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Art Dolls: Facts and Fancies handmade and vintage goods

“What is an art doll?” This is as loaded a question as “What is art?”

There’s no hard and fast definition to be found for an art doll. They can be made out of almost any medium or several different media. They come in various shapes, sizes, styles, and designs. They can be very realistic or abstract with barely anything recognizable on them. They can be human, humanoid, anthropomorphic, alien, fantasy, sci-fi, or just about anything in between. In this post, we’ll explore the world of art dolls, in honor of the recently launched Dolls and Miniatures Category on Etsy. In Part 2 of this series, we will delve into miniatures with a post by BlueKittyMiniatures.
The two main defining points about art dolls that you will find consistently are:

1. An art doll is a work of art. The chosen form might be a doll but the piece is art and is intended to be treated and viewed as such.

2. Art dolls are not toys. Usually, an art doll is for display with little to no direct interaction but even art dolls designed to be interacted with (e.g., puppets, marionettes, jack-in-the-boxes, and automatons) are made for adult collectors and are not toys or usually even considered child friendly. Most people wouldn’t allow their children to play with a bronze sculpture or painting on the wall and art dolls fall into the same category.

Lulu by blackeyedsuzie 

Scary Prim by DLMarian

Just as other art forms can be expressed through multiple media, art dolls can as well. Art dolls can be fully sculpted or partially sculpted from clay with soft bodies. They can be soft sculpture which involves very detailed sculpting of foam and fabric with a needle to make incredibly realistic features. They can be assemblage taking a combination of various materials and making a doll form out of them. They can even be altered dolls–consider Barbie, sculpted over, painted and turned into a wood nymph…to the point where you barely recognize her original form. But each of these media follows the same defining points of an art doll–they are works of art first and they are not toys to be played with by children.

Ophelia by BonnieLeeFonatine

One-of-a-kind (OOAK) is a phrase that shows up a lot in the art doll realm. It denotes something very specific for doll artists. A OOAK art doll should be an original doll (made from start to finish by the individual artist; from conception through design, sculpting, and finishing the piece) that will not be reproduced again.

Charlie Chaplin by AMCreatures

Further breakdown can take place within each media. There are such a variety of clays to use, from high-fire to air-dry and epoxy clays. Some porcelain dolls fall into the art doll category because they are individually made by the artist, rather than being mass-produced from a mold. Polymer clay, air-dry clays, two-part epoxy clays like Apoxie Sculpt, paperclays and papier mache are all used for sculpting either full-sculpts or partial sculpts with cloth bodies.

Angel Tree Topper by ElizabethBonura

Green Witch by rdirenna

Soft Sculpture includes using foam, batting, fabric and nylon to make highly detailed realistic figures. Like sculpting in clay, these figures are sculpted using a needle and without a cloth pattern. It also includes needlefelting which can make some amazingly life-like figures, as well. The key to recognizing soft sculpture is how well defined and how detailed the cloth sculpting is. A simple cloth doll with painted face, mitten hands, and rounded feet doesn’t fit into the soft sculpture definition, but a doll with a needle-sculpted face, individual fingers, and defined muscles is exactly what soft sculpture is about.

Freya by cottonwoolbabystudio

Assemblage dolls are much less traditional, cobbling together a variety of items from old doll parts to kitchen utensils to make a doll form that’s somewhat recognizable as such. Just about any item is game to be included in an assemblage doll. Their very nature makes them eco-friendly, upcycling and recycling items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

The Way It Worked by lunaclaydesigns

Bavarian Apple Princess by crayonmonster

Altered dolls, not to be confused with repaints (which are commercial-made fashion dolls that have been stripped and painted in a new style, frequently including a new hairstyle), are another non-traditional type of art doll. For altered dolls, artists use commercial dolls (Barbies, Blythes, old toy dolls, cheap plastic dolls) and sculpt over them, remove and/or replace body parts, re-costume and just generally remake the doll into a completely new figure. Most of these dolls are so altered, it’s hard to recognize the original doll underneath. While the use of a pre-existing doll might traditionally disqualify these from being considered art dolls, it can’t be denied that they fit well within the defining points of art dolls–they are works of art in doll form and they are not toys to be played with.

