Iryna Ivakhnenko is an artist from Ukraine who creates BJD dolls and doll-related items under the Whispering Grass name. BJD heads and anthro Forest Dwellers series, clothes, shoes, etc… are among her creations. This time we asked her about one of her latest projects – BJD furniture.
Q: How did you came up with the idea of making furniture for dolls?
A: The reason is similar to the reasons why I started making my own dolls and other stuff. I like BJD props and dioramas a lot, but it’s hard to find furniture in the styles I want and of a proper scale, as I needed mostly 1/3 items. So I decided to make them by myself.
My hubby operated a laser cutting machine at that time, so he taught me the odds and ends of the technology. I make my furniture of a high quality birch plywood, while a real furniture is made of a solid wood, and the most precious items have patterns carved. So there are certain limitations, and each time, looking at particular design, I decide if I can adapt it to my technology or not.
Q: Where do you take your inspiration from?
A: There are various sources. Most of my furniture is based on period designs. As I’m all into fashion history. I studied the history of furniture as well from the early Middle Ages to the present time. One of the first pieces I made were two Renaissance “scissor” chairs adorned with some pretty golden floral patterns. I had to take my dolls to the exhibition, and I didn’t want them to fall down from the doll stand, so I made these chairs.
I strive to make my furniture look royal, as it’s what many customers want. A lot of BJD characters are kings, magicians, and other noble persons, so my goal is to create furniture worthy of them.
There are stories behind many of my creations. One of designs that I use is an Art Nouveau style chair. I walked down the street and saw a poster in a shop window. It was a lingerie shop; their retro style poster had a pretty girl in a corset and a chair on the background. I liked the chair so much I came home and created a similar design in plywood.
Sometimes my dollie friends give me suggestions. One of my friends likes Bollywood, harems, Indian and Arabian styles, so she suggested making a sofa in that style. It appeared to be a tricky task: as I said, not every design can be replicated in plywood. After several hours of Google searching we chose a backseat from a beautiful Moroccan sofa, and I designed matching armrests in this style. The front panel was inspired by another piece, it was also heavily changed and adapted to the laser cutting.
My foldable armchairs are based on the chair from Abbot of Glastonbury – this type of chair was in use since the Early Middle Ages. Initially I wanted to make a foldable chair because many owners don’t have much space to store furniture, but want something beautiful for their dolls to sit on. So I began to study the types of foldable chairs, including the modern ones, but had luck with one of the oldest designs, as if Glastonbury-type chairs were created for plywood! It gives me endless possibilities of customization.
There are also designs developed for my customers. Once I made a huge harem style bed based on the schema provided by a customer. It’s my most complex furniture creation so far, because when you have to ship a piece of furniture of 70x72x40 cm overseas you either spend an arm and a leg on shipping or you make the piece foldable. That’s exactly what I offered to my customer, so all the parts of that maze had to fit each other and to be assembled easily.
Q: Tell us a bit more of how a piece of furniture is made.
A: I start with a vector layout, where I create all the details, patterns, pegs and holes that are required for assembling. In the case of a foldable furniture I can test how it folds. The biggest advantage of vector patterns is that they’re scalable, and I can do as many changes as I want, i.e. if I have a basic design for 1/3 dolls I can convert it to 1/4 scale, or I can change any part of the design keeping other parts intact, etc… My customers can request changes in my designs, so I add these too. Then we discuss the frame colors and upholstery choices.
Plywood is not very suitable for hand carving, not to mention the time and effort spent, so when I decided to make something in Rococo style, I faced the need to make some Rococo-shaped elements that could be glued to the frame. I sculpted them in wax, made the silicone molds, and now I can add as many elements as I want. I have Rococo armchairs for both 1/3 and 1/4 scales, with the same elements but differently arranged.
When the vector job is ready, I prepare the details for the cutting: arrange all the details, add allowances. Then I send the file to my laser cutting service who provides great and consistent quality. After I receive a set of parts I assemble them and glue them together, sand the surfaces and edges, paint the furniture with acrylics and/or varnish and add the upholstery.
The crucial part of my job is a secure shipping box, because the furniture is huge, and as I do a lot of custom orders the size of furniture varies greatly. So I developed my own packaging: I make styrofoam boxes. Each time it’s a new box that is made accordingly to the size of a certain enclosure, for a precise fit. I have had no issues with this kind of packaging so far, my customers like it.
Q: What is the most remarkable piece you’ve made so far?
A: I constantly improve and try something new, though the piece I’d like to talk about was made a while ago. It’s technically not furniture, but a guitar, and it was made using the same technologies. One of my BJD friends commissioned me to recreate the iconic Ibanez Jem guitar designed by Steve Vai. I was given the guitar plan, so it made my work significantly easier. It was a very complex creation, with all those tiny controllers and levers, with silver floral pattern engraved on the neck. I had to solve a lot of puzzles making it and to invent some things too. You can understand that the guitar is fake mostly by the “smile” tuning heads.
Q: Is there anything that isn’t already covered you would like to add?
A: I’d like to thank my customers for their support, for the interesting commissions, for letting me use my creative freedom. I’d like to thank so many talented people in this hobby who make amazing things and boost my inspiration. I’d like to thank BJDCollectasy for being one of the main sources of news in this hobby and for allowing me to tell your readers about my work. Let’s make this world even better!