Paperdoll Retrospective: 2004-2014

Six paperdolls. From left to right: Anna, 2004, a white female doll with black hair in an elaborate updo. She is wearing a purple robe. Sylvia, 2007-2009, a white female doll with brownish-blonde hair worn loosely around her shoulders. She is wearing a green dress with a flower and ladybug pattern. Iris, 2007-2009, a black female doll with chin-length, curly black hair. She is wearing a purple wrap dress trimmed with white lace. Ivy, 2009-2014, a white female doll with long, wavy brown hair worn down. She is wearing a blue gown and a tiara. Grace, 2009-2014, a black female doll with long, straight black hair worn down. She is wearing a yellow gown and a tiara. An unnamed doll, 2014. She is shown in silhouette.


Within the next few weeks, I’ll be unveiling a new doll and a new series of digitally colored outfits for her. I’ve put some teaser pictures up on my Facebook fan page and Twitter. Curious to know just how many sparkles I can load on one skirt? Better check them out. Also, I’m running a special poll on my Facebook fan page this week. Help me decide what the new doll’s first outfit will be!

Looking at my archives, I realized I’ve been doing paperdoll blogging for about ten years, on and off. That’s not even counting the paperdoll page that I had in high school! Some of you may have been following me for the whole decade, but for those of you who haven’t, I thought it would be fun to look back over the highlights and introduce you to some dresses and dolls you may have missed.

2004: The age of Anna

My first paperdoll blog had one doll, named Anna, and about fifty outfits. I started paperdoll blogging in the summer of 2004, a year after I was married and graduated from college. I was working as a temp and getting back into drawing with colored pencils, after a excursion into the world of Flash and vector drawing. My paperdoll dresses, originally just part of a more conventional blog, barely made it through a site move to WordPress, so now you can’t link directly to an entry and the comments are gone forever. Funny, in my memory this blog lasted longer, but it appears that I only drew for Anna for half a year.

A black ballgown with a large bustle, trimmed with plenty of white lace in various styles and widths. It is decorated with a corsage of purple violets at the waist.
The first dress I did for this new doll is also one of my favorite dresses I’ve ever done, with the lavish lace and the elegant black, and it was very popular. It was based off of a dress description in Anna Karenina, which is, of course, where Anna took her name from.


A gown with full, long sleeves, a fitted white bodice and a long skirt. The sleeves and skirt are colored in purple and pink.A gown with full, long sleeves and a long skirt, colored in blue and green. There is a black vest worn over the torso.
I also particularly like the dress robes I drew, with the gradient effect and the bright highlights. I don’t actually know how I got that to work. I tried reproducing it, years later, and I couldn’t get it quite right.


A dress based on duck plumage, with feathers at the sleeves and hem. A one-shoulder dress composed of marsh plants, with a pink lily at the shoulder and lilypads at the waist.I drew this wood duck fairy and wetland fairy while temping at Ducks Unlimited. My days as a temp afforded more scope for imagination than you might think.


A short green jacket with wide, curving sleeves and a lapped collar. There is a wide black bow at the front with one side hanging down to the knees. The jacket is worn over a wide red skirt-like garment that has the waist near the bust and extends to the floor.This hanbok, as well, was very popular, and if I remember right it was because the page was highly ranked by Google at the time, so it was one of the first things you’d see on a Google Image Search. The silhouette isn’t quite right, but I do like the collar.


A hot pink, light pink and purple gown with three separate layers that can be mixed and matched to create different styles of dresses. The dress I think was the most clever was the “Roses ‘N Ruffles” homage to 80s Barbie fashion. One of my favorite Barbie dolls as a kid was Jewel Secrets Barbie, which has a skirt that becomes a little drawstring bag, a ruffled blue stole which can become the ruffle on a skirt hem, a peplum or a shoulder ruffle, and a sparkly silver dress that acted as the base of the outfit. That’s the sort of thing I was thinking of, and I can see several ways to rearrange the pieces to make new dresses. Can you see them too?


