An artist's excitement shows in her work. Don't do a project only for others, or only because it will sell. Do what interests you. You will enjoy the artistic experience if you are in charge of your projects.


1. The figure is the focus of the paper doll set. Draw the figure well, even if it takes too much time. Clothes will fit better if the body, whether fat or thin, funny or classic, looks good. An ugly person is more beautiful than a badly-drawn beauty.

2. The figure should reveal the character's personality and inner life. The drawing is a portrait. A pose and and expression say a lot. Some don'ts are basic. A victorian lady does not pose like a beefy wrestler, nor does she stride hard like a model on a contemporary catwalk.

Watch people, and get to know your acquaintances. Happy people often have bright, relaxed faces. Sometimes they have an inner command. Those overcome by stress can tense, withdrawn, passive, manic, or angry. Most of the time. Make sure your audience understands your subject.

3. The face should be interesting. It should reveal the personality. Its expression, combined with the body pose, should suggest the whole person.

4. Here is a practical engineering matter: pick a paper doll pose that is easy to dress. Arms should be mostly separated from the body. Body parts shouldn't overlap with each other in complex ways. Full frontal poses and 3/4 poses work best.


5. One of the joys of paper doll sets is to read them like books. Outfits, which free-float on a page, and which are out of context by definition, can be difficult to read. They are easiest to understand when the pose is simple. Sometimes the outfits take on a life of their own.

6. Mannequins can only show fashions. Real people, that is people with stories to tell, reveal themselves through their wardrobes.

7. If you are drawing historic or ethnic costumes, do research. Your clothes will look more "right" if you learn the visual language of their culture. Tribal outfits from Central Africa should not look like those from New Guinea.


8. Paper Doll sets consist of objects arranged on a page. Make sure that the shape of the space around the objects is attactive. The objects only take up about 1/2 to 3/4 of the page. The rest of the page must be designed, too.

9. The background can be a simple white page. But it can also be colored. Experiment with texture, shapes, or picture backdrops. Backgrounds can provide a setting for the figures and clothes.


10. Your paper doll set is about something, whether you know it or not. You must make clear what the set is about. It might be about a person and their times. It might tell a story, or might be about dreams. It might be a family portrait.

The design style should be compatible with the subject. A set about 1970's street smart kids might be better handdrawn than carefully engineered in Coreldraw. A set about shepherd folk costumes from the 1880s is appropriately printed on matte finish paper, whereas a comic book style robot would look great on glossy.

11. Extras enhance the set. Details of the clothing, such as folds, lace, and seams add clarity. Outfits can hold things such as purses and toys, or even boyfriends. Accessories or dialog fill up too-large areas of blank space.

12. When folded back, tabs must touch the back of the figure. They must hold the outfit in place. Among the pet peeves of paper doll enthusiasts are clothes that don't fit.

13. All rules can be broken except number 8.


14. The most important thing is to start the set. Keep working on it until you are done. You have accomplished nothing if you do not finish. There is time later for further improvement. The set does not have to be perfect.

15. However, you have not accomplished anything if you do not try to improve. Make sure the set looks good. If it looks good, you will have made your audience feel better. Making a set look good takes time. A guideline is that the first 75% of the set is completed in the first 25% of the total time it takes to finish. The remaining 75% of time is devoted to refinement of the set, making it look just right.

Kwei-lin Lum copyright 2001,2005