Cyrus Bronock’s day starts just like anyone’s might: He rises early, brews some coffee, gets dressed, gives his still-sleeping husband a quick kiss on the forehead—Kamden is a college professor—and then it’s off to work. But here’s where his day diverges from the average nine-to-fiver’s. Bronock—known to his fans as Cyguy83—is a repaint artist who specializes in lifelike dolls. Specifically, he takes pre-fab 11.5 inch fashion and character dolls, strips off their assembly-line paint, then lovingly recreates them into astonishingly accurate one-of-a-kind representations of celebrities and musicians in some of their most iconic incarnations.
Bronock starts work in his second-floor studio just as the sun is coming up. “I wake up super early because I’m usually excited about the doll I’m creating at the moment,” he told Crixeo. The studio is about 20′ x 20′ and it is the place where his imagination takes flight. There is an entire wall of cube shelves filled with fabric organized by color. Depending on where he is on a project, he might start with some online research for photos of his subjects, or sculpting an original head for a new doll so he can be sure everything is just right. Some days start with a photoshoot for a completed doll that’s ready to be shipped, and he will spend time arranging the doll in a shadowbox in front of a printed background and carefully setting the lights so each shot comes out perfectly.
His creations are so realistic that the only thing keeping these lifelike dolls out of the uncanny valley is the fact that most of them are less than a foot tall. The uncanny valley is a term describing the phenomenon that occurs when a life-sized human figure, usually a humanoid robot, so closely resembles an actual human that the viewer feels uneasy or even repulsed. But don’t worry! There’s no risk of repulsion here, just amazement at the perfection of these miniature marvels.
Dolls in general have a long and interesting history. They offer unique reflections of culture in specific places and times. Ancient Egypt had paddle dolls and Greece had an early sort of jointed doll, examples of which have been found dating as far back as 2000 B.C. They have been made from clay, ivory, corn husks, rags, wood and bone, and were used in every way imaginable: from simple playthings, to fertility symbols, to messengers to the gods, to educational tools. [ source link: http://www.historyofdolls.com ]
Bronock says that it is only recently that dolls have been considered as belonging solely in the realm of children and women because of their association with “femininity or childishness, which society finds inferior or threatening.” Happily, that mindset is changing. “I see people being more comfortable to think and express themselves in a way that is more representative of their unique interests and experience. People should always feel free to do things that bring them joy.”
The attention and care that go into each of Bronock’s lifelike dolls is remarkable. Each is made with exquisite attention to detail. Each doll takes an average of 6 to 8 weeks to make from commission to completion. Most of his current projects are commissions, Bronock says, but when he has time he takes advantage of it and creates work that is just for him.
What’s special about many of Bronock’s lifelike doll portraits is that he doesn’t always rely on repaints. Sometimes, when he is trying to achieve a really specific look from a certain time or place, he will create custom heads. “ Sometimes I have to do sculpting with Sculpy clay to get the best likeness, then create a master mold,” he told Crixeo. “I don’t put boundaries on what needs to be done to get the best feel land likeness to the subject. I feel like if I didn’t do everything possible, I would be doing a disservice to my clients.” He estimates he’s created more than 100 molds. He also cuts and styles each dolls’ hair, sometimes removing and rerooting the hair altogether. Some styles, such as ringlets, are achieved using straws as curlers, and a bit of foil is perfect to hold a hairstyle in place until it’s set.
Of the many lifelike dolls he has created, Bronock has a few particular favorites: “I really loved the Hocus PocusSanderson Sisters dolls and the Princess Leia doll I made. As a hugeStar Warsfan, it was difficult to part with that one.” Indeed, a close examination of the detail on the Sanderson Sisters dolls shows the care that goes into each piece, from the braid-adorned princess seams on Sarah’s bodice (Sara Jessica Parker), to Mary’s twisty, purple-streaked hairstyle (Kathy Najimy), to the beautifully intricate hand-painted gold pattern on Winifred’s cape (Bette Midler). Bronock also has some favorite celebrities that he has created again and again from different times and incarnations of their careers. One person whose likeness shows up often is Madonna, and it’s clear that Bronock is a fan. You can trace the trajectory Madonna’s entire career by simply scrolling through his Instagram page. There are looks from Madonna’s “Lucky Star,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “True Blue” videos, to name a few.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Bronock admits that he’s almost always working in one way or another. He sews every item of clothing by hand, and is obsessive about every detail. “Finding the right materials can often be quite an adventure. I will go to fabric stores, craft stores, thrift shops, etc. You never know where the journey to find the perfect element will take you. Just the other day I purchased an umbrella that caught my eye because its casing was exactly what I needed for a doll garment.”
For Bronock, creativity is as much a necessity in life as eating or sleeping. This quality was instilled upon him by his mother, a gifted watercolor artist in her own right. He and his sisters were homeschooled in a small Louisiana town, and the combination of isolation and his mother’s creative encouragement created the perfect crucible in which his artistic gifts were formed.“When you have all of that free time on your hands, you really have to rely on your imagination and creativity to keep you occupied.” Bronock explained. “My childhood was a unique landscape that played a large part in making me the person I am today. I think that many artists often have unusual and even difficult periods in their life that spark them to become good at what they do.”
Many of the techniques Bronock uses to create his lifelike dolls were developed during this time. Growing up, Bronock was a huge fan of any and every kind of doll, from Barbies, to celebrity dolls, to action figures from Star Trek,Star Wars, and Marvel. Basically, if it had two legs and was plastic, he was into it. He and his sister used these dolls as part of their ongoing creative playtime, making intricate dioramas and even customizing and creating entirely new characters.
Bronock has never taken any classes on doll-making, repainting or even costuming. His lifelike dolls are all the product of knowledge gained from years and years of experimentation. His dedication to his art is evident in the finished pieces. “I’m not afraid to try new things,” Bronock said, “rather I find it exciting. If I fail at something, I will examine why, and then try again until I get it right. I came up with many of the techniques I use for creating these dolls through trial and error.”
The only help Bronock gets with his work is from his husband, who takes care of the bookkeeping and other financial issues. Prices for a custom piece can range from $850 to $1500, depending on the amount of work. The people who purchase his lifelike dolls vary. “Some are doll collectors, 1/6thfigure collectors, or fans of a particular celebrity.” In fact, there are several celebrities who own dolls that Bronock has made for them in their own likeness. He has dreamed about doing a show at some point, but he has so many commissions that he doesn’t really have enough to show. Happily, Bronock did to keep a few of his creations: the cake-toppers for his own wedding cake.
Original posted at online publication Crixeo, which no longer exists