Customizer Spotlite: Helter Skelter

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?
I think Monster High dolls are cool, but the last thing I need is another collection. I do paint and draw and it definitely influences my faceup style. Mostly because I always think about natural proportions and lines and the anatomy of the face.

Have you ever refused a commission? Why? Or if not, can you think of a circumstance where you might?
I have never refused a commission. I would probably refuse a commission I felt bordered on unethical, or simple was unethical. Let’s say someone wanted me to customize a child-like doll in a sexually explicit way, or someone wanted racist or overtly hateful tattoos on their dolls. The first one is a definite no, and the last one is a gray area. The hate could be a part of a character or a story for the owner, and the owner may not condone the message of the tattoos. What if the character is repentant and the tattoos are meant to teach a lesson? That might be stretching it, but you’d be surprised at the kinds of stories we hear behind people’s characters. I guess it would depend on context. If it made me feel uncomfortable at all, I wouldn’t do it, especially if I felt the client really was hateful.

Is there something that is still difficult for you to do? What is the most difficult?

It’s weird, because I have some days where even the most simple things can become difficult. It’s a kind of “artist-block.” One day I sat at the table for two hours trying to do one of my dolls’ eyelashes. I got frustrated and put him away. I came back the next day and did them in less than fifteen minutes.

How important is customer feedback to your creative process?

Customer feedback is very important to me. I want to know exactly what the customer thinks, so if I’m doing something wrong, I can improve. It also can help me get the ball rolling on a project. If a client wasn’t exactly sure how to describe what they wanted, I will start with something basic. Then, I’ll show a them a progress picture. The client might say something like “Oh wow, the lips look so boyish; it’s just what I want!” Then, I’ll have a much better of where to go with the faceup. Conversely, they might say something like “I like it so far, but I wish the lips were more dramatic.” It helps me in the same way.

Is there a mold, doll, or company that you prefer to work on?

I really enjoy working on Dollshe dolls.

Do you prefer working on male or female dolls? Why?
I prefer working on male dolls. I think it’s just a personal aesthetic preference. I prefer to draw males as well.

What is your background? Have you had any special schooling (art school, sculpture, painting, etc)?
In high school, I took drawing and painting every year. In college, I took ceramics two semesters. I’ve always drawn and painted. I like sculpting, but I was horrible at the wheel.

When you were a child did you ever work on dolls or create with similar things?
I remember my sister and I made sets of paper dolls together on occasion. I sometimes drew on my dolls or cut their hair, but for the most part, I realized I actually made my dolls worse by giving them “make-overs.”

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.
I don’t think I ever really customized anything else. I sort of just dove in with ABJD.

Do you have any other interests? Collections?
I collect kimono and accessories. I am a writer and an avid reader. I play guitar, video games, and table top rpgs. I am very nerdy.

What factors do you consider before giving a doll its make-up so it will have the expression you want?
The most important factors to consider, in my opinion, are the doll’s features, what will look good on those features, and what the goal look is. For expressions, the location and fullness of the brows is very important. So, the dolls brow ridge and shape are extremely important.

Are there any painting techniques that can make a face look more masculine or feminine?

You can create certain effects by playing with the shape of features using contouring- using shadow and highlights to your advantage. Go to Youtube and watch a few drag makeup tutorials. I’m not even kidding.

How long does it usually take to do a face-up (or custom alteration job)?
Faceups can take hours. Customizations involving sculpting or sanding can take days. Major mods take even longer.

Can you offer any helpful hints to the amateur face-up artists? Can you recommend a list of supplies including colors, paints & pastels etc?

My best advice would be to just keep practicing. Take constructive criticism and ignore hateful people if you run into them. Supplies are easy to get. All you need is a sealant (Mr. Super Clear, Testors, etc.); a soft pastel of any brand will work but the better the pastel, the better the pigment; acrylic artist’s paints of any brand, and watercolor pencils are the basic tools you’ll need. Don’t forget a kneader eraser, a click eraser, an exacto knife, and a few brushes ranging in sizes and shapes (I like chisel brushes and rounds).

Do you have a favorite medium you like to work with when not creating for BJDs in your spare time?
I actually prefer to write more than I prefer to do any other type of art, but I do still sketch and paint sometimes.

How long have you been doing face-ups/customizing BJDs?
I’ve been doing them for about two years now. I only started taking commissions outside of my friends late last year.

What is your biggest inspiration for your face-ups and customizations?

For me, it’s always been characters of mine from the novels I’m writing. I like to bring them to life. I also love to look at avant-garde photography and runway couture for inspiration.

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?
The biggest thing that’s helped me has been just practicing. I just kept doing it and trying to get better. Don’t give up. I remember the first mod I did was on a head I got from another fantastic collector. It had been a practice head and the mouth and part of the cheeks were gone, the ears were drilled and sanded down unevenly, part of the nose was damaged. I was okay with it because I just wanted to practice modding. I did what I wanted, realized it wasn’t that great, then made it a silly joke, because hey, it was not so good. Why take it seriously? I thought it was fairly obvious this thing was meant to be silly, but someone took it and put it up on a site for others to make fun of (In fact, the person who posted the picture to the site screen-capped my Flickr photostream so that the description saying the mod was bad and it was just a joke was cut off). Did I let it get to me? Nope. If they didn’t get the joke, if they needed to misrepresent me so others could laugh, too bad for them. So what if a practice mod was not great? It was meant for practice, not to be something great. I just kept right on going and practicing, and now I think I’m doing okay. Don’t let negativity like that get to you. Take constructive criticism, by all means, but bullies don’t even deserve a response.

Closing Comments (anything you’d like to tell us)?
I remember being 12 and selling all of my barbies at a garage sale. A lady told me no one was ever too old for dolls. I guess she was right.

Thanks Helter Skelter for your time and the interview!

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