Monika Viktoria is an Australian artist, painter, designer and indie toy maker who recently debuted her very first designer toy – the Singing Bryophyte resin. Which was made in collaboration with UK based manufacturer ‘Made By Cooper’.
Like many designer toy fans and artists – hello Paul Kaiju – Monika first became exposed to the world of designer toys and customising thanks to Blythe. She has been working in the fine art and designer / custom toy and doll worlds for many years now, to much acclaim.
Monika grew up as a teenager in Australia with an absent father and sick mother, taking solace as a teenager in the digital world of Zelda, and the fantasy world of elves, archery, nature and general whimsy. Themes prevalent in Monika’s work to this day.
(Photo below of some Bryophyte art by Monika)
So without further ado, now is the perfect time to find out more about Monika, her art and life, by reading the Art Talk interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
(A custom mushroom inspired Blythe doll by Monika below)
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Blue Mountains (NSW) Australia
City, State n Country you’re from?
Sydney (NSW) Australia
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together some pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING really!
* age 5 – beginnings:
My mum had moved us around the world twice to escape a highly abusive father. We started from scratch yet again and owned next to nothing. I went to school unable to speak English.
In my ESL class we were learning to read The Paper Bag Princess – it’s still my favourite book, and Elizabeth will always be my number one role model.
(Photo below of Monika as a child)
* age 10 – continuations:
I was put into the special Art and Drama class in year 5. I was in love with the fox from Farthing Woods.
Mum had Breast Cancer and my brother and I had to have special meetings with the School Principal, everyone feared the worst.
My father tried to take custody of us, we spent a lot of time with a Child Lawyer – she let us photocopy our faces.
During mum’s operations we stayed with what few friends she had. We were relatively oblivious to the severity of her, and our situation.
* age 15 – getting serious:
I was fully obsessed with the colour green, the Legend of Zelda, and drawing. I had long hair dyed forest green, played Ocarina of Time every single day after school, and drew in every other waking moment of my life.
My best friend and I drew fairies and gnomes and elves and somehow kept ourselves sane and out of trouble by doing this. I created a cast of elven characters and illustrated their lives. I got into online RPG chat where we pretended to be these characters and “wrote” stories about them. We took fencing and archery classes.
(Photo below of Monika in her teens)
* age 20 – young adult:
In my last year of Art School. I’d moved out of home with my first boyfriend. He was 11 years older than me and I was very impressionable. We fought a lot and I thought it was normal to be put down and manipulated. I was confused and stupidly loyal.
Art School was strange, and amazing all at once. My final body of work was about waste and pests. I drew hundreds of insects on the backs of discarded bottle tops, and made delicate gilded cages out of thin slivers of copper that housed tiny etchings of animals that were trapped and robbed of their freedom.
* age 25 – adult mode:
I was in Europe travelling around on my own. I’d packed up my life, quit my job, and was living out of a backpack. I was open to every random opportunity that was flung my way and said yes to everything.
I ended up in several international art residencies, had two solo shows of my watercolours – one of which was at the castle of the infamous Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory. I was already into dolls and would soon discover Blythe.
I learnt to crack a Hungarian Ostor (bullwhip).
(Photo below of Monika in her 20s)
* age 30 – fully formed:
Me right now. I’ve moved to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. I’ve started up Moss Dolls – my very own designer toy brand and just had a successful Kickstarter.
I’ve been attending doll conventions for the past 4 years both in Australia and around the world, including Japan.
I’m happy and inspired, I feel I’ve found a good path.
(A recent photo of Monika below)
* age 35 – adult continuations:
Five years from now. I can’t read the future but I hope Moss Dolls is thriving and releasing new toys regularly.
I hope I’ll be attending international toy and pop culture conventions annually, and working on cool projects.
* age 40 – meanderings:
10 years from now. I hope I’m happy and fulfilled, doing what I love every day, surrounded by people who enrich and inspire me.
I don’t think I have a motto per se – I just keep trying and being steadfastly dedicated.
I have a naively positive outlook on life, and once described myself as an optimistic melancholic. If a hurdle comes up I just keep going, finding a way to keep doing what I love. Throughout the hardest times of my life art has been there for me as a way to cope, to escape, and to heal.
My favourite quote is by Zelda Fitzgerald:
“Something in me vibrates to a dusky, dreamy smell of dying moons and shadows.”
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ of any type!?
I just drew a lot as a child.
It was my favourite thing to do.
What did you draw and/or make as a pre-teen child?
Texta princesses, and lots of them.
(Some art by Monika below)
What did you draw and/or make as a teen?
