Mr. Peacock was immediately enamoured by these expressive tattooed gents the moment he laid eyes on them. Each one of these charming guys are handmade by American artist and crafter, Mimi Kirchner, who started making dolls in 2001, after many years as a studio potter. She also beautifully photographs these toile de jouy fellows.
Mimi settled into her current style of dolls in 2005, after clearing out her mother’s house and being inspired by all of the wool fabrics she got from her mother.
Mr Peacock: What inspired your first tattoo doll?
Mimi Kirchner: I was noticing tattoo imagery and people with tattoos everywhere. And I started thinking about making a tattooed man or woman doll. I love illustration and was thinking about the fun of an illustrated person.
MK: My doll ideas usually start with a vague, rather unformed idea and it can take months before a doll gets made. Over the months, I get a continuing flow of little bits of input that add to a more complete idea.
MK: My dilemma with the tattooed doll was the tattoos—how to make them? My first thought was embroidery and I played with that idea. It became obvious that would be much too labor intensive.
MK: My next idea was to ask my brother (Paul Kirchner) to help—he is an illustrator whose style would be perfect. I thought he could draw on the fabric with a permanent marker. That got me thinking about fabric that already had drawings on it and finally I thought of toile! I wasn't sure if it would look like tattoos to anyone but me. I made the first doll and put it up on Flickr—immediately people started commenting, so I knew it was a success!
MP: Your faces are so expressive on these tattooed gents. Do you look at a photograph of a man or just create these fellows from your heart?
MK: I studied photos of models in a GQ Magazine and did some sketches until I felt comfortable with male faces.
MK: Most of my artwork over the years has focused on women and children so I was stepping out of my comfort zone! I made a simple paper template of where the features go. Then I mark out the eyes, nose and mouth placement onto the fabric. I do a very simple drawing with a water soluble pen and then I start with the embroidery. Each doll becomes it's own individual person as I embroider. I am always amazed!
MP: Do you use random remnants or look for specific fabric for specific dolls?
MK: Mostly I use random remnants. I try to use what I've got and not go looking for specific fabrics. When I needed the toile for the tattooed men, I had some scraps and then I bought some remnants on Etsy and ebay.
MK: I have so much fabric that I really should never buy another scrap—of course that doesn't stop me. Sometimes a fabric will inspire a doll, but usually I have an idea and I search through what I've got. Sometimes when I am looking for a specific fabric, because I need something just so—I can never find it!
MP: Any favorite dolls as a child?
MK: I had several different cloth dolls that I loved—a Raggedy Andy and another handmade one that I named Emily. I liked them because they seemed old-fashioned to my 8 year old self, and that was very appealing.
MK: When I was a little bit older, I loved the Madame Alexander dolls, although I think I mostly loved making all kinds of things for them—clothes and rooms. I played with dolls into my early teens—very uncool!
MP: Have you ever got too attached to a doll you made and couldn't part with him or her?
MK: Well, yes, I have a few that I haven't been able to part with. Also, if I really like a doll and someone I know, or whose work I admire buys it, I feel better because at least I know where it has gone. I have always felt that selling my artwork is like dealing with a litter of kittens—you want to feel that they go to a good home where they will be loved.
Stop by Mimi’s Etsy shop here, and see her amazing dolls and other goodies. She has a very cute and quirky “Boy with Black Eye” doll at her Etsy shop right now. The dolls shown in these photos have been sold, but will give you a good representation of the style of Mimi's tattooed gentlemen.
If you visit Mimi's Etsy shop and see a doll you like, you better buy it when you see it, because it probably won’t last very long—especially these fantastic tattooed gentlemen. Keep in mind these dolls are handmade and each one is unique and takes time to make. If you don't see a doll that grabs your eye at Mimi's shop, be sure to check back again.
By now, you already know that Mr. Peacock loves plaid. I am swooning over Mimi’s latest project—this breathtaking plaid quilt made of cozy wool shirts. To see what Mimi’s currently creating, take a peek at her blog, DOLL-The Art and Craft of Mimi Kirchner. Thanks Mimi! All photos courtesy of Mimi Kirchner.