The Mythic Ball, Part 3: The Glow Cloud’s Gown with Third Eye Mask

A strapless white gown. The skirt is made of puffy, multicolored clouds, lit from behind by a bright light source. The clouds are various shades of purple edged with bright blue or green, and there are bright spots of vivid yellow within the clouds. There's a white mask that goes with it that covers the whole face and has no decoration except for a large third eye drawn in glowing purple tones.A newcomer’s arrival always causes excitement in a gathering populated by archetypes that may be hundreds, even thousands of years old. Those that have endured over the years can’t help but judge the newer ones whose sudden popularity or unexpected flexibility brings them to the ball. They may retain their appeal and get used in new ways in new stories, turning into a true archetype, something greater than their original form… or they’ll wind up with the sorry lot that hangs out on the fringes of the party. Those poor creatures sneak strawberries from the snack table as if they don’t deserve to eat good things and trade stories about whatever triumph first won them an invitation to the party — while stringently avoiding any mention of the present day. If any of the organizers should notice that they haven’t made that jump from potential archetype to true archetype, and probably won’t, there may not be another invitation the next year…

The Glow Cloud is new; furthermore, she’s a creation popularized by the Internet, not by ballads, storybooks or rumors. So the others regard her with a certain amount of skepticism until she drifts by, and…

All hail the mighty Glow Cloud.

All hail.

The old-timers discuss the Glow Cloud in whispers, several minutes after she passes.
“Rather specialized, don’t you think?” Dragon says, her expression thoughtful.
“Do you really see an archetype like that getting popular in *other* stories?” asks Fairy disdainfully.
“It’s basically just a cloud,” agrees Kitsune.
“There’s some precursors, you know. Like the Airborne Toxic Event. And Lakitu, that almost counts,” Robot says. (Robot has more sympathy for newcomers than the other, older archetypes.)
“True,” says Dragon. “Well, we’ll see if there’s staying power there.”
“We’ll see,” echoes Fairy.

The dismissive words are intended to mask how shaken they are.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Glow Cloud, it’s from a popular podcast called Welcome to Night Vale, which is a story built around fictional news from a town where weird things are a feature of daily life. I used this cloud tutorial and brush, in case anyone else wants to try some digital clouds! Next week we’ll be meeting Kitsune, a popular Japanese fox spirit archetype and the winner of my poll. In the meantime, you can download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and eye-centric teaser pictures. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

Silver Princess Gown with Blue and Rhinestone Underskirt

A silvery white gown with a delicate, small scroll pattern all over. The dress is off the shoulder and has large puffed sleeves over the upper arms. The bodice is tight and the skirt is bell-shaped. It's open in the front to show a dark blue underskirt covered with a pattern of rhinestones.Another princess dress! I’m still not ahead, but it’s not really a surprise. I haven’t had a lot of spare time this week and I’m just happy I finished this one! The design on the blue part is inspired by dresses I’ve seen on Pinterest like this blue gown. It’s the first time I tried this particular technique, I will probably use it often but refine it. I’m already wanting to change it on this dress, but… it’s time to post!

Next week, another princess gown! (But I will have something fun lined up for October, as Halloween is traditionally the most important paper doll holiday in my little world…) Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and lovely jewelry. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

Introducing Emi!

Emi, the new doll. She has light skin with yellow undertones, dark brown eyes and brown hair gathered up in a bun, with bangs and two curls around her ears. She is wearing a sleeveless gown with a sweetheart neckline. The bodice is white satin with a subtle scroll pattern,  and the skirt is sparkly all over and starts off sky blue, then gradually turns into dark blue at the hem. It's gathered into folds at the hips, while the front of the dress appears flat. There's a golden belt with a scroll pattern, and at the center is a magenta gem surrounded by a ring of pearls. There's also a gold circlet decorated with a magenta gem and two pearls.Meet Emi, my third doll! I’m happy with how she turned out, even though the dolls are always a lot more work than I anticipate. She is intended to be Japanese or have Japanese ancestry, and her name is pronounced like “Amy,” not “Emmy.” I’m glad to have her join Mia and Leyla, and I hope to do a better job of getting new dolls out! (One a month may have been overly optimistic.)

