Tag: Challenges

Griselda the Hippo Witch Shelf Sitter Doll

If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you know I like hippos. I’ve created a number of hippo art pieces but this one is one of my favorites as it combines my other favorite subject: Halloween! My hippo witch is a shelf sitter, meaning her fat legs move at the hips and are bent so that they drape over the edge of a shelf. I made her for an art doll challenge but failed to complete her in time for submission (what a shocker).

Hippo Witch by Karen Furst of Trilby Works

Hippo Witch by Karen Furst of Trilby Works

She is made from a plastic peanut butter container and styrofoam, with layers of paper clay painted and sealed. Her clothing is hand made and caused me many difficulties as sewing is not my favorite activity. I used very old purple velvet scraps from a dress handed down in my family along with orange wool felt and black sueded fabric.

Unfortunately, I can’t sell her as my mother (the original hippopotomaniac) spied her in my studio and claimed her. But maybe I’ll make another one some day.

In the fall of 2015, the hippo witch was chosen to appear in Prims magazine, published by Stampington. Here’s how Stampington describes the magazine:

Prims exclusively features art inspired by a bygone era. You will find artwork of primitive, folk, historic, and early Americana style artists that will captivate the imagination and enchant with their simple beauty. The traditional beauty of handcrafted art making includes dolls, paintings and mixed-media artwork, along with teddy bears in Stampington & Company’s unique publication.

Prims Cover Autumn 2015

Prims Cover, Autumn 2015.

The magazine requested that I write up a short essay about my work. Here’s what I came up with:

Griselda the Hippo Witch
by Karen Furst

My mother has a huge collection of hippos, probably close to 5,000 or so. It’s getting to be quite a challenge to find new ones for her so… what’s an artsy person to do? Make one! My hippo witch Griselda came to life after several weeks of gluing, sculpting, drying, painting, sewing, and experimenting.

Griselda’s body is made from a plastic peanut butter container, with a painted paper clay head, arms, and legs. She is a shelf-sitter with legs that move at the hips. Lengths of stiff but bendable wire run through her arms and legs as an armature.

My color scheme (and overall theme) was inspired by Halloween. I pieced together Griselda’s outfit from vintage purple velvet scraps from a dress handed down in my family along with orange wool felt and black suede fabric from my stash. I did not use a pattern but rather fiddled with cutting and folding the fabric to fit. I used a machine to sew the triangular strips of fabric for the skirt and its hem. I hand cut stars and swirls from felt and glued them to her skirt and cape with fabric glue. Lengths of ribbon and trim and a silk flower further embellish her clothing and add a finished look.

Griselda seemed to need a hat; I made one from black craft felt, sewn into a cone shape, stuffed with polyester, and glued to a brim of cardboard covered with felt. A purple cord covers the seams and edges. I played around a bit with the scale of the hat – should I go large and floppy or small and pointed? I decided on the latter; it gives her a pert, almost Victorian look and it’s a pleasing punctuation mark at the top of her triangular outline.

Every witch needs a broom and pumpkin. The broom gave me fits: I had no idea how to make one! I tried to buy one online but just couldn’t find anything. Finally, I clipped some rushes from a fireplace broom and glued them to a stick. I wrapped the rushes with embroidery floss to keep them in place. By contrast, the pumpkin was easy. It’s just a ball of paper clay, shaped into a pumpkin, with a twisted piece of copper wire glued in for the stem.

When Griselda flies home on her broom from her Prims magazine adventure, she’ll head on over to my mother’s house where she’ll join the rest of the hippo collection. But I know it won’t take a magic spell for my hippopotamaniac mother to fall in love with her!

Karen Furst is an assemblage and mixed media artist who is currently working on a book about how to create miniature stone fairy houses. See her work and contact her at TrilbyWorks.com.

Tools & Materials:

plastic food container
fabric glue
paper clay
paint, brushes
fabric, felt
ribbons and embellishments
scissors, thread, needle
polyester stuffing
wood twig
embroidery floss

Thank you Prims magazine for choosing my piece!

Hippo Inspiration

If you like hippos as much as I do, please follow my Pinterest board: Hippos In Art. Here’s a preview.

My Sorrowful Sister Doll Published in Art Doll Quarterly

I entered the “Mothers and Daughters” reader challenge held by Art Doll Quarterly and was happily surprised that my doll was chosen for publication. Shocked, really, because my doll isn’t exactly sweet or sentimental.

