Saturday, June 27, 2015

Silky Straight


We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--

observed Paul Laurence Dunbar on the conditions of life in the Jim Crow era.  While Dunbar achieved fame and financial success for dialect poems such as "When Malindy Sings" and "Little Brown Baby" that represented the speech of ordinary African Americans, he had difficulty winning critical appreciation for his literary works in Standard English.  Writing in the early 20th century, he felt trapped beneath the minstrel mask that the larger society expected a black man to wear.

Later African American writers made more in depth explorations of identity and social masks in novels featuring light skinned protagonists who debated the ethics of passing for white in order to access greater social and economic opportunities.  In the 1980s, feminist criticism of Nella Larsen's Passing (1929) noted a lesbian subtext in the story and suggested that Clare and Irene were not only passing for white, they were also passing for straight.  Queer theorists subsequently proposed that all identity constructs are performances of some sort.  For example, for most black women, decisions to artificially straighten our hair or wear natural texture hairstyles are a complex negotiation of identities.

When I decided to make a video based on Passing, the lesbian subtext proved more relevant for a 21st century adaptation.  Now that the Supreme Court has ruled marriage equality is a civil right for all citizens, perhaps we will all be able to take off our masks and make more authentic choices in our lives.


A bientôt!



Monday, April 27, 2015

More Than Ever

When Celeste Honorée first appeared in "The Spice of Life:  Part 2" back in September 2012, she was watching her mother, Yvette prepare for a blind date with a certain Mr. Guidry.


Now Yvette has married the man and they are expecting their first child together.  On her new J-Doll body Celeste is almost as tall as her mother.


Still she's not too grown to need her mother's love.


In fact, she needs it more than ever:


A bientôt!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Intuitive Impulses


"Go here!" insists a small voice in my head.  Whenever I listen to it, I usually find some wonderful doll treasure at an incredible price so I have learned to heed my intuition.  On a recent trip to New Orleans it seemed that sometimes other people can hear the call of my intuition too.

My friend and I were on our way to Jean LaFitte nature preserve in Barataria when she suddenly changed lanes and made a left turn into a strip mall where there was a Tuesday Morning store.  I would have waited until we were on the way back because I don't like making left turns against traffic but once we got inside, I found an Only Hearts doll and an Everafter High Cerise Hood at bargain prices.

I had just finished paying for them when my friend said she had to visit the ladies' room.  I wandered around by the check out counter for a moment and then spotted a basket of merchandise with an interesting-looking doll in it.


"Is this someone's cart?" I asked the clerk.  Assured that they were just items waiting to be shelved I pulled out the doll for closer examination.

She turned out to be a J-Doll.


I used my phone to check prices and look up the Toy Box Philosopher's J-Doll review, then I plunked down another $20 for her.  When we got back to the house my friend, who does not like dolls, was as intrigued with her well-made clothes and accessories as I was.


I did a little more research on line and found Pullips and Junk's list of all 63 J-Doll Jun Planning released before they went bankrupt.  I marveled that the one I got, Miracle Mile, was the one that I would have chosen if I had had all the J-Dolls before me.


I also re-read Muff's J-Doll review giving thanks that my doll was in perfect condition with no broken wrists or staining.


My enthusiasm for my new doll did not extend to her head, however.  I sliced it off with an Exacto knife when I got back to Atlanta and donated the body to young Celeste Honorée whom we last saw on a Howleen Wolf body in "I Was A Teenage Frankendoll."


Now she is a sassy 15 year old.


And to think that I would never have found her if my friend hadn't impulsively stopped at Tuesday Morning and then gone to the ladies' room!

 A bientôt!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Le Geek C'est Chic

A couple weeks ago Debbie of Black Doll Collecting shared images of new Sparkle Girlz fashions she had spotted.  I went to 4 different Walmarts to track them all down.  Then I rounded up some students from an all girls' high school for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to model them.

The Skating Party
"How do you stop these things?" yelped Aisha who had never skated before.


"I think I'm getting the hang of it," said Dolores.


Nancy struck out strutting smooth crossovers.


So of course Mei Mei had to show off by skating backwards.


 Then Azeeza put everyone to shame as she swept around the corner in a deep lunge.


"I'd better just stick to the basics," thought Hannah.


