Behind The Scenes – Russian Nesting Dolls

mullanbabushkaBehind The Scenes – Russian Nesting Dolls – I had an idea a while back, to create a newborn portrait with a lineup of Russian nesting dolls on a toy shelf.  Like many of my ideas, this one has been in my head for ages, and I’ve been dying to get it completed!

My first hurdle was trying to work out to make a “costume” that would look believable/somewhat realistic, but also be comfortable to place a newborn into, and of course safe too. Then I had an epiphany, and I got to work creating the perfect little “costume” using felting techniques that I had been teaching myself for making curly/felted layers for my “normal” newborn setups.

As with all of my crazy ideas, the possibility of this going pear-shaped was a very big reality. You see, I have learned that with me, these things tend to go one of two ways – either a dismal fail, or a freaking awesome result!  I crossed my fingers that this one would be the latter, and got out my fleece!

I took some pics on my phone to show the wet-felting process – excuse the quality, it isn’t my finest work. ?

The process is begun by laying out the wool fleece/roving into the general shape that I need.  I used what felters refer to as a “resist”, which is basically just a piece of flexible plastic to go in the middle to wrap the wool around.  The resist is later removed to create a cavity in the middle (aka the spot where the bubba would eventually go).

The process to take it from soft fluffy fleece/roving to really strong felted fabric, involves hot soapy water, bubble wrap, a huge mess in my kitchen and a really good workout for my biceps/triceps over a course of about 2-3 hours.  Here is how it “evolved”, in a nutshell:

The back of the “pod” after some initial felting and wetting down:

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Then we flip it over and the fun part of laying out the front design begins.  I already had the nesting dolls so I just referred to the biggest one to try and make it look as similar as possible.:

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The “flowers” and “lace” – I used a combination of merino wool roving, silk roving, leicester curls to make these.  I later added more using needle felting techniques.  You can see here how fluffy and soft it all is to begin with.

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One of the main steps in the felting process is to cover it with bubble wrap (after wetting it down with soapy water), and then rub all over it repeatedly to create agitation/friction which makes the fibres bond together.

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After it is felted, the process of fulling occurs which involves more agitation and moulding to give the final shape.  Here, the pod is finished and stuffed with bubble wrap to help it to keep its shape as it dries.

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Photoshoot time!  Woot!

I set up the canvas backdrop, and the actual russian nesting dolls with the same lighting that I would use for photographing the actual little babushka.  And I captured these:

Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls

And then today, I welcomed wide-eyed little Annie into the studio, and just knew she would be the finishing touch for the shot.  She is 8 days old today, and opened her eyes just long enough for us to complete this set up!  Thanks so much for obliging Annie!

On a side note, I did attempt the shot with gorgeous baby Charlotte a couple of months ago, and she was a perfect little cherub. However, I felt that the results didn’t do the concept justice as I failed to notice that the dolls all had their eyes wide opened!  I photographed Charlotte sleeping, and whilst the final shot is super cute, it wasn’t until after putting it all together, that I realised that I needed to have her eyes open.  Doh!

Here is the original shot with darling little Charlotte:

Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls
And that’s where Annie came in!  With the magic of photoshop, and her beautifully curious wide eyes, today, I was finally able to complete the shot!

For obvious safety reasons, we could not actually photograph the babies upright in the pod, so each time, they were actually photographed being held at a slight angle by their mummies who were supporting them the entire time.  Here are some shots of Annie, from today:

Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls

With Annie needing to be awake for this shot, she was also a wee bit squirmy, so in the end to make the final image, I actually combined two shots to create her final pose.  The shot above is where I got her gorgeous little doll-like pout  and her hands from, and from the shot below, I used her eyes and the top of her head.
Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls

And the trick to achieving the perfect babushka doll pout?  Well, it’s a dummy (aka “pacifier” for the US folks)!  Leave it in till the last minute, and have mummy slide it out just before clicking the shutter and there you have it!  A perfect little dolly pout!

Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls

To give her a reaaaally “doll-like” appearance, after putting all pieces of the shot together  I did a little bit of tweaking and retouching – slightly enlarging her eyes and enhancing her little pink cheeks to match the actual dolls.  And the final result, after almost 6 months in the making, was this…

Behind The Scenes - Russian Nesting Dolls

Thank you so much to both Annie and Charlotte’s families for humoring me in my ambitous pursuit of creative perfection. lol!  I am so blessed to have the most patient clients who trust me to try so many crazy things in an effort to create unique results for them.

Post-script – in the end, I chose to use a simple background instead of placing the dolls on a toy shelf as I had originally planned, as I wanted their faces to be distinctly clear and all of the details visible.  BUT, don’t be surprised if I revisit this in months to come and do a new edit on the toy shelf as originally planned. Watch this space. ?



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