Wearing matching outfits, Tatiana Tofaneto poses with her newest creation, Bella Spring (2023).

By Wil Peterson

For doll artist Tatiana Tofaneto, “perfection” is more of an ide­alized concept than an attainable goal. That philosophy applies both to designing hauntingly alluring ball-jointed dolls and to her daily life. However, Tofaneto believes any worthwhile journey has challenges: “I think the biggest obstacle we can face on anything we want to do is ourselves.”

Based in São Paulo, Brazil, Tofaneto — who designed her first doll in 2005 and also is a teacher and alchemical therapist — has gained a reputation for creating a variety of beauties. These include the popu­lar 37-centimeter DollEssence resin BJDs and numerous 39-centimeter porcelain BJDs. All reflect the self-taught artist’s signature aesthetic — they are classically feminine and effortlessly ethereal, while being simultaneously enigmatic yet accessible. “I usually work from inspira­tion. The ideas for a new doll keep coming from time to time until it’s complete so I feel ready to start sculpting,” she said. “I think the particular signature of my dolls would be nature, since it all started with creating fairies and now it’s coming back with the BJD proj­ects in partnership with nature.”

Tofaneto’s accomplishments, which include Dolls Awards of Excellence in 2013, 2016, 2018, and 2019, have been realized despite limited support and arguable margin­alization. “I live in a country where doll art doesn’t have the value or incentive it really deserves, but yet I was able to show my work worldwide and find people who would really appreciate it,” she said. “However, my perfectionism was the biggest obstacle of all. This is what I always try to teach my students: ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect.’ Because many times in life, we give up or we don’t even start because we have that ‘perfect’ idea in mind, and we believe if we can’t reach it, we’d better not even try. The truth is that this perfection is never achieved, because it lives in our minds only and it usually comes from comparison. When we listen and follow our intuition, that is when the heart feels hap­py and satisfied with just everything we create.”

Alana, a polymer clay sculpture, was made in 2009.

Tofaneto’s latest — and perhaps most ambitious and most per­sonal — creation is Bella Spring. The 39-centimeter porcelain BJD has 18 points of articulation and is a limited edition of six. Each doll includes a handmade crown, shoes, a premium magnetic mo­hair wig, and a hand-painted silk dress. “I believe the culmination of this alchemy was creating the same Bella Spring dress for my­self,” she said. “It was like recognizing my essence and giving my inner child something so beautiful and worthy of a princess.”

The artist’s passion for alchemy, or the transformation of matter, inspired Bella Spring’s overall appearance and vibe. “She is different from the other dolls I have created because she represents my maturity as a woman, an artist, and also a therapist. When the project arrived in my heart — through inspiration — I was experiencing many personal issues at the same time as I began my studies with alchemy,” Tofaneto said.

“Family problems took me away from myself and made me think that I wasn’t worthy of making my dreams come true and that, for this project to happen, I would have to transform myself into that ‘perfect artist’ idealized in my mind, who would be so good and so complete, to the point of doing everything that needed to be done alone,” said the artist, who lives with her husband of 20 years and two sons. “Not only the doll, but painting the silk, sewing the dress, and taking the professional photos that this project deserves. So, the project remained in my heart for several years, while I didn’t feel capable, and the transformation — alchemy — was happening inside me.”

New in 2023, Bella Spring is a 39-centimeter porcelain BJD. The hand-painted doll wears a pure-silk dress sewed by Angelo Cespedes and painted by Mônica de Godoi.
Made from cold porcelain, Hannie (2005) is Tatiana Tofaneto’s first doll.
Monah Soul is a porcelain BJD from 2018. The 16-inch doll has hand-engraved butterfly tattoos.
Tatiana Tofaneto created everything for Cottage Emma (2020), a 16-inch porcelain BJD.

The relatively small edition size for Bella Spring resulted from Tofaneto’s acceptance of her professional limitations and the need for personal-obligation time allotments. “I make my own dolls from start to fin­ish, including the plaster molds and casting in porcelain. From idea to completion, it usually takes a long time for me because of other demands in life, but usually four to six months,” she said, adding that dresses are her only sourced component. “So, I learned that if I want to create all the dolls from my heart, it’s really im­portant to ‘end a cycle’ so that creativity is always flowing and improving.” Once she reaches the end of a doll’s preset production run, she feels energized to start work on a new doll.

Tofaneto’s initial interest in doll design stemmed from her exposure to a book by doll artist Hannie Sarris. Despite not being a doll collector, she felt com­pelled to try creating one. Her first medium was cold porcelain, which resulted in Hannie, an homage to Sarris. “After creating Hannie, I discovered polymer clay,” she said. “A new world opened to me when I started creating miniature fig­ures, and I was amazed by all the details that the medium allows you to achieve. It was then, five years later, that I started sculpting my first BJD prototype, which gave life to Monah, a porcelain BJD.”

Clara is a 2012 porcelain BJD that stands 16 inches tall. Tatiana Tofaneto created everything.
Emma (2016) is an award-winning porcelain BJD that is 16 inches. Her dress was made by Cris Shida.
Autumn Princess (2016) is a 16-inch porcelain BJD wearing a dress by Anna Flávia.

For 2024, Tofaneto’s immediate priority is completing Bella Spring orders. “But of course, I already have a new doll in my heart just waiting to be created that’s also connected to nature. I hope I can finish her project this year,” she said. “My intention for the future is to have a line of nature-connected por­celain dolls and take them to doll shows around the world.”

Meanwhile, Tofaneto is humbled, honored, and thrilled by the positive reception that her BJDs have received. “There are no words to thank all of my dear customers around the world: USA, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and here in Bra­zil. It fills my heart with love and gratitude every time I see a picture of them playing with one of my dolls,” she said. “It will always be my pleasure to meet a new collector and have my dolls be part of their treasured collection!”