You heard me…
Many fashion doll collectors tend to stick to offerings directly from the manufacturer – some even venture into artist dolls. However, most fashion doll collectors experience original work through customization, as in re-painted faces or re-styling of the hair. A very precious few are bold enough to venture into complete doll makeovers, which can involve re-sculpting – a harrowing feat with mixed results in the wrong hands, glorious when rendered by a master (two of my favorites here and here). I’ve always felt that one should dabble a bit in acquiring, commissioning, and attempting makeover work, as it betters one’s understanding of the finishing touches that go into doll making – but most of all, because it results in something that is completely one-of-a-kind – something that no one else owns. That’s a bit of a hand-job to the ego, and it’s a worthy feeling when it comes to the passion and emotional connection we fashion doll collectors place on our beauties.
But one-of-a-kind work can be elusive. Some artists have a devoted fan base of collectors, and when OOAK work is revealed, it sells out as fast as some limited edition releases that seems to always go to the same recipients. The same people, again and again, are the only ones who are able to acquire them – and not all of us can pay a Kingdom’s ransom for that rectal exam.
A mystery? Maybe – but it’s not too difficult to speculate how this occurs – we just go with it, and move on to another collecting opportunity while some companies continue to slowly die, constantly selling to the same people who will eventually bore. Moreover, they cannot find new life inside their burned-out base because of lack of innovation or expansion. As a result, the rest of the doll community has moved on to other makers. At least the OOAK work has a better explanation for selling out fast – there is only one available.
But collectors will always have true innovators in the midst that are striving toward bringing new and exciting options to the marketplace. Joshua David McKenney continues to offer his smaller scale Pidgin in customized versions that are all unique to the customer. Superdoll continues to work with vinyl and emerging new resin sculpts, bringing more and more manufactured innovation to its expanding audience. And as I discussed with my readers about Jozef Szekeres’ Glamour Oz Dolls, not all have given up entirely on plastic.
Despite the fact that plastics and polymers take much longer, and exponentially more upfront cash to bring about – they are not dead materials for doll-making quite yet. Methinks emerging advancements in personal 3-D printing will see even more doll-making options to artist AND collectors!
So when I learned that Joey Versaw was blending manufacturing and one-of-a-kind artistry into an exciting new project – naturally, I was hungry for more info.
Well…not quite like that…however – I’ve always loved Joey’s work since first seeing his creations – and still believe his Mary Magpie is one of the most original and innovative concepts in fashion doll history. That’s a bold claim, but when you examine the inspiration and execution of Versaw’s Mary Magpie doll – one can’t help but to feel transported beyond the rabbit hole, and into a realm of acid-induced colors, dynamic expressions, and a touch of nostalgia all-in-one.
Joey Versaw has explored the realm of 3-D print art dolls, and dabbled in many variations of his female characters; but it was his creation of an all-male, gay-themed ensemble cast that brought cohesion to his First Love Collection.
Versaw drew upon personal experience to develop the character stories in First Love, each resulting in a bold and unique artist doll for collectors seeking something outside the norm. It’s collectors like these that drive artists like Versaw and others to break the mold, and usher in the ‘new’. And as we see with the most edgy of fashion designers, these doll artists are creating what most collectors will see in the future as ‘mainstream’.
Gene Marshall comes to mind here – Mel Odom’s unique doll vision was so innovative at the time – but today, she seems like a normal part of our doll compendium. Anime styles in Asian BJDs are no different – and yet now – that look of huge eyes and exaggerated features seems everywhere.
Joey Versaw was born in 1978 (the year of the horse), and he is easily characterized for his love of dolls. The three-dimensional collaboration of sculpture and painting was art personified in Versaw; a ‘Mona Lisa’ that could be re-dressed and posed. Despite a disapproving parent restricting access to dolls as toys for a young boy, Joey creatively found a solution by creating his own paperdolls. Weekend visits with his grandmother offered a magical escape. She taught Versaw to sew – and together, they crafted Barbie clothes together.
But all-too-soon, it was time to return to the ‘normal’ world of He-Man and G.I.Joe (though it was easy to see how these also affected the emerging creativity within this artist). At 16, Versaw rebelled, taking to his path as a dollmaker, never looking back (except for inspiration).