Corin by crackedmoon

Earth Day Barbie by littlebitwired

So what is an art doll? Essentially, it’s an original work of art in a doll form used, as more traditional art is, to express something the artist wants to express — an emotion, a political statement, a thought or series of thoughts. The reasons for creating art dolls are varied and can’t be pinned down or limited anymore than this: Why does an artist create?

Further Resources:
The Original Doll Artist Council of America:
National Institute of American Doll Artists:
Texas Association of Original Doll Artists:
The Professional Doll Makers Art Guild:

Art Dolls  | EGADS – Etsy Guild for Art Dolls and Such | Dolls and Miniatures Category

  • JustFeltHungry

    JustFeltHungry says:

    Amazing dolls! Thanks!

    6 years ago

  • thepairabirds

    thepairabirds says:

    Nice article. Great intro to art dolls. I don't collect (yet!), but I do enjoy browsing them.

    6 years ago

  • christinececelia

    christinececelia says:

    wow- neat dolls

    6 years ago

  • millerworks

    millerworks says:

    Very creative! It's so interesting to see how artists create a unique vision. I always enjoy pieces that are innovative. I especially like Bhodi and the effective manipulation and use of materials. I also think the teacup fairy is quite fun in a different way. Keep up the creative spirit!

    6 years ago

  • timesandchimes

    timesandchimes says:

    I find a lot of dolls creepy, and yet I can't pull my eyes away... disturbingly beautiful.

    6 years ago

  • crowhavenfarm

    crowhavenfarm says:

    Eva, this is a beautiful Article that you put together on Art Dolls. There are amazing doll artists on Etsy and they should be congradulated! THANK YOU! Cheers!

    6 years ago

  • loopyboopy

    loopyboopy says:

    Fantastic and informative article. Thanks to LadyArtisian and Vanessa for helping to educate the Etsy community on Art Dolls!!!

    6 years ago

  • purplelemondesigns

    purplelemondesigns says:

    I have to agree with timesandchimes...Disturbingly beautiful. Great description.

    6 years ago

  • workingforpeanuts

    workingforpeanuts says:

    Nice article! What a great variety of materials. Thank-you!

    6 years ago

  • AnthologiE

    AnthologiE says:

    Very informative information about art dolls. I love your selection -- from the realistic, to the whimsical & magical.

    6 years ago

  • Recy

    Recy says:

    I don't generally like dolls but these art dolls are amazing. Such wonderful works of art!

    6 years ago

  • DebiDesigns

    DebiDesigns says:

    great article!

    6 years ago

  • Art2ArtColorado

    Art2ArtColorado says:

    I was glad to see this article! well done!

    6 years ago

  • raisinlike

    raisinlike says:

    Wow, some of these are real scary LOL Wonderful doll artists here, yay for all of you (us)!!

    6 years ago

  • vivikas

    vivikas says:

    Pretty cool, the doll Ophelia.. awesome!

    6 years ago

  • bartonoriginals

    bartonoriginals says:

    Excellent article LA!

    6 years ago

  • oldworldprimitives

    oldworldprimitives says:

    Wonderful and informative article! It is great to see so many beautiful art dolls featured here.

    6 years ago

  • jamieshelman

    jamieshelman says:

    some of these are a little scary, i've seen some great work on here!

    6 years ago

  • pumpkinhaus

    pumpkinhaus says:

    Wonderful article!!! There are some really, really talented artists represented here!

    6 years ago

  • jamieshelman

    jamieshelman says:

    check out these dolls they are by far my favorite on etsy!

    6 years ago

  • artdollsbynat

    artdollsbynat says:

    Great article. Thanks for putting all that information out there along with some great examples of the art form.

    6 years ago

  • TheSingingBird

    TheSingingBird says:

    i love this category, great work everyone!

    6 years ago

  • ElysianFields

    ElysianFields says:

    Glad to see art dolls getting some well deserved exposure on Etsy. Kudos to the many talented artists here!

    6 years ago

  • theeye

    theeye says:

    great article... nice recognition for such a diverse and talented group of artists

    6 years ago

  • GoldenUnicornMinis

    GoldenUnicornMinis says:

    Great article, LA!!! Kudos!!!

    6 years ago

  • threepeats

    threepeats says:

    Who knew?...another category of art I will have to explore on etsy

    6 years ago

  • gjarvisjewelryetc

    gjarvisjewelryetc says:

    Wow, nice article, and a great selection of artists!