I was big into fantasy and Celtic folktales. I drew lots of fairies, elves, and was really into character design and RPG.
I started creating a cast of my own characters and illustrating them. Grey-skinned tall elven archers with green hair.
I also decided I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. Basically I just drew heaps, during class, after class, at home – always.
It was my greatest escape and joy as an odd teen.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
Apparently in year 1 parent-teacher interviews my teacher told my mum I was a “good drawer”.
I’d only recently learnt to speak English and I’d been a really naughty Kindergartener (I couldn’t speak the same language as my classmates and my best friend died of cancer, I was frustrated and lost) so getting this praise was apparently the pivotal moment for me that gave my life meaning and direction.
Thanks Mr. Smith!
(Some art by Monika below)
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
A bit of art, a bit of design, a bit of craft. I am not averse to the word craft and take pride in it.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
I used to go to Gallery Openings in Paddington and Darlinghurst weekly between the years of 2005-2010. The “scene” seemed shallow and superficial. A lot of brown-nosing and pretension. I prefer the interaction I get from the underground urban arts, the art-toy scene, and at conventions.
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
The internet has opened up so many opportunities and a way to meet and discover art that you’re really into.
I’ve been able to travel to different countries and participate in cool shows and conventions, meet fans and fellow artists from around the world and keep in contact online. When you have a weird hobby or creative interest, meeting like-minded people and getting to be excited about the same things is a wonderful opportunity.
I’ll never bad-mouth the internet because it opened up so many amazing real-life chances that I could never have dreamed of otherwise.
(Some Bryophyte art by Monika below)
Favorite other artist(s)?
A list a million miles long.
Growing up it was Brian and Wendy Froud, Tony DiTerlizzi, and Chris Riddell.
For Fine Art it’s Cherry Hood and Del Kathryn Barton.
For dolls it’s Marina Bychkova and the Popovy Sisters.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I was 17 and it was a choice between Fashion Design or Art School, and I decided I would die of depression if I went into the Fashion industry, so I chose Art School.
What role has Australian artist Cherry Hood played in your personal and artistic life and why – i ask as i know you have taken her course, and are a major fan??
For my BFA at the National Art School I majored in Intaglio Copperplate Etching. It was fun, but wasn’t my life’s calling as an artist.
After graduating I picked up watercolours and taught myself how to use them. I had no formal training and was being told off a lot for not doing it “the proper way” – I wasn’t using traditionally accepted colour mixing or application techniques. I simply bent it to do what I wanted with it. I’d always admired Cherry Hood‘s work greatly, she had gone to the same Art School as me and I found her portraits mesmerising and haunting. When I had the chance to study with her I jumped at the opportunity. She’d taught herself to use watercolours as well, and had developed her own style as a rebellion against the formal expectations of the tutors at the NAS, kind of like an”F You”. She went on to win the Archibald, the most prestigious Portraiture Prize in Australia.
I had previously been working on illustrative paintings as small as 10cm x 5cm. In the course with her I scaled up to portraits around 90cm x 130cm. It was challenging and eye opening.
I learnt more in a couple of days with her than I had in years of Art School.
(Photos below of Monika painting under the tutelage of Cherry Hood)
Designer Toy Questions
Why the name ‘Moss Dolls’ for your toy line?
I really like moss! I find it calm and mysterious.
I wanted my cast of characters to be unusual spirits that live deep in the woods. Mushrooms, fungi, lichen and moss covered creatures.
… and what about ‘Orchids Designs’ for your custom toy work?
I was collecting very rare porcelain BJD (ball jointed dolls) made by artists, and creating couture for them. I’ve always been inspired by nature, and wanted something that embodied natural beauty, a haughty elegance, and a hidden undertone of sexuality. Orchids seemed perfect, and I chose the flower to represent my bespoke miniature fashions and custom doll work.
(Photos below of the Singing Bryophyte resin by Monika)
For those who may be unaware – what exactly is the narrative universe which your toys fit into? Care to break down the cannon, key players, backstory etc – if one exists?
I’ll talk about Moss Dolls specifically:
I imagine a deep, dark and mysterious woods. The sort of place that shifts between reality and a different, more magical plane. This is not a place for humans. The creatures are wonderful, dangerous, and entrancing.
Here live my Bryophytes and Mushroom girls – as well as the future characters I am yet to create. A Bryophyte is a scientific term for a Moss, Lichen or liverwort plant. I chose this term for my moss creatures.
I imagine myself as a Bryologist – that is, someone who studies moss and lichens, who has discovered these odd creatures, and is working to study more about their lives. My fans and collectors can continue and add to my research with each toy of mine that they adopt.
