We caught up with our favorite New York fashion-illustrator-turned-doll-maker, Joshua David McKenney of Pidgin Doll. Pidgin Dolls have become the perfect medium to creatively express the language of style. Through the application of hair, paint, and garments, the dolls can have an infinite number of looks and personalities.
Read on to see how Joshua went from pen and paper to making physical dolls, where he sources materials, and what the future holds for Pidgin Doll. Below is his version of a Valfré Doll, and we're obsessed!
Valfré inspired doll by Pidgin Doll
Describe yourself in 5 words or less.
Scatterbrained, Colorful, Ambitious, Friendly, Big.
You started off as an illustrator! How did you go from drawing dolls with a pen and paper to making physical dolls?
Yes, I focused primarily on illustration in my early career. I have been drawing all of my life - almost exclusively girls. Drawing gave me an outlet to express my feminine side in the conservative house I grew up in, and it carried over into my adult career. Since I have also had a lifelong obsession with dolls, puppets, and mannequins, turning my 2D visions into something tangible felt like the next step. I sculpted my first doll about 8 years ago, and as soon as I started dressing and taking pictures of her I knew it was my true calling. I'll always be an illustrator, but as a doll-maker I also get to be a sculptor, an engineer, a make-up artist, a hairstylist, a fashion designer, a puppeteer, and a photographer. For me, it's the ultimate artistic expression.
How did you come up with the name Pidgin Doll?
I came up with the name while sketching an image of a girl on a long bus ride. The girl wore a bird on her hat that reminded me of a pigeon, and I thought, "That's a cute name for a girl." I tried to imagine what a girl named “Pigeon” would be like: a city-dweller, a free spirit, somewhat whimsical, a bit flighty. Three years later, I came across the drawing when I was trying to think of a name for my new fashion doll and, in an instant, I knew exactly who my doll was and what her aesthetic is. I changed the spelling to “Pidgin,” which means a hybrid language that develops between people who don't share a common tongue. It evokes the most important aspect of my doll: a way for me to communicate my artistic and aesthetic ideas.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Femininity, living in New York, traveling, my friends, people I see on Instagram, the 70's, art nouveau, ballet, burlesque, vintage Disney (Fantasia in particular), Jim Henson (Miss Piggy in particular), and queer culture.
Who are your top 3 favorite artists?
Right now... Mel Odom, Aubrey Beardsley, and Alexander McQueen.
We love the styling of your dolls! Where do you source materials from?
Thanks! I design and produce most of what she wears myself. I digitally sculpt the accessories and embellish them by hand. I shop for fabrics and trimmings in the garment district and work with a talented group of seamstresses and tailors to create her outfits. I also love scavenging for vintage doll clothes and accessories and working them into Pidgin's wardrobe. She has a bit of a retro style, so it's fun to mix it up.
How long does it take you to create one doll?
Dolls are created in phases, so that's a hard question to answer. To create the original sculpt, make the molds, and begin producing the doll can take well over a year, sometimes two. But Pidgin's sculpt is also continually evolving. I've been sculpting dolls for about seven years, and right now I'm on my fifth generation of the Pidgin sculpt.
Once the dolls are cast from the molds, the time it takes to customize each one--with paint, hair, and garments--really depends on the doll. I've finished a doll in as little as a week, but I've also spent years working on one doll. Each one is different.
Words of wisdom to live by?
Do what you love.
What's next for you?
Right now I'm focused on my latest 1/4 scale version of Pidgin. I'm traveling a lot this year to conventions to meet fans and collectors. But I have a lot of cool projects in the pipeline. The best way to keep up with my work is to follow @pidgindoll on Instagram. My personal Instragram @jdavidmckenney is also a good window into my day-to-day as an artist. I'm always looking for new opportunities for people to experience my work in person. If any galleries, art spaces, or retailers were interested in hosting me and my work, I'd love to hear from them.