When it comes to the world of toys, there are few things that are as mysterious and beautiful as Ball Jointed Dolls. Ever since accidentally stumbling upon LaTidoll a few years back and finding myself completely enamoured, I've stood on the fringes of the Ball Jointed Doll (or BJD) community like a child peering through a window -- perhaps too intimidated to venture inside just yet, but fascinated just the same.
I had the pleasure of meeting American BJD creator Natalie Wood at Florida Supercon recently, who creates her own dolls under the moniker of LadySaiyuki. Finally, I thought -- a chance to learn more about these dolls from a knowledgeable source and perhaps find the courage to finally purchase my first doll! Natalie was happy to oblige, and if you hit the jump you too can learn more about these iconic and beguiling collectibles.
Tomopop: At one time, the only way to get a ball-jointed doll was to import one, which is certainly not a warm welcome for people interested to get into collecting them. Tell me what inspired you to start creating them here in America and how long you have been doing so.
LadySaiyuki: Well for me, I had been in the fandom for many years and I was working as a toy maker for a company called Jazwares (I was head of all girl properties at the company) at the time. It made me upset about how rare some of these dolls were and how hard some of them were to get. After talking to one of my coworkers on the difficulties of making BJD's, he helped me realize that I could do this on my own and that I didn't need to just be a buyer of BJD's, and so when I moved across state and left my life as a professional toy maker, I made a decision to be my own toy maker. And thus my life as an Asian Styled Ball jointed doll maker began. I've now been doing it for just over a year and a half.
Tomopop: Who is your favorite BJD maker?
LadySaiyuki: Without a doubt my favorite maker is Volks. They were the very first Resin - Asian styled ball jointed doll makers (they are known as the "grandfather of Resin ABJD's). I own more than 25 Volks dolls.
Tomopop: How long does it take to create a doll? What materials do you like to use (and do you use different ones than companies such as Volks, Elfdoll, etc?)
LadySaiyuki: This is a bit of a complicated question … as each different doll mold took a different amount of time … as the original creation of the Clay prototype sculpt can take anywhere between 2 weeks and 4 months … depending on what you're going for. But the fullsets casts can take about a week of work each …. or as little as 2 days work. As for materials, I originally started out using Alumilite for test casts, but that left too many imperfections, so I turned to using what most of the companies use: Poly Urethane Resin. It's pretty standard and all the big companies use this type of resin.
Tomopop: Do you feel your dolls would fit in perfectly with Asian-created BJD, or do you feel they have a style that distinctly differs them from the Asian-created dolls?
LadySaiyuki: hmmm…I do believe my dolls fall under the blanket style of Asian Styled Ball jointed dolls (if they didn't fit in with the Asian Esthetic, my dolls wouldn't have been allowed on DenOfAngels, the Worlds largest English speaking doll forum) …but my dolls look completely different from that which is already out there and has my own unique style in my opinion.
Tomopop: A lot of collectors who become interested in BJD seem to comment on how expensive they are to collect. For people who are daunted by the price, can you help to inform them about why the dolls are priced as they are?
LadySaiyuki: Absolutely, I'd love to help shed light on their prices. All Asian styled BJD's are hand casted (due to what they are and how they are engineered, they have to be hand casted, as they can't be machine manufactured). It's a very time consuming piece of art. Casting alone can take up to 2 days for just one doll, and then you have to demold them and clean off all the mold release chemical and imperfections (as no mold is perfect - it's made out of silicon rubber, is handmixed and cured and can only last so long) and then drill out the holes (it's where the string gets run through the dolls) to make them more even, as it's rare that a cast comes with perfect hallowed out sections. Then there is clean up work removing remaining seam lines and prepping for faceups. Painting the doll and making it clothing and such comes next. Most of the eyes put into my dolls are handblown glass eyes rather than machine manufactured acrylic eyes. There is a lot of effort that goes into these dolls -- and not just my dolls, but the foreign ones as well. These dolls are NOT cheap plastic Barbies… they are high quality, handmade works of art.
Tomopop: That certainly helps to understand what we are paying for! Now,what can a collector expect to spend when they purchase their first large doll?
Lady Saiyuki: Well, if you want one from Japan, expect to pay upwards about $800-$1000.00 One of my large dolls would only range about $500 for the largest doll (my SD sized blank dolls are only about $395).
Tomopop: Have you created your dream doll yet? If not, what do you envision when you think of it?
Lady Saiyuki: Hehe….I have not created my dream doll as of yet. I'm currently putting him in the works, but he will be a 3 part project for me, although all will be the same person/doll. I'm a really big fan of the legend of Son Goku (The Monkey king that was bore from a rock…hence why I have a Pen name of LadySaiyuki, Saiyuki is a story of the journey to the west of the Monkey king and his companions) and I wish to make 3 different versions of him. I wish to make a little tiny 10 inch child version of him, a Monkey version of him with paws and tail and then a SD grown up version of the child Goku like I did with my Ted, who was the very first Bjd I made.
Technically it's 3 dolls, but being that they are the same person, I count it as one. I wish to make him very mobile compared to the dolls I have now (I plan to make his arms and legs double jointed ) as he is a Monkey King and monkeys are quite mobile and flexible. I want him to be the perfect Son Goku! I've already started on this project, but won't finish until October of 2009. I think it will be well worth the wait.
Tomopop: What's your advice for people who are interested in getting into the BJD scene but have no idea where to begin?
LadySaiyuki: Join a doll forum or two. The largest one is the DenofAngels forums.Then there is my forum on Ladysaiyuki, which is a relatively new forum and has less than 500 members (but it's growing and has lots of really nice people on there happy to help everyone). Resinality and Dolly Post are also good places to check out. They should also do their research, as you should look around a bit before you go spending lots of money on one of these things!
Tomopop: Thanks so much for your time. Looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future!