Describe the process of producing your toys? – from original sculpt, moulding, production, to finally holding that sweet sweet finished product in your hands… (dot point all o.k.)
– your custom designer toy work?
I usually start with a base doll – a Blythe, Licca, Dal, Wonderfrog, or resin BJD. Depending on the doll, I may re-shape the facial features, adding detail and different expressions all by carving slowly away at the plastic. I then paint the doll or toy as the character I have in mind.
Some I painstakingly cover in detailed botanical illustrations, slowly turning them into a floral canvas.
– your recent Singing Bryophyte resin?
For the Singing Bryophyte I had been sketching this little “moss character” since visiting Japan in 2016. I finalised his design, sent it off to the toy company, approved the prototype (after a few minimal changes) then launched the Kickstarter.
Successfully funded, the edition of 100 resin toys arrived, and I’m in the process of airbrushing each one individually. I designed custom toy packaging for them, and am working with a colleague who is creating the bespoke wooden stands.
It’s been a HUGE learning curve, but I love every step, every hurdle, and every success so far.
– your beautiful custom doll clothing – how’s that all made?
I draft my own patterns, and using tiny slivers of silk and vintage fabric I sew each one up.
I use a combination of hand and machine sewing – some of these dolls are only 10cm tall so it’s very fiddly work!
I used to create these designs for a range of artist made BJD, but more recently have been focusing on Blythe and similar sized dolls from Japan.
(Photos below of some custom doll clothing by Monika)
Digital Vs Hand sculpting – what wins and why?
Both are excellent mediums and technology is a great thing.
It comes down to the individual artist and which medium they can best utilise to bring their imagination to life – or use a mix of both.If you’ve got a cool idea, use whatever method or technique you can to make it happen.
Are art-toys for the kids?
Kids young in age but advanced in mind, and kids young at heart but advanced in age – they are for whomever appreciates them and can afford them.
(Photos below of some custom toys by Monika)
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
Bunch of nerds with good taste and a desire for expressing their creativity.
Art is such an all encompassing word and means different things to different people. I’ve had formal training in the Fine Arts and can attend a high-end gallery and appreciate what I see there, and I can also pick up a Designer Toy and appreciate that too. I can appreciate both at the same time. Some can’t appreciate either. I feel bad for those people.
Thoughts on the current state of the ole Australian Art Toy Scene?
I’m very new to it – that is, the designer Toy Art Scene here. I hope to get to know more of my fellow artists and collectors, I really enjoy the creative and artistic vibe that such communities can offer to individuals with unusual tastes and hobbies.
I got to go to the Sydney Sofubi show earlier this year, and am so excited the scene is growing here in Aus. I’d like to be a part of that growth.
I’ve been a part of the Australian Blythe/Designer Doll community for several years now – both as a collector and artist – it’s a strong, friendly and supportive group of amazing women, many of whom I can now call dear friends. There’s a lot of crossover though, many of them collect sofubi and designer toys too!
(Photos below of some Monika with one of her custom Bylthes)
What role did toys play in your childhood?
They opened up other worlds and allowed me to stretch my imagination.
What are the top 3 toys you own? – please include photos or drawings of them!
1. My porcelain Enchanted Doll, custom made for me back when this was a possibility in 2009.
(Photo below of Monika’s Porcelain Enchanted Doll)
2. A Blythe doll customised by good friend and fellow artist Karolin Felix.
(Photo below of Monika’s Blythe as customed by Karolin Felix)
3. Nusi – I got her from my Grandmother when she came to look after me when my brother was being born.
(Photo below of Monika’s Nusi (bunny) toy made by Monika’s grandmother)
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in Australia?
School holidays that stretched on forever, burning hot summer days, running across the sticky asphalt in bare feet, playing hide and seek in the back lane with my little brother and neighbour, using our pocket money to buy paddle pops from the corner stores, climbing the mulberry trees in white shorts and staining everything purple – purple fingers for days.
All the weird bad stuff that was actually happening doesn’t compare to these happy, carefree memories of my childhood.
Please describe what you think the Australian Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
I look around and see many progressive, open minded people with love in their hearts and a desire for good. I also see some very close minded people filled with bitter poison and irrationality. I think this is true for everywhere though, not just Australia.
(Photo below of a Bryophyte paper marionette)
Who was your 1st crush and why?
I think it was Robin Hood. Living in the woods, archery, and babes in green tunics were clearly my thing from a young age.
Then Link from Legend of Zelda – again: living in the woods, archery, and a babe in a green tunic. He’s still my biggest crush.
