Posted in How to, Maskcat Ester, Photography, Photoshop, posing

Brute force doll posing: Photographing impossible poses

Sometimes I get a really clear picture in my head of what I want to capture, and then realize that there’s simply no way to achieve it. That’s when I resort to brute force posing.

I had that happen today with my little Maskcat Ester doll (named Faye in the Betwixt episodes). In trying to tell her backstory (she’s a “listener” who hears calls for help and sends in the rescuers), I settled on a shot. She’d be sitting on flower, with her hand cupped to her ear, scanning for trouble.

First problem: Faye, while tiny, is far too big to sit on a flower without bending the stem. I suppose if my peonies were still blooming, they’d be strong enough to hold her, but nothing else in my house or yard is. And, I’m really tired of photoshopping my dolls onto objects. So, I used brute force method #1 – holding the doll in a pose. Here’s my hand holding little Faye on top of the flowers, while my other hand takes the picture. Fortunately, it’s bright enough that she doesn’t blur while I’m holding her. (BTW, that’s Rosie from Among the Flowers in the background, waiting patiently for her first episode in the remade series).

OK, first problem solved. Now, second problem. Faye is a single jointed doll. That means that, while she can bend her arm at a 45 degree angle, she can’t bend it past that. So, she’s not actually flexible enough to cup her hand behind her ear. I *could* tie her hand in place, but that just felt like a task fraught with more problems. Instead, I moved the arm after I took the shot, using puppet wrap in Photoshop.

Here’s the picture of Faye with her arm bent up that I used as the basis of my final shot:

To fix the arm’s position, I brought the picture into Photoshop. I selected the arm and used puppet wrap to reposition it, then pasted the arm into its own layer. Then I made a layer with just her ear. That lets me put things in the right order (arm in front of her hair but behind her ear). Finally, I found a picture of flowers and pasted it in back, lightened everything up a bit and, in the end, I had little Faye sitting in the flowers and listening for trouble.

Posted in Fashion dolls, Granado Udell, How to, Marcelo, Photoshop, Set construction

When dolls go mad: Building a crazy wall for Marcelo

Has a real person ever created a crazy wall? Or does that only happen in films? In any case, if ever I saw a doll who might create a crazy wall, it’s Marcelo (Granado Udell). And, after the last episode, where he suddenly found himself and his daughter in mortal danger in another world, it’s really to be expected.

So, he needs a crazy wall – a nice big crazy wall, with lots of pictures and string going every which way. But, how *exactly* do you build one? Those are the questions I had to answer this week.

First, what to include in the crazy. I went a couple of different directions – one involved fairies, one involved parallel universes, and one involved just straight up crazy. In the most miraculous of miraculous discoveries, I found an honest-to-God article about fairies and the multiverse, here. I didn’t actually read it, because what could it say that would be better than the fact that there actually is an article about fairies and the multiverse. Let me know, though, if it says something interesting. The non-article items came out of google searches on public domain images, and I ended up with a bunch of really fantastic pictures. Here are a few of them:

To print them out, I resized them to 1/3 scale (about 2″ across for the photos and 3.5 inches long for the articles) and printed and cut them out.

Next, to layout and connect the images. I’d already decided that I was going to photoshop the wall onto another image, so I did my layout on a dark green foamboard that would be easy to replace in the final image. Then, I got the images roughly where i wanted them, and attached and connected them using map pins and embroidery thread. I’m not sure there are any official rules about how to organize a crazy wall, but mine was grouped into a few themes: fairies, parallel universes, and crazy. Lots and lots of crazy. I used different color thread to connect the images in each grouping. Here’s the entire wall on the green foamboard. That’s fairies in the upper left, parallel universes down the right side, and crazy all through the middle.