One thing to note about the PDFs: I was asked to provide a doll with less revealing underwear, so I put a dress on the base dolls. Most of the outfits will work fine with this dress, and given my propensity for drawing outfits that use a lot of virtual fabric, those that prefer the more modest doll base will probably be able to enjoy most of the things I draw. I made the original underwear pretty minimal so I can do more interesting mermaid designs without worrying that the underwear would show, and any mermaid designs I do will not take the dress into account. Each PDF for the dolls now contains both versions, and I’ll also separate the dolls from the dresses and have them available as Gumroad downloads.

I feel like I want to try to get ahead this month, so that I have posts ready to go before it’s time to post them and I can concentrate on doing something fun for Halloween. It felt good when I was able to do that before, but then a week-long vacation wiped out my buffer. I’ll probably do several dresses in the same theme, to cut down on the research and design time. Help me choose the theme!

Next week you’ll probably see whatever wins the poll, or appears to be winning the poll when I get started! Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and lots of very pretty dresses. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

Blue and Gold Princess Gown with White Tulle, plus Thoughts on Princess Culture

A royal blue satin ballgown draped in the front to show the light blue reverse side of the fabric and the full layered tulle underskirt. The gown is off-the-shoulders with long fitted sleeves, and there's a wide gold band at the collar with a scroll and heart pattern decorated with small red, green and blue gems. It has a V waist decorated with a gold band and gems, and the overskirt is edged with a gold band with a scroll and heart pattern  and gems. The skirt is bell shaped and very wide, and the underskirt has several tiers of white tulle edged with flower lace. There's also a golden circlet decorated with red, green and blue gems.I’ve had princesses on my mind lately. The popularity of princesses (particularly the Disney Princess line) is often viewed, especially from a feminist perspective, as a rather embarrassing phase for parents to suffer through, but I’m as feminist as they come, and I think there’s more to it. Why are stories about princesses so compelling to such a wide audience, and why is princess culture so pervasive? I believe it’s because stories about princesses reflect the struggles of the readers, because princesses are unabashedly feminine icons in a society that often disparages women, and because princesses as a character archetype have a surprising amount of flexibility and interest.

The word “princess” comes loaded with significance. (Just come up with a good noun and slap “The Princess And The” in front of it: there’s your story title!) We’re all aware of the historical concept of a princess, and readers know in reality that being a princess probably wasn’t such a great gig. After all, a princess’ marriage was likely decided by political factors, her power often depended on the favor of other people, and she wasn’t likely to have much personal freedom. Still, she probably had some influence and resources that weren’t available to an average woman (and to be sure, her dresses were better).

We readers know these things before we even start reading, so when we encounter a princess in a story we immediately understand she has certain pressures and obligations, as well as some degree of power and privilege. Her position in life makes the stakes higher than they would be for a regular person, which adds tension and drama to the story, but at the same time we understand her problems and relate to them. After all, a princess in a story is likely to worry about things like pleasing her family, living within certain restrictions, finding love and making a place for herself in her world — all things that we readers understand just as well. The limitations and expectations each princess has to cope with and the way she finds her power reflect the conflict between the reader’s desires and our obligations and duties.

In other words, a modern story about a princess is likely to be a story about a woman finding her source of power and taking control of her life. There will probably be some existing limitations, because a princess with no problems or obligations whatsoever may seem unrealistic, but there also have to be opportunities for her to try to get what she wants, because a character that is too bound by outside forces to do anything is problematic both from a storytelling perspective and from a feminist one. So for the story to be compelling, a princess character with limitations in one area has to have some degree of freedom in other ways.

