Arley Berryhill is a fabulous doll artist and pattern designer, whose work has been part of and a winner of the Hoffman Challenge and has been published in Art Doll Quarterly. He is teaching a brand new class at ADAA 2012: Madame Zola, the Fortune Teller.
Arley has been a costume maker, a Broadway dresser and coordinator and has studied dance, acting, and costuming, all of which are put to excellent use in his doll creations.
AnLiNa Designs: Hi Arley, I am familiar with your dolls, having purchased and made your patterns and one of your Catrina dolls. I heard that you worked as a costumer for the Santa Fe Opera. What else can you tell me about your background?
Arley: I was a custome maker, not a designer, but a maker, for about 30 years. I started out doing TV work, living in Los Angeles at the time and, then I moved to New York and did a lot of Broadway shows. I worked in costume shops and behind the scenes as a dresser and coordinator. I was always involved in costuming. In a previous life I was a dancer, and studied acting and dancing. Costuming was easier, there were more jobs, and I just sort of fell into it. It was a very good career. I even studied make-up as I considered being a make-up artist before I studied costuming. While in New York, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied fashion illustration, pattern making, children’s book illustration, lots of things. I wasn’t interested in a career in fashion, but was interested in the topics. After many years, I finally found a way to put all of it to use in doll making. Even my dancing was put to use as I try to put movement into my dolls.
AnLiNa Designs: I’m very impressed with your dolls, the movement even in your stump dolls. I’m also impressed with how well they are stuffed.
Arley : Stuffing is an art! Making sure that dolls are stuffed evenly, without lumps is a class in and of itself. The stump dolls and candlestick dolls came about because I like my dolls to be free-standing, but trying to get the dolls to stand well takes days. Also, I found that I have a tendency to dress my dolls in full length gowns, resulting in covering up all of the hard work in the feet and ankles and shoes. So that also contributed to the move to stump dolls.
It’s really hard to teach a full doll in a 2-3 day class. Since I focus on costuming, the student ends up having to make the doll body before class. As I prefer to minimize the pre-work, it’s easier to teach a stump doll.
I’ve only been teaching for 4-5 years now. I often assume that students have an art background, have studied anatomy and/or have sewn before, and that’s often not the case. I don’t try to dumb my dolls down, but I try to start at simple level. It’s impossible to teach exactly what I do in a weekend.
AnLiNa Designs: How did you discover doll making?
Arley: I lived in New York in the late 80’s in the middle of the big art doll boom. I lived in Soho and would walk from gallery to gallery and see all of these incredible dolls. People like Lisa Lichtenfels were in the galleries. Van Craig (www.vancraig.com) would have an entire gallery showing to himself and would sell dolls for $6- $7000 apiece. I worked for him doing some costuming for some of his dolls. He also worked on Christmas windows, doing animatronics. In New York, Christmas windows are a big deal more so than anywhere else, with the windows roped off and people lining up in long lines and filing past to see them. I would work on the costumes for some of his figures that would go into these windows. So that was my first introduction to dolls. I loved the idea of miniature little characters, but it was way beyond my skill level at that time. I discovered doll making again, when I worked with the Seattle Opera. I made hats, masks and jewelry for 5 years with them. I love opera and opera characters, my favorite being the Queen of the Night. I wanted to make a costume for her, but it’s expensive to do by yourself, and, well, you can only wear it for Halloween. Then I thought of making a miniature mannequin and thought of dolls. So, my doll making was a way to design my own costumes. I was on the team that made costumes in the costume shop and never wanted to be a designer, but would always think, as a fantasy “how would I change this or that” on each of the costumes I worked on. So that’s how I ended up exploring dolls.
I didn’t realize that cloth could be a medium for dolls, because I had only seen polymer clay or paper clay dolls with a full armature. Most people who think of cloth dolls, think Raggedy Ann or something and this was how I thought of cloth. After I moved back to Los Angeles, I went to a quilt show and the local doll club had an exhibit. I saw it and thought, “Well look at that”! They can make them out of cloth and the dolls look so cool! As it turned out, the local doll club president was there buying mohair for doll hair. I asked what she would do with it, and she replied that she used it for doll hair and she invited me to their meeting.
I started out in clay, and would do a full body sculpt which would take weeks and weeks to layer and let dry. Maybe I would have to cut the limbs off and reposition them, and it just took forever! After learning how to make cloth dolls, I could make a doll body in two days or so and get on to my favorite part of doll making: the costuming. I sometimes still make a face in clay because you just can’t get the detail in cloth that you can in paper clay. I will still sculpt a face when I want to do a fabulous doll, and make it a mask that I attach to the cloth.
