Aspiring doll designers and makers should take a variety of art, drawing, and sewing classes in school. Many art guilds offer classes in doll making in various mediums. Fabric and craft stores may offer classes in fabric doll making. Taking computer design courses will also be helpful.
Check out the web for local, state, regional, and national doll maker organizations. They often offer conferences and programs of interest for doll designers and makers. You might also contact the National Institute of American Doll Artists (http://www.niada.org), a "worldwide group of doll artists, supportive patrons, and friends whose purpose is to promote the art of the original handmade doll." The institute offers conferences, academies, and classes, as well as a doll making school each summer for individuals interested in learning dollmaking techniques such as sculpting, painting, fabric-figure making, textile design, armature design, costuming, and more.
Take every opportunity to visit art and craft shows where doll artists may be featured. These will give you ideas as well as help you make important contacts in the field.
Doll designers and makers develop ideas for dolls, design them, and then either make them by hand or work with others to create a prototype so a manufacturer can mass produce a doll. Designers may create dolls to be used as toys, decorations, art, or for other reasons such as collecting. Doll makers determine the size of doll, the materials or medium used to construct it, and its purpose.
Doll designers and makers transform their ideas into three dimensional form by sculpting, molding, sewing, stuffing, or manipulating materials to create a physical doll, or by emulating the process digitally by using three-dimensional design software.
Doll designers use a variety of techniques in their work, such as sewing, woodworking, painting, molding, and working with clay or other materials. Some dye fabric or use jewelry making techniques to create miniature jewelry for their creations. Others use embroidery to sew special faces. To create the perfect smile or eyes for their doll, they may use water colors, acrylics, and gel pens.
Designers employed by toy manufacturers give their ideas or prototype to a manufacturing team to create a doll mold that is used to mass produce dolls for sale. These dolls, such as Barbie dolls seen in most stores that sell toys, offer a variety of personas, clothing, accessories, and looks. Chef Barbie, Beach Barbie, and President Barbie are some examples. There are also Barbie dolls with long hair, short hair, blond hair, and brunettes. Specialty doll designers develop dolls with unique features or functions to appeal to children. These dolls may “talk,” walk, have hair that appears to grow, or even “cry” like a child. Some dolls are custom designed to resemble their owners. To bring these dolls to life, the designer must create the special feature, build a prototype showing how it will work, and oversee adapting it to mass production.
Self-employed doll designers might create one of a kind dolls with hand-painted or sewn facial features, hand-woven wigs and hairpieces, and unique clothing and accessories. Such dolls are often marketed at craft shows or in museums. Some freelance doll designers market and sell their designs to toy and doll companies. Others sell them directly to customers at craft and trade shows or online or to wholesalers who then resell them to retail shops.
Before creating a doll, all doll designers must think about the size of a doll, the materials to be used, whether or not the doll will have jointed limbs, the type of hair, the appearance of its face, its clothing and accessories, and many other aspects of the doll. Some doll designers specialize in a type of doll, such as cloth dolls, rag dolls, porcelain dolls, plastic jointed dolls, fashion dolls, baby dolls, or dolls for collectors, which help them determine many characteristics of their doll.
Safety is a major concern for all doll makers, especially those creating toys. They cannot make dolls intended for babies or young children with small pieces that the child could put in their mouth and choke on. Fabrics must be nonflammable, and there should be no sharp or rough edges or pieces. Every aspect of the doll must be carefully thought out before design and production begins.
For many doll designers, their career started as a passion. They made their first doll either for themselves or for a child, and they became hooked. The ability to take fabric, clay, or any other material and mold it into a treasure for a child is a special talent. For these people, doll design is whimsical, giving the individual the opportunity to bring his or her design to life.