    6 years ago

  • NatashaDesigns
  • MGMart

    MGMart says:

    I like the article, it's nice and clear description of the art dolls. I like the dolls, all of them are lovely pieces of art! I sculpted a few art dolls myself too, I have one miniature one in my listing. I made her from polymer clay, she is a tiny 2 1/2 inches One Of A Kind fairy. Would be nice to see her in your Part 2 of this series :)

    6 years ago

  • twolefthands

    twolefthands says:

    Beautiful dolls, great article!

    6 years ago

  • kmwatkins

    kmwatkins says:

    Very pretty and creepy (in a good way).

    6 years ago

  • LilyBaySoap

    LilyBaySoap says:

    Wow! There's a lot of amazing work showcased here!

    6 years ago

  • KnitzAndFeltz

    KnitzAndFeltz says:

    Very Unique-I LOVE The Pumpkin Queen!

    6 years ago

  • loopyboopy

    loopyboopy says:

    again..beautiful dolls, scarey is relative.

    6 years ago

  • mealymonster

    mealymonster says:

    Wow,great article LA. you nailed it on the head! wonderful collection of work...inspirational, beautiful, incredible talent! thanks for putting this together!

    6 years ago

  • MouseHole

    MouseHole says:

    What a wonderful article! And, OMGosh! The dolls pictured are just incredible. I'm honored to just to be able to have my name in the DAM team list with such artists!

    6 years ago

  • berrybluecreations

    berrybluecreations says:

    Great article.

    6 years ago

  • LilSpottedDog

    LilSpottedDog says:

    LOOOOve dolls Paper dolls especially, but all kinds soft sculptured, fimo, etc. These are all so beautiful - These artists are who I want to be when I grow up!

    6 years ago

  • besedina

    besedina says:

    Amazing Dolls!!!

    6 years ago

  • lindapaloma

    lindapaloma says:

    Thanks for featuring all of these wonderful Etsy doll artists. Amazing, inspiring, and incredibly talented group!

    6 years ago

  • 4TheSparrowsNest

    4TheSparrowsNest says:

    Art dolls are amazing..thank you for focusing on this neat artform, Etsy! Unique picks!

    6 years ago

  • EirewolfCreations

    EirewolfCreations says:

    Great article! I've spent the last hour or so perusing these wonderful art dolls. I don't always sculpt humanoid figures; in fact I usually do fantasy critters, but I have lots of online friends in the art doll world and I feel privileged to count myself among them!

    6 years ago

  • itselemental

    itselemental says:

    Wonderful... Thank you, Ladyartisandolls. Fabulous work represented, here!

    6 years ago

  • jessicajane

    jessicajane says:

    i own a DuBuhDu Doll and it is amazing. By far, one of my most favorite purchases on Etsy, ever.

    6 years ago

  • artdecadence

    artdecadence says:

    These dolls are wonderful...truly works of art...and I just covet the altered ones...

    6 years ago

  • noodleandlou

    noodleandlou says:

    Wonderful to see this article! Hooray for art dolls of all forms!!

    6 years ago

  • BluCille

    BluCille says:

    Quite interesting.

    6 years ago

  • wanderinon

    wanderinon says:

    I was lucky enough to watch Freya being created from start to finish, and it was incredible. I remember that I mentioned it was like watching someone give birth, and she laughed and said giving birth didn't take as long!! Great article, amazing artists, gorgeous dolls. Art for sure.

    6 years ago

  • KellesKitchen

    KellesKitchen says:

    Reason why I love Etsy #4,586: It is 3 AM and I just learned enough about a topic (art dolls) to hold a reasonable conversation with someone who makes them. SO COOL!

    6 years ago

  • malam

    malam says:

    loved the feature! and so many great works!!

    6 years ago

  • Sinta

    Sinta says:

    Beautiful! I love the bavarian apple princess ^_^

    6 years ago

  • EvesOriginals

    EvesOriginals says:

    This is absolutely wonderful that there is finally a Doll category for art dolls and their-likes. There are some truly amazing doll makers on etsy and perhaps all of mine will also find a new lovable home in the doll soul at a time. Thank you Etsy!