Finally, the image behind the crazy wall. I decided Marcelo wouldn’t work straight on the wall, mainly because I don’t have a wall that I want to put a bunch of tiny pins in. I’d gone pretty far in the bulletin board direction but, really, if you’re going crazy, do you actually put up a bulletin board first to contain all that crazy? I finally decided that I wanted a big image in the background, preferably a map. And, since it was parallel universes, I used a NASA picture of deep space, like this:

For the final, I shot the wall over Marcelo’s shoulder and brought the image into Photoshop. I removed all of the green by using the magic wand tool and selecting the foamboard, then deleting it. Finally, I copied the NASA deep space image behind it all.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think the real images attached to the wall with push pins and strings look much better than what I could have photoshopped together.


I’m moving very slowly on this episode because I’ve decided to actually try to realize my initial plans for an episode, instead of giving up and just throwing stuff together. That goes so much against my grain, apparently, that it’s taking me weeks to prepare each shot. Fortunately, my plans for the rest of epsiode aren’t so grand, so I should be able to get through it more quickly.

Posted in Dollmore Manuier, Photoshop, Set construction

Faking a painted wall for a roombox: Using Photoshop to paint a wall

I realize I could have added a little more detail in my last post about how to create a painted wall for a roombox, but I’d gotten pretty far through the post before I realized I should write about it, so I saved it for later.

Anyway, here are the details.

First, start with any wall behind the doll. In this case, I have one white and one black piece of foamboard, but I could also have used the red painted wall that’s behind the foamboard. The reason I had to back out of using this method the first time I tried is that I didn’t realize I’d be using the foamboard in the image, so I had them set up in a way that would never work, like this:

So, this is never going to work. You have to do so much photoshop just to make the foamboard wall look OK that you’ll end up getting rid of all of the detail that you need, like the shadows and the corner of the wall.

Instead, set it up correctly and take a shot (forgive the terrible lighting. I’m using the room lights at night for this example, and they just cast a horrible light in these photos.)

Bring it into Photoshop and select all of the wall. I always use Select and Mask, because I like the added controls, but any selection method will work. When you’re done, cut and paste the selection into a new layer (or use New Layer with Layer Mask if you’re using Select and Mask). Then, duplicate the new layer with the selected wall. You’ll use that a bit later. For now, hide that and just work on the first copy. Before you start painting, it looks like this:

Choose a wall color, and use the fill bucket to fill. When I paint, I always select the piece I’m painting. That way, you can never go outside the lines, since Photoshop will keep your work constrained to the selected area. Here’s how it looks once I do the first fill.

Now, choose a different color and a different tool and go lightly over the first painting. I often use one of the spray-paint tools and a lighter shade to give a little interest.

You can stop here, if you want, or keep adding colors and detail. Let’s do a spot check now and see if we want to do more.

Make all of your layers visible (you should have three – the original layer, with everything but the wall on it; the painted wall, and a copy of the unpainted wall. You want them in the following order: top: unpainted wall, middle: painted wall, bottom: everything but the wall. Fiddle with the opacity in the top layer until you get the details you want from the original wall, mixed with the painted version. For me, it now looks like this:

Now, it’s really up to you. For me, the wall is too present – I’d play around with adjusting the brightness and doing a bit of a blur (but just on this layer – leave the rest as they are.) You can also experiment with one of the filter effects to make it more painterly, or you can use a blending brush to make it less splattered.

Here’s what I did – just a little darkening and some Gaussian blur, and then I did a light white spray paint over the top like this:

It doesn’t look all that different from the real wall I painted, and it would look even better if it had objects on it, like windows and posters, to sort of break up the color. It would also benefit from better lighting, so that the shadows from objects in the room made it look more realistic.

Anyway, if you ever want to change a doll’s room, that’s how you’d do it without ever lifting a paintbrush. It probably takes 15 minutes or less, start to finish. I use the professional version of Photoshop, but you should be able to do something similar with Photoshop elements or other lightweight tool.

Posted in Camellia, Daisy, Fashion dolls, Photography, Photoshop, Writing

Photo Stories then and now: Comparing Among the Flowers episodes over the years

At almost two years into learning to create photo stories, and reshooting the Among the Flowers storyline, I can start to see what I’ve learned over these years.