How this plays out is different for each story, and depends on the setting and the characters. A character with little agency like Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones who finds herself trapped among hostile people and has to develop alliances and soft power skills to survive is at one end of the power scale; on the other end are characters like Merida from Brave, who’s an excellent archer and is able to just leave the castle on horseback and go climbing mountains on her own, but still has to deal with being betrothed and comes to learn the value of her mother’s way of doing things.

One major source of power for most princesses is that they tend to embody a lot of what our culture considers feminine virtues, and I think that the celebration of these virtues is something else that causes them to be compelling, particularly to young girls. Modern princesses might even throw a mean punch and be clumsy, like Anna, or have magical powers and a repressed desire to wear a slinky dress like Elsa, but they’re fundamentally admirable people. We all respond positively to beauty, open and loving natures, concern for others and so on, and as we all believe we’re the hero of our own story, it’s easy to identify with these figures, particularly young girls who are just starting the process of figuring out this “being female” business.

In this sense, being a princess has nothing to do with birth and is entirely a matter of one’s state of mind — Cinderella was as much a princess in her ragged clothing as she was in her ball gown — and for that reason a princess can be both inspiring and an accessible role model. This is, of course, the whole point of the novel A Little Princess, whose heroine, who was merely rich, not technically a princess, strove to be an admirable, princess-like person even when impoverished and humiliated.

The flip side of this is that we too soon learn that, in our culture, all these virtues come with serious downsides. Being entirely free to express or not express femininity as you please is tricky, because if you’re perceived as overdoing or underdoing it relative to the situation you may get harassed or not taken seriously; the way that you personally want to present yourself is often a secondary consideration to how your appearance will be viewed by others, and not getting it right can lead to social punishment. What should be fun is actually complex and demanding in ways that are hard to see. As for those virtues, innocence, friendliness and generosity often get taken advantage of, and being modest, self-sacrificing and willing to take care of others generally doesn’t lead to financial security and respect in our capitalist society. The image of being “too good” or “too feminine” is one that women sometimes feel they explicitly have to move away from to be taken seriously. Princesses seem to escape all of this: their virtues are precisely what gain them power and respect, they get to wear the pretty dress and sing to wildlife without anyone thinking less of them and they don’t have to compromise what they like and what’s important to them to be taken seriously.

So I see the popularity of the Disney Princess line among adults and children (mostly women and girls, but there are men and boys who love them too) as a way of showing appreciation for the positive aspects of values such as kindness, friendliness and gentleness, as well as for the more theatrical aspects of femininity such as an interest in beauty and clothes for their own enjoyment, not for attracting men or projecting an image. I think we appreciate these things because they’re fun and they make the world a better place, but also because we know that they’re fragile and often not treated with justice in a society that is too often unkind to women and places impossible demands on them.

As the roles of women have been evolving, so too have the roles princesses play in stories, and I think that today there’s a lot of room for interesting stories about princesses. Of course, I’d like just as well to see plenty of interesting stories about girls and women without noble titles, and I worry that the focus on princesses is too limiting — sure, if I was in charge of counting the money the Disney Princess line brings in, I’d probably want all of our protagonists to be princesses forever and ever too, but there are so many other stories to be told. (I get a lot of stories about non-princess women from webcomics these days — Nimona, Namesake, Ava’s Demon. I have to mention Blindsprings, too, even though it’s about a princess.) Still, as I touched on before, princesses come with a history, and skillful, unexpected use of this history can make them relatable and fresh-feeling characters — that’s an attractive thing for a writer. Modern audiences already know the standard princess stories and tropes; as the success of Frozen shows, we’re now interested in seeing them toyed with and used in surprising ways. Princesses have the potential to surprise now more than ever.

I am going to shoot for doing a new doll next week, but it’s just as likely I won’t be able to finish in time, in which case I don’t know what I’ll be doing! Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and lots of fashion plates. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.