DIY winter animal matroyshka dolls

The nights here are drawing in as the seasons turn, bringing out my hibernating instinct.  The wind and rain and the sudden chill in the air have given the perfect excuse for spending a few evenings over the last week in the art room, radio on and cup of tea in hand, painting a set of nesting matryoshka animals as a birthday present for Harry.  They were a bit of an experiment – the animals morphed as I began painting them, and my technique definitely improved as I went along – but I love them, and I hope he does too…

DIY Animal Matroyshka

The biggest (and friendliest!) is the bear, catching fish for dinner.  Well, it started as a bear, and then my husband saw it. ‘Otter-ly amazing!’ he declared enthusiastically.  So now it’s, well, an otter.  Or an otter-bear.  Harry can decide.

Nesting animal matroyshka; Otter

And then the racoon, with his distinctive bandit eyes, hijacked here by a perky penguin the size of a fingertip (painting matryoshka is a good test of one’s steady hand, hence the tea rather than wine to accompany).

Matroyshka racoon and penguin

And the racoon’s butt, because this is that kind of website.

Raccoon matroyshka

Then Charlie the fox, the first animal I painted.  Somehow this fox is definitely called Charlie, though the others are waiting to be named.

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Then finally the owl, penguin and a tiny, tiny squirrel, wrestling with a nut (the squirrel is hiding inside the penguin here, but you can see her at the top).

Nesting matroyshka

I bought the blank wooden shapes on eBay; they were very inexpensive (about £5) – many craft stores sell them too.  Mine had 6 shapes, with the tallest about 8 inches high and the smallest less than an inch.

DIY matroyshka painting

blank matroyshka

Here’s a few tips I’d pass on if you fancy trying this as a project…

  • When you buy your blank set, play with them a little and check that they pull apart relatively easily.  Some of mine were very stiff and needed light sanding in the join (better to do this now than when you’ve painted and don’t want to touch them).
  • Draw on your design in ordinary pencil, and you can rub it out simply with a normal eraser.  I did this SO many times, often midway through an animal.  it’s very forgiving.
  • I used acrylic paint straight from the tube for all my base colours, then lightened or darkened the shade for accents and shadows.  If you’re hand-mixing colour, make more than you need so that you don’t run out (the wood soaks up a surprising amount), and that you can cover over your supply if you want to call it a day.
  • If you’re making animals like these, try googling them to remind yourself how the noses, ears and limbs work.  It sounds obvious but it’s really helpful when you’re trying to work out how to draw a bear an otter.
  • Plunge in.  I looked at these for days before daring to begin, and then once I did it was easy.  If you make a mistake, paint over it. Bam. No-one will know.

Good luck!

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