As a young girl, I collected all kinds of dolls. My friends and family will have you know that I still do, but the collections have matured, along with the dolls, and along with myself… I think.
I don’t know how I came across Pidgin, but I have been in awe ever since. She is a unique vision of a fashion icon, made to gracefully merge from one look to the next. I interviewed her creator and was really inspired by his ideas of success and advice to us all. Introducing Joshua McKenney and Pidgin…
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you now?
My name is Joshua David McKenney. I work as a fashion/beauty illustrator, and I’m also a self-taught doll maker. My doll, PIDGIN, has been been my primary focus for a little over three years now. I moved to New York City over 16 years ago for school and never left. I was born in San Francisco and spent most of my childhood in Florida and then Pennsylvania.
Making dolls is such a unique craft. Do you have any mentors or look up to any other doll makers?
The first modern doll-maker I ever heard of was Canadian artist Marina Bychkova who has a very famous line of porcelain dolls called Enchanted Doll. The moment I saw how sophisticated and truly breathtaking her dolls were I had an insatiable urge to make my own. It took me a long, LONG time to reach the level that I’m at now, but I can honestly say, from the moment I started making dolls, I knew it was my calling. I have never been so artistically satisfied and stimulated as I am when working with dolls.
I do know quite a few other doll-makers, the “doll world” is pretty small so it doesn’t take long to know all the players. My favorite illustrator turned doll-maker also happens to be a good friend of mine, his name is Mel Odom and I look up to him very much as an artist. I also shared a studio for a year with my good friend and fellow doll-artist Andrew Yang. I got to see his dolls go to some amazing places.
About your relationship with Pidgin: How has she grown since your initial idea?
Pidgin is basically a constantly evolving, 3D expression of my own femininity. Sometimes I call Pidgin my drag expression, sometimes I call her “my love-letter to women”, and sometimes I call her my Glamour Puppet….and she is all of these things. I’ve been drawing women all of my life, and it was just a natural progression to sculpt a girl, give her a name, and call her my muse. It’s a classic Pygmalion story.
She’s been through a few incarnations and has definitely evolved beyond my original idea of her. It’s like she grew up in real time and became more than I ever expected. Her body has become more articulated and graceful as my sculpting and doll-making skills have improved, but her face sculpt has pretty much stayed the same. She’s still my idea of an eccentric city girl with a great style. I’ve always been fascinated with how a person can change their look through costume, hair, and make-up; so making my muse a doll just allows me to take it one step further. It’s because she’s a doll that Pidgin doesn’t need to be defined by her age, race, or scale.
Tell me about your team. Or is it just you?
It’s mostly just me. I work with some talented people who sew for me and I also have some lovely interns that come help me a few days a week. Being a doll-artist is a good fit for me though because I get control over a whole world. I’m an engineer, a sculptor, a stylist, a fashion-designer, a make-up artist, a hair-stylist, a model/puppeteer, and a photographer. As Pidgin continues to grow I’m finding I do need more help, especially the “organization”, “public relations”, and “customer service” departments. I do my best though, and I’m slowly working towards more delegating and collaborating. It’s been a great luxury to work by myself these first few years though because I really got to set the tone exactly how I wanted to.
What has collaborating been like for you?
For the most part it’s been great! I am always looking for cool people and brands to collaborate with!
In addition to being Pidgin’s creator I’m also her agent and PR manager (at least for now) so I have strong feelings about what sorts of projects she should or shouldn’t be involved in. If I get approached to do a collaboration and I don’t feel it “fit’s her” then I have to turn it down. Pidgin can be many kinds of women because her look is so fluid, and in many ways she’s designed for collaboration, but she’s not exactly a blank slate either. I believe she’s a real muse that I’m channeling so I try to stay as true to her as possible.
I’ve been very lucky though in meeting people that get what I’m trying to do and want to work with me. I love to be creative with others that want to interpret Pidgin in new ways.
Maybe someday another doll concept will come along that interests me but it would be like starting from scratch, it would have to be a really special doll.
What’s your process like? Do you sketch, use digital drawing programs, say three Hail Marys then spin in a circle, etc.?
Yeah, I usually sketch first and then start the process of creating the doll. Every doll is different though so it’s hard to lay out a timeline of how a doll comes into being. Sometimes I’ll finish a doll in a week, sometimes I’ll be working on one for a few months.
What is your favorite workspace or studio like?
I work out of both my apartment and my studio. My studio is on the first floor of my apartment building though so I’m back and forth a lot. I spend most of my days downstairs in the studio which I use mainly for all the messy chemical work, doll construction, and storage. I always say it’s actually really rough work to create these delicate little dolls, lots of toxic chemicals, masks, gloves, and power tools are involved. My apartment gets great light so I do most of my photography there and sometimes finishing and painting. I try to to keep my living space as “doll free” as possible or else I just end up obsessing 24/7. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a doll and can’t bear leaving her in the studio. If this happens, she’ll live in the apartment for a day or two so I can look at her when I want.
Looking back on your own experience with trial-and-error runs(in painting and in doll-making..and everything in-between), what would you say was the most important thing you learned from them?
I think the most important thing for any aspiring artist is to expect to work super hard and to not to expect your career to happen fast. The only thing that separates a struggling artist and a working professional is just time it takes for former to become the later.
Also if you see someone who’s work you admire and think “My work isn’t as good as theirs, I should just quit,” you should know that the only thing you need to do to create work like that is the commitment it takes to reach that level. What is bad is when you are mediocre, think you’re awesome, and don’t know why things aren’t working out. There is no fixing that.
What makes you happiest in life?
I really, really love doing my work, but I’m happiest when I’m laughing. I love my funny friends.
All Images by Joshua McKenney
Would you like to leave any personal words of wisdom for the makers of the world?
Computers won’t make you a better artist, but they are the most amazing tool ever. I think the best work is achieved with a balancing act of both virtual and real world skills. A lot of people focus on one or the other and I think it’s important for the modern maker to keep up with both.
You can follow McKenney and Pidgin’s progress on Instagram and shop on the website: www.pidgindoll.com
There is even a Pidgin Doll made to resemble Brooke Candy! I am a big fan, and you should be too. Check this out: http://creemmag.com/brooke-candy-x-pidgen/