Smoke and Mirrors

Plus paper, tape, fabric and glue.

A few people asked about my Barbie doll diorama sets.

The first issue was where to set them up. We have a desk/workstation area in a rarely-used part of the house – mostly it’s used as a computer-repair work station, when my husband is fixing someone’s computer, or reloading an operating system. It was perfect because it’s not in an area that guests usually see, and since we don’t use it often, it doesn’t matter if I leave the sets up for a while. Some people use bookshelves as their sets, which is a clever idea if you have an empty shelf available.

I wanted something that could be dismantled easily and wouldn’t take up much space to store. I started out by just propping some cardboard or foam against the window, but then my husband saw some tri-fold poster boards at Michael’s for $5 (only $3 since we used a coupon). He cut it in half horizontally, so I have two of them.

Doll diorama set

Normally I set the display board on the desk with a towel or doormat under it to serve as carpet. But it’s easy to move to the wood floor or a table if I want a wood floor for the set instead.

Aside from the track lighting above the desk, I’m using two LED spotlights on tripods for additional lighting. (Perk of my husband owning an LED lighting company!) Since the lights don’t get hot the way typical lightbulbs do – you can touch them even when they’ve been on for hours – I am able to soften the light by paper-clipping a piece of tissue paper over the bulbs. This is NOT something you would want to do with any other type of light bulb unless you like fire.

Softening the light

I can stick whatever I want on the poster board to serve as wall coverings, windows, doors, and so on. Usually it’s something printed out and stuck on the wall using mounting putty. That’s what I did for the museum shot. I put the display board on the floor so that I’d have a wood floor for the set, and just printed out some Barbie-related art. The paintings on the wall were cut out and applied to the wall with putty, and for the statues, I left a tab at the bottom so that they could stand up. (In the photos above, you can see the Venus de Barbie laying flat, and the back side of the NeferBarbie statue.) The display tables are coasters stuck on top of whatever small objects I could find around the house.

Props are usually just creatively-used household items, or things I’ve made or printed on paper. In the top photo, the coffee table is a folded paper printout. The sofa is made from a box and pieces of foam board with fabric hot-glued over them.  The matching chair was made from an empty ribbon spool and a piece of cardboard, again just covered with fabric and hot-glued. Here it is before assembly:

Makings of a doll chair

The flower vases in the top photo are a small wooden finial and a large bead, with a few small flowers put in them. The green bottle was something I picked up at the thrift store, which I’m planning to put a lampshade on to turn it into a floor lamp. The metal candle holder in the foreground is going to turn into a coffee table once I find a suitable top for it. The other ribbon spool may become another chair, a stool, a side table… who knows? Once you start seeing objects in a dollhouse-scale view, you start seeing all kinds of possibilities.

A great source for many of my props has been Jim’s printable minis. But it’s easy to find all sorts of images that can be scaled to 1/6 of their human-sized equivalent and printed.

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9 Responses to Smoke and Mirrors

  1. Kitten says:


  2. Monica says:

    Neat! Thanks for sharing your process and set-up. I love your lighting system. Lighting is my biggest photography issue.

  3. Laritza says:

    The folding poster boards is just what I needed yesterday to take some pictures. I saw them at the store but I was on a roll to make a PVC light box. I think the poster boards will work better. Thanks for sharing all this.

  4. Cookie says:

    I can’t get over how creative this is and how much you seem to be enjoying it. It’s really amazing how much you can do with paper, odds and ends.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for sharing! It looks like a lot of fun. I may have to get a set of those folding boards so I can take better knitting/yarn pictures.

  6. margene says:

    You shouldn’t give away all your tricks!

  7. Chris says:

    You are insanely creative!

  8. jill says:

    You are one clever, clever lady!

  9. Liz says:

    Very cool. I could definitely use some lighting help here too, for my knitting glamour shots!

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