This is a profile of one of those enthusiasts, how I found her, why I enjoy her work and a few things she’s taught me.
Once when I as trolling eBay I saw a playscale washer and dryer for sale. The photos included with the ad captivated me. She was showing the washer and dryer within a diorama she had created.
What I think captivated me most about the diorama was that the doll in the photo was the Happy Family grandmother and she was wearing a housecoat just like my grandmother used to wear.
I stared at the picture a long time, taking in all the tiny details the diorama contained. I enjoyed scanning every quarter inch of the photo picking out all the details the diorama creator had so painstakingly, and perhaps lovingly, created.
I wrote to her about the washer and dryer set and complimented her on her picture. She wrote back and told me to check out a Community Chat Room on eBay called the Barbie Bulletin Board. [NOTE: Since this post was originally created, the Barbie Bulletin Board has been repurposed significantly and no longer includes the free flow sharing of pictures it once did. I have contacted Marie to see if she is now posting her diorama pics in other places].
I scrolled through the discussion going on there. There were a few other diorama makers but the ones created by my pen pal, the eBay user emeraldroselane, were my favorites.
A few months after seeing that first diorama picture I visited the board again. I wanted to hear more about this diorama maker’s creative process and understand what intrigued me so much about her work.
The Creative Processes of other people has always been fascinating to me. When I was a kid, I was considered a “good artist” – this meant I could sketch a reasonable cartoonish depiction of a human or animal. I remember that I used to say “Tell me something to draw” and my mom would say, “Draw whatever you want,” and I would say “That’s too easy. That’s not fun. Tell me something to draw.”
I realized from an early age that creativity doesn’t come out of thin air – it comes from limitations and parameters. The more limitations, the more likely you will come up with something truly ingenious.
Limitations, that’s what spurs creativity.
So what was again about these dioramas? Well diorama work could be said to be the playscale equivalent to stage design in the theater or set design in film.
In some ways, creating playscale dioramas is easier than creating human-scale set designs. For example, barbie couches are much cheaper than human couches and if you have the gumption you might even make one in an hour out of fabric scraps, hot glue, some cardboard and either cotton or foam. Try creating a human couch that way.
In other ways, creating dioramas in the barbie world is harder. If the character who calls your theater set home loves French Beignets you can call up the local French Bakery and have some delivered, but how are you are going to come up with Beignets for barbie? The answer: You are going to have to get pretty creative.
And that, I realized, was what had so intrigued me about Marie’s work. She wasn’t just doing dioramas. She was doing dioramas that were specific to time periods and the back stories she had developed for her dolls.
As Marie shared various diorama pics with me I was delighted by the way her furniture, clothing, food, curtains, wallpaper, dishes – you name it — how every small detail reflected a specific place, time and character she had created.
Marie uses her dioramas to tell short stories. She narrates each frame with a sentence or two. In this way, her stories are small vignettes. They run like soap operas – in that she has families established that she visits over and over again and picks up stories where she has previously left off.
Marie’s Ten Tips for Barbie Play
1 ) Use shelves as barbie houses. Paper the walls with human wallpaper – and use wallpaper glue to attach it to the shelves.
2 ) Look for 1:12 scale items that can be used in a 1:6 scale setting. A large dollhouse light can be used as a small barbie light. Crystal prism Christmas tree ornaments also make fantastic chandeliers.
3 ) Use dollhouse wax to attach things like pictures to walls or dishes to tables. The wax doesn’t stain and can be reused. It is designed to be a temporary adhesive and it works great for temporary set-ups.
4 ) A good way to generate ideas for your existing dioramas is to do calendar based themes – decorate for Halloween, Christmas, Valentines etc. As you look for decorations and add them to your dioramas, ideas for stories will develop naturally.
5 ) Windows are easily made using pretty scenery pictures. Look through old magazines for pictures of flowers for a Spring time scene. Place fabric on the sides and you have an instant window. If you don’t sew and don’t want to learn, you can make curtains using fabric and a glue gun.
6 ) Birthday parties for your dolls can be fun. Use real party streamers for your doll’s party. Cut the width of the streamers down to about 1/4 to 1/2″ and hang just as you would with life size streamers. Doll house wax works well to adhere the streamers. For a fabulous Halloween party, use orange and black twisted together.
7 ) To make presents for any holiday, use empty mini raisin boxes and wrap with human wrapping paper.
8 ) Crocheted or knitted doilies are perfect as an area rug in your doll’s kitchen or living room, bedroom, or even bathroom. You can find these at thrift shops or antique shops.
9 ) Placemats can work as wall-to-wall carpet or can be cut down to create area rugs. If you cut them down, use an iron to turn the edges under and then either use stitch-witchery (an adhesive activated by heat, found at fabric stores) or glue to hold the edges under.,
10 ) Use pretty, decorated hankerchiefs as tablecloths for your doll’s dining table. Even a pretty fabric dinner napkin cut to size works well as a tablecloth. Fabric stores sell a product called “Fray Check” that keep the cut edge from unraveling. Follow the instructions on the label. It will dry clear and invisible and add some extra weight to help your fabric drape more realisticially.