Russian Nesting Dolls

Thank you for ordering a Russian Nesting Doll kit from Highland Arts & Crafts.

Kit Items:  paintable dolls (set of 4), gouache paint set, brushes, towels, slip with webpage   

History of Russian Nesting Dolls / Matryoshka 

In Russia, nesting dolls are a symbol of family and legacy.  Each doll is a representation of a mother carrying the next generation within her – representing a chain of mothers carrying on their family legacy through the births of their children. 

They are called “Matryoshka” in Russia which is the latin word for “Mother”.  They are also known as Babushka (meaning grandmother or old woman) or stacking dolls. 

The first set was created in 1890.  Traditionally the outer layer is a woman dressed in a sarafan, a long, traditional peasant dress.  The figures inside can be of any gender, but the smallest inner doll is a baby, turned from a single piece of wood. 

The painting of these dolls is often very ornate and usually follows a theme such as Russian leaders or fairy tale characters. Modern doll sets are often painted with different themes like animals and pop culture icons to appeal to tourists. 

The largest set of matryoshka dolls in the world is a hand-painted 51 piece set completed in 2003 by Russian artist Youlia Bereznitskaia.  The tallest doll in the set is 21.25 inches tall and the smallest is 1/12 of an inch.

Largest Russian Doll Set

Can you imagine painting that tiniest doll to match the largest?  How would you do it? What tools do you think the artist might have used? 

Guoache Paint 

Traditionally, nesting dolls are painted with gouache.  (sounds like “guwash” )  This paint dates back to the 1600’s and is an opaque, pigment paint bound in water-soluble gum.  Some modern versions of it are acrylic based.  

Guoache is like a denser, opaque watercolor paint.  When you apply it without watering it down, you will get excellent coverage and saturation of the color.    

When water is added, it thins out and gives a more traditional watercolor appearance. It dries to a matte finish.  Unlike acrylic paints, Guoache can be reactivated with water on your piece, making it a bit easier to mix/manipulate even after it dries.

Creating Your Dolls

  • Your set has four dolls.  Measure your dolls and plan a design theme. 
  • Plan/draw your design on paper first if you like to get a feel for it.
  • Lightly use your pencil to create your guidelines on your dolls.
  • Apply your base color first and allow to dry fully, then paint your designs.
  • Allow your dolls to dry between layers of paint to prevent smearing.
  • Don’t get your brush too wet. Wet it and then tap off excess water before painting. If you want to thin your paint do so on a paper plate first and then use your damp (never dripping) brush to paint with your watered down paint.
  • Gouache is slower to dry than craft/acrylic paint. It will take approx 30 minutes to dry. Dry times will vary depending on where you’re painting, if it’s humid, if there’s ventilation etc.

You can comment below if you have any questions or concerns or need any advice at all. Enjoy your project! I can’t wait to see it 🙂

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