Residing in a small Oregon town, he uses dolls to explore design, both in character sculpture, and in fashion realization, he brings all of the elements together into explosively fun and visually stimulating dolls of cutting-edge and retro stylings.
Tommydoll talked with Versaw about his journey in doll making, and as it has led to his new venture, ‘A little head’ – a marriage of rooted vinyl heads and pre-existing commercially made doll bodies.
Q: Let’s start with the obvious – ‘A little head’ – LOL…how does the sexual innuendo speak to your brand – is it the sense of naughty humor…or is there more?
A: How did I know that question was going to be asked? Haha! I am a fan of tongue and cheek, what can I say? Simply put, I felt it was not only literal being a little head, but also it is the head that makes the doll in my opinion. I felt it was simple enough that it would be memorable and even get some giggles out of it. I definitely had worries that it might offend; but hey, I make gay dolls! The audience who would be offended is the same audience who wouldn’t buy my gay dolls so there you go.
Q: How do you feel that some people would consider ‘gay’ offensive – as a gay man and an artist – when most of us considered being gay just another type of normal?
A: We as a LGBT community have for sure taken huge leaps in becoming accepted in mainstream society. Growing up as an OUT teen in the 90’s I experienced a much different world than the teens of today experience and I am so proud and happy to have been a part of that fight to bring equality as far as it has come. Unfortunately there is still a backlash out there of people who do not support our community and those people are in every community including the doll world. So when I say there are people out there that are offended that I make gay dolls, I mean exactly that. So when the name ‘A little head’ was conceived I knew there may be some controversy but after much discussion with my colleagues we came to the conclusion that I am an adult artist who makes gay dolls so the audience who would be offended are not my audience in the first place.
Q: How does this translate into your wanting to tell ‘First Love’s’ stories?
A: ‘A little head’ will basically be singling out all of my characters from each line and focusing on each of the characters solo, exploring who they are as an individual. Each character introduced has a bio. So this vinyl run will take each character out of their respective line and story, and focus on just them. Eventually I will be doing “First Love” as a vinyl line but at the moment exploring who all my characters are singled out.
Q: How many of your classic characters will get vinyl treatment?
A: Really, it depends on the response I receive from the first release; however, I already have three more Sculpts in production as we speak. I would eventually like to have all my Sculpts done and even some new introductions!
Q: Take us through your process to give us ‘A little head’ from sculpt to vinyl pleasures, frustrations, and challenges…
A: Just as much as there are magical and incredible experiences within creating, there are also some frustrating and daunting road blocks. When I first started, 3-D printing was still in its infancy and many of the issues I originally had in the beginning are not as prominent today. The fun part is in the initial creating. I have always loved creating new characters (‘beings’, if you will). That is why I am still hand painting my dolls even though the Sculpts are factory-produced. It gives me so much joy to watch them come to life, each one, different; and to know I am the one creating them. That gives me more pleasure than I can express. And I love having tight control over my art as I have high expectations. I used to sculpt by hand in wax, and then have the wax form scanned – but these days I work a lot more with sketches and concepts, and have them sculpted in 3D.
Sculpting in 3D can be a very frustrating experience as what you see on the screen is not exactly what you will get in print. You have to learn to have an eye to know what you are doing while sculpting on a flat screen. For instance, the actual product will be thinner and a bit longer than what your eye sees on the screen. These are all learning curves, and take time and experience to perfect. After you are happy with a print result – it’s time to seek out a factory to produce them. There are many out there, but they also can be very difficult to find without help from somebody in-the-know within the industry. After finding the right factory willing to move forward with your project, you are so close to having your dream complete, you can smell it. However, this process can be very long and discouraging. There will be mistakes and production curves you did not even know existed so always make sure to be prepared to spend more than your original quote (‘cause believe me, you will).
After I approve the master mold and the final sample, we are in production! This process can vary in time but in most cases it takes about three months after your final review to have your product produced. The day finally comes and the heads are delivered! It’s exciting, but also stressful – hoping what you will find in the box is exactly like the samples you approved. In some cases it can vary, unfortunately. I quality-checked each and every one for perfection! Then comes hair styling and hand-painting. I originally planned on just selling the heads by themselves; thus the name “A little head“. However, after working with them through several incarnations, I realized since they were hand-painted it would be much easier to include a body for a full package. That being said, why not dress them, too? I decided it was the best and most complete vision of each doll. After years of hard work, it is the best feeling one can have to finally have a vision realized. I have wanted my own rooted doll since as long as I can remember.