Saturday in the Park
Dolores was a Chic Boutique princess before she upgraded to a Mattel Flavas body.


It took me a long time to find Aisha, the African American Winx doll.  I didn't like her original hairstyle so I replaced it with curly twists.  I also darkened her eyes and touched up her lip color.


Hannah is a Stardoll upgraded to a Fashionistas body.


Mei Mei is an early Integrity Toys face mold on a Disney Princess body.


Nancy was a dollar store clone, now enjoying a Liv body.


First I made this wrapped locks wig for my Queen of Africa, Azeeza.  Then I upgraded her to a Mattel poser body.


Meet and Greet Mixer
Aisha's mother is a professor at MIT.  She hopes to follow in her footsteps as a computer scientist.


Hannah plans to turn her artistic flair to industrial design.


Dolores' favorite tio lost his legs in Iraq.  She would like to become a bio-medical engineer so she can design better prostheses for him and other amputees.


Nancy has wanted to be an astronaut since kindergarden so she intends to study aeronautical engineering.


Since Mei Mei's favorite TV show is Crime Scene Investigation she's looking forward to a career as a forensic chemist.


Azeeza has vowed to design better water systems for her native Nigeria as a civil engineer.


"We may be geeks but we've got sparkling style!"

A Bientôt!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Where the Boys Are -- Joelanta 2015 part 2


Animator Jeremy Fisher

 

When Jeremy Fisher was about 12, he became fascinated with stop motion animation after seeing the “Star Wars” movie.  He began animating his Star Wars action figures to reproduce his favorite scenes.  After completing a Fine Arts degree at Ringling College, he moved to Los Angeles where he has worked on “Marcel the Shell with Shoes on” and “Robot Chicken.”  While he learned to do computer animation in school, Jeremy finds working with physical objects much more satisfying.  “I build things and make them move,” he said, summing up his work as an animator.  I caught Jeremy's Joelanta presentation on the way back from a two week residency at Hambidge where I had gone to work on a stop motion animation project so I greatly appreciated the overview of the stop motion process and the many useful tips he offered aspiring animators.

            The basic set up requires a space where the animator can control the lighting.  As the sun moves over the horizon and clouds pass in front of it, daylight constantly changes.  Stop motion animators must therefore use artificial light in order to keep the lighting consistent from frame to frame.  Jeremy set up a mini stage under his dorm bed when he was in college.  Today he does his freelance work in a home dark room.  My studio at Hambidge had no blinds or curtains on most of the windows so I was not able to create the ideal conditions for shooting but back in my brother’s windowless basement my shooting stage looks like this:


            Like most industry professionals, Jeremy uses Dragon Frame, an animation program that costs about $300.  If you have a Mac you can get good results with iStop Motion which I purchased for $50.  


The $10 version of this program will run on an iPad or iPhone while Framegrapher for the iPhone is only $5.  Onion skinning is one of the most useful features that animation software platforms provide.  It automatically shows an overlay of the previous image as you set up the next shot so you can keep track of movement from frame to frame.  This is especially helpful if you accidentally displace objects in the shot and need to put them back where they were before capturing the next image.

            Indeed, keeping the puppets stationary in between shots is one of the biggest challenges stop motion animators face.  Reaching in to move a puppet’s hand can displace the figure or other elements in the set, resulting in extraneous movement on screen when the images are played back in sequence.  Stop motion animators frequently glue or peg their puppets to the stage floor while they are working.  I experimented with gluing magnets to my puppets’ feet, but haven’t yet found any glue that bonds securely.  


Jeremy further recommends using sticky wax from Michaels to help puppets keep their grip on props like light sabers. 

            Keeping the camera stationary during shooting is also essential so Jeremy mounts his camera on a tripod that clamps to his table when he is working.  He uses a DSLR camera, but these days smartphones, iPads, iPods, and pocket cameras can all shoot in HD so amateurs can get good image quality with inexpensive devices.  I bought a Joby Gorilla tripod and an iShot G7 Pro iPad holder to mount my equipment.  


A wireless number key pad enables Jeremy to control the camera through the animation software on his computer so that he doesn’t have to touch it to capture images.  This way he avoids accidentally bumping the camera between shots.  I purchased a wireless remote but there was no WiFi in my studio at Hambidge so iStop Motion was not able to recognize my iPad as a capture device even though it was connected with a lightening cable. 


