Creating a ball-jointed doll can be a rewarding process, but without the proper planning, it can be maddening and ultimately end in disaster. Ball-jointed dolls can be very complex, depending on how articulate you want the range of movement to be, but in the end, the finished product can end up being a beautifully handcrafted work of art. Let’s navigate this tricky process step by step, giving you all the tools you’ll need to make your own doll.
Materials and Blueprints
The first thing you’ll need before you even start sculpting is the proper tools and materials as well as a blueprint to work off of. For materials you’ll need the following:
- High quality sculpting tools
- Quality air-dry clay
- Round wooden beads
- A Dremel tool
When it comes to sculpting tools, you’ll want a mix of fine and large tools so you can work on both areas with fine detail and overall sculpting. You can also make the joints yourself if you don’t want to use wooden beads for the joints.
Drawing The Blueprint
The first step is to draw a blueprint. At this point in the process, the world is your oyster, so let your imagination run wild and come up with a design on how you want your doll to look. Keep the type of poses and movements you want in mind when designing the joints because the finer movement required more joints. Also, be sure to draw your blueprint to scale. You’ll be using it as a guide when sizing out various parts of your doll’s structure.
Making The Base
Ball-jointed dolls are actually hollow on the inside, held together with string. Keeping that in mind, we need to make a general structure for the base of the doll that we can work with. Make the base out of styrofoam wrapped in plastic wrap, and use straws for the joints. Don’t worry about being super accurate, just make sure the skeleton you’re building is smaller than the blueprint.
Sculpting Your Doll
When sculpting your doll, working in layers will help keep the surface of the doll even, and help prevent cracks. The clay dries relatively quickly, so having wet clay that dries unevenly can cause cracks and other issues. The first layer is going to be the hardest because there is nothing for the clay to stick to, but once that layer is done the rest should be easy. Sculpt the basic shape of each body part with clay. Don’t worry about detail yet, we still need to remove the skeleton first.
Removing the base
Using an Exacto blade, cut along the side of your clay mold until it has been completely cut in half. Carefully pop the piece open and remove the base. You’ll use a thin layer of clay to seal your piece back up again, that way it ends up hollow. Once that’s complete, its time to move on to joints.
When it comes to joints, it can be easier to use wooden beads if you’re not comfortable with designing your own joints or making perfect spheres. Make sure the beads are the proper size to fit into the joint, and then drill a hole into the bead. Next cut a slit in the bead along the axis you want the joint to be able to move. Lastly, for the hands and feet, you’ll want to drill a hole to allow room for an S-hook to loop through each of the ankle joints.
Take a loop of string or elastic and tie the two ends together making a ring. Next, fold that circle in half and stretch it to the length of your doll. This will give you a feel for how much elastic you’ll need. Try to imagine how the doll will react to the tension of the elastic and use that to judge how much to use. Then, create a second loop of elastic. Insert the first loop into the torso, making sure the knot is inside, and assemble the doll pieces along the elastic or string, hooking the hands onto each end of the loop.
Next we are going to do the same with the legs. Take a loop and insert it through the neck, folded in half so that the knot is in the neck. affix an S-hook to the knot to keep it in place as well as provide a place for the head joint to hook into, and feed the two ends of the loop down through the torso. Feed one loop through each of the hip openings, leading down the legs, and finally affix the ends to S_hooks attached to the feet. After that, just attach the head and your doll is complete.