It started with Camellia’s episode, which launched the series. Although I left the first two shots largely unchanged, I fixed the very odd “exit stage right” shot at the end of the episode to instead pan out and show her dwarfed by the ocean.

Here’s how it looked, back in August, 2016

Camellia’s first episode, then

and here’s how it looked when I redid it at the start of this year

Camellia’s first episode, now


I also did some Photoshop filters (I think this one is oil painting) to give it a dreamier look.

Daisy’s first episodes have gone through much more drastic changes – the story, the setting, even the dog are all different.

Here’s the sum total of Daisy’s original first episode (when I found this, I had to go back to my files to be certain I hadn’t missed anything. Nope, two shots and zero story. No idea why I thought that constituted an episode. Anyway, here are those two shots:

Daisy sits in her window seat
Daisy and Annie get ready to go for a ride

I have to say, the pink wainscoting behind Daisy looks just fantastic. I spent hours creating it – I hope I can find a use for it some day. And the shots altogether are OK – a little thin in storyline, but perfectly acceptable.

Now, comes the embarassing part – Daisy on the bike ride in her next episode. I recall being very proud of myself at the time that I’d managed to get the bike even roughly photoshopped into the landscape but, dear lord, what a bad job I did.

Yep, totally believable 🙂

Anyway, fast forward to the present. Here’s Daisy’s new first episode (now covering the activities of her first two). I started her outdoors and put her in a setting where her bike doesn’t look so ridiculous:

What this shot misses in a sense of motion for the positioning of the bike in the previous photo, it completely makes up for in believeablility. Not sure why I couldn’t bother to get the dog in focus, though.

Once I get Daisy taking pictures of her dog, we can do a couple of shot-by-shot comparisons:

Photographing the dog:


Daisy takes a picture of Annie

And now

Original shot is actually pretty cute (I especially like her crossed legs) although very poorly photoshopped, but the second communicates much better. Plus, the new camera is kick ass.

Lying down with the dog


and now

No contest at all. Why was I blurring the entire background? It’s not a dream sequence. Plus, I just love the upsidedown perspective, and the relationship between Daisy and Prince (or Argo, as I think I’m calling him now).

But the biggest growth is in an area that never even entered the original episode – the push and pull between Daisy’s fundamentally happy and sound personality, and flashbacks to her as a child in an unsettling and dark time. Here are the pre/post flashback shots in the new episode:

In addition to reflecting more depth of her character, these two are clearly influenced by my much better ability to manage Photoshop. I was just learning the tool back in 2016 (in fact, I think I was using Photoshop elements and not the full-powered verison). I could never have managed the reflection in the toy story window two years ago (although, even when I created it recently, it took me a shockingly long time to figure out if it was Daisy or the window that should be partly transparent). In the Post flashback shot, I used Liquify to remove her smile and widen her eyes.

I have a few more episodes to get through for the comparison, but that’s enough for one post. For the next few weeks, I’ll be working on the new Betwixt episode where father and daughter try to understand the scope of their new powers.

Posted in BJD, Characters, doll adventure, doll photography, Dollsbe Strawberry, graphic novel, Iplehouse Amy, miniature adventure, miniature photography, miniatures, On Our Own, photo novel, Photography, Photoshop, Supia Aasta, toy adventure, toy photography, toys

On Our Own 03: Fern’s Story


Fern is now my official representative in the 1/4 scale dolls. I love Willow’s quiet grace, but I am neither quiet or graceful. I love Olive’s take charge spirit, but that’s not me either. Fern, little as she is, is someone I completely understand. Which is why I knew, when she was sad and missing her mom, that a dog would be just the thing to cheer her up. Turns out I was right.

I’ve enjoyed spending time with the On Our Own family so much that I think I’m going to spend an extra week or two with them and see how Olive’s story turns out. Olive reminds me very much of my sister, Melanie, so I’m going to send her on the kind of adventure she would have loved when she was a kid.


