I had no income, just a small amount of savings from working on Isle of Dogs. I decided that getting a part-time job would only distract me from working towards my new creative career path. At times it was a lonely period, and I often questioned the viability of my grand plan, but my determination and passion for the work won over the doubting voices most of the time.


When I finally launched my website in September 2017, I sold my first collection of dolls within one hour of listing them in my shop. The response was overwhelming, and in the year to follow I was fully booked making commissioned dolls every single month. Despite the popularity of my dolls, I was worried about making ends meet and decided that I needed to diversify my income. In November 2018, I bought my first kiln and taught myself the basics of working with ceramics. A new side of my business was born - I began to make cat jewellery from porcelain, inspired by my dolls.



My jewellery was successful and popular, so much so that the last doll I made was in September 2018. I didn't intend to abruptly stop making dolls, but 2019 became a non-stop loop of making, packaging and posting jewellery. What was meant to be a financial supplement to my doll business, soon took over and became my main focus as an artist.


As the months ticked on by, I began to feel a strong sense of being on 'auto-pilot' - that I was a machine churing out work, no longer directing my creativity with purpose. I began to ask myself a lot of questions about why I wanted to be an independent artist to begin with, and what should I be making now to authentically reflect the person I am in the present day? Would just making jewellery forever more open up new opportunities and push me out of my comfort zone, or would my work become repetitive and stagnant, both for me and my clients?


Inevitably, I felt a strong pull back to doll making. It's an art form which requires competence across a variety of disciplines - design, sculpture, mould making, casting, pattern drafting, fabric dyeing, sewing, embroidery, painting. I don't feel satisfied working in just one medium, which is one of the reasons why doll making has always appealed to me so much.



The Catalyst for a Doll Renaissance


It would be easy enough to pick up where I left off in late 2018 and make new dolls following the same format as the original Moon Whiskers dolls, but there are several reasons why I won't be doing this, and instead am creating a new line of dolls completely from scratch.


The main reason is that I want to abandon synthetic materials and make my future dolls from primarily natural materials. My original dolls had bodies made from cast polyurethane foam and heads made from polymer clay and resin. To get a finished doll body and head, a lot of landfill waste was created along the way - waste made from plastics which will take hundreds of years to biodegrade.


When I first began designing my dolls in 2017, I didn't really think about the impact I was creating by using these chemicals and synthetics. Since adopting a vegan lifestyle and striving towards creating as little waste as possible in my personal life, I realised that the way I was working as an artist was no longer in alignment with my newfound values. This is probably another reason why I hesitated to return to doll making in 2019. I knew that I wouldn't be happy with my dolls unless I revolutionized how they were designed, so that I was no longer using harmful chemicals in their production.


It's interesting to think that plastic was only invented in the early 20th Century, but the modern world revolves around it. The first dolls were made from wood and date back as early as the 21st Century BC, found in Egyptian tombs. For the majority of the human existence on this earth, the finest arts and crafts have been made from natural materials - materials which we can grow and forage. In this age of convenience, we have come to rely much too heavily on factory-produced synthetics because of their cheapness and convenience.


The cost of this is not only the devastating impact on the environment, but also the disconnect it has created. We work with materials without understanding or appreciating where they have come from or how they were manufactured. I intend to re-kindle this connection between materials and artist with my new dolls. I want to responsibly source only natural fabrics for the doll costumes and their 'fur', and only use natural dyes to colour the fabrics. I'm even going to experiment with growing and harvesting my own dye plants.



My Creative Goals for 2020


With these intentions set, I closed my online shop last month. Designing these new dolls from scratch, using completely different materials, is going to take many months of focused design work. Taking this step so that I can focus entirely on my new doll project means that I will have no income for the forseeable future. It's an unconventional decision that I'm sure many will feel concerned by, but I've been planning to take this step for some time now and have the savings to make it possible.


Rather than focusing on the short-term anxiety of living without a monthly income for a while, I'm looking ahead to the long-term reward and benefit of investing this time in creating the building blocks for the kind of artist I want to be, and the values I want Moon Whiskers to represent. Alongside making the new dolls, I hope to gradually video the process of creating them and share my thoughts and discoveries on working with natural materials and growing my own dye garden on our small patch of land.


I look forward to keeping up with you all over on Instagram and here on my new blog. Speak soon!


Rachel x


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