A quirky portrait artist has paid homage to the Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee by creating a witty “wrinkles and all” doll version of the royal using a remodelled Barbie.
The Queen is the latest subject former theatre designer Lou Gray, 61, has brought to life using either a Barbie or Action Man doll, since starting her unorthodox portraiture during the March 2020 lockdown.
With her Queen portrait, she based it on the official Barbie doll ahead of the Jubilee.
“I saw the official doll of the Queen and I just thought, ‘That’s not what she looks like,’ she says.
“I didn’t want to be disrespectful, as I really do like the Queen. I think she is rather wonderful, but I wanted to do something funny.”
“In my head, I imagined her with this half-naked man in his garters holding her handbag, as her private, personal handbag carrier.
“So, I made him from an Action Man to go with her, too. I was sat there in my little studio at home, giggling away.”
The theatre set designer started painting old Barbies during lockdown and took inspiration fro a 2018 commission to decorate a nightclub using a Mexican Day of the Dead theme.
She put out a Facebook appeal for people’s old dolls and soon the Bristol mum-of-three was inundated, saying: “When lockdown happened the theatres shut and there were no parties for me to produce design schemes for, so I needed something to do.
“I asked people for any unwanted dolls and one woman said she had a whole house full of them.
“She would come over on her mobility scooter and drop them off outside my door.”
“It was so exciting," she says. "I started off creating drag queens. The Action Man dolls were so macho, I thought it would be funny to turn them into these incredible drag queens.”
Gray, who lives with her 17-year-old daughter Katie Lawlor and her builder husband Scoob Lawlor, 58, says her doll portraits were soon in demand.
She now devotes five hours a day on four days a week to designing and creating people from dolls, which she sells from £50 each through her online business, Lou’s Decorium.
She has made a whopping 180 dolls so far, and is hoping to make enough money from her portraits to enable her husband to retire, even though she admits she finds it hard to part with them.
“When I make a doll, I get very attached to it," she admits. "I don’t really want to put it up for sale at first, because I want to enjoy it for a while. Everyone says lovely things about them."
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Gray used to work with theatre companies across the UK, designing sets and costumes.
Then she started designing and creating extravagant party sets which led to her first experience with “doll art,” when she decorated a nightclub for a 40th birthday party in 2018, using the Mexican Day of The Dead theme – when people are briefly reunited with the souls of their deceased relatives.
“That’s when I made my Day of the Dead Barbies – painting them all like skeletons," she recalls.
“They represented dead acrobats and I hung them from the ceilings.”
Ironically, as a child, Gray never had her own Barbie doll. She only had a Sindy, which she felt was “second best.”
“I desperately wanted a Barbie, but all I got was Sindy," she laughs.
“I would always go to my friends’ houses and play with theirs. I’m definitely making up for that now!”
Additional reporting by PA Real Life