Even though Mayra has only been in the doll customization world since 2015, she was able to develop a style and portfolio that is already worthy of showcasing in our interview series. Her background as an educator and sharp observation skills of child expressions gave her the tools to develop her style. Perfectionist and insightful, she gives herself totally to one doll until
Watch tutorials but also keep in mind that everyone does things differently. Focus on finding your own unique style and pushing your own skills. Don’t be afraid to discover new tools or techniques. Find inspiration in other’s work while still being authentic.Mayra Galland
DollyCustom posed 12 questions to Mayra Galland about her history as a customizer, her process, and techniques. Here are those questions:
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Mexico, where I have a degree in Early Childhood Education. I worked as a Kindergarten teacher until I moved to the U.S. where I’ve been living for the past 12 years since I married my husband who is from here. We have two children (daughter – 6 yrs, son – 8 yrs) and two miniature dachshunds. I enjoy staying at home, raising and homeschooling my kids and working on art projects in my spare time. We live in Texas now and love it here, but we had to spend almost 5 years in Alaska where the long winters and the solitude made me cling on to my art and hobbies. I consider myself an extrovert and I thrive on social interaction, so discovering the doll community online was an oasis for me. It pretty much saved me from going crazy during that difficult season!
When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?
I have been an artist and a crafter my whole life. Before I started customizing dolls, I was drawing photorealistic pencil portraits on a commission basis, my forte has always been children's faces because having worked with small children for so many years, I have always been captivated by their facial features and innocence, but I also like reminiscing on my happy childhood. I grew up playing with dolls and have always been into toys and miniatures. When I was in Alaska, I developed a love and fascination with photography and spent a lot of time taking photos of nature, wildlife, and the aurora borealis.
So, a few years ago, I kept running into these amazing custom Blythe dolls on Flickr, and I just had to learn everything about them. I dug further, getting on Pinterest and joining some Facebook groups where I met some wonderful and very helpful people who introduced me to customizing. As soon as I saw the different dolls and all the endless possibilities, I knew we were meant to be. It was like my lifelong love for dolls, my hunger for art and my enthusiasm for photography funneled into one fulfilling passion!
How long did it take for your style to emerge?
I always felt drawn to younger looking dolls with pouty and innocent faces from the beginning, so that’s the style I’m going for. I guess by the time I worked on my fourth custom, I started seeing the babyish, chubby look I was aiming for. I’m always trying to get as realistic as possible because I’m obsessed with the unrealistic proportions of Blythe: big head, big eyes, and how they just blend so well with realistic features: lips, skin textures, expressions; my biggest inspiration are my own children. Also, because I love photography so much, I try to create girls that are not just meant to be on a shelf, but that are fun to photograph too.
Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?
It was always my plan to do it as a hobby, but as people started taking an interest in my work and I discovered how easy it was for me to spread the joy of dolls by sharing my talents, I guess you can say it turned into a profession. Plus, being able to help my husband financially support our little family doing something I’m passionate about has been an unexpected benefit.
What is your creative process like? Do you plan your custom dolls from start to finish or just go with the flow?
With the dolls in my own personal collection I do. I can lose sleep over this! I know what color hair she’ll have, what design I’ll paint on her eyelids, what her pull-charms will be, etc. Sometimes, I feel inspired and envision other dolls that won’t end up in my collection; however, when one of my clients gives me 100% freedom of creativity I draw inspiration from those ideas.
Because I’ve been working mostly on a commission basis and most of my dolls have been special requests, I’ve been enjoying materializing other people’s ideas as well. Once I start working on a girl, I allow her to guide me wherever she wants to go and I let the style flow on its own as well. So I’m flexible.
What is your favorite part of this process and your least favorite?
My favorite part is the planning and the process: carving, makeup, painting. Especially the finishing touches when I start seeing her come to life. I always have music when I work so the creative process is very relaxing for me. My least favorite part is closing her and encountering eye mechanism problems. Like, everything is there, it just needs to be put together and she’s ready to meet the world but all of a sudden something is not working properly. Trying to figure out how to fix it can be a real pain!
