The unique BJD heads of American company Namonaki Workshop
Q: Can you tell me more about you? Who is involved in Namonaki Workshop?
A: Namonaki Workshop is composed of two people; I’m Ashley and I handle the correspondence, website, and finances. “Switchum” is Namonaki Workshop’s sculptor. We both take turns handling shipping, and dealing with quality control.
We don’t do our own resin casting due to health concerns, but we work with several small and artist-owned resin casting studios; our main casting partner conveniently being located right down the road from our studio in Wichita, Kansas.
Q: How did you start?
A: Switchum: I got a few college degrees on sculpting but never been able to find steady industry work with them. I had been sculpting garage kits and farmed out action figure jobs while also working as a physical laborer, a bar back, and a cook to get by. A few years ago, I started to design, sculpt and sell my own stuff on Etsy. Then I had learned about BJD through a good friend in Germany and I thought I would try sculpting at least a head. By the way, I am from Japan; a full blood Japanese who grew up there building model kits and garage kits, so I happened to know the company Volks mainly as a garage kit manufacturer. I was surprised to find out they were making BJD. Well I am from GK industry so thought it was natural to add BJD as repertoire just like Volks did. Though I have pediophobia so I guess I am kind of a masochist?
Ash: Switchum and I originally met on the forum Den of Angels, where we first hit it off over our mutual love and respect of our fellow artist and friend, Caroline of Illuminated Doll.
At the time, Switchum was just beginning his work with BJDs (specifically, our head “Murph”) and was looking for someone knowledgeable about the hobby to advise him, as he had never seen a BJD in person before. After becoming extremely close and shipping tons of doll parts and sculptures back and forth, our partnership really took a natural progression into Namonaki Workshop.
Though I’m sad to say it took me awhile to feel like I was really pulling my weight! Our first several attempts to get our dolls made was an absolute nightmare that I don’t like to think about.
Pictured below is from our first head casting attempt with our first USA-based casting group – our caster first received some expired resin from his supplier, and later simply could not meet typical BJD casting quality standards. Poor Murph.
Q: Wow! Murph looks gelatinous. Eww! I assume you have found a company that casts heads more successfully?
A: Ash: It was really quite the disappointment to see Murph in such a sad state! But at least it’s a really interesting photo, haha. I really wish I could say that we have Goopy Murph forever enshrined on a shelf in our home, but resin in that state is extremely toxic, so he was sadly disposed of.
With finding our casting partners, it’s honestly been an uphill struggle. The casting quality that BJDs demand is extremely high, and most places that we contacted refused to work with us after hearing about our quality guidelines – and the few groups that were okay with our quality demands still charged us for the heads that we deemed to be flawed and unsellable, so we lost a lot of money.
Only very, very recently are we able to say that, yes, we’ve finally found the perfect casting partner who is familiar and comfortable with BJD casting, and that can cast our doll parts with quality and consistency that’s on-par with Volks and Soom. They produce very little in the way of flawed casts that we must destroy, which is why you’ll see our next few releases slowly going down in price.
Q: What bodies work best with your heads? What are the best resin matches?
A: Ash: We know a big problem many people found with older realistic BJD heads is that they were sculpted at a true 1/3 scale – they looked pretty large on typical BJD bodies, with their smaller necks and slender shoulders! Most of our heads are very small, about 7” in circumference, to prevent that bobble-headed look. They look pretty nice on any 65cm to 70+cm body, with the ideal neck circumference for our heads being 10.5cm, but they can easily accommodate necks that are a little larger without issue.
Here is a photo taken by our local friend, Aernath, of our newly released Pacle head on the eternally gorgeous Dollstown 18yrs Boy Body, for instance.
Our “Normal Skin” resin is a rough approximation to older Soom Normal Skin, and Volks Normal Skin. It’s a more yellow-based resin that still has distinct peachy undertones. Aside from Soom and Volks, we know for a fact that it matches Dollshe Oriental Skin and Fairyland Normal Skin very well. We tried to make a resin color that people wouldn’t have a hard time matching, since we have yet to release a 1/3 body of our own.
But worth mentioning is that during our pre-order periods, we are happy to take custom resin color requests for those looking for something that isn’t a peachy-yellow!
Q: So is there a specific concept behind your doll designs?
A: Ash: We wanted to create more realistic looking faces for those who wanted them, as there didn’t seem to be that many around outside of specialty custom-sculpted ones. There was a time in the hobby where I felt like every new company release was just a reiteration of the same loosely anime-styled sculpt, with even the more realistic looking dolls always having eyes that were too large, and lips that were always full and plump. Please don’t get me wrong, as I very much love anime-styled dolls and I have both a Soom Sard and Soom Dia, the indisputable king/queen of the plump lips club, so I’m not intending to badmouth anyone’s stylistic preferences – I just craved more realistic faces, and it was by a stroke of luck that Switchum shared my same tastes for a more realistic style.
At the moment we’re largely focusing on heads with the likenesses of actors and actresses, because their faces are fun, but our 1/4 guy will have a line of original heads.
Switchum: Specific concept behind ma doll designs? I sculpt them whatever I feel like, then Ashley comes in and tells me to change here and there. I don’t know much about BJD hobby, as you might have guessed. I need help. Actually the very first head I sculpted was based on Elijah Wood. I was sculpting as a head of normal 1/3 scale figure so it was considered too big for regular BJD bodies so never went into production. Second, sculpted Jared Padalecki head. Later on, realized it has been done too many times by other sculptors so it remains on my shelf.
Q: I remember your first release. The resin “skin” was very distinctive. How did you achieve the texture?
A: Switchum: The texture was put on by sanding pad. It is a technique utilized by many action figure sculptors. I thought would be cool to bring in the style I have learned through toy industries to BJD hobby. Also I did not want to sculpt similar stuff that was already out there. But too many of customers complained about the texture being a major hardship for face up procedure and Ashley had been begged me to stop putting textures. So I gave up. So Pacle and Murph 2.0 got smooth surface. I have been working on Mikkel 2.0 but with the TV show Hannibal being cancelled, it might sit on my shelf, joining the sad shelf club.
Q: Do you still plan to finish the doll body you have been working on?
A: Switchum: I personally would like to finish the 1/4 guy and have a few copies of him to ride my cats all over the house but it still has textures all over his body (including his 2 sets of peepees) so it will be time consuming to alter him. Also kinda ran out of funding for the project right now. Poor sales of Doc mask and Fass head set us back quite bit.
Ash: Yeah, we’re sadly at a point where we can no longer afford to finance Namonaki Workshop out of our own pockets, and only through sales of Namonaki Workshop’s products will we be able to produce our current lineup of shelf-warmers. So, as it stands, we’re looking at a pretty long wait for him, even if he was 100% finished and ready to go. That being said, the doll is sculpted more towards true 1/4 scale, and was among the first things Switchum began sculpting – he’s more like a small SD, at about 55cm tall – so when he’s finally released, we’re confident he’ll make an impression due to his sheer size and presence!
Photos above from top: Failed of Murph – photo by Namonaki, Pacle by Aernath.
Additional BJD heads & Projects: