Medicine Dolls Online Art Class
Learn how to make your Personal Totem

with Kristena West M.A.

The Way of the Doll 

Learn how to make Medicine Dolls with nationally recognized doll artist Kristena West

I love doll making! I fell in love with dolls, as a child and I never quit loving and making dolls. I remember my sister and I sitting on a bed watching our mother make Barbie clothes, and her outburst, "Oh those tiny armholes!"   sigh. 

I started making dolls after seeing Marilyn Radzat dolls in the 20,000 sq ft spiritual art gallery in Corte Madera in 1988. One day I was working the floor and Marilyn came in rolling a cart with large figures wrapped in netting and plastic. I couldn't see what they were, but odd purple or fushia feathers would be swaying in above the wrapped art. But when she unwrapped them, set them up and I saw they were dolls, oh my god. These weren't dolls! These were 4 foot wizards, witches, rabbits, goddesses and more...oh so much more! 


In my life, I have times when I have what I call a "full body blow." These are signatures of destiny moments for me. I had them when I met the man I fell in love with, or the house I was going to move into, and when I beheld those magical beings. She had a partner at the time, who was a professional costumer, and you can't find images 30 years ago of those magnificent dolls. But Marilyn's work was my inspiration. 


marilyn radzat nature spirit doll

MythMakers Art & Spirit Dolls

I started doll making in 1990 after coming home from 4 months on a art study in Europe, I was rear ended while stopped in my car at a Stop sign. (there's a pun in there somewhere) The healing of this trauma meant I had time on my hands and I started to make dolls. And it was just like falling in love, but better, as you are creating a Being! A three-dimensional being! As my work began to get known I started taking commisions, and got into the national doll market through booking exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles and the Museum in Oregon. 

Here is a short video of some of my Personal Totem Dolls and some of my costumes from my yearly costume workshops in Santa Barbara. The Contemporary Arts forum would hire artists to create costumes and come to the Black & Orange bash and be walking theatre. I bet you can tell the year I was inspired by Dracula movie with fashion designer Eiko Ishioka. And being staff costumer and ensemble maker in our annual Santa Barbara Summer Solstice parade. 

“And at every fork in the road, Vasalisa reached into her pocket and consulted the doll. “Well, should I go to the left or should I go to the right?” The doll indicated “Yes,” or “No,” or “This way,” or “That way.” And Vasalisa fed the doll some of her bread as she walked and followed what she felt was emanating from the doll."
-Vasalisa & Baba Yaga


How Owl Medicine Entered My Life

I received a phone call from a friend of mine and here is the story. She dreamt that night of a Mother and Baby Owl. End of dream. On her way to work that day, on the side of the road was a dead Great Horned Owl. 

She knew I was a shamanic practitioner and made personal power portraits or Medicine Dolls for people who wanted a visual Personal Totem. So she came over and we discussed making her a medicine doll. 

I worked on that doll for three months. I lived up in the mountains and was used to hearing the owls at night. But, when I was sculpting this doll, the owl population outside my house was remarkable. I couldn't believe there were so many owls in one place. I would stop my work and go out and listen. Yes, I counted almost thirty owls one night, all at varying distances from the house.


When I completed the doll which was four feet high she had to get a van to deliver it to her house. When she got the doll home, the she had a dream. The doll came to her and told her her name; Arreigna. She felt intuitively to call a circle of women, and welcome the spirit of the doll in a “naming ceremony,” We gathered up at her house a group of twenty-five women and drummed, sang and welcomed Arreigna to her house. After the owl doll left my house, the owl population went down to it’s regular numbers.


The dolls were completely engrossing, I was caught up in a magical mystical creation, with the different elementals and archetypal energies wanting to come through in three dimensional form. Many artists talk of being taken over, lashed with inspiration and creating non-stop until the thing is done. What shamanic or sacred artists know, is that they are over taken with an elemental or archetype who wishes to manifest on our earthly plane. This is so that the spirit can experience our world while giving us a gift of essence or their personal power in return.



We call inspiration the muse, which has become a cliche’. But inspiration means to breath the life force, to “inspirit” the art. And artists, are successful in this to a greater or lesser degree depending on their connection to spirit or source. And a shaman, who is a technician of ecstasy, and has undergone arduous training by the spirits, learns many techniques to empower their handiwork. These techniques are given by the spirits and imbued with spirit power. So, shamanic art is a matrix, a gateway for the entity, energy, intention to come through. We can use the sacred art as a portal into their world, and the spirits, can use the art as a home for their manifestation into your life.


