Saturday, April 22, 2017

Asian Alice Inspired by Korean Artist Na Young Wu

If there's one thing I can say about myself, I'm consistent.  I love everything Alice, and will always be on the hunt for new and exciting Alice costuming to create, or dolls to make.  Often I look to Pinterest for inspiration, since I have a board there with several growing galleries.  So when last I was on the site browsing Alice in Wonderland, I came across the most brilliant and whimsical illustration of none other than an Asian Alice.  My jaw dropped.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  And, not only was there an Asian Alice, but there were several other fairytale heroines illustrated in such a manner.  The artist?  Na Young Wu. 

Needless to say, I just had to make a doll of Asian Alice.  And, furthermore, I've been intensely interested in this young artist.  Her beautiful work must be loved worldwide.  However, initial research with information on her was very difficult to find.  My first thought was that she'd illustrated the story of Alice in Wonderland, and I had to have a copy of the book.  I looked her up on Amazon.  I did an engine search of Na Young Wu and the book title.  Nothing came up, but the several fairytale heroine illustrations.  Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood and a couple of others were presented.  My head was spinning with delight, yet I was equally perplexed because I love to do research on the artist whose work has inspired me.  Learning about them gives me an idea to their insight and their own inspiration.  But, nothing was to  be found on her.  Only a reference to "Asian Alice" and "an artist illustrates (I swear I'm not lying) DISNEY characters Asian style."  Disney?  Who writes this stuff?!  What happened to the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen?  I guess they did not exist until Walt Disney came along.  The only Disney she illustrated was Frozen.  Sorry to rant on here, but really.  Without being able to find a bio on Na Young Wu, or a gallery that represented her work, I had to start from scratch there, too.

After a couple of weeks, while trying to find a doll to make into "Asian Alice", I did find a blogger, or website, where I learned Na Young Wu was Korean.  Prior to that, it was my best guess that she was Chinese.  The costuming in the illustrations was not exactly traditional Japanese, yet didn't quite look entirely traditional Chinese either, and I have had little to no exposure to the traditions of Korea.  This brief bit of information intrigued me further.

About a week ago, while I was beginning to consider what I would write in this blog, how I would present this project, and Asian Alice, I started writing in my head a story, a chapter with a twist, her experience down the rabbit hole "Asian style" from the objects she passed along the way, to the bottle she drank from, to her entry into the garden.  It wasn't until I was nearly done with Alice's costume, that my curiosity was rewarded.  I was ready to make the skirt and had no idea what length it should be.  Something as simple as that spurred me to look up "traditional Korean costuming".  The first word I came upon was Hanbok.  I knew Hanbok!  Mihaela Hinkle, the designer of Carpatina Dolls, had created a Hanbok for Ana Ming, a doll I collected for several years ago.  Mihaela created Asian Dynasty costuming for Ana Ming from several Asian countries.  Now we were getting somewhere. (And, I was almost done!)

Hanbok (South Korea) or Joseon-ot (North Korea), is the representative example of traditional Korean dress, with vibrant colors and simple lines.  Although Hanbok's literal translation means "Korean clothing", Hanbok usually refers specifically to clothing of the Joseon period and is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations such as weddings.  The style is a mixed foreign influence of indigenous designs.  While citizens of Korea may dress like westerners, in 1996, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism established "Hanbok Day" to encourage South Korean's to wear the Hanbok.  Once I began to study and learn of the styles of Hanbok, the costuming for Alice began to make sense for me.  However, I was very excited to learn that from what I'd been interpreting from the illustration my designs had been CORRECT.  (This is a lengthy blog, so go grab a cup of Jasmine tea!)

The first thing I had to do was find a doll to dress.  If you look closely at Na Young Wu's Alice, you'll notice her large round eyes.  This is not something we typically attribute to Asian looks.  Yes, it is in animee, but most Asian dolls. unless they are BJDs (expensive!) have lovely almond shaped eyes.  There was also the open mouth surprised look on Alice's face.  What are we looking at?  A young girl with a surprised expression falling down a rabbit hole with her clothing billowing up around her, her braids flying above and behind her..  How was I going to represent her?  I'm calling the term de-animation.  She is animated, in action, and what I needed to do was interpret this illustration for a doll standing.  And, the White Rabbit.  Wendy Lawton had made two dolls with similar expressions.  One was Little Miss Muffet (an Ashton-Drake production from her sculpt), and Goldilocks, one made in her studio in Turlock. 