A red cape trimmed with white fur, covering the entire upper body, and a green and yellow striped skirt trimmed with bells. There are red stockings and elfish green and yellow shoes. I reposted Aelinora the elvish princess in 2008, but I actually drew her in 2004 for this blog, and for some reason she doesn’t show up in the list of blog entries with Anna and her dresses. Even with just a holly-trimmed slip and two dresses, she’s one of my favorites, and I like the idea behind her little story. I believe my intention was to make Christmas cards out of her to send to family and friends, but I think that when I looked into it it was more expensive than I had expected.


2007 – 2009: Sylvia and Iris

I didn’t revisit paperdolls until 2007, when I came up with Sylvia, and then Iris. That was right around the time I graduated with my master’s degree, and I ended up getting a part-time job grading essays written for the TOEFL. That left me with a nice chunk of time to draw and study Japanese, and for a fairly long time, inspired by the example of Ze Frank and his video series “the show,” I tried to draw a new dress every day. (Here’s my thought process on that. I wrote it in 2008 and I still need to remember what I wrote to myself.) I hadn’t looked at these dolls and their dresses for a long time, and I had forgotten how much fun I had with them! Since I started drawing for Grace and Ivy, I’ve thought of them as the “good” dolls and Sylvia and Iris as the “old” dolls. But Sylvia and Iris are really killing it in some of these outfits.

A black skirt suit with padded shoulders and shiny, diamond-shaped accents.A figure-hugging sleeveless dress with a white bust, a yellow-green band underneath the bust and a blue skirt. There are white knee-high boots to go with it.Rachel’s black suit from Blade Runner got me posted on Metafilter, which made me happy because I love Metafilter and read it daily. I responded with a Metafilter-themed mini dress, which prompted a Metatalk thread. It’s only funny if you are familiar with Metafilter’s culture, but I really liked this comment about other possible Metafilter-themed outfits.


A two-piece, sleek and sleeveless white dress adorned with gold jewelry and golden decoration on the fabric. Princess Ashe’s wedding dress from Final Fantasy XII was also hugely popular, especially thanks to Google Image Search. Even now, if you search for her wedding dress it will be one of the first few results. I spent a lot of time trying to get the details right, and I like how it turned out. Incidentally, these days I try to do fewer reproductions of existing designs, because of worries about copyright if I try to do anything commercial with my drawings. I’m more likely to do something like an alternative costume, or something inspired by some aspect of whatever media I’m into.


A mermaid tail in iridescent purple, with a tattered red tunic decorated with red seaweed and white lilies, plus a veil. A two-piece white dress with a heavily embroidered top and a white skirt decorated with embroidery and layers of delicate blue fabric.
Because I loved drawing mermaids and my readers loved seeing mermaids, I instituted Mermaid Monday, which is just what it sounds like. (Well, it does include dresses with a marine theme, too.) These are just a selection of what I came up with, to say nothing of the little stories that I posted along with them. For my new page, I want to have one post a week to start with (given that I am still primary caretaker to a highly energetic toddler and have two other odd jobs), but maybe someday I can increase my mermaid output…


A curly-haired hobbit girl with four outfits: a purple traveling cloak over a grey dress, a red dress for cleaning, a springy white dress and a blue vest and skirt over a ivory blouse.A rare stand-alone doll and set of outfits that I created as a present for my mom. We would certainly both be hobbits, if we lived in Middle-earth, although we would admire the elves’ dresses.


A black French court gown with a wide skirt, decorated with Halloween motifs and swags of orange fabric. Since Halloween is a holiday uniquely suited for paperdolling, I did some fantastic Halloween costumes for Sylvia and Iris. Here’s one of my favorites, from one amazing October where I got something like 20 dresses posted in 31 days.


A white off-the-shoulder gown with a cream-colored panel of flower-patterned fabric on the front of the corset and down the front of the skirt.I drew this gown from Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ video because a friend was working on recreating it, and it brought me a whole bunch of new fans of pretty dresses. It’s probably safe to say it’s one of the single most popular drawings I’ve done.


