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How to convert your love for dolls into a hobby or valuable collection

 

All You Wanted to Know About Ball Jointed Dolls


I guess the habits we pick up first are the ones that are modeled for us in childhood; so little girls have always copied their moms in playing with dolls. From the earliest times, when two crossed sticks were wrapped in cloth, to using gradually more sophisticated materials, so doll-making has become a craft. As long as there are moms and daughters who love dolls, there will be new dolls emerging and people who will make them.

See how far ball-jointed dolls have come

Articulated dolls (those that can move) date back to ancient Greece and Rome. These were made of clay and wood connected with wire; and there were some interesting variations cast in silver and gold found in archaeological sites in Peru. Over time, doll makers began to experiment with making jointed bodies and necks to allow for ease of movement.

Once the Chinese skills of creating porcelain reached Europe in the 18th century, the sale of these China dolls became very popular. Later, Bisque porcelain, which was painted in layers, created a more realistic skin tone, and then glass eyes were inserted into the heads.

Initially, only the heads and shoulders were made of porcelain. A variety of fabric, leather or papier-mâché was used for the bodies with wooden joints for movement, since dolls made entirely of porcelain were very heavy and fragile. Later versions also had hands and feet of porcelain.

Determining the value of antique porcelain dolls is as easy to establish as looking on eBay. For many collectors and hobbyists, this is where the fascination with the modern ball-jointed dolls (BDJ) or Asian ball-jointed dolls (ABDJ) began.

Modern BJDs have an Anime influence and come in a range of sizes

The Super Dolfie range emerged in 1999 as a result of the popularity of the first BJD, created by designer Akihiro Enku at the Japanese company Volks. It was 57cm tall and was made in the image of his wife.

The popularity of the anime movies were influential in the design of many of the modern BDJs and some well-regarded Japanese designers were instrumental in their creation. South Korea soon followed Japan with their Customhouse and Cerberus Project BJDs, as did China with their Dollzone array. Then America produced its own range, the Goodreau Doll, which featured a more typically American look.

Made of a hard plastic known as polyurethane synthetic resin, the different body parts are connected with an elastic fabric. According to Nikolay Stoyanov, ball-jointed dolls are generally between 40 cm (15.5 inches) and 60 cm (24 inches), although some are as big as 80 cm (31 inches); however, the miniature versions can be as small as 10cm (4 inches).

The Japanese tradition of BJDs for art

The Japanese doll tradition dates back many centuries from a time when dolls were made for pregnant women as symbols of protection for them and their unborn child. Their purpose, substance and style has changed over the years, as is the case with the dolls discussed above.

Today there are many Japanese collectors who keep their dolls purely for art. They are entirely made of bisque, are usually very tall (up to 120 cm/ 47 inches), and are often dressed in traditional wear like the renowned Ichimatsu dolls. These dolls can range vastly in price from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands for prized collectors’ items created by recognized artists.

These collectors’ items are customizable and modifiable

If you are a keen collector who is looking for a range of different items, the BJDs are perfect for you: hair, eyes, clothing and even make-up can be interchanged. In fact, there are some companies that make hands, feet, arms and legs according to your taste. The range is only limited by your imagination – and your pocket.


Is this hobby going to bankrupt me? Ball Jointed dolls Under 100 Dollars

At the outset, let me say that getting into BJDs is not cheap. New 60 cm BJDs can cost anywhere from $300 to well over $2000 depending on how much work has been done on them. That said, for beginners, Amazon is offering a naked 28cm (11inch) BJD with some basic make-up for $49.99.

However, if you do your research about prices and possibly start with a secondhand doll, you can ensure value for your money. The resale market is flourishing, so you could always sell your doll afterwards for a profit, and start again.

Ball Jointed Doll Kit

Since most BJDs are sold naked – that is, without clothing, a wig, make-up, or in some cases even eyes, there is a lot that you have to decide on. How big do you want the doll to be? What skin tone must it have? Is it Asian or European or African? Do you want a male or female or genderless (sometimes called an angel) doll? What about hair color? And length? What about eye color? And make-up?

Lastly, what about style of clothing? Are you going for a current or modern look, or for something from a specific period? Are you going to buy the clothing or will you attempt to make the bulk of these items yourself? Each of these decisions will affect costs, both when you are buying and if you are reselling, so it is important to decide well.

Make your doll unique with a face-up

Although many naked dolls are sold without eyes or make-up, the addition of a distinctive face, or face-up is one way to create a unique look for your BJD.

It is possible to buy a factory made face-up (this may cost in the region of $50), or to hire the services of an artist to create a specific look. However, this can be quite expensive. If you like, this is something you can paint by hand too.

Learn what you need to know by consulting YouTube tutorials

Experience has taught me that you can learn pretty much anything from YouTube tutorials. I would suggest that you spend some time going through these tutorials before you jump in and start the face-up yourself.


A very good example is Face-up essentials – starter kit advice. Simply put, you don’t have to rush out to buy excessive amounts of equipment. Water color pencils in four basic colors; five pastels that will cover most skin tones; acrylic paints once again in four basic colors; a few brushes and a kneadable eraser. That’s enough to start with.

 

Those of you who are still beginners can then look at some basic BJD face-up tips that everyone should know.  

Once you have mastered some techniques, you can progress to a more in-depth do it yourself BDJ face-up tutorial and a whole range of others. If you want to ring some specific changes you could consult painting a realistic male face-up. Whatever it is you need, you will find something to help you to upskill in this field.  