    6 years ago

  • swellvintage

    swellvintage says:

    blackeyedsusie makes amazing dolls! this is a lovely selection x

    6 years ago

  • PetitPlat

    PetitPlat says:

    great and wonderful article! :) Most beautiful dolls!

    6 years ago

  • uniquelynancy

    uniquelynancy says:

    Wonderful article. Love the choices.

    6 years ago

  • thneed

    thneed says:

    What great looking dolls.

    6 years ago

  • HoneysuckleLane

    HoneysuckleLane says:

    Thanks for such an informative article! As a dollmaker, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing such a varied collection of art dolls.

    6 years ago

  • pixiepotions

    pixiepotions says:

    i love the green witch. my favorite is phoebe's necklace! i never liked dolls... but these kind of dolls i could love!

    6 years ago

  • ArchetypalTheatre

    ArchetypalTheatre says:

    I love seeing the variety of ways that people use dolls to express themselves! I can't wait to visit all these shops =)

    6 years ago

  • katieplesecreations

    katieplesecreations says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It gives us dollamkers wider exposure to those who may have been unfamiliar with this type of art!

    6 years ago

  • SylviaAnderson

    SylviaAnderson says:

    Thank you for posting this article and mentioning all of the various mediums that art dolls are made with. I sculpt folk art dolls and figures in paper mache, and it is great to see more and more doll makers joining Etsy these days! Articles like this help shed light on a category that others may not know about, and help to educate everyone about how they are constructed and the time that goes into each one. Thank you!

    6 years ago

  • newagedolls

    newagedolls says:

    great post and beautiful work everyone!

    6 years ago

  • ThePower

    ThePower says:

    Thank you for this interesting article! Like Archetypal Theatre, I will look forward to looking at each shop, as well as fellow posters' shops!

    6 years ago

  • cre8tvekarma

    cre8tvekarma says:

    totally awesome dolls. artists who have these amazing visions are incredible. enjoyed browsing!

    6 years ago

  • knotbygranma

    knotbygranma says:

    great article and beautiful work!

    6 years ago

  • holli

    holli says:

    great article, great artists!

    6 years ago

  • tamdoll

    tamdoll says:

    What a great article. I used to make cloth art dolls and hope to get into it again in the future - I'm so happy to see the Dolls & Miniatures category up on Etsy!

    6 years ago

  • kohlerglass

    kohlerglass says:

    Neat. They are like little sculptures.

    6 years ago

  • rootune

    rootune says:

    Thanks for the article! Beautiful examples throughout.

    6 years ago

  • fabfrills

    fabfrills says:

    Wonderful article - and some amazing dolls!!

    6 years ago

  • secretobsessions

    secretobsessions says:

    Great article! It's nice to see a variety of dolls from many talented artists!

    6 years ago

  • charsdolls

    charsdolls says:

    Really cool article on Art Dolls.

    6 years ago


    AYALONET says:

    ho wowwww! what a marvelous dolls and so much talebted artists here!amazing!!!!!!!

    6 years ago

  • littlebitwired

    littlebitwired says:

    Really wonderful article on Art Dolls and the variety available on Etsy. And what a surprise to see my Altered Barbie included. Thanks for introducing Art Dolls to the wonderful folk of etsy.

    6 years ago

  • mulberrymoose

    mulberrymoose says:

    Nice article! Beautiful creations!

    6 years ago

  • chatnoirstudios

    chatnoirstudios says:

    great job! A very informative article.:)

    6 years ago

  • blackeyedsuzie

    blackeyedsuzie says:

    Great article, Lady - such a pleasant surprise to see it!

    6 years ago

  • GlassTortoise

    GlassTortoise says:

    Very interesting article. I love dolls!

    6 years ago

  • Kaeriefaerie52

    Kaeriefaerie52 says:

    Great article, glad you wrote about this art form, we still have to fight to get out there! Thanks for enlightening everyone. Karey

    6 years ago

  • Serenities

    Serenities says:

    I've always loved dolls, especially baby dolls. However, this collection is so appealing!! Thanks for featuring them.

    6 years ago

  • lsioux

    lsioux says:

    Some of these are so lifelike. I especially liked the little red-haired with the pouty face.

