Interview with Nancy Lim from Tinycutethings

Nancy Lim, the artist behind Tinycutethings is customizing Blythe dolls since 2010. Her dolls are amazingly done. With a soft and tender beauty, her colors carefully chosen in harmony with the complete set. Enjoy reading about how she started out, her inspirations and how her work evolved to be one of the references in Blythe custom dolls today.

People tell me they can recognize my very early customs which may mean they saw my hand as a customizer before I really knew what I was doing!

Nancy Lim / Tinycutethings

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

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I live in Sydney Australia with my family. In simple terms, I’m a loving mother and wife, keen gardener and amateur artist.

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

My Blythe addiction started mid-2010 after my second son was born when I had time to surf the net between naps and feeds! I started looking at pictures of Blythe on Flickr after someone told me about these strange dolls with a cult like following that have big heads and big eyes so I was naturally curious. Honestly, I never saw or heard of Blythe before. Immediately I found myself enchanted by the photography of Blythe by greats like rockymountainroz, Princess Diorama, Dr. Blythenstein to name a few. She was brought to life through their pictures and there was a sense of joy and fun that permeated throughout the community. It was wonderful to connect with like-minded people around the world through Blythe. I must say it was only a week or so after laying my eyes on her that I ordered my first Blythe doll a Manuheali Paradise Girl – I had to see a Blythe in real life not just in pics!! Not long after I received her I ordered another and then another. I liked her size and the way you can change her eyes. But the turning point was when I first got my BL Rosie Red. Once I met her I knew that it was love not just fascination.

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

Oh, I can’t be precise… People tell me they can recognize my very early customs which may mean they saw my hand as a customizer before I really knew what I was doing! However, if you are wondering when I felt more confident with what I was doing, it was probably around my 100th custom doll. As for my style, it is always changing and evolving as I question everything I do and search for better ways to convey my ideas and the character I’m creating. I can’t tell you exactly what my style is but I guess ‘cute’ has something to do with it 😉

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

While customizing did start out as a hobby and way to fund my burgeoning dolly collection and wardrobe it developed into something more. I was really lucky to call it professional work but recently I scaled back due to other commitments and may go back to customizing more as a hobby, making a doll every now and then for enjoyment rather than being prolific. We’ll just have to see…

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

I belong in the ‘go with the flow’ group!! I don’t think I’ve ever planned in great detail for a custom doll. I may have a concept to start with but I don’t sketch or document anything. Of course, I have to determine from the beginning a possible expression – happy, sad, grumpy, neutral etc. Sometimes I may have a funny character that is wanting to be created out of the blue. It doesn’t happen often but when it does I just love it as they are the most unique. For fantasy or galaxy girls I usually have a color scheme in mind but as I don’t draw before I start as I find it more freeing to change along the way.

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

My favorite part of customizing is putting the makeup on. My least favorite part is removing scalps as they are sometimes fused by crazy glue and it’s very easy to damage the doll when that happens not to mention getting injured in the process!

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

For face-ups, it can take anywhere between 8-12 hours for carving and sanding. I used to work faster but my hands are not as strong as they used to be. I often reassess initial carving and then keep fine tuning to get the nose and mouth shape right. Some of my dolls are more heavily carved than others depending on the type of mouth I want. Applying makeup is easier which only takes a few hours to a day. When I do reroots it takes weeks as I find the work very tedious and tiring on the hands so only do a few hours at a time.

I usually work on a couple of dolls at a time in varying stages of development. I may be putting finishing touches on one at the same time starting another.

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

Sadly I don’t have a dedicated area for customizing dolls as we don’t have room for it. I just take out what I need and work in the living room or sometimes on the porch if the weather is nice.

How would you characterize your style?

I hope my dolls are perceived as cute, colorful and fun personalities! I like to think people aren’t too afraid to play with them rather than keeping them as display pieces. For me, the dolls are a way to create unique characters in many forms from little children to fantasy creatures. Diversity is very important to me as an artist as I get to try different things and have fun doing it!

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

My favorite tools are my pastel chalks and watercolors! I love applying the makeup after carving. I use a variety of brands as I get to buy the colors I like to work with (Schmincke, Rembrandt, Art Spectrum and Micador).

I find this a hard question as I actually love many of the Blythe face molds. At the moment I love FBLs to customize with because they have smaller eye holes and cute little noses so the custom dolls look very childlike.

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

Though question so I have to give a longer response! This is one of the hardest things for me to do.. how to get the price right and/or method to sell for both collectors and myself as a doll artist. In short, the prices of my customs did increase over time as I saw fit from what started out as a hobby which then turned into a business but I’m also not adverse to adjusting prices according to demand or lack thereof.

When I first started out, I was doing face-ups for free or next to nothing for practice. In the earlier days of customizing many artists weren’t as technical and many of us were learning together. The face-ups of my early custom dolls were very simple and took much less time to do than the ones now. As techniques improved (with that goes time and effort), I also started getting more interest in my dolls so I gradually increased prices. Essentially I tried to price according to what people were willing to pay or offer as well as what I thought was appropriate for the work I put in and how well I thought the doll turned out. I also tried to sell in a variety of ways at different prices to be fair. Sometimes on forums, Etsy, some at auction, and some as direct sales. Some of my favorite custom dolls have been collaboration ones and they usually went to auction or were sold at special events.

As with many creative people, over time your skills will improve and develop so with that you would think you can demand higher prices… However, with custom dolls sometimes you’re in favor other times there is less interest. Now that there are plenty of amazing customizers to choose from, I’m happy to go with the flow and not get hung up on prices as I’m extremely grateful for the support the Blythe community has given me over the years. It’s quite a privilege to earn a living off customizing dolls so I do not take anything for granted.

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

  • My advice is to really enjoy what you are doing and to not rush your work. I’m guilty of being impatient at times and wanting to see a finished doll quickly but it does matter to slow down and critique your own work.
  • Also as a precaution please take care to protect yourself from plastic dust and the sprays by wearing gloves and masks. When I first started I was not aware of how toxic customizing is so be mindful if you are working in a home environment. Always work in well-ventilated areas and spray outside.

With 7 years of history to tell and over 200 dolls, there is a lot we can learn and enjoy from Nancy’s work. Her concepts are beautifully carved and painted into hard plastic. She thinks of her dolls as a whole, nothing is left to chance. Make sure to visit her profile page follow her work through social media.