Below is the cover of the magazine: (love that pixie!)

Art Doll Quarterly Spring 2015

Art Doll Quarterly Spring 2015

Here is the doll:

Sorrowful Sister Art Doll by Karen Furst of Trilby Works

Sorrowful Sister Art Doll

Make Mine Mini Reader Challenge

Amid the frantic days of December filled with holiday shopping and packing and shipping orders for my online retail store, I somehow found time to enter a Reader Challenge from Cloth Paper Scissors Magazine. I’ve been wanting to submit artwork to them for a few years now, but I can never get my pieces done in time to meet their deadlines. (Yes, most of the time my art-making moves at the speed of a tortoise, lumbering and painfully slow.) But this time I already had a piece finished, something I had created last year and set aside with no idea what to do with it: a mini robot. Here he is:

Mini Robot Pendant

I’ve been making larger robots for some time now but last year I ventured into small scale bots. I thought of them as babies and often attached them to the larger guys by magnets. This little guy never found a momma so he was perfect to use for this challenge. I placed him in a copper curio box from my stash and added a length of leather to create a pendant necklace. Then I took the picture and sent him in!

The guidelines were to “create a mini piece of mixed-media art, 4″ x 4″ or smaller, using paints, encaustics, collage papers, fibers, stitching, and more to create this wee masterpiece. Try making something you would normally do large and make it Lilliputian.”

I had no idea whether my piece would be accepted or not but in February I was pleased to find myself on the list of finalists. Out of 300 entries, they chose 53 finalists, from which they chose the ones that were published in the magazine.

I guess the magazine editors are too busy to notify artists individually of their decision because I heard nothing more about this until yesterday when my May/June issue arrived in the mail. I turned to page 87 and there was my piece – yay!

Santos Cage Dolls

The first time I saw Santos Cage Dolls, I was not impressed! I thought they just looked freaky and odd with the blank-faced expressions and the empty, legless caged bases. Why not just create a complete doll? I just didn’t get it. But the more I saw of them, the more they grew on me. After a while, I thought I might try to make one of my own.

Santos Cage Doll

Santos Cage Doll

First I decided to find out a little more about them. I learned that Santos Cage Dolls are part of the Spanish tradition of Santo (Saint) art, carvings in ivory or wood of various and plentiful Catholic saints, angels, or the Virgin Mary. Rural villages without churches used the statues as replacement altars and in Catholic religious processions. Smaller statues were most likely made for private devotion. These icons were crucial to the Catholic church’s quest to Christianize not only the peoples of Europe, but especially the indigenous peoples of the newly colonized Americas.

The Santos artist is called a santero. He worked in the European tradition of polychrome (painted wooden) sculpture using locally available wood. In the Americas, that would be pine, cedar, mahogany and other soft woods. Crowns could be made from gold-plated aluminum tin, hammered brass, or gold, the last generally reserved for wealthy clients such as churches.

Art historians typically divide the Santo art into two types: the mannequin Bastidor style and the fully carved detallado style.

also called Bastidor style, bastidor meaning “frame” or “framework”
called detallado which means “detailed”
often have removable arms, and movable limbs, sometimes caged into a frame to build shape fully painted, fully carved
often elaborately dressed needs no vestment dresses or robes

Some statues are dressed in ornate religious garb, often topped with golden crowns. Angels often have carved wings. The cage style statues wear expressions that are beatific and serene. The cage could also be used as a sort of prayer shrine with objects placed inside the cage.

The dolls have become popular collector items although originals are scarce and pricy. (See santosconnection.com for details about vintage and antique Santos doll prices). Hispanic-American artists are still making Santos art today. Contemporary copies made of resin or fiberglass are geared toward mass production while wooden versions can be found in upscale retail outlets like Pottery Barn and online through various shopping sites including Amazon.com.

My Santos Cage Doll

After learning so much, I decided to make one! It took several months to make it and I’ll chronicle my efforts in another blog post but for now, here is my finished doll:

Steampunk Santos Doll

Steampunk Santos Doll

See my Pinterest page here for more Santos dolls.

A Closer Look at Santos

Santo Art (Wikipedia)


SantosConnection.com, an online gallery of rare and collectible Spanish Colonial and Vintage santos.

What Is A Santos Cage Doll?

Reject Roundup: A Hitchcock Halloween

Part of an artist’s life is rejection. Not everyone will love your work, no matter how wonderful your mother thinks it is. I’ve always known this, but somehow, when I decided to start submitting my work for possible publication in 2011, I was not prepared for rejection.

