In the small, curious world of humanoid art, there is a technical difference between a doll and a puppet. A doll is crafted for still images. A puppet can perform.
This is the world Katy Strutz lives in, both the living, breathing artist and the sculpted puppet she has created in her own image. Days after graduating from art school in Rhode Island, Strutz moved to Portland for an internship in Laika's puppet department, where she stayed for over two years before leaving to pursue her own projects and work with other studios.
Today, she works remotely as a character sculptor on Guillermo del Toro's Pinnochio, a brutalist interpretation of the fable the director has called a lifelong passion project, and moonlights as an independent artist, creating shrunken versions of the characters in her own life.
"Taking a photo of somebody is so different from making a portrait by hand," Strutz says. "It's the indescribable thing where when you meet somebody, their face looks so different to you than when you've known them for years. You watch them move and there are things that you remember, things that stand out."
From sketching out the character design to finishing the surface details, the puppet-making process can easily take a few months, or a year in the studio environment. For Strutz, the precision is part of the appeal—putting fibers into a pot and dyeing them to an exact hair color, trying to find the miniature version of the texture of their favorite sweater.
In the past few years, Strutz has grown a sizable following on social media from her personal projects, which include portraits of family members, celebrities and three-dimensional collaborations with illustrator friends. In February, fashion darling Iris Apfel reposted Strutz's stop-motion clip of her puppet likeness to some 250,000 views on Instagram.
Strutz reasons that this has something to do with the "cult of individuality" that we live in—a kaleidoscopic world of curated Instagram feeds and intricate bitmojis.
"It makes you feel like a protagonist, or something beyond yourself," she says. "To be recognizable enough to be an avatar—there's an excitement and a comfort in that."
These days, Strutz is enough of a main character on her feed that her own puppet—wearing curly red hair and a rotating wardrobe of bespoke outfits—elicits a similar response to her celebrity puppets.
"I'll have people that I know in real life, or people who have seen my Instagram before they meet me in real life, and they're like, 'Oh my God, you look just like your puppet!'" she says. "They recognize me because they recognize the puppet."
See more of Katy Strutz's puppets at instagram.com/katystrutz.