Describe your perfect client. Do you like to get a lot of direction, or just be given a general mood, or do you like to see visual examples?
Some of the best commissions I’ve done have either been where the client gives me total freedom or gives me really in-depth descriptions with a lot of reference. The in-betweens where the client is not terribly sure what they’re going for and doesn’t give me a lot to go on or the sense of freedom to really go for it, make me question the look of the doll and the faceup much more during the painting process. As a result I tend to pull back on what I’m doing and I don’t quite achieve the level of faceup I’m happy with.
Also, I’m not a big fan of progress pictures—it really interrupts the artistic flow when you have to stop, take photos of a WIP (which usually looks terrible no matter what because it’s so unfinished) and then wait for a client to give you feedback on an unfinished product before continuing, so I only do progress pictures if I have a question or am unsure about a specific detail the client is adamant I achieve. But I’m upfront about that because some clients really like the progress pictures, in which case they need to know that’s not how I usually roll.
Of all the face-ups/customizations you’ve done, do any stand out to you in particular? Howso?
At present, my Carina, Virgil is really blowing me away. I don’t do much goth anymore, but she just sort of nailed everything I was hoping to achieve with her and has gone from a head that spent 6 months in a box to one of my more stunning mod/faceups. In my opinion at least. I think Gerard is pretty phenomenal because he isn’t a minimee or anything of the sort, just a mold who suddenly leant himself tremendously to the likeness of a rockstar I shamelessly fangirl over. He’s like my greatest work of fanart. I’m also really pleased with my JID I, Heart—who was the guinea pig to a really ambitiously-realistic bout of blushing and my Soom Dia, London & R. Heliot, Zillah—they have two of the more high-drama faceups in the house, and it took me at least 3-4 repaints each over the course of several years to finally get them to a point where I just love staring at them. I almost sold Zillah because I truly hated the first faceup I did on him. Good thing I didn’t. Sometimes it really is the faceup that just makes all the difference.
Do you paint/alter other types of dolls, and if so, how does that compare with working on BJDs? If you do other types of art (drawing, painting, etc) does that influence your faceup style?
Not at present. But I’ve been flirting with customizing Monster High dolls. I’ve been seeing them all over the place and they have me curious—if only just to try.
Have you ever refused a commission? Why? Or if not, can you think of a circumstance where you might?
I did once. It was a very elaborate modding job to turn a whole doll into Abe Sapien from Hellboy and I just didn’t feel like I had the skill set for it. There was dying required (which I’ve never done) and a lot of carving a sculpting and airbrushing. So while it was a fascinating and ambitious project, it just wasn’t something I felt like I had the time or the technique to do.
I would refuse any commission on a recast doll, or a doll I am suspicious of being a recast. I won’t go into the drama absorbed by the subject, except to say I am adamantly against recasts and would never agree to work on one for moral as well as safety reasons.
Is there something that is still difficult for you to do? What is the most difficult?
I continue to maintain that eyelashes are the bane of my existence. They’re often one of my main focuses for improvement, but it’s a work in progress. I think I psyche myself out about them—I think ‘Oh crap, I’m up to eyelashes, this is when I screw up.’ And I just set myself up for trouble that way. I used to work in watercolor pencils so I had the option of erasing and reworking without having to wipe and start over, but as of the last year or so I’ve forced myself to work with paint for all faceup details and it’s a challenge. I have good days and bad and I’m always in awe when I see another artist who wields paint with absolute perfection. It bothers me because I actually have a really long history in paint, but transferring to the doll medium requires an all new learning experience for me apparently.
Tattoos are another thing. I’ve done several really elaborate tattoo mods, and while I like different things about each of them, I’m still questing to discover just what technique it takes to make doll tats look more like real tats. It’s an ongoing mission, and I have several of my own dolls and my partner’s dolls lined up for the cause. In fact I’ve been sitting on my Yakuza-inspired baddie because he needs full body work and I just don’t feel my skill set is up to par to get him there. (That and other dolls keep stealing his body…)
How important is customer feedback to your creative process?