We are used to “acquiring and owning ” an art piece. However if the piece was made with a sacred intention, that piece is a imbued with the power of that intention. If that “intention” happens to be a spirit, an angel, or an elemental, than the art piece is considered “alive” by one with training in the shamanic or mystical arts. It is good to keep in mind that, shamanic art is power, not a representation of power. 


One must develop a relationship to their sacred art, treat it with respect and listen to the messages sent. In many cultures the church’s icon or saint is covered in honey, incense, taken to the river and ceremonially cleansed in the river. It is talked to, prayed to and treated with all respect due a living saint. In the many religious processions, the deity was known to come into the icon and bless the people, crops, the village.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ in her book, Women Who run with the wolves, talks of the cultural and personal importance of dolls through the ages, as well as her deep understanding of them;

For centuries humans have felt that dolls emanate both a holiness and a mana--an awesome and compelling prescience which acts upon persons, changing them spiritually. Dolls are believed to be infused with life by their makers. They are used as makers of authority and talismans to remind one of one’s own power. 


The doll is the symbolic homunculi, little life. It is the symbol of what lies buried in humans that is numinous. It is a small and glowing facsimile of the original Self. Superficially, it is just a doll. But inversely, there is a little piece of soul that carries all the knowledge of the larger soul-Self. In the doll is the voice, in diminutive, of old La Que Sabe, the One Who Knows.


The doll is related to the symbols of leprechauns, elf, pixie, fairy, and dwarf. In fairy tales these represent a deep throb of wisdom within the culture of the psyche. They are those creatures which go on with the canny and interior work, who are tireless. They work even when we sleep, most especially when we sleep, even when we are not fully conscious of what we are enacting. 

I made many dolls as commission pieces working directly with the client, identifying dreams, desires of what they wanted to become. Many people identify with an archetypal image or certain animal totems. I also discussed the clients dream images. Out of this mixture we focused and developed an image, be it a dancing Goddess, a tricky fox as the Fool, or a horned creature from the deepest woods. I made a soft cloth body and stuffed it with cotton, crystals, herbs and amulets of power. I would sculpt the face, hands, feet and make all the clothes, shoes, wigs, everything. 


I used my sewing and mania for clothes design to good effect. Many late nights working on a commission in my studio, I would chuckle remembering as children, hearing my mother’s cuss words as she made clothes for our Barbie dolls, complaining of those little armholes and collars. But I would also remember the almost religious awe in my soul when my mother dressed my Barbie in her new handmade white bridal gown.


The dolls were magic. I could feel the spirit of the doll come to me in dreams and during the day, when I was incubating an image, pulling me and prompting me. Although much of initial work I called “grunt labor”, I was always joyful when creating. The last two or three days when I placed the final accessories on a doll were my favorite, this is when the doll would pulsate with life. When it was done, I was able to view it technically with an artists critical eye, yet perfection was not the point. It was to create a home for the spirit, to bring the doll to life. 


I have many stories of those dolls. Some people could feel the force emanating from them, but not knowing what it was, would become afraid of them. I have heard many a client or even friends who would spend time in my home or studio, share with me dreams in which the doll would come to them instructing them or telling them secrets to help them in their lives. 


One woman called me up and wanted to discuss a commission. When I outlined how I worked she told me she did not have any dreams that she could use as a guide for a doll. But we made an appointment. On the evening before the appointment she had a dream of bears that lasted all night long, even though she had awoken three different times during the night. 

She was a Bear Wisdom keeper. This dream of course surprised and excited her. As dreams do, it pointed her in a new direction and lifted her self-esteem as a human in relation to the animal kingdoms. 


One man who was a highly developed clairvoyant on visiting my studio for the first time, said, “Do they know what these dolls are doing to them?” (meaning the clients) I asked him to explain what he meant. He said, “ Why obviously, they are intending them forward to their greater selves!” “Yes,” I smiled at him, “That is exactly right!”


Learning sacred arts includes waking up to ways of seeing. When we focus on learning the techniques for deeper inquiry, we realize how we do not really look at things. We scan with a unfocused eye, and are kept too busy in our daily life.


Sacred Arts is not only art-making, it's an entire way of life. When we take up creativity in a "sacred" manner it changes our focus, enhances our contemplation skills and we learn to hone our intent as we create. Through the lessons, we develop rigor and discipline learning how to create a chalice within; to center and enter the silence. 