A red princess gown with puffed sleeves and rows of ruffles at the waist, embroidered with roses and bordered at the hem with gold.My poor twelve dancing princesses! I still have the sketches of the original gowns somewhere. I never did finish the story. But the dresses I did for it are among some of the fanciest princess gowns I’ve made, and are quite worth looking at on their own. This is the first one.


A blue gown with a wavy pattern of blue curls on the overskirt, decorated with iridescent crystals.I just love how this blue gown turned out. It was drawn by request. I should note, I don’t take requests any more, because I’ve disappointed people by saying I’ll draw something and never doing it, and I hate that feeling. But this one came at a time when I was in a paperdoll slump, and it was just intriguing enough that I wanted to take a shot at it.


A golden sleeveless gown with a square neck and a green peplum, decorated with scrolls and Celtic patterns.Ah, the Wiki dress! (I did two, but this one turned out better.) We started a small wiki, and let people edit a dress description. After a week, this is how it turned out. I always meant to draw a few other dress descriptions that were produced by the experiment. Someone (not naming names, *cough*Brian*cough*) added in dinosaurs, and I would like to see how that works in a dress, myself.


A French court dress with a wide skirt, decorated with red hotels and green houses from the game Monopoly and split in the front to show a pink lace slip. The overskirt has a jagged line pattern on the edge modeled after the falling Dow Jones, and the bows on the front are made of folded dollar bills. There is also a tall white wig, with a full bucket of water tied on precariously with pink ribbons.I must say, I thought this recession-themed court gown (with a pouf a la bailout) was pretty clever. It’s got the pink slip! The houses and hotels! The falling stock ticker as a design element!


2009 – 2012 (Grace and Ivy)

I always end up feeling uncomfortable with the flaws in the paperdolls themselves, and so I switch to a new set. In 2009, this impulse produced Grace and Ivy, and they’ve served me very well. I’ve drawn around 200 outfits for them.

A green gown patterned with dark green swirls with long, bell-shaped sleeves in delicate purple. The front panel of the bodice is black, with a yellow dragon head on it. The dragon's eyes are red, and its mouth is slightly open. To the left and right of the bodice panel are two large, golden dragon wings, which are fully unfurled and reach well past the shoulders. The waist is bound with a long golden sash, the ends of which extend past the knees, and at the center of the waist, at the point where the front panel of the bodice meets the waist, is a large ruby brooch set in gold. The front of the skirt is a deep V shape, and at each side of the V are stylized white-capped waves, as if the skirt is a boat plowing through the water. Underneath each wave is a row of three ruffles. On the left, these ruffles are deep blue, and on the right they are sea green and purple.I meant to do a series of dresses inspired by the Dawn Treader, and I only ever finished the first one, but it’s likely I’ll do more in the future. (Eventually.) The ruffles on the hem are my favorite part about it.


A dramatic golden gown with a red and black overdress. The golden underdress has long, bell-shaped sleeves with white satin ribbon at the hem and thin black lace panels down the front. It is gathered at the neck, with a choker-style collar. The long, full skirt has several thin black lace panels running up and down its length, and is trimmed at the hem with satin ribbon. The overdress has a shiny black bodice with a V neck, puffed sleeves and an empire waist, and is open at the front under the bust, ending above the hips. Under the puffed sleeves is a band of white ribbon, then a red velvet sleeve, split in the front to show the black lace panel on the sleeve of golden underskirt and about half the length of that sleeve. Under the end of the black part of the overskirt is a red velvet skirt, pleated and higher at the front, then gradually falling to about knee level at the base. The red parts are decorated with a subtle vine pattern at the hem. The black part of the overdress is decorated with white ribbon and has a purple gem set in the front, from which two long white ribbons trail down to the knee.One October, I did a bloody, blue and white dress belonging to a ghost who was called “The Good Queen.” This is what her dress looked like before she became a ghost. I have a long memory for my paperdollverse.


