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Not your mom’s dolls

By on April 23, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

Nicole realized that her home studio, which had formerly been bare and spare, would be more inspiring if she dolled it up a little.

By Susan Lagsdin

OK, OK — this is not your mother’s doll collection. You might not have gifted your third-grade niece with one of them. Possibly you don’t have one on your shelf. But you could…

If you do want to own one of these hand-sculpted fantasy figures, you can see hundreds on Wenatchee artist Nicole West’s scintillating website.

Keep in mind that she has sold every single one of them already. She displayed her work in galleries and shops for 10 years, then starting in 2004 found more success using an eBay auction site, where current prices range from $499 for a six-inch “teacup fairy” to beyond $1,600 for the largest and most intricate ones, most only nine inches tall.

She said she will never replicate any of those past individual creations, but perusing them online can acquaint you with themes in her repertoire.

Yes, the majority are decidedly sexy. Many are fantasy/fairie-land figures, and some are simply lovely figurines that could grace the mantle of any home.

But when Nicole first tapped the vast market for displayable erotic, “pin-up” figures 20 years ago, she found that those collectors, as well as people seeking a one-of-a-kind gift, were willing to pay very well, so she continued perfecting the line.

Trinket Faerie Queen

For her, that growth meant more than tapping her prodigious imagination, or adding to her costume, prop and hair ingredients (a myriad collection that fills many bins and storage drawers) or blending the perfect mix of tinted clay.

It also meant studying the skeletal and muscle groups, spending 10 workshop days with an expert whose class included surgeons. It meant going back to her own fascination with portraiture and refining individual features, especially the eyes.

Nicole said, “I always start with the eyes — where is she looking — that determines everything about the posture.”

Nicole works with her materials on a pedestal in the center of her tiny studio, adding and smoothing layers of polymer clay onto a slim, flexible wire armature. Sometimes items like corsets and shoes are sculpted too, “but the rest is various antique fabrics, silks, Tibetan lamb hair, leather and such,” she said. (And tassels, jewels, ribbons, feathers, fur, sequins, moss, buttons, lace…)

“I usually take from four days to a week on each figure, and I just do one at a time.” she explained. “And when I get started I really don’t like to stop — I’ll work 10-12 hours a day.”

Floral Tattoo Geisha

When the figure is completed to her exacting satisfaction, it’s safely baked in her home oven, not a kiln. She adds the non-clay flourishes. She photographs it, posts it on eBay and waits — rarely for more than a few days — for the reaction, and the high bid.

Nicole handles all her own orders, packing them (bubble-wrapped to the max) and mailing them to collectors all over the world.

The figurative sculptures are not really dolls. Dolls you can dress and play with; their limbs move. These are art pieces, and much more fragile,” Nicole explained. “My ‘girls’ have traveled to Australia, South Africa, Japan, and Russia. They’re all over Europe and the United States.”   

The popularity of her sculptures gives Nicole, as she approaches 50, the freedom to explore her other art interests.

She collaborates with Cashmere fantasy artist Aimee Stuart (in The Good Life April 2017) on multimedia projects and also paints, makes jewelry and has started needle felting. As a former horsewoman, she’s even found a non-art outlet that’s extremely satisfying, volunteering with equine therapists at Alatheia Riding Center.

Behave, Bettie

Her small apartment reflects her creativity, with just enough glitz and eye-catching glitter and Michael Parkes prints on the walls. Naturally the three vertical glass display shelves are filled with figures — not hers, but from artists she admires. “I’m big on Alice in Wonderland and Yellow Submarine stuff,” she said.

Nicole’s parents recognized her creativity early (“As a toddler I would bite animal shapes out of toast,” she remembered, “and of course I saw animals in the clouds…”) and made sure growing up in Los Angeles that she had good exposure to art in school and out.

As a child, she sculpted professional quality carousel horses. In the early ’90s she considered a career in special effects art but kept going back to variations of figurative sculpture.

Nicole did suffer a fallow period for a while working a high-stress job as a security dispatcher in the basement of a big Nevada casino. “I felt robbed of my purpose in life. It breaks my heart thinking of how many artists are out there working in a job they hate…” she said.

Encouragement from her then-boyfriend to quit her grueling job and to start sculpting again, Nicole said, “got me back into ‘hopeful.”

Alice & Chesh

With that hopefulness, she gratefully indulged her imagination and her love of the fantastical. She started making hyper-realistic clay figures, one at a time, dressed to the nines – or not – and her art life took off on a new confident track.

They may not be the dolls you grew up with, but Nicole has found an art market that keeps her busy hand-crafting these racy, lacy, fairy-tale fantasy girls and sending them out into the world.

To see more of Nicole’s work, visit www.instagram.com/nicolewest_

fantasyart/ or www.pbase.com/


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