Tune Into This Channel…Randi Channel and Tiny Shirt

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Paper dolls, doll babies, Barbies, Tiny Tears, Shirley Temple dolls…I have loved them since I was a toddler.  I have had a hard time letting go of many of them.  Still have Shirley and others!  That is why I was totally enamored by  Randi Channel‘s recent post of her dolls on The Art and Artists of 614 FB page.  My grandmother made dolls and doll clothes for me when I was little but she didn’t actually mold them like Randi does.  I just HAD to find out more about her, her dolls and any other forms of art she created.  She was kind enough to oblige my request and now I get to feature her!
She agreed to meet me at her classroom at Graham School because, in her words, her work space at home was tiny and messy.  So on a sunny (imagine that!) Saturday afternoon recently, she and her daughter, August, met me there.  After introductions, we settled into a discussion of her background, teaching and love of all things Japanese including the ball join dolls she makes.
Originally from Heath, Ohio, she earned a BFA in sculpture from the Ohio State University in 2000. Coming from an industrious and creative family (her grandmother and mother owned and ran an upholstery shop) art was a logical major although she admits that she ‘hated’ clay when at OSU.  Tried her hand at throwing clay and said she stunk! In looking back, she thinks that if her first exposure to clay had been with hand building she would not have felt so intimidated by creating with clay.
Upon graduation, she chose to go back to her roots and got a job as a seamstress at Begley’s Upholstery in Clintonville (how funny I had them do several reupholstery projects for me and we discussed that she may have worked on some of them!!!)  She worked there for many years before deciding to go back to school in 2006  to pursue a masters in Art Education. 
She has never really contemplated becoming a ‘starving artist’ because of raising her now 16 year old daughter.   Although she would love to spend her days creating and working in a studio, she has realized that she needs the steady income and perks of a job like the one she has with Graham School.  She stated that she lucked into the job as the art teacher to grades 9-12 at this experiential charter school located on Indianola Avenue in Clintonville.  Being an introvert, she truly wondered how she would teach and relate to her students but she fell into it and states that she has blossomed because of it, not only teaching but learning from her students.  The school is a great fit for her because of it’s experiential program and small size.  The school itself sounds very progressive and allows students to spend Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-2 volunteering at places like Glass Axis, North Market, auto repair shops, OSU Museum for Biodiversity, the library, historical society, etc.  Here they have the opportunity to give back to the community but also learn about programs and places they may have interest in.

one of the Cosplay masks

one of the Cosplay masks

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The program at the school also allows her some flexibility and latitude in what and how she teaches.  She is able to explore Japanese culture/subcultures with her students.  Each year in January, the school has a program called Winterim  where each child takes only one class for a month enabling them to become fully immersed in whatever they choose.  Randi’s class was “Mask Making for Cosplay” ( Cosplay =the art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction, especially from manga, animation, and science fiction)where she taught students how to make their own masks  that could be worn  at the recent Ohayocon or similar Cosplay events.   In doing this, her students not only learned about making molds and created their masks but were also more motivated because this was meaningful to them.  This is part of why Randi loves her job because she believes that teaching isn’t just about skills, grades,etc but encouraging children to follow their passions (boy, I wish I had her for a teacher!!)

earthenware master mold for head

earthenware master mold for head

Another reason for loving her job is having the summers off to spend 10 hour days in her own studio creating art and now her ball joint dolls.  Last summer she taught herself how to make complex plaster molds in order to create unique, one-of-a-kind dolls.  She first got interested in

one doll she has been working on

one doll she has been working on

100_2258making this type of doll when learning more about the subculture in Japan where girls were dressing like dolls as well as carrying large dolls.   Her inspiration comes from Satomi Hirota, DD-Anne, AyakaTsuji, Popvy Sisters, faces,fashion, subcultures, Japanese street fashion, German, Russian, Japanese and Korean doll making, the human form, Michelangelo, Hans Bellmer, and Danny Choo… I am sure I am missing a lot, but those are the big ones.  From there, she began researching and teaching herself the skills that Asian and Russian ball joint doll makers use in their art form.  She also became mesmerized by The Enchanted Dolls (http://www.enchanteddoll.com/) of  Russian-Canadian artist Marina Bychkova…OMG, I got on her website and her creations are beyond words!  All of this influenced her to begin making her own multi-media  sculpture where she draws on a variety on skills picked up over the years.  Her process involves ceramic sculpture, sewing, screen printing and mold making.randi doll 4

