If you’d told me a year ago that I would be sat at my kitchen table with a bald doll’s head on a spike, I wouldn’t have believed you. I can’t even remember why I decided to customise my first Monster High doll – although I have a sneaky suspicion that my daughter was involved, she usually is. The problem is that once an idea has been put in my head, I then go on Pinterest and see all the amazing custom dolls and think ‘I’ll give it a go – how hard can it be?’ And so it begins…a new doll project.
If you’ve seen the amazing custom dolls that artists create, and want to give it a go, then I’m here to help. As a complete beginner myself, I’m sharing my Monster High doll customising journey on this blog. I’ll add more posts as I discover more – to help you learn with me. This post is everything I’ve learned so far – to help you start your own Monster High doll customising project. WARNING: IT’S ADDICTIVE!
Supplies you’ll need:
Monster High Doll
There are a few places you can buy dolls online. The most obvious choice is Ebay. Here you’ll find bundles of dolls for sale – but be warned – the bidding is fierce. You’ll also find individual dolls and if you search for ‘Monster High Spares’ or ‘Monster High ooak’ (‘ooak = one of a kind’) then you’ll find naked dolls. As you can see from the photo of Cleo below, you may end up with arms and hands missing or mismatched.
TIP: Check the photos on Ebay carefully to make sure your doll has all the right limbs!
If you end up with missing or odd limbs, don’t despair – there are Ebay shops which sell spare parts for Monster High dolls. I found some replacement Cleo hands and forearms to replace her odd pink ones.
Another source of dolls online is Gumtree. There are also some Etsy shops selling dolls for customisation such as Kins Wonders. In normal circumstances, I’d also check charity shops and car boot sales – but they’re all shut due to the COVID-19 lockdown. You’ll pay less for dolls in need of some tlc, and for dolls which are more common. It’s better to learn on a less valuable doll than to try and customise a rare doll. The more common ones seem to be Cleo de Nile, Abbey Bominable, Draculaura, Ghoulia Yelps, Lagoona Blue, Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf.
Before you decide which doll to customise, have a think about what you want your final doll to look like. Pop over to my Pinterest ‘custom dolls’ board if you need some inspiration. Some of the dolls have different features – for example – different ears (wolf ears, pointy elf ears etc), fins or tails. You’ll need to decide whether these features will fit with the look you are creating. You may not want a fairy with wolf ears – but if you do then Clawdeen Wolf is the perfect starting doll for you!
Face cleaning supplies
Before you start your doll, you need to wipe away the old features. For this you need an acetone based nail polish remover, cotton buds and cotton wool pads. You can find these in any supermarket or chemist. Buy nail polish remover which isn’t moisturising or fancy – this Gel Nail Polish Remover from Superdrug worked really well.
Re-rooting tools and supplies
You can either buy a re-rooting kit or buy the tools you need separately. I bought a re-rooting kit from Kin’s Wonders on Etsy which included 3 needles, a re-rooting tool and a weft of hair (you can choose the colour). Retro Dolls UK on Etsy also sell a re-rooting tool with needles. I’ve not tried their tool but it has good reviews. You can also make your own needles (as you will break some whilst learning!). I used an embroidery needle and cut the end of the loop with a pair of pliers, which has worked really well. Retro Dolls US sell re-rooting tools and doll hair.
You’ll also need a tool for getting all of the old hair from inside the doll’s head. I used a pair of foreceps for this, but long nose pliers may also work. Retro Dolls UK have foreceps in their Etsy shop or you can look on Amazon. I found mine in the fishing supplies section of Amazon! They were listed as Fly Fishing forceps and are about 15cm long with a curved end (which makes it easier to get the hair out).
Choosing the hair colour is the fun part – there are so many awesome colours to choose. It comes either loose in bundles (like the picture below) or attached to a weft. If you’ve buying hair on a weft, make sure it is long enough to fold in half -as this is an easier technique. A hair length of 25 cm will allow you to fold it. If you want longer hair then you’ll need a longer length. The loose hair from Retro Dolls UK comes in lengths of approx 1 m, so you can cut it to size easily.
If you’re not sure how much you need for your project then check with the seller. I bought my hair from Retro Dolls UK and they list how much you need for different dolls. For Monster High dolls they recommend 1 large pack (50g) of hair, which was plenty. Make sure the hair you buy can withstand heat and boiling water – as this makes it easier to style. You’ll also need a doll sized hairbrush or comb.
You’ll also need glue (if it doesn’t come with your kit) – The Doll Planet do their own glue. You can also use Fabri-Tac which is a fabric glue. I used ‘Pritt’ multi-purpose glue which seemed to work okay.
The first thing you’ll need is artist quality watercolour pencils (I use pencils rather than paint as I find it easier). You have to use watercolour pencils rather than ordinary ones. The artist quality pencils have a higher pigment content which makes it easier to draw on your dolls. I have two brands that I use, Derwent Inktense and Caran D’Ache Supracolour. A doll artist called Maryna (You Tube ‘Poppen Atelier / Doll Art Studio’) has tested lots of coloured pencils and these two brands scored in the top of her list. You can watch the You Tube video – it’s also useful to see how she layers up the colour on her doll re-paints.
