The latest in our series of creative profiles focusses on the creator of ‘Pidgin Doll’, Joshua McKenney.
Dolls/illustration/art by Joshua McKenney
Interview by Emily Beard
Portrait by Michelle M Mccormack
Hi Joshua! Tell us a little about yourself for those who are unfamiliar.
Hello, I’m a designer, artist, doll-maker, fashion/beauty illustrator, and muralist living in Brooklyn, NY. I have been illustrating professionally for about 14 years and I have my own line of resin ball-jointed dolls called Pidgin Doll which has become my primary artistic and professional focus.
Firstly, you’re a very talented illustrator! What was the catalyst to go from pen and paper to 3 dimensional? And did you have prior experience with the techniques you use to make your dolls, or did you go in blind and learned along the way?
Thank you! Yes, I worked exclusively as an illustrator for about eight years before I started working in 3D. I didn’t have any formal training in sculpting or doll-making but I sometimes dabbled with clay so I knew I took to the medium well. I just really has an urge to start making dolls and I gained my skills slowly with lots of trial and error and by using books and youtube tutorials.
It goes without saying that your dolls are really beautiful. How did you come to your signature style that you’re so well known for?
Thank you again…My style, like most I think, is really just a result of doing something over and over again until it becomes second nature. You start developing ways of seeing and stylizing and that become what you are known for. Because I already had developed a style with my 2D art it didn’t take long for my dolls to share a distinctive look as well.
Let’s talk technicalities: how long does the process from start to finish take to make a doll, from initial inspiration to the final product? What is the process?
I get asked this a lot and it’s not really easy to say. The short answer is that after I have my sculpt done my dolls are professionally cast and they come back to me blank. Then I customize them by hand-making a wig, painting them, setting the eyes, and then dressing them. My wait list is currently 4-6 weeks for a custom 1/6 scale (12″) doll.
The real answer if we are talking about “process” is that every doll is different. It took me over a year to sculpt my first doll and figure out the jointing and articulation. Pidgin has been through much evolution over the years and I’m still growing and gaining skills as I go. Some things go quicker now that I know what I’m doing but there is nothing about doll-making that is quick or easy.
Each doll feels like they have a different personality/character, where do you get the initial inspiration for your dolls?
My dolls are an expression of my love of femininity and of my own femininity. I find inspiration everywhere so I don’t really think about it that much.
There’s a famous saying that creative people put a little of themselves into their art. Do you see part of yourself in your dolls?
Of course, my dolls are very much a part of me. They express a lot of the things I can’t say in my physical self.
Do you have a favourite doll that you’ve made?
My favourite doll is always the doll I’m currently working on….I’m working on one now that I’m very excited about, she’s still in development so I can’t talk about her yet.
Who else’s creative work do you enjoy?
Oh so many! I love to look at other artists work. I’ll categorize them by type.
Doll-artists: Pasha Setova, Marina Bychkova, Popovy Sisters.
2D-artists: Audrey Kawasaki, Erté, Pater Sato, Mel Odom, and Yoshitaka Amano.
Photographers : Dare Wright, Nick Knight, and Tim Walker.
A big part of what makes your dolls so striking in their outfits. Which designers would you love to collaborate with/see your dolls wear?
My favourite working designers are Marc Jacobs, Thom Browne, Dolce and Gabbana, and Alessandro Michele (Gucci). I enjoy whimsical clothes that are a little over the top, particularly if there is a sense of scale-play.
We’d really love to see a book/exhibition of your dolls in the future! What would you love to achieve with your dolls that you haven’t yet?
My next goal is to work with a luxury department store and create miniature dioramas with my dolls behind glass posed with merchandise and wearing couture.
An exhibition of my dolls and also doll-related art is a long-term goal of mine. I’m working on some larger scale stuff in my spare time and playing around with what that would look like….it’s still coming together though.
I’d also eventually love to do a book but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I still have a lot more work to create.
What is your favourite song lyric?
Lyrically my favourite songs are Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, and Chelsea Hotel #2 by Leonard Cohan, and As by Stevie Wonder…..I like the 70’s a lot for songwriting.
What is your favourite emotion?
Is laughing an emotion? I love laughing really hard.
And finally do you have any advice/mantra you live by?
If you want to be good at something need to expect to work very hard. That the difference between a master and an amateur is just lots of time and effort.