I'd found a Miss Muffet for next to nothing and was planning on redoing her.  However, once the wig and pate were off, I noticed that the factory had poured resin glue into the impression of her face to set the eyes.  It was not going to come out, ever.  Goldilocks did not have the sweet expression of Muffet, rather a look of being horrified, or excuse me, ready to vomit.  Money wasted on both dolls made me wonder if I would even find a doll to use for Alice.  The porcelain, the large eyes, the look of innocence was what I was after.  And, then I found a Josephine at a decent price.  She'd do.  The only problem with Josephine was her huge belly.  Wendy seemed to like her porcelains done with huge bellies, and Josephine has a kegger.  Don't laugh!  I'm serious.  But, I was determined to make this doll, because I had to.  Josephine it was.

Alice would need a straight hair black wig to braid and brown eyes.  Two BJD wigs that were shipped all the way from China did not work (too fine), so I settled on one my favorite human hair wigs from Monique.  I found braiding this wig best done while the hair was damp, but it took about seven tries to get it tight enough and banded at a proper length.  All the little things one might take for granted, I never do.  Because I have to work with them.  The Korean style of Alice's hair is called Badukpan meori.  It is a hair style for very young girls and consists of two small braids, then combed into one long one in the back.  I do not have Na Young Wu to tell me how Alice arrived with two braids, but I can tell you that the ties at the ends are called daenggi.   This style is illustrated nicely in the photo of the "princess on her horse".  What a marvel to find this photo of a girl wearing a Hanbok so similar to Alice's!

Alice's Hanbok was created in four pieces.  To achieve the billowing effect of the costume, I worked with silk chiffon, the same silk I used for Gay Event's ball gown.  At least I'd had practice working with the dreadful stuff.  Finding a suitable blue took several tries as well and then there was the issue of the pattern on the skirt.  I read that one of the special features of the Hanbok was its shape, slim on top and wide at the bottom to create a "bell"shape.  The wide sleeves and full skirt were fashioned to flatter the wearer's gracefulness by hiding the movements of her lower body, so the wearer would appear to be floating on air.  Lovely as this sounds, this look would be difficult to achieve with a tubby-tummied doll.  However, not all children are slim, so we'll make allowances.

Back to the four pieces.  Alice's full Hanbok consists of a pair of billowing trousers, a hip length "kimono-style" top so that it fit nicely beneath the skirt, a full slip for the skirt, and the long skirt worn empire style.  I studied many styles of the women's Hanbok and there were some that consisted of a short jacket over the empire skirt, and even one where a hip length top was worn over the skirt.  There was no definitive style to adhere to, so I followed Wu's illustration.  I recall thinking at the onset that this would consist of a long kimono with a skirt over it, but at close look at the illustration showed a full slip with no split in the center (kimono wrap style).  The collar is unique as well with the red banding where the it attaches to the neckline.  This was a fun little puzzle to figure out.  Red cuffs, a white waist wrap, and a blue tie would complete the look.

For the patterns on the cuff and skirt, I went back to the process I used to "make" the fabric for Gay Event's Walking Costume.  I used a rubber stamp with that wonderful Tulip fabric paint.  The pattern of the skirt was done on the same grid I'd used before as well.  The "wheel" stamp used for the skirt was also used on her daenggi, hair ties.

And, here was something fun to do.  I needed to make her hair band.  From what I researched, and there may information missing, this ornamentation is called Baetssi daenggi.  It is a small ornament attached to a hairband, and I even found a blog site that featured a class that was given on making them, with photographs on how to proceed.  Alice's was unusual in that it had a zig-zag band, but the ornament would be traditional.  I can't tell you how thrilling it was to enter the world of traditional Korean Hanbok.  One website, one term would lead to another area of research in the clothing, and it was so much fun to discover.  The hairband was made from cloth wrapped wire (the kind I had on hand for needle felting), then wrapped with strips from her skirt fabric.  The triangular ornament is a piece of hard leather covered the with the same fabric, then decorated with a hand colored paper flower and green "star" backing.