    6 years ago

  • NikashaDesigns

    NikashaDesigns says:

    Yay! I'm so happy art dolls finally have a home on Etsy. There are so many great examples.

    6 years ago

  • BlueKittyMiniatures

    BlueKittyMiniatures says:

    This certainly shows that Art dolls are ART. One day I really will have a go at making one (or two) myself. Maybe when I can't see my miniatures and need to do something larger :)

    6 years ago

  • beckykazana

    beckykazana says:

    Thanks for the article- it cleared up some questions I had about this cool niche area.

    6 years ago

  • Macrovertigo

    Macrovertigo says:

    Thanks for the clarification, it really adds a lot to the dialogue on dolls.

    6 years ago

  • alfastudio

    alfastudio says:

    Great artical! LOvely dolls

    6 years ago

  • Tina669

    Tina669 says:

    great article!

    6 years ago

  • greeniemarie

    greeniemarie says:

    Oh I loved reading this!! Art dolls are so awesome, and I love creating them ans seeing the ways other people create them!!

    6 years ago

  • MyPatternedMind

    MyPatternedMind says:

    Awesome article!!! I love the soft sculpture doll :)

    6 years ago

  • Gingermelon

    Gingermelon says:

    Wow, thanks for all the info! I love dolls, and enjoyed this article!

    5 years ago

  • Gingermelon

    Gingermelon says:

    Thanks, great info! I just love dolls, and enjoyed browsing the featured sellers!

    5 years ago

  • JaniceCordeiro

    JaniceCordeiro says:

    Really great work.

    5 years ago

  • Americansockmonkey

    Americansockmonkey says:

    Really humbles me...

    5 years ago

  • beeblecat

    beeblecat says:

    great article! Thanks!

    5 years ago

  • SavoyFaire

    SavoyFaire says:

    I adore art dolls! Such talent for sure.

    5 years ago

  • BurningHeartArt

    BurningHeartArt says:

    Great article and there are so many beauties here.

    5 years ago

  • irisoconnor

    irisoconnor says:

    I love the art dolls here on Etsy and that article is awesome! Thank you:)

    5 years ago

  • ArtdollImaginarium

    ArtdollImaginarium says:

    Thank you for your Article on Art Dolls. I can't tell you how many times when I tell people I make ArtDolls they say "Oh you make Porcelain dolls? and I say no,I make OOAK Art Dolls,I hand sculpt the heads,Paint on the features,wire and wrap the bodies in cotton batting,and hand stitch on skin and clothes,and Accessorize them. My hope is that someday Art Dolls will be recognized as a legitimate form of Art and be displayed in Galleries.

    4 years ago

  • RingAroundbyRosie

    RingAroundbyRosie says:

    Wonderful article on art doll!. I am a doll artist and have trouble explaining what I do. THere are so few doll artists compared to other arts. I agree with Artdollmaginarium that maybe someday, our art will be recognized as a form of art worthy of display in a gallery. I have original porcelain dolls that were turned down from exhibiting in art fairs because they didn't understand that I really made them. I am just starting a blog in which I hope to include artist dolls, collecting dolls, making dolls, and the business of selling dolls. If anyone would like to take a look, it is at: It is just getting going, but I would like to really give blogging a chance. I imagine blogging can really keep you busy.

    4 years ago

  • TheBoutiqueJewelry
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    1 year ago

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    Google Here is a superb Blog You may Come across Interesting that we encourage you to visit.

    1 year ago

  • Pure Sculpt OOAK Art Doll Definition | karenascofield says:

    […] Etsy’s Word on Art Dolls: “There’s no hard and fast definition to be found for an art doll. They can be made out of almost any medium or several different media. They come in various shapes, sizes, styles, and designs. They can be very realistic or abstract with barely anything recognizable on them. They can be human, humanoid, anthropomorphic, alien, fantasy, sci-fi, or just about anything in between. You can read more here.” […]

    1 year ago

  • ladyjol

    Lady JoL from LadyJoLEnterprises says:

    I sell a collection of Porcelain Dolls, mostly Victorian, all girl dolls. I never heard of an "art doll" until today. Interesting article. Thank you...

    243 days ago

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    224 days ago

  • Minibabydolls

    Anastasia Belova from Minibabydolls says:

    I am crazy doll lover too! :) Nice article. Thanks!

    144 days ago