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Art Dolls: Facts and Fancies

Dec 29, 2008

by ladyartisandolls 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

ooak polymer clay octopus mermaid art doll by Kate Sjoberg
ooak polymer clay octopus mermaid art doll by Kate Sjoberg
Medusa decorative art doll by mealy monster
Medusa decorative art doll by mealy monster
Veronica Loopy Art Doll
Veronica Loopy Art Doll
Artist Sale  Spirit of Truth  Assemblage Art doll
Artist Sale Spirit of Truth Assemblage Art doll
Rilos journey OOAK orignal Artdoll
Rilos journey OOAK orignal Artdoll
Custom Wishing Faerie
Custom Wishing Faerie


  • JustFeltHungry

    JustFeltHungry said 12 years ago

    Amazing dolls! Thanks!

  • thepairabirds

    thepairabirds said 12 years ago

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

  • christinececelia

    christinececelia said 12 years ago

    wow- neat dolls

  • millerworks

    millerworks said 12 years ago

    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!

  • timesandchimes

    timesandchimes said 12 years ago

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

  • crowhavenfarm

    crowhavenfarm said 12 years ago

    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!

  • loopyboopy

    loopyboopy said 12 years ago

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

  • purplelemondesigns

    purplelemondesigns said 12 years ago

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

  • workingforpeanuts

    workingforpeanuts said 12 years ago

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

  • AnthologiE

    AnthologiE said 12 years ago

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

  • Recy

    Recy said 12 years ago

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

  • DebiDesigns

    DebiDesigns said 12 years ago

    great article!

  • Art2ArtColorado

    Art2ArtColorado said 12 years ago

    I was glad to see this article! well done!

  • raisinlike

    raisinlike said 12 years ago

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

  • vivikas

    vivikas said 12 years ago

    Pretty cool, the doll Ophelia.. awesome!

  • bartonoriginals

    bartonoriginals said 12 years ago

    Excellent article LA!

  • oldworldprimitives

    oldworldprimitives said 12 years ago

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

  • jamieshelman

    jamieshelman said 12 years ago

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

  • pumpkinhaus

    pumpkinhaus said 12 years ago

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

  • jamieshelman

    jamieshelman said 12 years ago

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

  • artdollsbynat

    artdollsbynat said 12 years ago

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

  • TheSingingBird

    TheSingingBird said 12 years ago

    i love this category, great work everyone!

  • ElysianFields

    ElysianFields said 12 years ago

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

  • theeye

    theeye said 12 years ago

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

  • GoldenUnicornMinis

    GoldenUnicornMinis said 12 years ago

    Great article, LA!!! Kudos!!!

  • threepeats

    threepeats said 12 years ago

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

  • gjarvisjewelryetc

    gjarvisjewelryetc said 12 years ago

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

  • NatashaDesigns

    NatashaDesigns said 12 years ago


  • MGMart

    MGMart said 12 years ago

    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 :)

  • twolefthands

    twolefthands said 12 years ago

    Beautiful dolls, great article!

  • kmwatkins

    kmwatkins said 12 years ago

    Very pretty and creepy (in a good way).

  • LilyBaySoap

    LilyBaySoap said 12 years ago

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

  • KnitzAndFeltz

    KnitzAndFeltz said 12 years ago

    Very Unique-I LOVE The Pumpkin Queen!

  • loopyboopy

    loopyboopy said 12 years ago

    again..beautiful dolls, scarey is relative.

  • mealymonster

    mealymonster said 12 years ago

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

  • MouseHole

    MouseHole said 12 years ago

    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!

  • berrybluecreations

    berrybluecreations said 12 years ago

    Great article.

  • LilSpottedDog

    LilSpottedDog said 12 years ago

    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!

  • besedina

    besedina said 12 years ago

    Amazing Dolls!!!

  • lindapaloma

    lindapaloma said 12 years ago

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

  • 4TheSparrowsNest

    4TheSparrowsNest said 12 years ago

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

  • EirewolfCreations

    EirewolfCreations said 12 years ago

    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!

  • itselemental

    itselemental said 12 years ago

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

  • jessicajane

    jessicajane said 12 years ago

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

  • artdecadence

    artdecadence said 12 years ago

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

  • noodleandlou

    noodleandlou said 12 years ago

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

  • BluCille

    BluCille said 12 years ago

    Quite interesting.

  • wanderinon

    wanderinon said 12 years ago

    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.

