Nesting Dolls as a Metaphor for Invisible Illness


During my downtime, I like to watch tele like a lot of people. This ad came on as part of E4’s E Stings and it struck a chord.

E Stings is an annual competition on E4’s site that allow artists and animators to create a 10 second long ad for the channel, using their own style and approach. They are then voted for online to decide the winner. Unfortunately, they do not mention the maker’s name, which meant a bit of detective work to find out who created this particular one.

After some searching, I managed to find that this piece was created by James Carbutt, an animator and illustrator based in Yorkshire. What I really liked about this animation (focusing on the Russian Doll) was the range of different characters, from sci-fi inspired to cultural references. I also like the way in which they transformed. This wasn’t in a traditional nesting manner, but the way in which they were revealed from the centre of the face, as if being peeled back from behind, allowed for more characters to be presented, without cluttering the rest of the scene.

Sketchbook 19/10/2017 ©Hollie Woodward 2017

This got me thinking about my own practice and the message I am attempting to convey. Although I do not yet have a concrete message I am trying to get across with my work, I do know that the idea of Russian dolls or nesting eggs could work really well as a metaphor for invisible illness.

I would have to carefully construct a character for each layer, making sure that each layer represents an important aspect of how it feels to have Fibromyalgia. I know that the outer doll would be essentially a portrait, more than likely in my image, ensuring that it has a happy and positive look. This is what people see. Most people would not know I have something wrong with me to look at me and in how I portray myself.

I would then go into the details of the condition. I had the idea of the next layer being held together by bandages and plasters, as if being kept together before you put on the front. This could be misinterpreted as mummification though. I’m not sure how I feel about that, because mummification is the act of preservation. Am I preserving what’s inside or am I trying to fix it?

The next layers are still quite vague for me yet as there is so much to include in these three. I have used 5 layers here as an example because in order to play around with this idea, I have purchased a blank set of Russian dolls I can draw and paint on and they are a set of 5. If I am to create an animation or series of prints, then I would not be limited by number of layers and would have more room to explore designs.

This idea has expanded into a number of other ideas that I would like to try out. I want to create a series of physical Russian dolls as I said, but I think it could be really cool to create a stop motion animation of these dolls, presenting them from different angles and the layers; traditional nesting then back together, rotating them etc. If anything, this would be a good way of presenting the artifact for documentation and online portfolios.

Sympathy for the Record Industry
Sympathy for the Record Industry ©Brian McCarty

I then had the idea of photographing the artifact in different situations relevant to what the layers are depicting and to the condition overall. I was inspired by Brian McCarty’s book “Art-Toys”, which I studied during my BA Photography course. He takes art toys and photographs them in situe, enhancing their character traits through composition, location and lighting. This could transfer well to the nesting dolls. Locations such as: in bed, doctor’s waiting room, out with friends etc. Whether this will successfully convey the desired message, I’m not sure, but it’s an idea I can play around with.

Going back to James Carbutt’s entry for E Stings as my initial inspiration, I would like to explore animation. I want to investigate how the layers could be revealed, whether in the traditional nesting form or something similar to Carbutt’s approach.



Carbutt, J., (2017) Work. Available at: (Accessed 19th October 2017)

Channel Four Television Corporation, (2017) E Stings Competition 2015. Available at: (Accessed 19th October 2017)

McCarty, B., (2010) Art-Toys. 1st ed. Los Angeles. Baby Tattoo Books

McCarty, B., (2016) Portfolio [online] Available at: (Accessed 19th October 2017)




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