Does sex change everything?
For better or for worse.
You site bio talks about “episodes of sleep paralysis” – care to elaborate more on this for those at home?
Your mind wakes up but your body stays asleep – so you’re effectively paralysed.
You can hear and even see what is happening around you, panic boils up because you can’t move, and often you think there’s a ghost or demon doing this to you. Before I understood what was happening I thought I was being visited by a ghost – it didn’t feel malicious, but it was still scary. I obsessed myself with finding out the message it had for me – it must have been important. I even painted a series of ghostly portraits imagining my otherworldly visitor. Then I read up about sleep paralysis and I returned to my rational self. The panic is still inevitable but you go through “grounding” techniques and just try to stay calm as you will yourself to move again.
(Photos below of some sketches by Monika)
I know you are an avid gamer and ‘Zelda’ fan…
* what are some of your favourite games and why?
The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Majoras Mask, Windwaker, Twilight Princess and now Breath of the Wild.
I see a lot of “which game is your favourite” arguments but find that boring – each one was special to me and marked different stages of my life. I get sucked in to the story of each new release and the worlds these games present have shaped me so much.
But I would have to say that playing Ocarina of Time as a child, meeting Link as a small elven boy dressed in green living in the forest impressed me very deeply. I’ll never be free from the magic and deep yearning I had for that life in the Kokiri Forest. And then the world and adventure beyond of course.
* have your gaming habits changed with age at all?
I’d put it down to what the consoles are capable of. I used to rush home from school and play until I had to do my homework. Recently, being as busy as I am with my art, I have found that the 3DS and the new Nintendo Switch mean I can play on to go – I’m on a train for about 5 hours a day when I commute to and from the Mountains to the CBD for work, so I get my gaming in then.
* why the love for the ‘Zelda’ franchise specifically?
It gives me the same sense of magic that Hayao Miyazaki’s films do – particularly Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. It’s like the ultimate fantasy novel, but you get to view the storyline unfold visually before your eyes, by your hand as the gamer.
It’s fantasy, it’s adventure, there are forest children and tree-stump creatures and fish people and of course, there’s Link. It’s fun and adventurous, but the Zelda games are also deeply embedded with sadness and melancholy. I have a strong melancholy inclination and find great beauty in such themes.
It’s a very clever game series.
(Some Zelda inspired art by Monika below)
Which 1990’s era cartoon, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?(Please sketch a prototype of your design.)
I dunno about cartoons, but maybe a Zelda themed one… but I can’t draw it for you until I’ve patented the design 😛
Who would win in a fight and why: a tired Bryophyte Vs. a hungry Koala? (Please draw the battle in all it’s violent beauty!)
Oh gosh this sounds like Hints and Spices Kowailla – he’d totally win hands down.
I guess my Bryophyte could try to “cute” his way out of the situation….
(Art below of the battle in all it’s violent glory!)
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
In one of my last dreams that I remember in vivid detail I learned I could breathe underwater by taking tiny sips of “air” whilst holding my breath. I was standing at the bottom of a crystal clear pond with the stars and the night sky reflecting above me and I was hiding from a hoard of small children who were searching for me.
I couldn’t let them find me.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
For not falling off the rails even with all the odds I had against me as a kid.
For continuing to make art and create and being dedicated no matter what.
For discovering Bryophyte moss creatures and for saving a kitten who was dying on the highway.
(Some art by Monika below)
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
I have to take dumb drugs every day – I was diagnosed earlier this year with a sickness that can’t be cured, so I have to take medicine every morning for the rest of my life to treat it. That’s hardcore enough for me.
If people wanted to collaborate, work with you or just buy some art – how should they get in touch?
Yes to all of the above – firstname.lastname@example.org
Any collaborations on the horizon?
None yet – but I love them and am always eager for artistic collabs.
I love seeing two artists working together, and I’ve been enjoying seeing artists I admire working on each others toys.
I hope I have many interesting collaborations ahead of me!
Any major projects you want to hype?
I’ll be at Supanova in Sydney this year with Moss Dolls: the Singing Bryophytes, and some OOAK toys and dolls. If you’re attending, please come say hi!
I’m also off to Japan in May to research producing my own line of Sofubi toys. I am super excited by this, and hope that by the end of this year I’ll have them in my repertoire. I’ll update as I go along on my instagram (@mossdolls)
- Monika Viktoria – Instagram
- Monika Viktoria – Facebook
- Monika Viktoria – tumblr
- Monika Viktoria – Etsy
- Moss Dolls – Instagram
- Moss Dolls – Etsy
- Orchids Designs – Etsy