A realistic baby girl doll wearing a sweater over her dress and a bow on her head and holding a stuffed animal.
Heidi is a realistic OOAK sculpted by Burnell.

By Stephanie Finnegan

Life is made up of myriad changes. A year sees seasonal transformations; a parent witnesses a child’s growth; an artist develops and evolves her styles and themes. For Shawna Clymer, 2023 will be a year of many adjustments. First, she will be reverting to her maiden name, Burnell, and her business will be renamed Art by Shawna. Additionally, the Washington State artist will be forging ahead in a brand-new direction. “I am privately working in a new medium. I am not ready to share it at this time. However, readers can join my newsletter and watch for updates for anyone interested in hearing of my latest creations. I hope to share them with you in the new year!” Burnell said.

A baby mermaid doll with long blond hair with pearl ornaments, wrapped in gauzy blue and green fabrics.
Mishell is a silicone mermaid creation. Even though she lives in an imaginary underwater fantasy world, Burnell invested her with human realism and lifelike qualities. “That is my goal. No matter the format, I always strive to create realism.”

Realistic Fantasies

For the past 22 years, Burnell has unveiled characters under the Clymer Creations name that have astounded and impressed her loyal collectors. In fact, her sculpting is so realistic that many people don’t initially understand what she does for a living: “Most of the time, at first glance, when I share my business card, people will think that I am a baby photographer! In some ways they are not wrong. However, once they see a tiny one photographed in the palm of my hand, or pixie ears on a fairy baby, they realize it is so much more.”

That is, indeed, one of the remarkable components of Burnell’s creations. Even her characters who firmly reside in the world of make-believe have relatable features. When she coaxes an elfin toddler or a mermaid tot to come out and play, her fantasy-based dolls are beautifully rendered and physically realistic. They might be fairy-tale folk, but these offerings are filled with humanity.

Closeup of a smiling blond woman with long hair.
Shawna Burnell (formerly Shawna Clymer)

“I am always trying to improve my sculptures, to make them more lifelike. That is my goal. It doesn’t matter if they are human or fantasy sculptures, such as my fairies and mermaids,” Burnell said. “I have always created my sculptures and my reborns from my imagination and photos of my own children. Once in a while, a photo or baby that I would see will grab my attention and inspire me to sculpt. Many times I have started with no concept in mind, only working with my clay. Slowly I would begin to see a tiny face within the clay emerging.”

Burnell is the mother of two grown children — a son and a daughter. “Growing up, they were always surrounded by my work, and they often helped with packaging and shipping, too. They live on their own now, with their own busy lives. I talk with them both, almost daily. I am truly grateful for both of them.”

Sculpt of a sleeping baby held next to the photo of the model.
Head sculpt of a crying baby held up to the photo of the model for the sculpt.
These two very different moods — calm and sleepy; crying and cranky — are both portraits of Burnell’s great-niece. The crying interpretation is offered as a reborn kit, appropriately named Stormy.

These days, the hardworking artist looks to her ever-expanding family for her leaping-off point: “I have found that my work is now inspired by pictures of my great-niece. Oh my goodness, she is such a cutie pie! My mini Stormy reborn kit was created in her likeness. I believe it is the closest I have been able to come to a true portrait baby.”

Realistic baby doll posed with a quarter to show the scale - the doll's forearm from wrist to elbow is about the same length as the coin's diameter.
Burnell’s sculpts are small but mighty. Many people don’t understand the scale at which she can create until they can see it put into perspective.

A Self-Started Sculptor

A self-taught artist, Burnell acknowledges that creativity was baked into her DNA. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and her mother were all blessed with artistic abilities that ran the gamut from woodworking to painting. As a child, young Shawna would entertain herself by drawing black-and-white pencil illustrations of animals and people. Her skill was undeniable, and her passion for interpreting the world around her has not diminished.

“On occasion, I do accept commission work, as long as the client is able to send me several of their favorite photos. As I am self-taught, the picture has to grab my attention in order for me to sculpt it,” Burnell said.

A potential one-of-a-kind (OOAK) has to speak to Burnell’s sensibility. The emerging sculpture has to connect with her heart and her mind. She has to feel that she can make the doll tribute into something realistic and evocative: “It is the most heartwarming when someone will message me that one of my creations reminds them of their own children. I always try to strive for realism. I often hear collectors say how much they especially love the expressions that I create. Whether it is a human baby or a fantasy creation, it is all about the faces.”

Closeup of the face of a baby doll with an expressive face.
“It is all about the expressions,” Burnell said. Collectors gravitate to her creations’ emotional faces.

Many of Burnell’s collectors have been following her since her career began. “I have wonderful collectors of my work. I have known many of them for as long as I have been in the business. I am grateful for all of them,” the artist said.

While many of her clients purchase her finished fairies and mermaids, or her completed infants and babies, some are fans of her reborn kits. However, she said, this successful facet of her business will cease in the upcoming year: “I have created and produced over 38 various reborn kits on my own from 2005 to 2022. This does not include other kits produced with companies that I have worked with over the years, or my resin and silicone editions. With my last kits early in 2022, after the long delay with COVID-19 and production shutdowns, I was so happy to have things going again. That is, until I found that unauthorized copies and counterfeits were being created from my kits.

Photo of a sleeping baby doll in a onesie decorated with an owl.
“No matter how many times I do my best to describe my art and what I do, it is only when people actually see my work in a photo, or better, in person, that they understand. Seeing it is everything,” Burnell said.

“This has not only affected me. It has been a serious problem in our industry, with no end in sight. Due to this, I cannot say when I will be able to create more kits at this time. I hope the thievery will cease and give me back my creative drive. I will not say ‘never,’ yet at this point I cannot say when I will have another kit to offer.”

Shawna Burnell has many upcoming changes in store on a personal and professional level, but she maintains her sense of dedication and ingenuity. “My nephew Joey and his wife, Bre, are now blessed with a sweet baby boy. I hope to sculpt him soon. When I sculpt babies, it is my goal to make them as lifelike as possible.” That deeply held commitment to realism remains the same.

Shawna Burnell
Art by Shawna