As I was making this costume for Alice, I grew a keen appreciation of what Na Young Wu illustrated for us.  She told the story Korean style and its brilliant work.

Of course Alice needed her rabbit (which I actually made first).  I think it was the White Rabbit, even more than Alice herself, that inspired me to work on this project.  I shake my head, still, at the thought of a dignified, high ranking rabbit, smoking an opium pipe, on his way down the rabbit hole.  Did I mention that his style of Hanbok was worn only by the highest officials?  I began to refer to him as M. Rabbit (Monsieur Rabbit) for this purpose.  I took him quite seriously, and you should, too (lol).  M. Rabbit.

I also loved this project because I could entertain myself with another needle felting project.  I was making him prior to Easter, so he was my Easter bunny as well as part of Alice's story.  As I studied the illustration, the objects in M. Rabbit's hole fascinated me no end.  Instead of cards, Na Young Wu used dominoes!  She's a kick!  I can't tell you how much I'd love to meet her.  And, notice that the tea set (The Tea Party), is an Asian one.  Can you imagine what the Mad Hatter would look like?!  But, yes, I had to learn how to needle felt a rabbit.

I looked up and viewed many felted White Rabbits and felted rabbits in general, and all I got was a general idea of "rabbit".  M. Rabbit is a Korean rabbit and a serious one for such a fluffy little bun-rab.  Fluffy bunnies do not smoke opium pipes.  Let's get real here.  I had to give him a serious expression.  He actually came together rather quickly while I referred to no less than eight different images of real rabbits and a couple of felted ones.  I think one of his most distinctive features, that others have passed on, is that a white rabbit's ears are almost transparent.  With light, you can see through the fur to the pink membrane of the flopping appendages.  M. Rabbit was a joy to make, and a study, as well, of balance so he could stand on his own.

His traditional Hanbok would be a red smoking jacket, kimono style.  If you've ever seen a silk smoking jacket, they are made kimono style, but with narrower sleeves.  I'd dressed a Robert Tonner resin White Rabbit in the Nursery Alice (Tenniel) style, so I was familiar with the notion that the arms, or front paws, are quite short.  I used a red cotton silk for the jacket and the collar was made with the white silk chiffon.  Why?  Because I like fabrics to complement each other and he had to look like he belonged to the Asian Alice set.  Only the finest for M. Rabbit.

The tiny opium pipe was also a fun project to do.  I've been able to find carving projects here and there over time, and I love working with wood.  This little pipe is all one piece of bass wood, whittled down, stained and lacquered.  A piece of straight pin, inserted in the tube at the mouth piece, allows M. Rabbit to hold the pipe in his mouth. 

His hat was another matter.  I didn't think it would be as difficult as it was, but I never do.  This traditional Korean men's hat is called a Gat.  It is a hat worn by noblemen and stems from the Joseon period that began in the 1400's which existed in Korea for 500 years.  These Gat are black, see-through hats often made from horse hair - at least traditionally, but I'll bet you can buy knock-offs in nylon today.  One of the reasons they have this tall crown, was to allow for the hair style that gathered up into a top knot.  M. Rabbit does not have a top knot, but he is a noblerabbit and can wear the Gat proudly.  I fashioned his from starched black cotton, needing a light fabric that would hold its shape.  I could not achieve an exact see-through style, but it works.

The last items I made were her slippers.  I noticed that they were constructed in a moccasin style, sewn together in such a way.  I worked them in red and black leather with beige thread on my sewing machine.  After doing Mary Lennox's wellies, the pattern came together fairly quickly.  Sewing them on the machine was like making booties.  The shoes are about 1 3/4" long, heel to toe.  Alice is 12" tall, and M. Rabbit is 4 1/4" tall.  The domino set shown below is an antique miniature made of ebony and ivory that I've owned for quite some time.  I'd ordered a little tea set with a blue floral design, and this is what was sent to me from China.  They were out of the blue floral and didn't think to ask if I'd mind.  LOL 

I have really enjoyed this creative journey and have a acquired a great appreciation for the exotic beauty of Korean Hanbok.  I hope that somehow in cyberspace, Na Young Wu might be directed to my project so she can see her work come to life.  Know how deeply inspiring her work was.  I have a feeling this delightfully talented artist would get a kick out of Alice and M. Rabbit.

Miss E. Mouse