Learning Resources

Paper Dolls


Activity by Lizz Ortiz
Text by Grace Needlman

Featured image

Lizz Ortiz, Paper Dolls. Image courtesy of artist


MCA staff members demonstrate how to create paper dolls



Make paper dolls that represent your ever-changing identity. Join Lizz for a live paper doll-making demonstration and to show off your own paper dolls during Family Day on May 9.


Our identities are always changing as we grow, learn, and build connections with other people. Long before Sims or Memojis, paper dolls gave people of all ages an outlet to experiment with different identities and styles. Paper dolls have been around since the early 19th century. For most of that time it was very hard to find dolls that represented people of color, non-binary people, or people with disabilities. Seeing figures that look like us in art and popular culture is important; it makes us feel included and confident enough to be our full, complicated, and ever-changing selves. Lizz Ortiz designs paper dolls that include a wide range of clothes, hairstyles, and skin tones so that people of many different identities and backgrounds know they have the freedom to explore and grow. Get inspired by Lizz’s process to make paper dolls. Represent what makes you, your family, and friends special and unique.

Gather your materials

  • Pencil
  • Colorful markers/color pencils/crayons
  • Black marker/pen
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick (optional)
  • Printer paper (3 sheets)

Make your paper dolls

  1. Draw the face and the body outline with a pencil. Tip: separate the arms from the body to make cutting simple
  2. Trace your design with a black marker.
  3. Color in your skin tone, hair, and anything else you want to add directly to the body.
  4. Put a second piece of paper on top of the first and trace the outline of your doll.
  5. Draw clothing on the traced outline so it fits your doll.
  6. Draw tabs on the edges of the clothing so you can change your doll’s look.
  7. Color in your clothing and accessories.
  8. Cut out your doll and clothing.
  9. Play!

About the Artist

Lizz Ortiz (they/them) is a storyteller. Regardless of the medium, Ortiz's goal is always to communicate and engage with the audience. Ortiz is interested in mental health and making healing accessible, and has worked with Nike × Virgil Abloh, Sentrock Studios, Paper Gun, and Elise Swopes. Ortiz graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May of 2017 with a BS in Environmental Science. lizzortiz.com

Collection Connection

Collection Connection

Curious about other artists who are making room for diverse and changing identities?

Check out these artworks in the MCA Collection.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Painter), 2009

In this painting, a woman painter holds a paint palette in front of a paint-by-numbers portrait. Her skin is as black as the as the solid black background; she stares confidently into our eyes.
  1. Long This painted portrait depicts a young woman with jet-black skin holding a long, thin paintbrush up to a colorful, messy painter’s palette. She is shown in a three-quarter pose, gazing directly at the viewer. Her face, which is central to the square composition, stands out against a large, white, canvas, almost blending into the pitch-black background to her right. Closer inspection reveals, however, that her skin is subtly rendered, with various shades of contours and highlights. She wears two large hoop earrings, three small hoop earrings, and an oversized, boxy, high-collared jacket made of stiff fabric. Her voluminous hair—black with an ochre sheen—rises in thick coils on top of her head. The canvas to her left shows a partly finished paint-by-number self-portrait; in it, her likeness is broken up into smaller segments with pale-blue outlines and numbers. She has outlined many of the segments and filled them in with colors from her palette: orange, blue, yellow, pink, brown, and a few shades of green. The paint-by-number canvas does not accurately represent the color and pattern of the jacket she wears, which features mustard yellow sleeves and collar and deep blue and maroon and light yellow stripes.


Both Self-Portrait by Marisol Escobar and Untitled (Painter) by Kerry James Marshall explore how we represent ourselves and who gets represented in places like art museums.

“Representation” is a word that’s used a lot in art. Sometimes it just means that an image is supposed to look like something you can recognize in the world. We can recognize people in both of these artworks, which means they represent people. Representation can also mean that one thing stands in for a whole bunch of other things, like when one person represents their community in the government. A representative or a representation is more than itself: it’s the job of the representative to speak up for the people or ideas it represents.

Take a look at Untitled (Painter): The person in the painting is painting herself. She is making a representation of herself. What do you notice about the picture she’s painting? Looking closely at the painter, how do you think she feels about painting herself? Can you think of a time when you represented yourself? How did it feel?

Take a look at Self-Portrait: Imagine all of these people represent different emotions or parts of one person. Which emotion does each head represent to you? What makes you say that?