After all, my mother loves my work.

My husband loves my work.

My kids love my work.

My friends love my work.

So it came as something of a shock that my first ever piece of artwork submitted to a magazine for publication was REJECTED.

How could this be?

First, let’s consider the magazine. It was Somerset Studio, known for a crafty, shabby chic, cheery, scrapbooky type of look. Don’t get me wrong – I love this magazine, but clearly my work is a tad more – how shall I put this? – morose, dark, odd… I could go on but you get the idea. So probably my work was not a good fit for this magazine from the get go.

Second, let’s take a look at the challenge. It was called “A Hitchcock Halloween” and was described thusly:

“Alfred Hitchcock is a cultural icon, known for making films so scary that they keep people up at night, afraid to sleep. There are images from his famous movie The Birds that still haunt me. A master of suspense, he was able to evoke feelings of fear and anxiety in his viewers. For this year’s Halloween, we’re asking you to channel the great Hitchcock. Be inspired by movies like Psycho, Vertigo, and Dial M for Murder. Create haunting, yet romantic, artwork reflective of his films. Send it in for consideration in our September/October 2011 issue.”

Well. One thing I absolutely knew with great certainty was that I DID NOT WANT to simply recreate a scene from a Hitchcock movie, or merely paste together random elements from the various films to form a sort of comprehensive collage, an ode to Hitchcock. Instead, I thought about one feeling, or one string of thought that seemed to unite or evoke the mood of his films. For me, that was an overall sense of eeriness, a spooky kind of what’s around that corner? feeling. Another common thread in his movies was the ever-present, good-looking blonde-in-danger. From Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Grace Kelly in The Rear Window to Janet Leigh in Psycho, there is always a girl, she’s always fragile, and she’s always in trouble.

I combined those two motifs in my artwork, which by now I am sure you are dying to see.

Hitchcock Halloween Somerset Studio Challenge

Hitchcock Halloween Somerset Studio Challenge

For me, this piece evokes the feelings of terror and anxiety for which Alfred Hitchcock movies are famous. I was inspired by his earliest black and white movies that seemed to heighten the tension by reducing the colors of the world to shadow and light, lending his work a haunting, eerie quality.

For me, the large, dark figure in my piece represents the lurking, brooding evil that haunts the imaginations of all humans, while the woman, seemingly unaware of her peril, is young, fresh, and innocent, further increasing the tension in the piece. The wings of the sinister creature recall the wings of the invading birds from the eponymous movie.

To make the piece I used wire to attach two corks to the lid of a purchased paper mâché box then ran additional wire through the upper body to form arms and wings. I attached a small Styrofoam ball to the top of the corks for a head and then covered the body and head with paper clay. I used torn newspaper strips with white glue and water to form draping wings and the suggestion of robes around the base of the figure. I covered the figure with a coat of gesso and several coats of black and gray paint, distressing it slightly for depth. The young woman was made from two balls of paper clay attached with a toothpick. Her legs are plastic electrical components I liberated from my stash of robot-making materials. Her dress is made from a bit of coffee filter paper and her hair is yarn. She is attached to the base with wire and glue. She holds a flower in her arms made from wire and rolled paper.

My efforts were unrewarded as my piece was not chosen for the magazine. Maybe it’s too abstract – the chosen art was much more representational. Or maybe the editors didn’t get the connection between my piece and Hitchcock. Or else they just thought it sucked. Maybe the fact that it arrived there broken had an impact (no pun intended). I’ll never know because I just got a nice form letter of rejection along with my returned artwork, no explanation.

Back in 2011, I was pretty upset by my failure. Since then, however, the clarity that comes with time has dulled the pain and made me realize that this piece does suck. I’ve come a long way in my art since then and have had a few successes. And no matter how bad this art is, I still had a wonderful time making it. And the most important takeaway from this experience was that I’m really proud of myself for having the guts to enter my first challenge.

By now you might be curious about the pieces that were selected for publication. Here are a few of them:

Crescent Hill Designs – moon man

Table of Contents, Somerset Studio Magazine, some images of the Hitchcock Halloween challenge

Nancy Lefko art

Kristin Dudish

For the record, I have to say that I love all these pieces. They are all so much more interesting than mine. It makes me wonder what the other rejects looked like…

You can buy Somerset Studio magazine here. I have no doubt you will see my work in there some day!