My mom always likes to tell me this story from when I was a little baby. She would whisk me around the house and tell me about all the things we would do together once I got older, and one of the things my she always told me about was how excited she was for us to play dolls together. After all, my mom had loved dolls as a little girl, especially Barbie, and she gifted me a huge deluxe dollhouse with tiny realistic furniture and formerly-working lights she used to play with.
As it turned out, I wasn’t too into dolls at any point of my childhood. I had a few of them, as any middle-class little girl did, but I was more interested in my My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop toys. I guess I always related more to animal toys than fashion ones, and even my fashion toys of choice – Polly Pockets – were not exactly what my mom had grown up with.
So perhaps it’s odd, then, that I’ve recently become really into watching YouTube videos of people repainting and customizing dolls. Not Barbie dolls, sure, but still bonafide fashion dolls, usually of the Monster High or Ever After High variety. These artists remove the factory-painted faces of these mass-marketed dolls and then lovingly repaint them. Sometimes they even remove the hair and clothes of these dolls and make them new ones.
My favorite of these doll YouTubers goes by the name of Dollightful. Her work was the first I saw, when a tumblr link lead me to the first part of her mermaid doll customization.
I had known about these doll customizers before just from images I had seen on various artsy websites, and I remembered being amazed at just how detailed and intricate these dolls can get. But it was only after watching the process that I became truly enchanted by this unique brand of artistic expression.
Since watching Dollightful’s videos, I’ve explored other great doll customizing YouTubers, but I can safely say that it’s her videos I most frequently come back to. Whenever I see a new video from her it’s a momentous occasion, and I know for certain I’m in for a treat.
Even though I have no interest in customizing dolls myself, I always make time to watch and rewatch these videos. What is it about Dollightful’s videos that are so wonderful, you might ask?
Well, it’s inspiring. For all artists. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never picked up a can of Mr. Super Clear in your life, Dollightful’s videos still inspire me to keep working hard at my artistic endeavors. I want to take a moment to highlight how she achieves this in her videos, and why I keep coming back to them again and again.
First, Dollightful’s videos are tutorials. This is true of most doll customizing YouTube channels, but it’s still worth mentioning. Dollightful’s videos are not mere showcases of her work (although they definitely play that role). It’s a subtle difference, but the true point of her videos are to teach, not to show off.
This means she goes through every step in her process, carefully explaining how she accomplishes the often-complicated processes that make up each doll. And I mean just about everything. She shows hair and factory paint removal, the repaints, any body modifications, the making of the clothes… everything.
It really elevates her work when you see exactly how she did it. It’s easy to look at a beautiful piece of art and say “Wow, that sure is pretty,” but it’s a lot harder to pick out exactly how much work went into it just by looking into it.
But not only do you gain a better appreciation of her artwork, you also gain a more whole understanding of the process, and that brings with it what I think is the biggest reason I find inspiration in Dollightful’s videos. Sure, it gives you an appreciation of what an incredible artist Dollightful is, but you also get to watch her make mistakes.
I first noticed this in one of her Stock Box repaints.
In this video, Dollightful pulls a random doll out of her box of dolls she keeps on hand to customize one day, and working only with a general “galaxy” theme in mind customizes it. Normally Dollightful carefully plans out her repaints, complete with concept art and even blueprints for some of her more complicated projects, but in this video she works completely on the fly… and it goes wrong. A lot.
Even as it becomes a running joke in the video, it was fascinating because I had never seen Dollightful make mistakes before in her videos. Normally she was able to more or less pull off exactly what she had planned. But in an odd way, watching her make mistakes was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen.
Because I greatly admire Dollightful’s artistic skills, it was easy for me to assume that she’s just always perfect and able to accomplish everything she sets out to do. But this video was a powerful reminder that no amount of artistic skill makes you perfect, and even the most accomplished artists make mistakes sometimes. In fact, they make mistakes often.
But does Dollightful give up in this video? No! Despite the constant setbacks and a design that just won’t seem to work, she keeps working and reworking. She doesn’t give up until she has a finished product, and even when she does she says she’s still going to work on it until she’s totally happy with it.
And that… is not a lesson you see often with creators on the internet. I feel like most of the time art on the internet is admired for its perfection, and artists are praised for their amazing talent. Not very often do I see a showcase of just sheer hard work or unwillingness to give up, but it’s these qualities that I find more inspirational for my own work.
Because even if I don’t customize dolls, there’s still something to learn. I write, and I dabble in design a little, but watching a great artist like Dollightful struggle and carry on with her designs reminds me that my own struggles are normal, and that the way to overcome them is to just keep working. Watching her process instead of just seeing the finished project reminds me that there’s beauty in hard work too, not just in the art that comes out of it.
Finally, I want to compliment Dollightful herself. She shares only a little bit of information about herself on her channel, but I know she lives in Korea with her husband and cats. She’s learning to speak Korean, and in a few of her videos practices the language with English subtitles.
I also know her to be a very positive and encouraging person. Her signature catchphrase is “Stay artsy!” and she often promotes fanworks based on her designs. She also doesn’t make a living on these dolls – they’re not for sale. Instead, doll-customizing is a hobby, but she puts all of her heart and soul into it, and that’s obvious.
As a college student struggling to figure out how to find a career that somehow incorporates my creative loves, it’s inspiring to see someone able to continue to do what makes them happy even if it’s not necessarily their career.
Overall, her image is fun and happy and I find it incredibly calming to watch her work on the things she loves to do. I highly recommend that, the next time you’re feeling bored or stressed (or both), you put on one of her many incredible videos. Even if you’re like me and not that interested in doll customization, you’ll probably still find something to love.