We engage in different ways of "seeing" we re-learn how to really look at the world, nature and the other; this wakes us up to the numinous. 

Here's a Description of our Doll Lessons


We will learn about dolls found cross-culturally and work with our best beloved dolls where we were young. 

Then with simple hand-sewing we will learn how to make a simple cloth doll. The one shown here has added collage components, but we are making all the parts. 

This begins our journey - or continues it depending on your doll making experience. 



Making dolls is like being a Creatrix- the Great Goddess who creates the world. You think I am exaggerating, but wait till you get started. 

We will 




1. Learn Gelli plate printing for fantasy backgrounds and stencils too. 

2. Play with collage, painting, drawing, story-board using all your art supplies at hand.


This is art from the heart, and these mixed media tools and techniques are optional, but anything you do will be transformative arts, it's a Fairy Tale!


1. Finish pages and the text for the fairy tale.


2. When the story is done and all the beautiful art is ready, then we can begin to design the fairy tale book cover. 

3. The cover contains a "spiritual picture" of your personal journey, discoveries, revelations and magical transformations. You can only design the cover at the end of this Heroine's Journey. 

4. We thread with ribbon the pages of art and text and the book covers too, and the Fairy Tale adventure is done for now.

“Mary was bigger than Laura, and she had a rag doll named Nettie. Laura had only a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief, but it was a good doll. It was named Susan. It wasn't Susan's fault that she was only a corncob. Sometimes Mary let Laura hold Nettie, but she did it only when Susan couldn't see.” 
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, 
Little House in the Big Woods

the fairy tale as the heroine's journey

FAIRY TALE CLASS OUTLINE: this class is now a self-study all the projects, videos are up. 

The Class is 10 weeks self-study with two lessons weekly.


1. We will do some creative writing by turning our story into a fairytale. 


2. We will play and experiment with art for our images.

3. We will design a fabulous Fairy Tale Book cover!

Every week on Tuesday & Thursday lessons will be posted. We will be able to share our work in weekly check-ins.

Guest Teachers & Fairy Tale characters engage us in the delightful world of fairytale worlds. 

Let's Get Creative and have some fun!


You can use whatever art medium you prefer. If you like drawing or painting it's fine to use that. I am also going to teach the gelli print for great backgrounds & also the use of stencils if you want to use that for fairy tale illustrations. 

Everyone is Welcome, you do not have to be an artist or writer to do this fairy tale workshop! The key is we all have the DoorWay to our own creativity, all we have to do is step through it. 








Meet Kristena West M.A. 

Kristena West received her Masters in Transformational Arts & Consciousness, a program that focused on how artists can change the world. Her thesis is on cross-cultural sacred iconography. BA is in academic and professional writing and psychology. Undergraduate is in Fine & Commercial Arts and Fashion Design.  

I have been an artist my entire life. I have been engaged in community arts, curated exhibitions and worked in fine art galleries since I was eighteen years old. I have always worked with groups.

In 1990 I began doll making, sculpting in stone and was trained in sacred council circle. I started men and women's groups. These groups were based on taking an "issue" from our lives, our Prima Materia as Jung says, the Primal Matter - whatever was "working us" - and we sat in circle for 4 months weekly cooking in our cauldron of story, events, how we felt about it, and we used simple artistic exercises to separate, mix, stir our emotional material in order to transform our story into a healing journey.  

I did my undergraduate work in Psychology and Academic & Creative Writing, and was going to become a therapist specializing in Jungian psychology. But I had a Big Dream that led me instead to Berkeley California... to get my Masters in Transformative Arts & Consciousness, how artists use their skills to change themselves and their community. As a dream teacher, listening to and following this Big Dream changed my life trajectory and personal story.

I have 30 years training with shamans and have trained groups and clients in these ways of knowing. My question has always been with indigenous shamans, "What makes Art Sacred?" And these gifts of what I learned I bring to my work and especially to the world beloved Fairy Tale as the Heroine's Journey online art class. 

Last year I learned video & podcasting so I can weave a wider net online, so many friends who cannot find transformative arts classes can now do so. Transforming your life-story snippet into a fairytale, you will find the Fairy tale story starts taking You on a journey. This is the beauty and delight of Transformative Sacred Arts; I invite you to become enchanted and transform the princess that is you, into the Heroine.


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