BALL-JOINTED DOLLS: HOW TO SCULPT JOINTS?
It doesn't matter if you're an experienced artist or a beginner, the biggest hurdle in making your own ball-jointed doll is deciding on a joint system. The intriguing idea of dolls with articulated joints has fascinated every artist - from collectors to hobbyists. It used to intimidate me so much that I would defer sculpting my first doll for years. In this article, I want to provide some insight into designing and inventing a joint system for ball-jointed dolls. Keep in mind that this is just an overview of quite a difficult task and I won't be able to provide step-by-step instructions. If you're looking for robust and informative tutorials on ball-jointed doll sculpting, consider joining my BJD Sculpting Masterclass which will walk you through the whole process of sculpting a custom ball-jointed doll - including joints!
DO YOU NEED TO SCULPT THE BALLS YOURSELF?
Typically, the answer to this question will vary. Some artists prefer to sculpt their own balls while others use pre-made wooden balls available at any craft store. What I can tell you is that sculpting clay balls will pay off in the end. Let me provide some context - when I first created a ball-jointed doll, I used wooden balls and quickly regretted my decision. It was difficult to cut and drill wood, however it provides a beautiful porous surface for clay to stick to. The bad news is that clay around the wooden balls is rather fragile so the slightest movement could damage it. Plus, the work required a lot of time which is something I didn't want to spend on making a perfect ball joint setup. Now, I always make sure to use this tutorial because it works out wonderfully every time!
When sculpting jointed dolls, the first step is to figure out what type of joints you want to use for your project. I prefer to work with double-jointed dolls because they have a lot more poseability. They might seem complicated at first but once you understand the basic techniques it's actually not that hard to sculpt them. To draw the blueprint, I like using the circle template I'm using to shape the clay balls as well. You may find that some of your doll's joints are single-ball while others are double-joints - mixing styles can be a great way to create an even more lifelike doll and challenge your skills!
A COMBINATIVE APPROACH
Ensure that you have made even, smooth, and the right size balls before beginning to make joints. For a double joint, I simply glue the balls together with PVA glue. After the glue has dried completely, insert the rough joints into the doll parts and mark the places where the joints meet. You will use these borders to guide where you should place the clay and to determine the joint's general shape.
For the back part, draw two half circles. The front and back lines should meet on the side of the joint. Don't worry too much if you don't draw this correctly, you'll see if there are any issues when testing these joints later on. Creating joints requires a lot of testing, carving, and resculpting, until you get them to work correctly.
Check out my BJD sculpting masterclass for video tutorials and step-by-step guides for every specific joint once you've got these guidelines.
You need to make small adjustments to the joint to see if it moves the way it should. Detailing can also play a major role in making the joints look cohesive and delicate. In my dolls, I always use stylised representations of a human body, so anatomy is something I can alter, change, and mend to my liking. I like to find a balance between anatomically correct detailing and visually pleasing detailing.
When I'm detailing the joint, I draw the guidelines where I'll place the clay. When sculpting in small patches, you have more control while shaping the clay. Sanding is another crucial part of the process. You can easily remove all imperfections with a scalpel and folded sanding paper.
I hope this overview was helpful and you now have a better understanding of how to sculpt these intricate parts of ball-jointed dolls. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section. Please sign up for my newsletter below if you'd like to receive all the latest articles and news about my dolls.