I definitely want them to be honest if they’ve commissioned me. It’s important that I know whether I hit the mark or not and I always angst when I show my clients their finished dolls just out of my own personal sense of rampant paranoia. If they have a legitimate problem with something I’ve done, I’d like them to tell me and I’d do my best to remedy it. I think at this point over half of my clients are repeat customers however, so I must be doing something right. I’ve had people come back to me 3 and 4 times over the course of several years, which is really neat and makes me happy to know that they were pleased enough with my work to want more.
Is there a mold, doll, or company that you prefer to work on?
I’m thrilled when people send me Iplehouse or Switch. I’d love to paint some Spiritdolls and some more Alice in Labyrinths and Leekeworld molds. (Leeke Mihael is a personal weakness.) Definitely dolls who have prominent features tickle my inspiration. I’m working on a minimee commission soon that happens to be Gerard Way again (the client saw my modded Glen and is a fan of the band.) They approached me with their head and I was like ‘Yes! Gimme!’ I love the potential for realism in a mold. On the flipside, I’d love to work on some more concept dolls. They’re always such a challenge. And I’d be stoked to have some Doll Chateau sent my way.
Do you prefer working on male or female dolls? Why?
Definitely male dolls. I just think I understand the aesthetics of masculine beauty better than I do with females. I have very particular ideals when it comes to female beauty and they’re not always the preferred aesthetic, so I don’t enjoy painting girls quite as much.
What is your background? Have you had any special schooling (art school, sculpture, painting, etc)?
I come from a long line of artists and have spent many years working in mediums like pastel and watercolor and oil. I did a lot of portrait and character study illustration and dabbled in sculpting but I’m not professionally trained. A lot of it is self-taught. All of that definitely funneled into my work on BJDs.
When you were a child did you ever work on dolls or create with similar things?
My mom used to draw paper dolls for me of my favorite characters from movies. I used to take pictures of my Star Wars figures and I had a habit of customizing this one Barbie mold repeatedly—he was a Disney Beauty & the Beast Mattel Ken doll with long routed hair, which was so rare on the doll market that I bought like five of him and dyed his hair black (not very successfully) to make into a variety of my male characters because they were all androgynous gothy boys. So yeah, the seed was always there.
Do you have any other interests that might have helped you in your development of customizing ABJD (like customizing other dolls, action figures, etc)? Please tell us about them.
Aside from my frumpy foray into dying Ken’s hair, I never really got into the customizing scene. What I wanted to do was sculpt dolls, but I never got that far. Instead I used sculpey to create character busts and studies of my OCs. I built the wire armature and sculpted their bodies on bases and worked long and hard on facial likenesses and creating the clothes—all in sculpey. Then I’d bake them in the oven and airbrush them as a finish as if they were my own personal garage model kits. I wanted to actually make molds and cast a few, but was too terrified to try for fear of destroying the original.
Do you have any other interests? Collections?
I sold all of my other collections to afford my BJDs. But I am a cosplayer, more for the sake of creating good in-character images than crafting costumes because I can’t sew. For me cosplay is about pulling off a likeness, and I get very make-up intensive, especially with female-to-male makeup. It’s like painting faceups on humans.
What factors do you consider before giving a doll its make-up so it will have the expression you want?
If I’m aware of the doll’s character, that’s the most important part going in. Who is this character? Are they sweet and innocent? Seductive? Devious? What’s their story? From there I can apply the necessary tricks and techniques to achieve that in the face.
For instance, I turned my Migidoll Ryu—usually a very smiley and gentle looking mold—into a deviously sinister bastard with a God-complex. That was a challenge and required careful consideration of where to place the brows especially and how much shading to apply in order to give him that clever, glaring gaze. (In his case, I couldn’t follow the natural contour of his face because that would have thrown the look and made him too soft.) I also turned his nice smile into a smirk. Of course camera angles really bring his personality through, but a lot of thought went into just how to create his persona in his faceup.
Are there any painting techniques that can make a face look more masculine or feminine?