A green masquerade gown patterned with dragon scales at the waist and shoulders, a green overskirt patterned with rich golden swirls and trimmed with multicolored jewels and a flame-colored underskirt. It has delicate green wings and a dragon tail that curls in front of the skirt.This dragon-themed masquerade gown is probably the most glorious dress I’ve ever drawn. It coincided with the most traffic the site ever got (about 1,500 people per day) and I’ll always think of it as my high-water mark for the joechip-era paperdoll blog. It’s also when I first remember my hand hurting after too much drawing, although at the time it took a long time for the pain to start.


A one-shoulder green gown, with a bottle green top that appears to be pulled behind the gown at the waist and wrapped around the back, reappearing at the hem. Under it is an asymmetric grass green layer that ends around the knees, and from there to the hem is an underskirt in a third shade of green.This layered green gown is something that I did quickly and didn’t put much thought into, and yet it was this very gown that became a hit on Polyvore, a site that lets you create digital collages. It’s a good base to add accessories to, I think, because it’s dramatic yet simple.


A brilliantly colored masquerade gown in bright reds and oranges. The neckline is off-the-shoulder and decorated with a gold scroll pattern. The scrolls are uneven, giving the appearance of flames. There is a small ruffle of white fabric at each shoulder, and the bodice is orange. The sleeves are three-quarter and are decorated with more golden scrolls and bright red ruffles. The bodice is slightly open at the bust, showing a bright red ruffle underneath, and there are three blue gemstones at the waist. There is a bright orange peplum, bordered with uneven, fire-like scrolls. Under that is a row of wide, bright red ruffles, then an orange skirt, open in the middle and gathered at each side, with the folds falling gracefully to each side. More wide red ruffles border the skirt, and more golden scrolls edge the skirt. The open overskirt reveals an underskirt consisting of dozens of layers of ruffled white fabric. There is a gold necklace with a blue stone, and a red mask that covers only the top part of the face.The Cursed Sisters: a Halloween story and dress set that I actually finished! I wrote the story first, to make sure that it wouldn’t end up a disappointment like my Twelve Dancing Princesses story. If my dragon dress was my best post, I’ve always thought this was my best series of posts.


A sleeveless light green gown with a deep V neckline, made of light, filmy fabric. The bodice has a slightly dropped waistline and a gathered peplum decorated with a subtle scroll pattern. The neckline is decorated with small silver beads, and there is a belt of gold lilies and small blue forget-me-nots around the dropped waist. There is a semi-transparent overskirt of light green, decorated at the hem with silver beads, which goes over a calf-length underskirt of light green, decorated with a scroll pattern at the hem.I did a series of Lord of the Rings-themed outfits, and this was my interpretation of Goldberry’s dress. Green is my favorite color, and everything about this dress just makes me happy. The transparency! The sparkles! It’s definitely a dress that I love.


Thank you for going on this little trip through a decade of dolls with me. I promise that the best days for this blog are ahead of me! So please like my Facebook fan page, follow me on Twitter or sign up for my mailing list (top right-hand side of the page) so you can keep track of all the beautiful things I make in the next ten years!

Check back next Friday for a dress with colors chosen by the winner of my last contest! Also, I’m running a special poll on my Facebook fan page, so please like it and give me your opinion on what to draw next!


Green Regency Gown with Ivy Pattern

Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

Ana won my last contest for guessing that my favorite flower is the morning glory, and she wrote:

I’d like this dress http://lianaspaperdolls.com/2010/06/12/black-and-white-regency-gown-with-flower-lace/ coloured please.

The main part of the dress I’d like an English Ivy pattern, with vines looking like they are growing up from the bottom of the skirt. I’d like the background of the dress to be a vibrant shade of green like lush grass in summer and the piping and lace to be an earth tone pink.

