As a Blythe doll collector or customizer, you have surely come across the Calavera Blythe. Today you are meeting her original creator – Kat Caro from Melancholy Kitties. She’s one of the original Blythe doll customizers who started over 15 years ago. Not many people were making Blythe customs those days, so she soon gained a reputation in that area.
Researching methods and tool is incredibly important, but so is practice. Give yourself time to figure things out and make mistakes and develop a style.Kat Caro / Melancholy Kitties
DollyCustom posed 12 questions to Kat Caro 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 freelance artist living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA with my husband and two sons. I currently work as a Production Design Teacher in a children’s theater company where I also build sets, props, and puppets.
When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?
I remember reading an article about Blythe in an issue of Barbie Bazaar in 2001 and falling in love with her. I have always collected toys and miniatures, so I remember keeping an eye out for her at flea markets even then. In 2003 or 2004, I found some dolly blogs and the “This is Blythe” forum and bought my first Takara Blythe. It was a really great little active community, everyone was very eager to share information and resources and, of course, pictures. I was already customizing other dolls like Dollfies and ball joint dolls, so I started to experiment with my Blythes pretty quickly.
How long did it take for your style to emerge?
I began customizing ball joint dolls first and they were really inseparable from the gothic lolita trend in Japan, so I think that I carried that over to Blythe. I started sewing clothes for Blythe and ball joint dolls in 2004 with Melancholy Kitties and it was all very dark and sweet from the very beginning: a lot of lace, ruffles and corsets. I was taking commissions to paint dolls as well, though I’m not sure that work was really very recognizable before I started painting “Dia de Los Muertos” face ups. I had an extra BJD face plate to sell in 2007, so I painted it as a Calavera after being inspired by the artwork of Sylvia Ji. I had never seen a doll painted that way and I got a lot of mixed reactions to her, but in time I started to get more requests for Calaveras and soon painted a Blythe in the same style. I really loved how her exaggerated features allowed for more detail in the design and most of the rest of my Calaveras were Blythes.
Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?
As a stay at home mom, Melancholy Kitties really allowed me to do something I loved while supplementing my husband’s income. As my boys have gotten older, I have had more outside work and fell away from sewing first and then taking painting commissions. I have never really stopped selling customs, though I make them much more infrequently now. I have always considered this a hobby since it is something I’d be doing regardless.
What is your creative process like? Do you plan your custom dolls from start to finish or just go with the flow?
I always start with a concept, a sketch, and usually a color palette and go from there. I have learned to slow down a bit before I consider anything “done” because I always have new ideas while I’m working. Creativity really is a muscle. Luckily, I have a very inspiring job creating for a children’s theater. I’m often working on a very large scale there, so it’s become a nice break to switch back to a doll once in a while.
What is your favorite part of this process and your least favorite?
Actually getting started might be my least favorite. Blythe require all of the disassembly and prep, so I am often slow to start. My favorite part is always photographing a new doll because they come to life through the camera.
How long does it take you to customize one doll? Do you do one at a time or multiple?
Ha! Well, once I actually get started, it’s not very long, but I don’t often have full days to work. I have tried to work on multiple dolls at once and I can’t do it. I can, say, prep a few at a time, but then I have to finish them one by one so that they get my full attention and they are each a fully realized vision.
Where do you work on your dolls? Do you have a dedicated workplace?
We live in a tiny house in the city, but I am lucky enough to have a dedicated studio on my third floor and it might be my favorite place to spend time in the whole world. It is also where I keep my collection of dolls and toys and art, so it’s very inspiring to me.
How would you characterize your style?
I think my style has been defined by Calaveras which I have always hoped to represent respectfully. I am very inspired by the idea of remembering death as a way of celebrating life, and the drama of painted skulls and skeletons will never stop being beautiful to me. I have done other customs that were more about creating characters than expressing a specific style, but I have always liked them to have some sort of drama. I like odd bodies and trying new things.
What are your favorite tools? What is your favorite Blythe mold to customize?
I suppose my favorite tool is my 20/0 liner paint brush (Trekell) because I can’t imagine attempting any doll without it. My favorite is probably RBL just because I remember actually sawing them apart before that!
How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?
I sell so infrequently now that I don’t really have one, although I try to factor in time and cost and keep my prices reasonable. I am not as good at keeping up with the Blythe community as I once was, so it is actually often a challenge for me.
For the beginner customizer, what advice would you give them?
Researching methods and tool is incredibly important, but so is practice. Give yourself time to figure things out and make mistakes and develop a style. In a social media dominated world, I think it’s more important than ever to credit your influences and inspirations. Mr. Super Clear really is as incredible as everyone says it is.
The short history of Blythe customization can’t be told without Kat Caro’s work. She’s one of the first ones to venture in this art and the mother of the Calavera Blythe doll, opening the doors to a new generation of customizers like Caramelaw or Sirenita Dolls.
Make sure to follow her on her social media and keep up with her work.
- Dolls: “I don’t know! A lot.”
- Started: 2004
- How to Purchase: Melancholykitties.com
- Favorite Customizers: “I will forever be in love with/indebted to Becky Head from BlastMilk, Melissa Cabral from PuchiCollective and Paul Kaiju. They were not only doing new things with Blythe, but they were incredibly generous with their knowledge and encouraging to me. Recent customizers that impress me almost constantly are Tiina and Olga of VainillaDolly.”