Too often we hear hear ourselves prefacing our experiences with “when I was kid…” as if our adult and childhood selves were two severed entities and not the singular time spanning journey it is. The lens of childhood that captured those memories is one of our most valuable possessions, and if cared for, can continue to deliver illustrious results not just for our memory boxes but also our creativity and industry.
Taking that concept one step further, our featured artist Anna Nilsson lets her childhood and adult self engage in regular dialogue which inspires her very cool paper doll series. Double-dipped in pop culture, the resulting personalities are not only fabulous but also relatable figures that leap off the page with what I am sure would be some very skilled dance moves. These girls are vivacious, sassy and smart. And they take having fun seriously.
An overlooked corner by the merchants of children’s consumerism was the entry point for Anna’s own creative industry to take hold. She knew just what was needed- inviting fantasy and reality to co-mingle, resulting in a new breed of paper doll, one packed with energy and dimension.
Remarks Anna, “As a kid I especially loved toys that allowed creativity, like doll houses, Lego and paper dolls. Oh, how I adored my paper dolls, and if I thought I lacked one of my favorite heroines, like Teela from He-man or Alice from Alice in Wonderland, I’d draw her myself, of course complemented with a smashing wardrobe. But thinking back, most of those paper dolls were all about looking pretty. Did those dolls have occupations or jobs? No, their job and purpose always seemed to be pretty. Pretty, (but) never cool.”
Going on, Anna echoes a similar line of questioning as Ellen Degeneres recently humorously posed, “Why were the only colors allowed to be pink, purple and pastels?” Why did they all have bodies that didn’t look like mine or my mom’s or my aunt’s? These things always seemed a bit boring to me. Leia was allowed to wear this cool bobbly vest and shoot lasers, why couldn’t I get those dolls as well?”
Years later, when Anna set out to create her own dolls she addressed these queries, giving them bodies that more people could relate to and see a bit of themselves in. Quipping, “You can go “Oh, I have just the same cow legs as Peaches” or “I’ve seen Edith’s tummy a hundred times in the locker room where I go swimming.” Regular bodies on three awesome girls, and when I designed their accessories I made sure to add in food along with bags and skateboards, because it’s just too seldom you see paper dolls munching away on donuts.”
“I also wanted them to have wardrobes that just exploded with colors and variety. Who doesn’t love pink and a bit of lace, but why not also offer the chance to match that ballerina skirt with a pair of red cowboy boots or boxing gloves?”
Each of the three dolls has distinct personalities, based on three classic female archetypes in pop culture.
“Betty is obviously based on fifties pinup girls, but with a slightly more modern and edgy vibe.
Edith on the other hand is based on a sixties beatnik, a tad on the posh and arty side.
“With Peaches, I was looking at the seventies blaxploitation movies, the Black Panthers and of course Pam Grier. But that’s just the models that I started out with, and their styles just kept blooming and growing. None of the dolls have background stories, I prefer that the observer fill in their own thoughts and ideas about who they might be. All I provide is their looks and wardrobes.”
Having just completed a printed version containing 13 sheets including dolls, fashions and accessories, Anna imagines creating new additions to the group. “I’d love to do a new series with three new dolls. My thoughts right now is to use one doll to explore even more geek culture, to have a guy doll and have the third doll to be a mix of three iconic blondes: Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Twiggy, but as a plus size.
Heavily influenced by past and current pop culture Anna immerses herself in all it produces from books, video games, comics, and movies to music.“These things can be a lot about surface, style and coolness, but the stuff I’m really in love with has to have a warmth to them, some kind of human quality. A message about how we should live our lives and treat those around us. The Goonies has it, X-men has it, Studio Ghibli has it, Supernatural is packed with it, and that’s what I need to get by.
And if you peek closely at my designs, you should be able to pick up a pop cultural reference or two, perhaps from Karate Kid, Grease or a Wes Anderson movie.”
Asked if there is any sort of social commentary she wants to offer through her illustrations Anna states, “These dolls are very much a feminist statement, they’re about being body positive, expressive, wild and fun. I’ve called them “paper dolls for the thinking girl-woman”, but really, I don’t wanna exclude anybody, I think there’s just as many guys who can find these great.
To summarize, she says,
All body’s are great, warts and all.
All the colors are ours to play with.
And most importantly: We can do pretty and we can do cool, and we can do everything in between. Be Leia Organa, be a ballerina, be Sailor Moon, be an artist, be a drummer in a really cool 80’s power ballad cover band or be the girl who puts on her comfiest shorts and eats spaghetti in her sofa all Sunday. We decide and IT’S ALL GOOD.
Anna, who is 28 years old, is based in Bjärehalvön, a half-island on the northwest slopes of Skåne/Halland, Sweden. In addition to illustrating her own and other’s projects, she has gallery open to the public in the summer called Ida-Rebecca (her two middle names slammed into one, “because “Anna Nilsson” is just about the most common name you can have in Sweden”) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This gives you readers the chance to meet Anna yourself, so why not plan a trip on one of these last summer days? You can also discover more of her designs as well as connect with her socially on the following channels: