Doll Artist Feature: Dollightful

Doll Artist Feature: Dollightful

Let’s dive deeper into a world of doll customizing and studio cats with the amazing Katherine Murray, better known as Dollightful! With her unique vision and playful imagination, Katherine weaves her magic in the realm of one-of-a-kind dolls. She transforms everyday dolls into mesmerizing works of art, each one telling its own unique and whimsical story.

All images in this blog post belong to their respective artists and are used with permission.
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How did you first get started in doll customizing, and what drew you to this unique art form?

It was my senior year in college, and I was working nose-to-the-grindstone on my thesis like everyone else. At some point I had to stop by Target to pick up groceries, though, and BOOM: There on a shelf sat a Bratzillaz “Cloetta Spelletta”doll. As both an artist whose thesis was focused on character design, and a childhood fan of the original Bratz dolls, Cloetta stopped me dead in my tracks with her bold half-and-half design. It was this doll that reintroduced me to the world of dolls as an adult. It didn’t take long to discover doll customizing after that—some influences I found online at the time were No Nap Time, Raquel Clemente, Andrea’s Customs, Hextian, Hello Mari, and many more.

What inspires your doll customizing creations? Are there specific themes, eras, or art movements that influence your work?

I love living in the moment, so whatever tickles my fancy at the time usually finds its way into my artwork. Whether that’s a Pokemon game coming out (inspired the Eeveelutions series), a super colorful alt-fashion style that catches my eye (Decora Kei inspired Ayako doll), or an upcoming holiday (Halloween dolls galore!!), there’s always something I’m dying to incorporate into a character. As far as what kind of artwork influences my work, I’d say I’m partial to game art. Characters designed for games are always the most wildly creative and over-the-top. I love it.

What are the essential tools and supplies you can't live without when customizing dolls?

That’s a tough question to answer, because a customized doll can range from a simple face replacement to a fully carved-up and recombobulated monstrosity. For someone focused on face-ups, we can all agree that Mr. Super Clear UV Flat Sealant is used by every toy artist for a good reason. For someone who really wants to get in there and get their hands dirty, Apoxie Sculpt is essential for working on doll parts.

How do you choose the perfect doll hair for your projects? Are there any tips for our customers when it comes to selecting the right doll hair for their customizations?

Dollyhair’s Nylon Doll Hair is my go-to option for most projects. It comes in tons of colors, and boil washes very easily. I’ve got dolls that are almost seven years old that still have their bouncy curls! Other types of hair work for specific effects or styles-Kanekalon acts more realistically and can be teased and fluffed, for example. Hairstyles with lots of braids and fancy up-dos might work better with Kanekalon hair. If you’re after a specific color, you’ll find it in the Nylon or Saran hair types. If you’re after a softer, finer fiber, check out Kanekalon

Doll customization often involves small, intricate details. Can you share a humorous or challenging "oops" moment you've experienced while working on a doll and how you creatively resolved it?

Gosh… “oops” moments are baked into nearly every step of every project, so it’s hard to remember any in particular, haha. A recent example comes from my Halloween vampire doll: I accidentally tore the first layer of paint off of the left side of his face. The line down his cheek where the paint ripped off is visible on the final doll, which wasn’t intentional. However, many viewers of the video enjoyed this defect and even started coming up with lore and reasons why Heathcliff has this scar. Another example I can think of is when my cat straight up stepped on wet paint, ruining my Espeon doll’s dress. I had to remake the whole thing!

What advice would you give to someone who's just starting their journey into doll customizing? Are there any common mistakes to avoid?

Have a vision! What do you want to do with this doll? Be it a small tweak (changing the lip color? Cool!) or a full-blown custom (hair, face, and clothes on your first try? Wow!), if you’ve got a plan going in, the doll will likely turn out better. Notice I said ‘likely’—every kind of art is a learning process, and doll customizing is no exception. Sure, the mistakes will happen, but trust yourself to fix them on the fly. Give it a try and have fun!

That said, here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Use a good doll for your first custom. You may be tempted to test the waters on a cheap, dollar store piece of junk first. It won’t be the same! Keep an eye out and grab a much better-quality second-hand doll from a thrift store to experiment on.
  2. Use Mr. Super Clear Sealant UV flat for your face ups. Off-the-shelf fixatives will make you and your doll sad.
  3. Only use water-soluble materials with Mr.Super Clear. Oil-based pigments are not compatible with this stuff. 

Could you share a memorable story about a doll customization project that had a significant impact on someone or a personal milestone in your artistic journey?

The Xerneas doll I made, which was a fun collaboration with two other doll customizers (The Doll Fairy and Dollmotion) was a huge milestone for me. Not only did I get to work closely with new friends, but I tackled a whole bunch of new techniques that I hadn’t tried before. I make new joints for the doll’s limbs out of apoxie, attempted resin casting for the first time, and even learned to solder together an electrical circuit. For those reasons, my Xerneas doll feels very significant. However, I’m not that happy with the doll’s actual design—it’s a bit simple and kind of lacking. The Doll Fairy made a Xerneas doll some years later, and I like it way better than my version! Lol! I must have gotten too caught up in the technical side of things and forgot to design a pretty character.

If your favorite doll were to come to life for a day, what adventures would you take them on, and why?

Oh my goodness, what a fun question! Who’s my favorite doll…? Gosh, I would love to party with Mai Tai on the beach, or swim through the ocean waters with Aquarien and Cora…. Or get the Rainbow trio to show me some skateboard tricks at the skate-park! If any of my dolls came to life, I’ve love to show them (what I consider to be) the perfect day: hiking to the peak of my favorite mountain (seoraksan) to admire the majesty of nature, then returning to the city to take lots of silly pictures in the photobooths, and ending the night singing our hearts out at norebang (karaoke). Now that’s living!

Polly Peppermint the Christmas Elf by Dollightful