The name of her current project is Tiny Shirt  (see below for her blog link) which is  relatively new although she has been working on this for about five years.  She states that she is not ready to sell or exhibit her work yet because it is a work in progress with a few details to revise.  However, she did share with me what she envisions as a two step project.  First, she would like to create sculptures with dolls capturing a playful moment in time.  This is something that she hopes to begin work on in the near future.  The second phase would be to create dolls that could be purchased for display, customizing and/or changing over time.
Her work is very detail oriented and the steps to make parts of each doll are time consuming.  First, she makes a master mold using earthenware clay for each piece…making a hand can take up to one week and the earthenware is ideal for this because it can be worked on for months.  Next, she checks each pieces for symmetry…each hand, leg, foot, etc. must fit together to look symmetrical for her final product.  Then she makes the final molds for her porcelain pieces using a ‘coddle’…the framework to contain the mold that can be plexiglass, wood or whatever…even legos!

Randi showing me the coddle for a master mold

Randi showing me the coddle for a master mold

But wait, that is only the beginning!!! Once she creates the doll and fires it (she has to take it to someone she knows who has a kin that fires hot enough for porcelain).  After firing, she can begin the actual assembly of the doll with elastic cord she buys from Hong Kong because no one locally carries this type of material.  It takes her about 30 minutes to string a doll.  She made it sound easy but it is a rather complex process that requires channeling (no pun intended!) the cord through the doll parts and then pulling together.  Ball joint dolls are typically made with removable discs on the backs of their heads and this is where the cording ends.  Having an open head allows the doll to be restrung because the cording can loose elasticity over time.
As you can see, many hours go into each doll before she or he is actually ready to be painted, given hair and clothing.  Then all of Randi’s seamstress skills come into play to create exquisite outfits for each character.  She stated that many people think that she makes her dolls from kits or mass production molds but she wanted it made clear that she makes everything from scratch…no mass production here!  When asked what she might charge for one of her creations, she was quite honest in her answer….$800 or more for it to be worthwhile for her. This is not because she views this as a money making venture, obviously!!!  that amount seems like a real deal to me considering the steps necessary to create one of these beauties.
Because of her love of all things Japanese, another of her goals is for a return trip to Japan.  She and August went there for 9 days in January 2011 on a science teacher’s group school trip (another advantage to teaching at Graham).  They plan to return some time in the next few years.
In addition, Randi would like to get other local artists involved in her classroom.  Recently, she had Ric Stewart (hope to feature him soon!) come to her class to teach her students how to make molds from common objects like silicone caulking.  The kids were totally into his presentation and learned a lot about the reality of being a working artist.
Randi summed up her artistic philosophy with this:
One of my favorite quotes is from Chuck Close and this sums it up nicely, “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
I am in awe of the patience, time and detail that goes into each of Randi’s creations.  No wonder they are so gorgeous!!  And, of course, her perfectionism has something to do with their beauty!  She states that she has a ‘love-hate’ relationship with each of her dolls because they are not ‘where I want them to be’.  She actually only has 4 completed dolls but her home is strewn with doll parts!  I am so excited to see what she creates in the coming months as she hopes to be participating in some shows by mid-summer because she doesn’t want to ‘rush herself’…I plan on keeping up with her through her blog.  I hope you will too!doll
Contact info for readers:  randiaileen@gmail.com
Learn more about her process and see final projects: http://tinyshirt.blogspot.com/
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