Who is Black-eyed Suzie? My real name is Sarah Faber, Black-Eyed Suzie is an alter ego of sorts. She is much cooler and wears better clothes than me. She’s the woman I always imagined I’d become when I was a teenager, but in real life I’m a bit of a dork. Black-Eyed Suzie wears smoky eye make-up, antique lace and lots of rustly black silk. But I spend a lot of my time washing diapers an playing in sandboxes, making such trappings somewhat impractical for me. Basically, Black-Eyed Suzie is like my dolls, and I’m a real person. At the end of the day, I’d much rather be me, but it’s still fun to play with her.
Tell me about your writer career, your love for ocean, Virginia Woolf and anatomy…. Sadly, there’s not much to tell about my writing career; I’m rewriting my first novel for the umpteenth time and swearing every day it will be the last. (Rewrite, not novel.) I love the ocean on the east coast of Canada where my father lives because it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been and when I’m there I feel remarkably calm. Virginia Woolf is my church. When I want to give up on writing out of sheer frustration, I read a few pages of The Waves and am reminded why I started and of what I hope someday to do. I studied anatomy for two years in a previous life. I just love the way the inside of the body looks; it is both grotesque and beautiful.
Did you study Art in school?
I did not. Other than a one private painting class, I have no formal training in art. I wish I had the money and the time. Someday, I would love to study ceramics.
What is a doll for you?
I don’t really have a set idea of what makes a doll, but the ones I like are usually a bit creepy, a bit dark, but still beautiful. I find smiling dolls really unappealing. People often assume I must be a sad person because my dolls look sad. I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been, I just think happy-looking dolls are ugly. I like dolls that venture into Freud’s theory of the uncanny valley: human-looking enough to be somewhat unsettling, but not so human-looking as to be repulsive or horrifying.
Why dolls? How did this passion develop?
I’ve tried many different mediums and was always perfectly average. I’ve made mediocre paintings, sculptures and dresses. Somehow, when I combined all these to make dolls, they came out better than when I tried them in isolation. The dolls began as a distraction from constantly being in my own head (as a writer) and now they are much more than that.
What kinds of dolls do you make?
I like to think they’re pretty without being overly twee. They’re melancholy and a bit dark, but also a bit froufy and girly and they have some attitude.
How did you become a dollmaker? How long have you been making dolls and figures?
I started making dolls in 2005. I was living in the woods in Maine and trying not to end up like Jack Nicholson in The Shining while my husband went off to work all day, leaving me alone in a little trailer with nothing but my thoughts. I decided to make myself some friends.
When you make dolls, do you start from a fully defined project or from a simple idea and then leave other ideas coming through until “eventually” it becomes a doll?
Hmm…I’ve never really thought about how the ideas come. I guess I start with an image in my mind, but the doll always takes on a life of her own and comes out quite differently than I imagined. Sometimes I have no plan at all… I am but a humble servant, and make the doll as she demands to be made!
What inspires you as an artist, and as a dollmaker? Do you ever run out of ideas?
Other art inspires me: books, fashion, music, film, historical research. No, I never run out of ideas because there’s far more out there than I could ever get to. If anything, there are too many ideas and too little time.
Do you remember how and when your passion for dollmaking has become a career?
I think it was in 2008/2009 that my dolls began to sell quite quickly and I first realized that I could potentially do it full time. I don’t know that I would call it a “career” … I think most people who live off what they make by hand are making a financial sacrifice to do so, so it always feel a bit like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Only recently have I begun to try to be a bit more organized about the financial side of things, and factoring all the time I put into the dolls, photography and maintaining my shop into the price. I would love for it to be a career, but I’m still figuring that part of it out.
Tell us how do you make each doll unique.
It seems inevitable that by sculpting, wigging and costuming each one individually, they will be unique because their characters emerge during that process. But most recently, I’ve started making my own glass eyes, which I love doing, and that’s gone a long way in giving each doll a very particular look.
What would you advice to aspiring artists?
I always feel weird answering this question, but I guess I would say just try things and experiment and research as much as you can. I get a lot of questions from people who basically seem to want to know how exactly they can make dolls like mine, and I wonder if this comes out of being afraid to try things. Of course we can learn a lot from others, but ultimately it’s so important to experiment and to be willing to try and fail (and, as Samuel Beckett said, fail better the next time). Get some good books and try different techniques and from there, you will find the ones you like and adapt them to develop your own, as well as your own aesthetic. My first dolls were truly hideous…I’m a great believer in practice and experimentation and willingness to be bad at something before you get good.
Tell me about your projects:what is your procedure for creating?… Do you think, do you draw? And where do you get your inspiration from? A book, a discussion, a color…tell me how does your creativity work?
Once again, I’m at a loss as I don’t have a clear plan or procedure. Very rarely, I will sketch, but usually I just begin and see what happens. (I’m not a very good draftsperson, so my sketches never come out the way I want, and then the dolls never come out like the sketches, so it all seems sort of futile). As for inspiration, it can be anything from a character in a book to the work of another artist (e.g. I recently made some dolls whose headpieces were inspired by the accessories of Alexander McQueen), a colour, a movie, an idea. I’ve made dolls inspired by the movie Black Swan, by the colour grey, by the works of Shakespeare, by Gothic Literature…anything that interests me or that I find beautiful.
Do You exhibit in Art Galleries? (Tell me about your exhibitions)
I’ve exhibited a couple of times, but I’m not very good at pursuing that side of things. Once the dolls are made, I get excited about sharing them online, and I also need the income from selling them, so it feels daunting to take them time to look for a gallery or space that would exhibit them, and have them out of circulation for a long time. Having said that, I would really like to start looking into it further and making more of an effort. I know it’s an important thing to do, I’m just very slow to change.
If you are part of clubs, mailings, forums, associations -do they limit your freedom?
Not really. I used to belong to ADO (Art Dolls Only) but didn’t feel I had enough time to commit to membership, so I withdrew. I’m juggling several balls at the moment a stay-at mama, writer, dollmaker – so there just isn’t room for much else right now.
How important is your computer?
Very! I don’t think I could have accomplished anything like what I have without the internet and a decent laptop. I do all my selling, promoting and communicating online. Because the items I make are more expensive than a lot of crafts, I don’t do craft shows and I don’t bother with consignment or putting my dolls in stores. They sell quite well online, so I don’t feel the need to sell them in any other venue. But they appeal to a limited number of people, and so I think being online has been vital in terms of me finding an audience for my dolls. Of course there are lots of icky things about the internet, but I love it for connecting the freaks and geeks of the world.
Which social media do you use? have been useful to increase the visibility and sales? How do you use them?( hours per day, week, etc)
I have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I’m not very good at updating them. Mostly, I use them to announce my shop updates and link to my new blog posts. I like blogging because I’m somewhat prolix and like the longer format a blog allows. Though I see how useful social media can be, I don’t really like its ADD qualities – I find it quite confusing and distracting. Having said that, Facebook is a very powerful tool. When I link to my blog via Facebook, I get a lot more traffic. Basically, I think it’s important to use social media to the extent to which you’re not consumed by it.