How long does it take you to customize one doll? Do you do one at a time or multiple?
Because of my family’s dynamic, I work around my husband’s schedule – so it depends. If I sit down for a full day’s work and I don’t have to wait for any supplies or any parts in the mail, I can finish a doll in under a week. Once I start something, it’s very very difficult for me to pause. I’ll only work on more than one doll at the same time if the weather isn’t cooperating and I can't-do make up or spray. In those instances, I’ll start carving a second or third doll and then color them at the same time whenever the weather improves. If I’m already focused on just one girl and the weather is ideal, I’ll keep going until I finish her.
Where do you work on your dolls? Do you have a dedicated workplace?
We live in a small 2 bedroom apartment so my space is limited, but I do have a designated corner workspace that I’m very fond of! I call it my “happy place”. Some people have asked me how I turn off the “work” switch and go to sleep in the same room at night but it hasn’t been a problem for me. Maybe that’s cliche, but
Mayra Galland's workplace.
How would you characterize your style?
Realistic, baby-like, innocent but somewhat mysterious. Girls that convey an “I’m here for you” message to their moms but also have a “secretive” personality that you have to unveil yourself.
What are your favorite tools? What is your favorite Blythe mold to customize?
My favorite tools are TOOLS! Seriously, all the tools, I’m all about them. From wood-carving knives and spongy sand paper to high-quality pastels, sealers and dental picks to insert eyelashes!
I have come to appreciate manicure tools and jewelry files too. Anything that I can put to use, I’ll try to use. My husband is a craftsman and a tool fanatic so he’s always on the lookout for new and interesting stuff. He also keeps my carving knives razor sharp.
My favorite mold would have to be the older RBL releases with the really thick faceplates and so much room to work on. I also adore the looks of the FBL mold, with the smaller eye sockets and babyish faces.
How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?
This has probably been the most challenging part for me in this customizing journey because I never intended to do it for other people. I started doing it for myself purely for fun, but as my skills improved and the demand increased, I had to evaluate my tight schedule and take the pricing aspect more seriously.
Originally, I set a price for the basic custom service but realized that, as some clients have special requests or commission more than one doll at a time, prices need to be constantly evolving along with the artistry.
Price is a tricky aspect to navigate but, basically, I want to let the market dictate how much my dolls are worth so eventually I plan on doing an auction or two and let collectors decide.
For the beginner customizer, what advice would you give them?
- Practice, practice, practice. Don’t get too ambitious right away. Take it easy, do it for the love of art and let the process lead you. Research, join groups and forums, ask questions, take advice and don’t take constructive criticism negatively. Invest in good quality tools and materials if you’re serious about it. (Don’t forget about safety: dust masks for carving and gas masks for spraying sealants are a must!)
- Watch tutorials but also keep in mind that everyone does things differently. Focus on finding your own unique style and pushing your own skills. Don’t be afraid to discover new tools or techniques. Find inspiration in other’s work while still being authentic.
- I am an unapologetic perfectionist (which can be a blessing and a curse), and I strongly believe that if I can see a flaw on a doll I’ve made, everyone else can see it too. Don’t allow yourself to ignore something that bothers you now because it will continue to bother you later. And last but not least, take every mistake as a learning experience.
Taking the time to learn and experiment and giving your hole heart and soul in the process pays off. This is the work of Mayra, in two years she managed to get way ahead in the quality of her work and what she brings to the customization world. As she says "Practice, practice, practice", try new tools, be inspired by others, but follow your own authentic self.
Don't forget to follow Mayra's work by following her on social media. Check her profile to have access to all this information.
- Dolls: 43+
- Started: 2015
- How to Purchase: Direct contact via Facebook Page or Instagram.
- Favorite Customizers: "There are too many to name! The number of talented people in the community never ceases to amaze me and seeing everyone’s unique style and creativity is amazingly inspiring!"