By Pam North
Julia Kristal has always loved dolls and collected them into adulthood. In college, while she was focused on music and education, she also began learning to draw and loved using colored pencils to draw realistic portraits. She also learned to knit and crochet, and she began making dolls using yarn. When she finally stumbled across reborn dollmaking and sculpting, she had found her niche. Since her love of dolls had never ended, it probably was inevitable that she would eventually become a doll artist.
Besides art, she has a passion for children and babies. She strives to capture the innocence and beauty of a baby in the reborn baby dolls and silicone baby dolls that she creates. “My desire is to create realistic baby dolls that are a joy to bring to your home,” she said. “I strive to capture the innocence and beauty of a baby in my reborn and silicone babies. When someone adopts one of my lifelike dolls, that person is purchasing a doll that is created with careful thought and creative planning, that can be passed down from generation to generation.”
In addition to her dollmaking, Kristal has a master’s degree in education. She has performed and taught music for over 20 years in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. She’s also the mother of four children.
Kristal paints vinyl reborn dolls, sculpts, and makes her own silicone baby dolls. She makes her own molds for the dolls, pours the dolls, paints them, and finishes them into babies that look astonishingly real. She sells her products on her website and sometimes at doll shows.
She started sculpting in 2011, without any formal training, learning her craft through trial and error. Her learning process for creating molds began in 2015 and took until 2019. Sculpting had always been her ultimate goal, she said — to make her own original silicone dolls, sculpting the faces that she envisioned and bringing them to life. She was inspired by other women who made a career out of dollmaking but wasn’t sure it could be possible for herself until she actually did it.
“I think the most challenging part of my craft was when I was learning. I failed so many times when I was learning to create molds and paint silicone. Some things still go wrong from time to time. It is a very sensitive and unforgiving medium to work with — a mixture of science and art. It takes a lot of focus, patience, and determination,” Kristal said.
She seldom works with vinyl reborn kits now, as her focus is on her all-original sculpts reproduced in silicone. She uses Smooth-On silicone and epoxies, and Brick in the Yard molding and casting products in making her silicone baby dolls. She has a vacuum chamber and pressure pot for degassing the silicone, and she uses a convection oven for baking the clay sculptures.
“I love seeing my creations when they are complete,” she said. “It is so satisfying when they ‘come to life.’ I also love feedback from my customers. My dolls are loved all over the world, and on social media some people leave me messages that I have made a positive impact on their life, or that they grew up watching my videos and that I made their childhood great. That always makes me so happy and warms my heart.”
Her social-media presence expanded rapidly when several of her YouTube videos, featuring her silicone baby Winter, went viral. Her YouTube channel has helped grow the community of reborn and silicone baby doll lovers by educating people about the art form and hobby, and showing people that they are never too old to collect dolls. One of her dolls was purchased by a nurse as an instructional aid for a video to teach new mothers how to nurse their infants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kristal’s home studio includes areas for photographing her dolls and recording videos. She’s taught a workshop and also posted tutorial videos online, both on social media and on her website. “I have seen a growth in diversity in artists, as well as in dolls being made in recent years. I think this makes artist-made collectibles more appreciated and desired by people from all backgrounds and cultures. I also think that social media helps people to find artists’ work and to know more about this art form,” she said. “I also see more new artists emerging as they are inspired by older artists. The growth of online tutorials and workshops helps to make this possible.”
In addition to creating new sculpts for her silicone babies, Kristal said she hopes to begin offering silicone doll kits in the future. She’d also like to sculpt resin figurines.