Certainly. Masculinity often resides in the brows in my faceups. I love manbrows—they’re so much fun to paint and they give the mold a strong though still very attractive guise of masculinity. I used to never be a fan of a thicker brow on a BJD, but done naturally; being conscious of shape and shading and the direction the hairs flow can really make for some striking guys. Another thing I do often, but only on faceups that require more realism—are sideburns. I paint them. With Gerard especially a great part of his likeness (and this I know from cosplaying as well with female-to-male makeup) are his sideburns. The difference it makes in capturing his likeness on the doll and in the doll’s photos is pretty staggering. I think with realistic faceups it can look odd to have the wig lift and there’s no sideburns, suddenly they look bald or like they’re wearing a wig and not in a good way, so I started doing the sideburn effect when I re-modded my Bertram and I was really pleased with how it presented.
As for girls, I try to go heavier on the lips. If they’re wearing lipstick I try to make it seem like there’s skin under there so it’s not one solid color. I enjoy blushing for that reflection of realism. It worked very well for my Iple Carina who has a very intense goth faceup to put the fleshtone blush under her makeup just made her look more alive. I also go more delicate on the eyes, I aim for fancier, elegant eyelashes and just an all around more manicured look. I think with all the androgyny in the BJD world, you can walk a fine line between a female and a male faceup, and while it’s certainly easy to make the pretty boys, I have to be careful to avoid the manly women unless it’s called for.
How long does it usually take to do a face-up (or custom alteration job)?
My turn-around time for customers usually depends on things like my schedule (I can normally only work on weeknights after work since I travel on weekends) and weather usually plays a factor as annoying as that is. The actual work is usually 5-6 hours for a normal faceup without incident. If mods are added, than another few nights worth of work to provide for sanity checks and drying time.
Can you offer any helpful hints to the amateur face-up artists? Can you recommend a list of supplies including colors, paints & pastels etc?
Patience and thought definitely. Not so much stringent planning as sourcing inspiration. Before I begin any faceup I like to scroll through tons of my fave BJD photos from other artists and collectors whose dolls or work I admire. I sort of pinpoint what it is I love, what sorts of aesthetics speak to me, what kinds of details or styles will make doing a faceup that much more for me. I find it makes all the difference between doing a faceup (even a good one) and doing a faceup that really makes me happy with my work.
As for supplies:
Rembrandt Chalk Pastels
Liquitex Acrylic Paint
Liquitex High Gloss Varnish
Liquitrex Slo-Dri Fluid Retarder
Derwent Watercolour Pencils
Liquitex Acrylic Gesso (for scars)
Mr. Super Clear Flat (MSC)
Aleene’s Clear Gel Tacky Glue
Amazing Sculpt Modeling Compound (for additive mods)
Dawn Dish Detergent (for cleaning resin)
Windsor & Newton Brush Cleaner (for faceup removal)
Do you have a favorite medium you like to work with when not creating for BJDs in your spare time?
I’d love to get back to drawing and painting, but there is no such thing as spare time in my life anymore, so when I have a moment, I’m working on BJDs or my photography.
How long have you been doing face-ups/customizing BJDs?
What is your biggest inspiration for your face-ups and customizations?
It helps when I’m in the groove, so to speak. When my fingers are sort of itching to work. I know when I’m not into it, I’m just not going to produce as well, or I’m going to make stupid mistakes. Inspiration wise, like I said, I love to scroll through my trove of favorite BJD pictures and just sort of absorb techniques and styles that speak to me depending on the doll I’m about to work on, then I apply it and see where it takes me.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share for people that want to learn how to do what you do or just want to improve? Something that’s helped you a lot or something that you think is important to know when doing a successful customization/face-up?
When I first started, it was about just doing the faceup—getting the color on there, getting the eyebrows even, all symmetry and straight lines and how all the tutorials said to do it. Which is definitely an invaluable way to learn, but there comes a point where you want to break away from that (at least for me). So now it’s more about really knowing what I want to do as an artist, what sort of comfort zones I’d like to push, what techniques I want to try, what it is I need to improve on. I’m constantly looking to get better and to really be able to have a style that’s ‘me’ but at the same time, is always developing. I think that’s important—to just never be completely satisfied, to always want to improve, and not just with skill but in vision. I really admire vision; it’s a big part of what makes this whole hobby exciting for me.
Thanks Lachlana for the interview! I appreciate it!