            Jeremy collected eight boxes of action figures while playing with stop motion animation techniques in his youth but these days he makes most of his own puppets.  He favors 1/16 armature wire, but notes that there are other suitable types of wire available at Home Depot and even floral wire can work well.  


Recently he has begun designing figures on the computer and then having them 3D printed.  Time is of the essence in an art form that requires 700 to 900 exposures for one minute of film.  I worked feverishly to make six puppets from 18 gauge wire and aquarium tubing before heading to Hambidge.  


Each puppet has six interchangeable faces representing different emotions and six different pairs of hands all molded from Paper Clay.  


Being able to 3D print those parts would have saved me a lot of time.

             Although Helena Smith Dayton, a Greenwich Village artist who sculpted a popular series of clay caricatures produced a stop motion adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1917, animation remained a “where the boys are” enclave until the advent of You Tube.  Today many girls and women are posting stop motion animation videos that feature their American Girl, Monster High, or 1:6 scale fashion dolls on You Tube and other web streaming sites.  For example Shasarignis has been producing stop motion animation fashion doll videos for years.  Hey, It's Muff recently purchased a smartphone app that can produce time lapse and stop motion video so she has been sharing her experiments with this technology and inspiring us all to try our hand in this exciting medium.  After all why should boys have all the fun?

video


A bientôt!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Where the Boys Are -- Joelanta 2015


     The protagonists of the 1960 film, “Where the Boys Are” headed south to Fort Lauderdale for their spring break but this year I went north to Appalachia.  I spent two weeks at the Hambidge Center, an artists’ retreat in Rabun County Georgia.  There was no cell phone reception and no WiFi in my studio but I enjoyed conversing with the other artists in residence every evening over dinner. 

     Hambidge is located on 600 acres that border North Carolina.  It rained most of the time I was there so I didn’t get to spend much time enjoying the hiking trails but I did slip over to Asheville the first weekend to visit the Biltmore Estate.  


On my way back I stopped in the North Carolina Folk Arts Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Unlike the Kentucky Artisan Center, no photography was allowed so I couldn’t take any pictures of the exhibits or the corn shuck dolls in the gift shop.  I was delighted to find these exquisitely detailed instruments, however.  




The banjo and mandolin were designed as Christmas tree ornaments while the fiddle and dulcimer have magnets on the backside. 

     I was sorry to miss the American Craft Council show that took place this past weekend in Atlanta but I was able to catch the end of the Joelanta convention on my way back from Hambidge. 

Joelanta diorama

While I saw more black vendors than I typically see at doll shows, their offerings did not include many black figures.  I found more interesting fare at the Circle X Ranch booth where I spotted these replacement heads for Marx action figures. 


     Marx released Jed Gibson, a cavalry scout as part of the Johnny West Adventure Series in 1975.  


African American figures using the same face molds as G.I. Joe had appeared as early as 1965 but by the end of the decade Hasbro had developed a distinct face mold for black Joes released as part of the Adventure Team line.  My brother's childhood Adventure Team figure lost a foot in hard service and married Barbie's friend, Christie after he retired:


     Earl, the Six Million Dollar Man graciously opened this pristine box so you can see what he looked like in his prime:


            Back at the Circle X Ranch I learned that master caster Noah Maxman Coop adapted this head from other Marx figures.  


Coop passed away in October 2014 but the Levi Nolan character and other figures he created in the Marx style are still available from Circle X Ranch.  

I bought three coonskin caps from their booth and they gave me a Jed Gibson head for free.


     I scored more Marx-style hats at Stewart’s Attic:

Asian Joe from the 1990s

Tuskeegee Airman Joe

African American Joe from the 1990s
     
This black Stetson perfectly suited my brother’s vintage Sam Cobra figure.  


Sam was an outlaw character released in 1975 as part of the Best of the West series.  


He came with a safe and sticks of dynamite for blasting it open as well as many other nifty accessories almost all of which are lost except for this dagger that Sam keeps up his sleeve.


     Going "Where the Boys Are" was such a rich experience I'll be doing at least one more post about the things I saw and learned at Joelanta.

A bientôt!