Interview with Sheena Aw from Caramelaw

Sheena Aw never ceases to amaze us with her bright and colorful world. A mix of sweet and kawaii characters, pastel candy colors and cute morbid motifs. Her background in the graphics media has helped her establish a unique signature in the dolly world. Influenced by Zombuki’s early Pullip doll customizations and the Japanese decora subculture, Sheena developed her own complete style, where she does not only customized the doll, but also all accessories and stand. An energetic and amazing inspiration for all Blythe doll lovers.

I still remembered buying my first Blythe doll and it was a Simply Mango. I fell in love with her instantly, after which I moved into making candy colored Blythe dolls.

Sheena Aw / Caramelaw

DollyCustom posed 12 questions to Sheena about her history as a customizer, her process and techniques. Here are those questions:

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I am a video editor/motion graphics artists by day and a candy land illustrator by night! 
I am based in Singapore. Cute + morbid best describes my art. I have done work for Hasbro, DC Comics, and many others. 
I started customizing Pullip dolls at first. That was about 6 years ago. I still remembered buying my first Blythe doll and it was a Simply Mango. I fell in love with her instantly, after which I moved into making candy colored Blythe dolls.

Sheena Aw / Caramelaw working on her custom dolls.

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

I started out with collecting Pullip dolls at first. An ex colleague of mine, collected Blythe dolls. She was the one who introduced me to the world of big headed Blythes! I remember feeling rather amused with their eyemechs and that head of theirs could contain up to 4 pairs of eye chips. She brought one of her Blythes to the office and I was playing with it, it was then I told her I’d like to purchase my very first Blythe. It was just in time because she pre-ordered a pair of Simply Guava and Mango and she only wanted to keep Guava. 
That started my Blythe craze, my very first Blythe doll, a Simply Mango. 🙂

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

I’ve been customizing for about 6 years now and my initial style was very much influenced by Zombuki dolls. 
It was only after about 1 year+ before I came up with the Caramelpops face paint style. After exploring different techniques, paint types, brushes, and testing that took another few years before it got to the present stage.

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

It started out as a hobby but I am trying to explore ways to turn this professional. 
For now, I’ll take this as a side line. My main job is still a video editor/illustrator.

What is your creative process like? Do you plan your custom dolls from start to finish or just go with the flow?

It usually starts with a rough idea in my head, which I then do a sketch on paper to ensure placements of characters are right and balanced. After which I will start sketching the confirmed idea onto the face of the Blythe doll in a yellow-highlighter pencil. Selection of color palettes usually comes up as I started painting so I don’t really plan for that. I find it more flexible and exciting because I never know how the end result would turn out to be.

What is your favorite part of this process and your least favorite?

My least favourite would definitely be prepping the Blythe doll face plates before customizing. The taking apart, the sanding and carving, those take up a lot of time. Though I do start to enjoy a little more when I start painting them. Dressing and decorating the outfits is my favourite part, it helps to enhance the doll even more when it’s done right.

Video taken from Caramelaw’s Facebook Page

How long does it take you to customize one doll? Do you do one at a time or multiple?

I usually prep a couple of dolls and have them ready, all stacked up aside so I have ready to paint dolls when the mood kicks in. I usually like to work on one doll at a time so it keeps me focused. But sometimes I do make more than one doll, it really depends.

Where do you work on your dolls? Do you have a dedicated workplace?

Yes, I do! I work in my tiny space at home. I have 2 desks, one for computer work, the other for craft/dolly work. Everything I need is within reach and I have everything I need there. Check out this blog post I made from awhile back, you can have a better idea of how my workspace looks like.

Sheena Aw / Caramelaw work station
Sheena Aw / Caramelaw work station

How would you characterise your style?

I would describe my doll style to be more Japan’s kawaisa and decora culture, much like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Super colourful and weird yet oddly satisfying at the same time.

What are your favorite tools? What is your favorite Blythe mould to customize?

My favorite mold would have to be RBL. I feel the shape is nicer, the eyes are big and proportionate to the face size and shape. Also, it’s easy to open up as well without having to bring out the hardcore tools like saws and drills. My favorite tool would be my flat screwdriver! Whether it’s opening up a head or taking off scalps or eye mechs, this little tool does wonders.

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

Well, there are a few factors leading to my doll prices. I only use genuine new Takara Blythe doll for customizing and will usually send the stock outfit/hair back to the buyer. My custom service also includes the full outfit, stand, and toys that matches well with the art doll. I need to take into consideration on what buyers would get for the price they are paying. 
Also, I only work on my dolls after work in the evening, which means I also need to factor in my time spent making these dolls as an artist. 
It takes a lot of time, patience, hard work and sacrificing sleep time to make these babies.

For the beginner customizer, what advice would you give them?

It’s really a lot to learn but most importantly, enjoy the journey and don’t stress out! Some may take longer than others but fret not, because you’ll get there some how. It’s all about the learning process, making mistakes and eventually finding out what your style truly is. ?

Six years into customizing Blythe dolls, Sheena has currently one of the most iconic styles. With more than 70 custom Blythe dolls all around the world she keeps faithful to the style she developed and is known for. Make sure to check her profile page and follow her work through social media.