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Monday, 15 February 2010

Doll Conferences in 2010

Going to a Doll Conference is a wonderful, intensive experience for any doll artist. Conferences maybe an annual event for a Doll Club or organisation; or the work of one inspired individual who wants to gather others to a particular time and place to share their passion.

While each conference has its own unique features - a typical conference will probably include the following:
  • Accommodation
  • Meals
  • Workshops with a number of different teachers
  • A Welcome Dinner or Gala Dinner - perhaps featuring a key speaker. The Dinner may be themed or have a fun element to it (e.g. "Hat and Heels")
  • Free Demonstrations, Mini-Workshops, Round-table Discussion Groups
  • Fun Social Activities such as a Pin-Doll swap, Raffle, Annual Themed Challenge
  • An Artists Display area - perhaps work by the teachers, students or the results of a Challenge
  • Trading Tables - the opportunity to buy patterns, supplies or completed artworks from the teachers and others attending the conference
  • Side trips to downtown shops, local artisans, regional suppliers
As you can see, there are a lot of elements that go into making up a great conference but some may induce anxiety if you haven't been before. So here are some thoughts on each of them and what questions you need to ask - of yourself and of the organiser.

Accommodation -
should be at the location or close and easy to get to where the workshops will be held -e.g. hotel, motel, guest house, school/ university. Accomodation could be private or share. Bathroom facilities could be private or share. If accommodation is on a shared basis - you may be allocated a "roomie" if you are attending alone. If you prefer private accommodation be aware that it might cost you more than the standard rate quoted. If you have special needs - such as disabled access - it is best to enquire about this up front. Sharing a room with someone you don't know can be daunting but also an opportunity to get to make a new friend! You might want to discreetly ask if there is somewhere to store valuables (such as a hotel safety deposit box) if you are sharing with a complete stranger. It's probably also better to let the organiser know if you snore like a chainsaw, sleepwalk, are an insomniac or like to go to bed at 6.30pm  etc. etc. BEFORE the conference -rather than springing that lovely suprise on your unsuspecting roomie. If there is a single room available - it makes sense that you should have it rather than inflicting any of that on a poor, unsuspecting roomie.

Meals -
some or all of the meals may be included in your conference package. If you have special dietary requirements - then ask whether these can be catered for - most venues can cater for the usual dietary needs  such as vegetarian, gluten/dairy/nut/wheat free or kosher/halal dietary requirements - so long as they are given advanced notice.

Going to group meals can be daunting but remember -  you get to meet and mingle with other conference attendees. Don't walk into the dining room and sit down at a lonely table - find a table that already has a few people on it and ask if you may join them. Better still - invite people to join you!
Keep the conversation light - none of the big three topics (Religion, Politics or Sex) either in workshops or at the meal table please! This is not the time to espouse your views on universal healthcare, the death penalty or whatever the topic du jour is in the newspapers. You just know you are THE most likely to be sitting next to a person whose views are diametrically opposed to yours and nobody wants to hear about it from either of you - any more you want to hear about their husband's impotence, their struggle with alcoholism & drugs or the intricacies of their hysterectomy. Really.

Workshops -
there will be a number of workshops run by different teachers. Groups will be limited in size - usually teacher from overseas will fill their groups more quickly. It does not necessarily imply that they are a "better" teacher but rather that attendees perceive that this may be a "one off chance" to attend a class with that teacher. Workshops on offer may run the whole duration of the conference, or be a combination of 1, 2 or 3 day classes. It may be possible to attend the conference "part-time" and only attend one particular workshop or it maybe that all attendees are required to "full-time" because of the package negotiated with the venue.

Misunderstandings around workshops are probably the single greatest cause of discontentment in unhappy conference attendees. Here are a few pointers to make sure you know (and get) what you paid for:
  • Make sure you have a clear understanding what fees cover what elements - for example - the cost for the workshop may be included in the conference cost or ADDITIONAL to it.
  • Find out if there is a Workshop Kit  - again - is it an additional cost? If so - how much is it and what does it include? Is it mandatory or optional?
  • If you sign up for a conference, you may be asked to list your workshop preferences. If there is only one workshop you wish to do - seek clarification whether all monies will be refunded if you can't have your first (and only) preference. Similarly - what are the alternatives if the workshop is cancelled (for example - due to low numbers)
  • Make sure you understand what is going to be achieved during the workshop. You might fall in love with a doll and sign up for a workshop only to leave bitterly disappointed because the doll is unfinished. A good tutor should be able to map out what is going to be covered in the lesson and stick to the plan. Clarify whether the doll should be able to be finished in the time available or whether you will be learning a number of techniques which will allow you to complete the doll at home.
  • If the workshop requires a sewing machine and you are travelling from interstate or overseas - make sure that it is possible to rent a machine or that there is one available for you. Overseas travellers should check the power requirements of their machine is compatible (e.g. USA = 110v, Australia = 240V).
  • You should receive a list of requirements well before the conference as well as instructions and information on any pre-work that needs to be done prior to the workshop. Don't turn up without the requirements or without your pre-work done unless you want everyone in the workshop to give you the evil eye! There is nothing more annoying than someone who wants to wing it through by "borrowing" from everyone else - it's called being cheap people!
  • Pack well for the workshop. Don't take everything you own "just in case" - most workshop rooms have limited space - you don't want to be guilty of urban sprawl all over your neighbours. Make sure you label your tools - so that you go home with your own and not someone elses (or vice versa).
  • Be wary of any class on offer where there is not very much detail about the project, or images and a proto-type of the doll. Good teachers should be able to supply the organisers with a well-thought out submission as to what they are going to teach, the techniques covered, an image of the proto-type and so on. An organised teacher will also be on the ball about providing a list of requirements and any pre-work needed.
Challenges/Swaps etc -
Your inner critic may well loom large and make you doubt yourself. Participating in a Challenge will stretch your creativity. Some events may offer an optional critique - usually by one or more of the tutors. If so, then lucky you! Take the opportunity to learn from others about how you can improve on your doll making skills. A good critique will point out what you are already doing well and can build on further as well as pointing out (kindly and gently) what additional tips, techniques or skills you may need to focus on to take your dolls to a new level.
If you are going to participate in a swap - make sure that you do your very best work. Don't dash something off with the expectation that you will receive something better than you made. Do your best -always!

