Interview with Juan Jacobo Vaz from Dr. Blythenstein

The famous creator of the yarn head Blythe doll Juan Jacobo Vaz let us peek into his creative life. With an unmatched style, Dr.Blythenstein is one of the most original Blythe doll customizers that has set the tone for extreme customizing. Keep reading to learn more about how he came across these dolls and how he does this professionally today.

Be true to yourself, when things are REALLY made from the heart, the customers see the difference. Put attention to the details, be kind generous and enjoy the process of creating.

Juan Jacobo Vaz / Dr.Blythenstein

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

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

My name is Juan and I am from Mexico. I am 38 years old. I studied Graphic Design and later Illustration. I have 2 dogs. I worked 10 years in the publishing business before I devoted myself to customizing Blythe full time.

I am better known as Dr.Blythenstein. This nickname came really as a joke before people would say my customs were so extreme I was kind of a Frankenstein + Blythe this is how the nickname came from. At one time I changed it people got mad because they were already used to it so I had to take it back I was already too recognizable in the community by that name.

Juan Jacobo Vaz aka Dr.Blythenstein
Juan Jacobo Vaz aka Dr.Blythenstein

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

I discovered Blythe in 2006 but it took me around 8 months to buy one. I started collecting dolls on 2004 and on 2006 I was looking for a wig to do a custom doll and I needed one. I discovered on eBay a seller that was selling “Blythe” wigs. I wrote him curious about the size of this Blythe doll. later I discovered blogs and boards about her which made me curious. I discovered many people like me who were illustrators and also had fun with Blythe customizing her. This is what made me love her, her potential to be customized this is what I wanted her for. Finally in March 2007 arrived my first Blythe doll. A Piccadilly Encore. She was being customized one hour after being received.

From the Blythe world, the one that inspires me most is not a customizer is, in fact, a doll fashion designer, Eurotrash. I love her use of colors and organic work. I am mostly inspired by naive artists like Mary Blair, or illustrators from the 60’s and 70’s.

Juan Jacobo Vaz / Dr.Blythenstein

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

However, if we are talking about “Yarn Heads” in general the style emerged very early.  I received my first Blythe in March 2007 the first Yarn Head was born in September of that same year, since then Yarn Heads became my signature in the community. It is true that extreme customization defines my style in the customization. My dolls started to be produced more frequently until 2010 when very slowly I started quitting graphic design jobs and get more into doll commissions. Since then it is true that every character now has gone through an evolution but their style is more or less the same and very recognizable.

Dr.Blythenstein's Yarn Heads
Dr.Blythenstein’s Yarn Heads

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

Professionally. This is my way of life and I LOVE IT! and I take it very seriously with a devotion it’s almost unreal and obsessive.

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

There are dolls I have had in my mind for years but don’t have time to do but when I decide to them the concept and goes very neat through all the process and I have clear what to do. Because this idea is very solid on my mind and I know exactly what to do. 
However, there are some dolls that I came with an idea that I got in that day and I go with the flow because I don’t know the direction that the execution will take me and if technically will work well. I had that idea in that second and I have to do it right away. I stop doing the doll that is very clear and I jump to a doll that is a fresh idea. I really need to create a very different spectrum of dolls otherwise I get bored. I don’t work well with limitations. My mind is very very active and sometimes even euphoric so I have an urge to need and create new things constantly.

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

Favorite is probably when the doll is finished, sent and received by a new owner to enjoy and that doll will make this person happy and satisfied. Giving this doll to a customer that is not capable to do what you do and appreciates your art is terribly satisfying. So yay! for a doll finished and well received. Making people HAPPY through my work is my favorite part!

The least favorite part of the process I would say so is selling… dealing with a customer or friend deceived because didn’t win the doll. Also making listings of a doll and having to deal with money and those real-world facts and numbers that are actually annoying for artists. I mean it’s necessary obviously but these are emotions related to competition. 
Pricing a work like my dolls where I put most of the time of my life makes me uncomfortable. If your work is true to yourself and you are really making something from your heart you are not selling car parts or oranges you are selling your IDEAS, TIME and EMOTIONS. (…and these are things that never come back in a lifetime.) 
The time of selling is the time of an evaluation kind of like a school test, so you feel you were approved or not. I would say selling is my least favorite part.

Juan sitting in a desk painting a faceplate
Juan sitting in a desk painting a faceplate

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

It really depends on the complexity of the doll, but I would say the average for a doll to be complete is 8 months. There have been dolls that have taken me 2 years to finish.

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

I work in my studio. It’s a larger place that has all the practical tools I need, my computer and toys and Blythes.

Juan Jacobo Vaz's workplace
Juan Jacobo Vaz’s workplace

How would you characterize your style?

My style is bold and graphic, childish and with a preference for fantasy themes. I would like to think my dolls are all characters that come out of a children’s book.

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

My favorite tools are acrylic paints and yarn. My favorite mold to customize is RBL or RBL+.

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

Experience dealing with customers and how the market moves. 
The hours I put into each doll, the complexity of each doll, etc. 
But what has been MOST important is going into Blythecons and seeing other artists doll in real life Mostly all dolls look slightly different from what you see on the internet. Is very difficult to judge dolls only from the web. The pictures you see on the web are just vague when compared to seeing the doll in real life. 
When you see the work in person you see it and think… “Oh, my this amount of detail doesn’t get captured on a photograph when I see it! or.. oh this doll is so flat and boring.” I think these meetings have been very important regarding how you calculate the price of your dolls and estimate your work.

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

  • Buy the best possible art materials you can afford. The quality of this difference is evident in all ways and even more with the pass of time.
  • Get inspired by very different things like nature, art, photography, cooking. etc. If you get inspired only by seeing the Blythe world itself you will end up looking like another Blythe artist. Pic a random theme/concept and incorporate it to Blythe…see it as a challenge!
  • Go to the meetings, Blythecons, talk to people be participant and dynamic.
  • Do things truly for fun not just trying to sell. Be true to yourself, when things are REALLY made from the heart, the customers see the difference. Put attention to the details, be kind generous and enjoy the process of creating.

Juan Jacobo Vaz has been delighting us for the past 10 years with his yarn head Blythe dolls. He mixes and matches different materials to create an amazing doll that once was seen as an extreme customization.

Today, his work is seen as one of the most originals and recognizable out there and we hope he keeps doing them for many years to come.

Don’t forget to check his profile and to follow him in the social media to keep up with his work.