Decide whether the cost of the equipment is not more than that of a factory face-up for your first BJD. But, if you have made up your mind that this hobby is one that will last, the equipment is a long-term investment which will more than pay for itself.

How To Make Ball Jointed Dolls

Especially if you have bought a second hand BJD, you will find that the elastic keeping the joints together may have perished, making the doll’s movement floppy, so it is a good idea to restring it. This is a task you can easily do yourself, once again by means of a handy YouTube restringing tutorial.

Other necessities include a length of string and enough elastic to do the job (a loop twice as long as the doll, and another twice as long as its arm span), as well as your flexible fingers.

While this task may seem daunting at first, you will soon master it and make it part of the regular maintenance and cleaning of your BJD.

The right wig will create the right effect

It is not for nothing that hair has been referred to as a woman’s crowning glory. So, one of the final touches for your BJD will be your decision about the right wig. Long or short; big hair or close-cropped; red, blonde, brunette or black, each will have the effect of creating a totally different look and effect.

Whether you want to spend a lot of money on custom-made wigs for your BJD or whether you want to be creative and try it yourself, the options that are available are numerous. Synthetic fiber wigs can cost around $20 - $50 depending on the style and length, but prices for wool, mohair or human hair will obviously run much higher (a Brazilian human hair wig with a lace front will set you back $115).

If you want to experiment with doing it yourself, and you have a lot of patience, there are numerous tutorials online, which will take you from making a wig cap, with a bit of fabric and some glue, through making the weft, to making the wig for your BJD, using brushed yarn.

It is also possible to use human wigs of the kind you can find in party stores at Halloween and to transform them into a variety of fashionable wigs for your BJD. This tutorial, How to make BJD wigs out of human wigs will show you what to do, step by step.

The eyes have it all

When you buy a naked BJD, sometimes it does not even have eyes. This allows you the advantage of deciding on color, shape and style according to your taste. The modern ABJDs, which are influenced by the anime style, would need eyes typically in that style.

Once again, choice is often a matter of cost. Eyes made of glass can range from as little as $8 to as much as $25. Other substances used to make BJD eyes include silicone, acrylics or urethane.

BJD Websites

Hard as it might be to believe it, the cost of ready-made items of clothing for your BJD may compare with the cost of clothing for yourself. It is not unusual to pay $70 for a pair of jeans for your doll. That said, there is a vast range of new and second hand clothing for sale on sites like eBay or Etsy, which will be better suited to your pocket if you do not have too much to spend.

You can always try your hand at sewing or knitting for your BJD. There are a host of ideas and patterns which can be adapted for your doll on Pinterest and other sites and the biggest advantage is that your doll will be wearing one of a kind outfits at a fraction of the price of the bought item.

Hunt around at yard sales or thrift shops. For ease of use it is best to work with stretchable fabrics, and remember that a little piece will go a long way. Collect buttons off old shirts or blouses; they are wonderfully decorative. In addition, keep old cut-off bits of lace and ribbon to add a fancy touch to an outfit. Elastic is also very useful.

For more information covering a range of ideas about the correct fabrics to use as well as suitable designs and patterns, practical hints and suggestions, see the tutorial Make your own BJD wardrobe.

If you have decided to dress your doll according to a specific historical period, make sure that you do some research online so that the final product looks authentic. There are some excellent suggestions on Etsy and Pinterest, which you can adapt if you are making the outfits yourself.

Join in with the BJD community to meet likeminded collectors and enthusiasts

An enormous worldwide online community exists where BJD collectors, sellers and creators can communicate with likeminded enthusiasts. The largest of these, called Den of Angels, had more than 43 000 members at the last count. As with other hobbyist groups, you can find smaller meetings and associations which gather to compare dolls, discuss techniques and styles, and take photographs.

Doll devotees can gather in large cities for Conventions like the BJDC, which will be held in Austin, Texas in August 2019. In Japan, the company Volks organizes Dolls Party conventions; in Hong Kong there is the Dollvie convention, and in Canada BJD collectors gather at the annual Doll North convention.

These places offer ample opportunity for you to learn more about your craft and to meet with other fans of the BJD movement.

A summary — and some decisions to make

Dolls in their variety of forms have been around for as long as there have been mothers and daughters, and I think we can safely say that the current trend of BJDs either as a hobby or for collectors is here to stay.

If what you have read so far has persuaded you, here are some basic decisions you have to make:

  • Have a look at the websites of the doll manufacturers to check out sizes. Some are listed in cm and others as fractions of a human sized doll, e.g. a 60cm doll is sometimes called a 1/3 scale;
  • Once you have decided on a size, you can scan the various sites to see what choices are available. You will be spoiled for choice, but it is good to know whether you want a western aesthetic or a more Asian looking doll. In addition, are you looking for a realistic look or one that is more anime?
  • Skin tone is available in a wide range from white through to black and includes green and blue. Remember that only white and natural can be sanded to remove seam marks, and that if you want to dye or paint your doll it is easiest to do so on white.
  • Decide whether you want a factory face-up or whether you are going to attempt the task yourself. An added face-up will incur an additional cost, but so will doing it yourself. If eyes are not included with your naked doll, you will have to purchase these. Make sure that they fit the aesthetic of your BJD.
  • The final touches, wigs and clothing, could possibly be left until later, or you might want to spend a bit more at this point to ensure a good first look

Here is an excellent site which covers all the bases when you are buying your first BJD.

The cost of buying a complete doll, or doing it yourself is definitely an issue to consider, but if you go about your BJD project carefully and research each aspect well, then it is possible to achieve what you want, have a lot of fun in the process, and possibly make a profit at the end if your purpose is to resell and start again..

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