Q: What is the price range and planned production numbers – of course, understanding the fact that each will be unique just by virtue of your hand-painting, alone.
A: I decided against offering customization or commissions for these very special offerings. They are way too limited at only 20 pieces each when broken up into the five hair colors that will be available. They will be numbered with a signed certificate and released in timed waves; starting with only 20 for this first release. They will be released as my full vision, and as a full dressed doll – each unique in character and fashion. Pricing begins at $125 and may increase depending on outfit complexity – however, it’s not expected any of the first releases will exceed $175.
Q: That’s wise…and gives you more control as an artist – do you feel that commissions can sometimes, although well-intended, lead away from your vision?
A: Definitely. I love doing special dolls for people and realizing their vision for them, but it certainly can take me away from my own vision. With this particular project being so limited, I wanted to solely focus on just that.
Q: Do you still have plans to pursue resin and/or vinyl/hard plastic? Or is 3-D printing serving your needs as a medium?
A: I still very much have plans for resin in the future, and definitely more vinyl. The 3D has helped me stand on my own two feet and launched me into doll history as the first 3D printed fashion doll artist which I will be eternally grateful for. And for that reason I will always offer Mary in 3D but most likely move on to other materials for new projects.
Q: ‘First Love’ is such a unique concept as is ‘Mary Magpie’ – where do you find the inspirations for these and other characters? How do you expect they will evolve?
A: Actually Mary and the First Love boys have been around with me since high school, and we won’t discuss how long that has been (cough, cough). They were a natural for me since I had already spent years developing their personas through napkin sketches and even paper dolls – ha ha! They naturally grew from so many things in my life from art, movies, experiences, and even my own family and friends. I know these characters – they were all very real people in my life. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was inspired very much by psychedelic and neon colors; but my heart was that of a hopeless romantic pouring myself into period books and movies which created an interesting and unique view of how I saw the world. As with most things in my world, my characters will evolve organically much as they were conceived (with just a touch of acid).
A: Actually yes, there already has been a comic project in the works for ‘First Love’. The first two issues are past storyboard phase, and are being fleshed out as we speak.
Q: You have a sense of style that speaks to retro themes, riotous colors, and exaggerated shapes – yet you are able to make them work in a concept that is so uniquely you. What are your thoughts in how you address product development?
A: First and foremost, I make what speaks to me. I have learned through the years that my biggest successes reside in fully recognizing my vision without listening to the outside twitter of how I should work or present myself. If anything I want my work to be honest and completely from me. Often, I sketch out my ideas and inspirations, then flesh them out from there.
It is definitely a love. When something comes to me and wants to be heard it will haunt me until I do something with it. A lot of times I will have reoccurring dreams about projects. I suffer from sleep paralysis so visions come naturally to me…LOL. Most all of my Sculpts already had a developed personality before they were completely realized.
Q: Other than ‘A little head’…what else are you working on now? Any surprises we’ll see in the coming year?
A: Yes I do have surprises up my sleeve including a fabulous joint venture in the works with my close friend Eric Tucker – a new, up-and-coming face in the doll world with talent beyond belief. Our venture is still in the very early stages but keep a close eye out on my Facebook/Twitter feed for more information on this new and exciting project! For this year, I am completely focused on ‘A little head’, and will soon be unveiling some new Mary Magpie incarnations for 2017 (which at this very moment the talented Ernesto Padró-Campos is photographing!).
A: I do have plans for travel in 2018. I look forward to attending many doll events, and I am so excited to meet so many doll friends in person!
Words I live by: “In the end, it is not the years in your life. It’s the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln ~
DOWNLOAD FIRST LOVE PAPERDOLLS – CLICK IMAGE BELOW (LARGE FILE – BE PATIENT)
DOWNLOAD FIRST LOVE PAPERDOLL OUTFITS – CLICK IMAGE BELOW (LARGE FILE – BE MORE PATIENT)