I mentioned last week that many of these pictures come from the Columbia Gorge. Fern’s brave sword stance is by the creek at the top of Multnomah falls, while the pictures of her holding onto a rope on a trail are on Eagle Creek Trail (the center of last year’s Columbia Gorge fire), and her plunge in the water takes place in Punchbowl falls, also on the Eagle Creed trail. Olive’s bike ride through the woods is at Cape Lookout, on the Oregon coast.

Posted in BJD, Characters, doll photography, general discussion, miniature photography, miniatures, Photography, Photoshop, toy photography, toys

Suggesting Motion with Still Life: Photographing Dolls

One of the hardest parts of creating an action adventure with dolls is that they’re, by nature, immobile. And, often, somewhat difficult to pose. So, how do you get them to look like they’re moving?

I mostly start with seeing if I can just get them to stand in an action-like pose, which works better with some dolls than others.

Here’s Fern (Dollsbe Strawberry) in the shot I used to make her look like she was hiking up the Eagle Creek trail, along with the final photoshopped image:

and here she is dancing with her sisters, in original and photoshopped versions:

Her sisters are modelling my second technique – doll stands. I resort to doll stands with all my dolls once they have one foot off the floor and, for some dolls, even with both feet on the floor (I’m looking at you, Dollzone Gill).

Like Fern, Mathilde (Aimeraidoll Jinjur) rarely needs a stand, although I did have to drag one out for her when she was carrying Cosette (Mudoll Buu) through the streets of Paris.

For unusual action-sitting shots, I generally have them perch on something. Here’s my Granado Udell and Dollmore Maunier ridiculously perching on a very small horse:

which looks much less ridiculous once I photoshop them onto their snails:

But, for the big action shots, none of this works, and I have to use my posing-of-last-resort effort – lying down. I resorted to this yesterday after spending 20 minutes trying to get Olive (Iplehouse Amy) to perch on a bike. Here’s what I finally resorted to, and the photoshopped version:

I used the same method to get my Granado Udell and Dollmore Manuier to climb a tree:

And to get Emily (Dollzone Gill) up the scaffolding:

So, there are all my secrets.

What do you do to get your dolls moving?

Posted in BJD, Characters, doll photography, Dollsbe Strawberry, general discussion, miniatures, movies, On Our Own, Photography, Photoshop, toys

Bringing dolls to life: Animated GIFs

I did a little playing around this last week animating the littlest sister in On Our Own. I’ll never be a stop motion animator – mainly because I haven’t the patience, but also because my dolls’ movements have so much play in them that I simply can’t have them do a seamless motion. I’d move the arm a tiny bit, and then the elastic within would snap them back, and I’d have to somehow get them into exactly the same position they were in before. No matter – animation isn’t really what I’m after. But I do want to put enough photos together to get a sense of a character change.

For the backstory, Fern is very much missing her mom, and her two sisters have a plan to cheer her up. While Willow (the eldest) takes Fern out for a hike, Olive prepares a surprise.

Instead of looking for stock photos as a backdrop for the hike, I’ve pulled a few from the many, many hikes my husband and I took to see the waterfalls along the Columbia gorge. This particular backdrop is on a bridge near the top of Multnomah Falls. Putting it together made me a little teary – last summer we had a devastating fire along the Columbia gorge (teenage boy + fireworks = destruction of tens of thousands of our most beautiful landscapes, up here in the Pacific Northwest.) You can read about it here, but nothing can really communicate the immensity of the loss for those of us who have hiked through these forests.

Since I’m feeling teary already, another aside. These series of photos come from the hundreds of photos and videos I took along these trails while my mother (then in her late 80s and walking only with assistance) waited at home. At the end of the day, I’d come home and play her videos of waterfalls cascading and roaring, and we’d enjoy the hikes together.

Anyway, back to the story. This is a brief GIF animation of 5 photos I took of Fern, photoshopped onto a photo of my husband at the bridge at the top of Multnomah falls, and then turned into an animated GIF with Photoshops frame animation.

It’s meant to capture a moment when Fern, with spear in hand, starts to feel a little warrior blood in her veins.