You know how if you put fabric or paper out in the sun it fades, and you can create patterns but placing objects on it? And then the background is faded version of the pattern? Well if you were to reverse that process so that the main part of the fabric was covered (i.e not faded) and the pattern was faded that is how I imagine the ivy pattern on the dress to look like. similar to the pattern in the gold on this dress http://lianaspaperdolls.com/2010/06/23/colored-1700s-gown-in-gold-white-and-pink/ but more pronounced.

I kinda hope that makes sense, but if not I’m sorry and I did my best.

It made sense, but I don’t know if I quite captured your vision, Ana, so I hope you like it!

I hate to disappoint people, especially my mom, but I won’t be drawing the royal wedding gown: the biggest reason is that I avoid drawing sheer fabrics because the dolls have different skin colors. It’s been suggested that I do two versions, but when the create-a-doll page is up — which I have been working on, albeit off and on — there will be around seven skin colors, so I’m not going to spend that much time on a dress that would be limited to the two dolls that are currently available.

Beyond that, I didn’t really pay attention to the wedding preparations or ceremony, I admired a dozen pictures of the dress and assorted hats, and now it’s out of my mind, which is essentially where it should be. Although I do draw a lot of pretty princess gowns, my affection for them stems from my deep love for fancy dresses and fairy tales; it has nothing to do with real royalty, which just strikes me as sad, stifling and generally illogical. If not for the lace part there’s a good chance I would have drawn the wedding gown, as it’s an iconic dress and a beautiful one, but I don’t care enough to spend the time on a substitute just for the sake of commemorating the fact that the House of Windsor is propagating itself. (I may yet make an exception for Princess Beatrice’s hat.)

If you all are so keen on royalty, I’ll put some time into a series of posts about the Japanese imperial family weddings I’ve been batting around in my mind for a while; my opinion of the Japanese institution isn’t particularly different from my opinion of the English one (if anything it is more critical), but the clothes and history interest me more. And maybe another paperdoll blogger will pick up my slack and draw the dress? Send me a link if you do, I’ll post it here.

Let’s do another contest… Here’s a good one. I’m in this picture. Which one of these kids is me?
Winner gets to choose a black and white drawing for me to color as they direct, as usual!
Update: Shannon guessed it! I’m the girl with short hair at the top right, underneath the outstretched arm of the boy on the chair.


Meet Ivy, the first in my new paper doll series!

Click for larger version with gown (PNG); click for PDF version with gown. Click for larger version without gown (PNG); click for PDF version without gown.

Welcome Ivy to the paperdoll blog family! I’ll miss working with Sylvia and Iris, but they aren’t going anywhere, so you can always go back and look at them and their clothes. With the new scanner, I really needed a change, and I was getting enough requests for new dolls that I wanted to do something about it…

I have big plans for this model of paper doll. The base doll is actually bald and faceless – that means I can draw hair and faces separately and add them on with Photoshop, making it easier to have different options. I’m also drawing the doll itself differently this time. If you look at Iris, she was traced off of Sylvia, and that meant that it was easier to introduce mistakes – the paper shifted, it was difficult to see, and I drew some lines differently – so parts like the arms and legs are different. If I did a third doll from the same shape, she would be different from both Iris and Sylvia in some annoying way and it would be harder to fit even more dresses. This time, I have a very faint outline of the body, and the doll is colored right on top of that, meaning that there should be less variation between dolls. So the upshot: it should be easier to make different skin tones, hairstyles / colors and faces. I wonder if you can see where I hope to go with this someday? Well, there’s a lot of work to go between here and there…

The other big change is that I’m going to start offering PDF files of each drawing. For those of you who just like to look at the pretty pictures online, it won’t make much of a difference, but for those of you who actually print things out, using the PDF file instead of the PNG will guarantee that you’ll always have the right size, and the quality should be better as well. (It also means you can zoom in really close and look at all the flaws, but trust me: print it out and it’ll look smashing.)

I like her a lot, and I hope you all do too. I look forwards to making her many lovely outfits!