  • KellesKitchen

    KellesKitchen said 12 years ago

    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!

  • malam

    malam said 12 years ago

    loved the feature! and so many great works!!

  • Sinta

    Sinta said 12 years ago

    Beautiful! I love the bavarian apple princess ^_^

  • EvesOriginals

    EvesOriginals said 12 years ago

    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!

  • swellvintage

    swellvintage said 12 years ago

    blackeyedsusie makes amazing dolls! this is a lovely selection x

  • PetitPlat

    PetitPlat said 12 years ago

    great and wonderful article! :) Most beautiful dolls!

  • uniquelynancy

    uniquelynancy said 12 years ago

    Wonderful article. Love the choices.

  • thneed

    thneed said 12 years ago

    What great looking dolls.

  • HoneysuckleLane

    HoneysuckleLane said 12 years ago

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

  • pixiepotions

    pixiepotions said 12 years ago

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

  • ArchetypalTheatre

    ArchetypalTheatre said 12 years ago

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

  • katieplesecreations

    katieplesecreations said 12 years ago

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

  • SylviaAnderson

    SylviaAnderson said 12 years ago

    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!

  • newagedolls

    newagedolls said 12 years ago

    great post and beautiful work everyone!

  • ThePower

    ThePower said 12 years ago

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

  • cre8tvekarma

    cre8tvekarma said 12 years ago

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

  • knotbygranma

    knotbygranma said 12 years ago

    great article and beautiful work!

  • holli

    holli said 12 years ago

    great article, great artists!

  • tamdoll

    tamdoll said 12 years ago

    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!

  • kohlerglass

    kohlerglass said 12 years ago

    Neat. They are like little sculptures.

  • rootune

    rootune said 12 years ago

    Thanks for the article! Beautiful examples throughout.

  • fabfrills

    fabfrills said 12 years ago

    Wonderful article - and some amazing dolls!!

  • secretobsessions

    secretobsessions said 12 years ago

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

  • charsdolls

    charsdolls said 12 years ago

    Really cool article on Art Dolls.


    AYALONET said 12 years ago

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

  • littlebitwired

    littlebitwired said 12 years ago

    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.

  • mulberrymoose

    mulberrymoose said 12 years ago

    Nice article! Beautiful creations!

  • chatnoirstudios

    chatnoirstudios said 12 years ago

    great job! A very informative article.:)

  • blackeyedsuzie

    blackeyedsuzie said 12 years ago

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

  • GlassTortoise

    GlassTortoise said 12 years ago

    Very interesting article. I love dolls!

  • Kaeriefaerie52

    Kaeriefaerie52 said 12 years ago

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

  • Serenities

    Serenities said 12 years ago

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

  • lsioux

    lsioux said 12 years ago

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

  • NikashaDesigns

    NikashaDesigns said 12 years ago

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

  • BlueKittyMiniatures

    BlueKittyMiniatures said 12 years ago

    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 :)

  • beckykazana

    beckykazana said 12 years ago

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

  • Macrovertigo

    Macrovertigo said 12 years ago

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

  • alfastudio

    alfastudio said 12 years ago

    Great artical! LOvely dolls

  • Tina669

    Tina669 said 12 years ago

    great article!

  • greeniemarie

    greeniemarie said 11 years ago

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

  • MyPatternedMind

    MyPatternedMind said 11 years ago

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

  • Gingermelon

    Gingermelon said 11 years ago

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

  • Gingermelon

    Gingermelon said 11 years ago

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

  • JaniceCordeiro

    JaniceCordeiro said 11 years ago

    Really great work.

  • Americansockmonkey

    Americansockmonkey said 11 years ago

    Really humbles me...

  • beeblecat

    beeblecat said 11 years ago

    great article! Thanks!

  • SavoyFaire

    SavoyFaire said 11 years ago

    I adore art dolls! Such talent for sure.

  • BurningHeartArt

    BurningHeartArt said 11 years ago

    Great article and there are so many beauties here.

  • irisoconnor

    irisoconnor said 11 years ago

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

  • ArtdollImaginarium

    ArtdollImaginarium said 10 years ago

    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.

  • RingAroundbyRosie

    RingAroundbyRosie said 10 years ago

    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.

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  • Pure Sculpt OOAK Art Doll Definition | karenascofield said 6 years ago

    […] 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.” […]

  • ladyjol

    Lady JoL from LadyJoLEnterprises said 6 years ago

    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...

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