Interview with Zuzana from ZuzuDolls

Zuzana plays with delicate expressions and a beautiful color palette. She brings the sweetness of Nature to her dolls. She’s been doing Blythe doll customizations for quite a while now so you might even know her work as BlytheAdore before her rebranding to ZuzuDolls in 2018.

Search within your inner-self to express your creativity, your personality, there is a lot of beauty hidden there to be discovered. Follow your heart, not trends.

Zuzana / ZuzuDolls

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

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I am originally from the Czech Republic where I was born, but for the past 20 years, I have lived in a town on the southern coast of England. I am married and a proud mama of a beautiful son. We have a cat who thinks she is one of us – humans. I have always been into anything creative and loved to draw as a child. In my 20’s I developed a love for photography and did my A-levels in photography here in England. Currently, I am a stay at home full-time Mum and I dedicate my spare time to Blythe doll customizing.

Zuzana and her son.
Zuzana and her son.

When and how did you discover Blythe dolls?

I remember it very well – it was in 2012 during an online search. At that time I had no idea what Blythe dolls were and that they could be customized. I saw pictures of stock dolls and customized dolls and could not figure it out at first why they looked so different. So I did more research and this was how I found out that these dolls could be completely re-carved and changed. I came across the name of Gina Garan and her book ‘This is Blythe’ and learned that we can thank this lady for bringing Blythe dolls back to life. I bought my first 2 Blythe dolls (Raspberry Sorbet and Ice Rune – I still have them and treasure them) and had them customized by then popular customizer Soulgirl. When they came back, I was in awe… and that was it. I WAS HOOKED. I realized that this is something I would like to try to do myself.

How long did it take for your style to emerge?

It takes a while to develop your own style but that is the fun and beauty of it. Therefore I don’t think I can put a time marker on this. A style is also a combination of practice, your personality, as well as your beliefs and who you are as a person – it’s a journey. I believe that a style should be forever evolving and should be a fun and joyous journey rather than something set and definite. It’s fun to experiment because who knows what can be discovered on this journey!

Do you do this as a hobby or professionally?

As with most customizers, it started as a hobby. But over the time it has developed into a small business. So I would say I do this semi-professionally. Because firstly I am a full-time Mum to a gorgeous boy. My son has special needs and is my priority. However, when he is at school, I have a limited time when I can fully immerse myself in Blythe doll customizing. I feel very lucky to be able to combine these two very rewarding professions.

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

I would say 50-50. Sometimes I have a specific idea in my head but sometimes I just go with the flow. There is so much inspiration all around us, so I am never short of ideas. Colors are very important to me and they are something I plan. But sometimes the doll has its own plans and the end result is completely different from the original idea!

Another important part of the customizing is also presenting the dolls in beautiful photos. It is a process I truly enjoy. I love taking my dolls outdoor and photographing them in nature. I do it in any season. I also like to create fine art photos with minimum background noise.

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

Because of my love of colors, my absolute favorite part is the facial coloring. I work in layers and build the colors slowly. I also love freckles and the majority of my dolls will have them. Freckles are a fabulous tool because they add reality and skin texture. Creating freckles is a skill that takes time to master and there are lots of techniques to use, therefore it is wise to do your research and also to practice, practice and practice. I used to use watercolor pencils only but now I much prefer very diluted acrylic paint with a combination of the watercolor pencils. I absolutely adore Derwent watercolor pencils as they have a lovely rich pigment and I use Docraft Artiste acrylic paints.

As with most people, the least favorite part is the sanding but good sanding is also one of the most important parts of customizing and should not be underestimated.

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

I never work on more than one doll because that way I can give my full attention to my ideas. So it is always one doll at a time. It takes me anything from 1 – 3 weeks to create one doll, occasionally even longer, partly because I have a limited time during the day to work on a doll but also because I don’t like to rush things. To me, Blythe doll customizing is a form of meditation – it takes me to a very happy place. If things don’t go well on a particular day, I prefer to stop and return to it at another time.

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

My dream is to have my own art studio one day! At the moment, I have a small portable table that I place at the best spot in our big living room. The spot is by the large glass French doors that face our garden. It’s a very important place for me because there is an amazing natural light coming through which is great for customizing but it also gives me a calming view of our garden. I feel connected with nature, see all the flowers and animals visiting and I can watch the weather elements – be it sun, rain or wind. It’s very peaceful, very meditative and a very happy place for my work.

How would you characterize your style?

If I had to describe my ‘style’ in one word, I would say – GENTLE. Few of my customers mentioned to me that my dolls ooze a kind of gentleness about them. They describe the dolls as little fairies, out of this world. That’s amazing because fairy tales and fairies especially have always had a big influence on my life and I think this reflects in my work.

I like my dolls to resemble little people, perhaps older children but not necessarily. At the same time, I also want them to be who they are – dollies. This is a combination that is very attractive to me. To me, they are little creatures that can hopefully give people a little glance of ‘another beautiful imaginary world’.

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

I love to use my carving knives from Coolcat and Narex (a Czech brand) but I always make sure the knives are sharpened before I start to customize a faceplate. A good knife sharpener is a godsend! I love to use sandpaper sponges cut in small pieces and different sizes of needle files. Simple tools, nothing too fancy.

My favorite mold is RBL, I really do love this mold. I often customize SBL molds, too and they are different. It took me a while to familiarize myself with this particular mold, I think it is definitely not a mold for a beginner, however, the smaller eye sockets, fuller cheeks, and beautifully defined noses can have their own advantages!

How did you develop the pricing model for your dolls?

I take in a consideration few things – the price of the base doll, the material used, extra things used like new eyechips, different bodies or scalp, etc. And then, of course, all the work that goes into creating the doll and also time to present the doll in beautiful photographs. That is a lot of hours of work. However, pricing also depends on the season and the demand of the market. I try to be fair so that my dolls can be affordable and can be afforded by the majority of customers. For that reason, I am happy to offer a layaway plan if it’s reasonable and is desired by the customer.

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

Search within your inner-self to express your creativity, your personality, there is a lot of beauty hidden there to be discovered. Follow your heart, not trends. Show us who YOU are through your dolls. Study the human face. Study the facial features, especially the lips and eyebrows but also skin textures and color. Look at portraiture photographs, paintings and real human faces of your family and friends, especially children. Look for beautiful color combinations that can be found everywhere around you and that can be incredibly inspiring. And most of all – practice, practice, practice, have fun and enjoy the creative journey.

Natural and romantic, the dolls created by Zuzana will make you look attentively to enjoy every detail: their carving, makeup, choice of colors, all done with perfection. Some call them little fairies. They are really magic. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about ZuzuDolls and her magnificent work.

Don’t forget to follow Zuzana in all her social media by checking her profile page.