All in all, conferences are a wonderful time for everyone involved. They take an enormous amount of organisation for those involved in putting them together. Don't leave it to the last minute to book a place because you might miss out or the conference might be cancelled due to a lack of numbers. If you are going to attend then be supportive and get in early - otherwise there may not be a "next time".

So - with all that in mind - here are a few conferences that are coming up in 2010......

Annie Mayer Hesse has been running Magic, Mischief and Mayhem (better known as MMM) for several years - featuring a wonderful collection of teachers including herself, Pam Grose, Pearl Moon and others. Feedback and buzz about this conference is always so positive - Annie always organises a topline group of teachers.

The Joy of Jubilee - Cyndi Mahlstadt

Xiuying - Patti Medaris Culea

Marottes - Judy Skeel
MMM images used with permission from Annie Hesse.

When: 8 April - 11 April, 2010
Where: Best Western Hotel, Shelbyville, Kentucky, USA
Cyndi Mahlstadt - The Joy of Jubilee & Garden Pixie
Patti Medaris Culea - Xiuying, Lantern Maker
Judy Skeel - Cloth Marotte

The Canadian Doll Artists Association is a very active with international membership. They hold a conference each year and the standard of teaching never fails to impress. Many dollmakers from the US venture over the border to Canada to attend this wonderful event. Even the Aussies make the long haul flight to be there.

Spartacus - (c) Gloria Winer - used with permission - all rights reserved.

Canadian Doll Artists Association (CDAA) 29 April - 2 May 2010 Four Points by Sheraton, Mississauga,Ontario, Canada
Theme: Renaissance Dreams
Leslie Bailey - Designing Your Own Woodland Elf in Polymer Clay
June Cable - Figure Development in Felt and Refining Facial Features in Felt
Kate Church - An Inspirational Approach to The Doll
Chris Jammer - Expressions and Sculpt a Mini Soft Body Baby in Polymer Clay
Diane Keeler - Sculpting a Fairy Bust in Polymer Clay and Creating Beautiful Handmade Shoes
Elena Loukianova - Wall-Oh-Ghost and Inspirational Fantasy Art Doll in Polymer Clay
Wendy Lynne Reinhart - Creating a Soft Sculpture Face
Gloria "Mimi" Winer - Spartacus Full Body Fabric Sculpt Male

The next conference was one I had not heard of before - but one look at the line up and you know it's gotta be good.
Doll Gatherers
Date:  May 14 -16 2010
Where: Punderson Resort and Conference Center Ohio
Leslie Molen - Meow-Meow-Neko
Barbara Schoenhoff - South America
Adele Sciortino - Witch Doctor Wears Prada
Christine Shively - Passage to India and Beyond
Kathryn Walmsley - Mother Earth, The Centre of Our World
Mary Kochevar - Allusion and Open Classroom

I always think of NIADA as Dollmaking on Steroids because of the quality of the artists who are accepted in. Here is a little Youtube video that Antonette Cely made about the NIADA Conference in 2007.

National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA) Annual Conference
Date: 17 July - 21 July 2010
Where: SwissĂ´tel Chicago, Illinois, USA
Marlaine Verhelst - Container Doll with Air Dry Clay Head & Cloth Body
Ankie Daanen - "Big Belly Boy" Sculpted Doll
Deborah Pope - Needlesculpted Piece
Olga Roehl - Sculpted Piece
Stephanie Blythe - Marketing, Self Promotion and Pricing

Enchanted Doll Artists Conference (EDAC) is held annually and organised by a dedicated committee who bring it all together. It has a great reputation and has been consistent for a number of years.
Enchanted Doll Artist's Conference
When: 29 July - 1 August 2010
Where: Embassy Suites, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Theme: Cirque De La Lune
Teachers: TBA

Di from Di's Dazzling Dolls started retreats last year in Queensland, Australia. Obviously it was a big success because she's planning another one this year.
Dollmakers Retreat 19 - 22 September, 2010
Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, Royal Esplanade, Manly, Queensland Australia
Suzette Rugolo - The Pied Piper
Jenny Romano - "Flotsam" or "Jetsom'
Chris Boston - 2 Babies
Julie Barton - Whimsical Journal


  1. i loved your comment today on the srt!!!
    hehe. mr slipper socks, - yes, it sure keeps it real, trust me!!!!

  2. It's good to note that a comfortable and nearby accommodation is half the joyful experience, and one of the factors to look out for in locating meeting rooms. Washington DC, has been home to such great conferences, and during those peak times, it's best to book accommodations in advance.