Capturing each incarnation of family as it evolves with time is a constant challenge. Photos are great but it’s nice to change things up and these stylised Russian doll family portraits will provide a quirky and original way to document your family as it is now.

Make these cute Russian Doll family portraits of your family using blank dolls and my free templates

As my son is currently in Australia and the family cat is getting on a bit I decided that making these Russian doll family portraits  now would not only be a great way to re-unite the family (in spirit anyway) but would also make an amazing addition to the new gallery shelves in our kitchen re-vamp! My first action was to find recent photos of all the family

To make Russian doll family portraits you will need recent photos of all the family like these

As I was making these it occurred to me that others might like to do the same so I have put together this tutorial and some templates help.

Materials Needed For Your Russian Doll Family Portraits:

If you gather the materials pictured you will be able to make your own Russian doll family portraits

If you are looking for blank Russian dolls you can find some on Amazon (not an affiliate link) but if you want the ultimate selection of family member numbers and shapes try Russian Crafts.


Assemble the kit pictured so that you can make Russian doll family portraits

Step One:

Print out the free templates for each size of your Russian Dolls and cut out the appropriate hairstyles, clothing etc. for your family. Glue them onto the template to assemble your family.

Cut out the most appropriate parts of the templates and glue onto the base to assemble your own Russian doll family portraits

Step Two:

Using a fine grade sand paper sand your dolls to remove any rough surfaces or little nubs left by the manufacturing process. If there are any dents, holes or cracks you can use wood filler to fill them and allow it to dry.

Use a fine grade sand paper to remove rough patched from your doll blanks

Step Three:

Using a soft pencil transfer the designs onto the wooden dolls. Only bother transferring the lines for the clothing and hairstyle at this point (the paint will cover any more detail and you will end up re-drawing it!). Use masking tape to put a centre line down the front of your dolls and across the dome of the head, run a pencil along the edge of the tape to give you a line. Then put another piece at right angles across the top of the dome/head to give you a cross. This gives you a way to line the ears up! You can also use masking tape to help you draw (fairly) straight lines around the circumference of the dolls.

Use masking tape to help you line things up and get a nice finish when transferring your designs to the Russian doll family portraits.

Step Four:

Separate your doll halves and put masking tape around the rims on the lower halves. For taping inside the top halves it is easier if you cut thin strips of making tape to do this with, rather than doing the whole round in one length.  You don’t want paint to get onto this area or your dolls won’t fit together properly so it’s worth taking the time to do this with some accuracy.

Use short lengths of masking tape to cover the joint area in the middle of each doll. This means that they will still fit together

Step Five:

If you aren’t confident in mixing paints to make different colours I have a couple of pieces of advice for you

  1. Buy small bottles of pre mixed craft acrylics in the colours you need from Hobbycraft or The Range (for example the Decoart range).
  2. Use a paint mixing helper like Try Colours to get the colour you are looking for then jot down the recipe (how many brushfuls of each colour you need to make the recipe).

Again, you can use masking tape to give your painting straight lines if you don’t have a steady hand. I recommend painting in this order as it means you swap between top and bottom halves giving colours a chance to dry.

  • Skin tone on head and face.
  • Lower half of clothing (trousers or skirt)
  • Hair
  • Shoes
  • Upper clothing (pale colours first and allow them to dry before adding the next one)

Outline the area with a fine brush first and then you can “fill in” with a larger brush if the area is big enough. It is really worth using decent brushes for this rather than the ones that came free with your kid’s art set. You will get a smoother finish and much more accurate lines.

Start painting with pale colours first. Outline with a fine brush and then fill in. Swap between halves to allow drying time.

Don’t overload the brush with paint or it will go *splodge* and spoil your design.

Step Six:

Repeat the painting process with all of your dolls. If you go over the lines or make a mistake LET IT DRY and then paint over. If it is a pale colour it may take a couple of coats with drying time in between to cover it but it will work.

Leave all the halves to dry.

Step Seven:

When all the paint is thoroughly dry take your pencil  and tracing paper. Trace the facial features, the collar and the hairline off of your original design. Flip the tracing paper over and trace over those same lines on the back.

Use a soft pencil and tracing paper to transfer the face designs to the dolls. Go over the design with Sharpie

You can then put this paper (back around the right way) onto the face area of your doll and re-trace over the lines with your pencil. This will leave a copy of the features on the doll. If you are not happy with the result you can use an ordinary rubber to erase the marks and try again.

Once you are happy with the facial features on your Russian doll family portraits take the Sharpie pen and line them in. You can also outline the edges of the clothes and details of the hair if you wish to.

Step Eight:

Set up the halves on Newspaper outdoors and spray with a THIN coat of spray varnish/sealer. It is really important to spray thin coats and build them up. If you spray a thicker coat the paintwork will run (as you can see in the picture below).

Spraying varnish on must be done in thin coats or the paint will run as in the picture.

If your paint does run you can leave it to dry and then re-paint and re-varnish but it is best to avoid it all together.

Leave the dolls to dry thoroughly.

Step Nine:

Remove the masking tape around the  joints of your Russian doll family portraits and enjoy!

Once all varnish is dry remove the masking tape and assemble the dolls.

Now your dolls are finished. I can’t wait to get a reaction from Australia about mine!  I would really love to see them if you do make any so please share to my Facebook page.

If you want to download the templates and make your own click on the image below.

Click on this image to download the free templates pictured

Finished Russian Doll Family Portraits