AnLiNa Designs: Do you work in any other media besides cloth and clay?
Arley: My first love is always fabric, the textures, colors. I will always be a fiber artist first and use sculpting to enhance the fabrics. I used to teach a costume design course, but it’s very hard to design and construct a whole costume. I would give students the theory and they would never be able to finish in a class. I’m still so amazed that so many people stick to cotton for the dress when there are so many other fabrics to choose from. There are a lot of fabrics which are tricky to use, and because I’ve worked with them and know the disadvantages and troubles with them and figure out how to avoid them. If I want to do a sleeve out of a sheer fabric, then I’ll design a trimmed hem or double it and have the fold be the edge.
AnLiNa Designs: I learned a lot about constructing a costume from making your Herald the Angel pattern. Layering over raw edges was a valuable thing for me to learn!
Arley: That’s a millinery trick. In millinery, you always cover the raw edge with another layer. You can’t hide anything in a seam on the inside of a brim. That’s where ribbon comes in so you finish the raw edges with trim.
AnLiNa Desigsn: Where do you get your inspiration for your dolls? You mentioned opera, but are there other sources of inspiration?
Arley: Opera yes. I also get inspired by theater, any kind of performance, like television, even the commercials. I keep a sketch pad on my coffee table so I can jot an idea down. Mythology and history, mostly the science-fiction and fantasy stuff. Wizards and warlocks, that sort of thing. I also love learning the origins of all these fairy tales and folk stories.
Color schemes always inspire me. A lot of time I use monochromatic schemes, but sometimes I want it to be more fun so, I’ll pick something like citrus fruits: limes, lemons, raspberries and grapes. I love using those colors together. India is also a huge inspiration, if you look at my dolls, you see a lot of Indian and Turkish influence, old, intricate kinds of thing, the way they wrap and trim their costumes. Even though I don’t do an authentic Indian or Turkish doll, I use these regions a lot as inspirations. India is one of the poorest countries, but even their slums are so very colorful and their architecture is so ornate, even the poorest building is painted at least four colors.
AnLiNa Designs: Do you start out a doll knowing exactly how you want it to look or do you let the doll evolve as you are working?
Arley: Because of my background in costuming, it’s very important when you are working on a costume that’s going to cost $10,000 that you know exactly how it’s going to be before you take your first stitch. So everything has to be planned out ahead of time. You are usually working on a deadline, which reinforces the need to plan everything out to avoid a mistake that you could have fixed 3 weeks before. When I design a doll, I start with a sketch. Some people think it’s odd, but I’ll doodle an idea for months, especially if I don’t have a deadline. When I start on the doll, I’ll pull all these doodles, and reference folders, and I have a full file before I even start the doll. Sometimes I will do a finished sketch. I do completely plan it all out. It might change in the process because I might adjust based on fabric limitations or the inability to find something. I have to have some boundaries to start. I find it much easier.
AnLiNa Designs: Do you know what dolls you want to make next?
Arley: I have a running list of ideas, folders and folders. I have a filing cabinet that I keep about a 100 different folders on different subjects, and it has 5-6 folders of different doll ideas. I have ideas that keep gnawing at my brain that I have to get to at some point. I keep three lists: a list of dolls that I want to make, doll patterns that need to get done, and classes I want to do. Whenever I can find the time, I go to my list and pick whatever is next.
AnLiNa Designs: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Arley: What I like best is what I learn from my students. It’s always amazing because I will be trying to break an idea down so I can explain it, and some student will say “oh, that’s different”, and will show me a different way to do something. A lot of time they will teach me how to help people understand what I’m trying to teach. I learn so much about teaching from my students by trying to explain stuff to them.
AnLiNa Designs: What advice would you give aspiring doll artists?
Arley: If I were going to tell students something, it would be to enjoy learning the teacher’s process and technique instead of the finished doll. Because, even if you learn a new way of drawing eyes you can take that and apply it to your own dolls. If you get a finished doll, that’s cream on top of the coffee, but learning something from the teacher that’s what you should keep yourself open to.
AnLiNa Designs: Thanks so much Arley! It’s been a pleasure. I’m so excited to have you as a member of the ADAA 2012 faculty!
If you would like to see more of Arley’s work, you can visit his website and his blog.