You will find that you can’t get all of the colours you need in a basic tin of 12 pencils. Some of the lovely pastel colours only come in the boxes of 100 + pencils! I decided to order some pastel colours and a white pencil separately. A good art shop will sell individual pencils or you can find suppliers online. I ordered from Pencils4artists as they stock Derwent and Caran D’Ache. You can even buy empty tins to store your pencils neatly. I didn’t have the lovely pastel colours when I did the Cleo doll pictured below. I think it’ll make a difference on my current project. Make sure you have a good pencil sharpener and a putty rubber to hand as well. Cotton gloves help stop grease from your fingers marking the doll’s face.
However good your colouring pencils are, they won’t work without sealant. The industry standard is Mr Hobby ‘Mr Super Clear’ sealant in a matt/flat finish. There is an excellent article all about it on NoNapTime blog, so have a read all about it there. You’ll need to wear a mask (e.g. one from a DIY store – rather than a home made mask) and spray outside, out of the window or in a very well ventilated room. You’ll also need scraps of cloth or similar to cover the doll’s hair and body.
In order to add some colour to the face, you’ll need some artist quality pastels and a couple of paintbrushes. I use white acrylic paint for the highlights on the eyes and clear acrylic paint for adding gloss to the lips and eyes. The small pots of paint from model making shops are usually good quality and a nicer consistency than tubes of paint. You’ll need some acrylic paint to match your hair colour/s.
Re-rooting your doll
Before you start re-rooting, you have to take the doll’s head off. This is a delicate operation as it’s important not to snap the peg that holds the head on. You can see from the picture below that it’s barbed, which makes it tricky to remove. Making the head softer helps it come off more easily. I have a hot sunny room which I leave my dolls in before head removal. Other methods include using a hairdryer or dipping the head in hot water.
Once you’ve removed the head, cut the hair as short as you can. This makes it easier to remove. Then, using your forceps or pliers, gently tug out the hair from inside the head. It’s easier to remove smaller amounts – if you try and grab too much at once and tug too hard you could split the holes. If this happens you can repair splits with glue. It all gets a bit sticky at this point.
Once you’ve removed all of the hair and glue from inside the head, use cotton pads dipped in the nail polish remover to clean the factory paint off your doll. If you’re changing the hair colour you’ll need to clean the scalp as well. A cotton bud will help you get into all the tight spots. Wash off the nail polish remover with soap and water and leave to dry.
Paint the scalp to match your chosen hair colour/s. When dry you can start the re-rooting. Head over to my tutorial here for advice on how to re-root. It’s best to do the re-root first and put the head back on your doll before you start the face-up. This is because any squashing of the head after you’ve added sealant and colour layers can make the sealant crack.
Face-up / re-painting your doll
For me, this is where the fun starts. You have a blank canvas to play with and get creative. There’s no wrong or right answers here, it’s about getting creative and having fun.
Start with several coats of Mr Super Clear sealant and only start when dry. I learnt by watching the following You Tube videos:
- Nicolle’s Dreams – Faceup Stories – there are lots of Monster High faceup videos to chose from. Whilst there are no step by step instructions, you get a good idea of the process and how to achieve a certain look. It’s also great for inspiration as her finished dolls are so pretty.
- Dollightful – Your First Custom – this is a step by step tutorial for customising a Monster High doll. There’s a great tip in the comments – draw the left eyebrow first so you can see it when you’re drawing the right one and get them to match (not for left handers – the opposite applies).
- Etellen – Fundamentals of Face Up – this is another step by step guide – but she does use paint for certain stages which I’ve not tried yet.
- Poppen Atelier – Typical Beginners Drawing Mistakes – in this video Maryna takes a custom doll from her early tutorials and talks through what she does differently now. So it’s full of useful tips and advice, as well as showing her current techniques.
Whichever tutorial you follow, don’t forget to seal your work with Mr Super Clear as you go. This allows you to build up layers of colour and add intensity to your doll face up.
I started with the blushing and adding some colour to the face and lips, then lightly sketched the shape of the pupils in light brown pencil.
This photo was taken after a bit more work on the face. I thought she was going to have blue eyes – until my daughter said she wanted her to have brown eyes! Top tip – consult your mini client before you start out! It wasn’t easy to change to brown.
I used both pastels and pencils to colour the lips. When using pastels, either scrap some pigment off with a knife or scribble on paper to get a little pile of pastel to use. Then use a small paintbrush to apply the pastel.
Always keep your pencils super super sharp when working.
I think I used too many darker colours under her eyes – I didn’t have any pastel colours to work with which made it harder. The result is a smokey eye look. The eyelashes are hard to get really fine – I now have a magnifying glass / LED daylight lamp which might help with the finer detail.
As you can see from these pictures, I added some fine glitter to the lower part of her eyes. I struggled to find any of the micro-glitter used in the Dollightful video. I used the smallest glitter I could find instead. It seemed to shrink when I used the sealant on top, but it really made her eyes pop. The final white highlight in the eyes also makes a big difference.
I was going to make a dress for my doll – but when I saw this 13 Wishes dress on EBay it looked perfect for her. The gold sparkles in the fabric go perfectly with her eyes and the black/ grey smokey fabric echoes her smokey eyes.
The most important part of doll customising is having a go. You’ll soon develop your own style and favourite methods. Don’t expect perfection from the start – you’ll get better with practice. Just have fun and enjoy the learning process!