Meet the women who paints human baby dolls and makes them look so life-like, that she sometimes struggles to let them go.
Susan Gibbs, 49, a silicone artist from Canada, has been painting newborns since 2010 and said she feels like a ‘proud mama’ when she sees the finished result – even keeping three recent creations for her personal collection after bonding with them ‘big time’.
Susan told Jam Press: ‘I always loved dolls when I was little and I wished they made them more realistic.
Precious: Artist Susan Gibbs, from Canada, creates incredibly realistic-looking baby dolls, known as newborns
Spot the difference: The 49-year-old paints silicone dolls to make them look just like real-life babies, and ends up with such lifelike results that people can’t tell the difference
Creative: Susan began painting the dolls back in 2010, having discovered ‘reborns’ online and buying a few for herself
Pricey: The dolls can cost thousands of dollars a pop, so Susan decided to try her hand at making her own
‘Proud’: The creative woman says she struggles to sell the dolls sometimes because they look so lifelike and she forms a close bond with them
‘I saw reborns for the first time in 2009 and I couldn’t believe how real they looked. I purchased my first one that same year, then added two more after a couple of months.
‘I realized they were expensive dolls to collect, so I tried my hand at making them myself.
‘First I was only making them for my family and me. Then it took off, especially when I made the switch to silicone dolls. Now I teach worldwide how to paint silicone dolls.’
Susan spends up to four weeks finessing her ‘babies’ with layers of paint to achieve the mottled skin of a newborn, and then inserts the hair follicle by follicle, which can take a painstaking 30 hours.
She said: ‘Each doll I try to make better than the last one.
‘When I do my online class, I finish painting a doll in five days, but on average, I make one or two newborns a month.
‘I don’t take custom orders. I sell what I finish.
‘Some are more expensive than others, depending on the price of the doll and quality of the kit I use.
Time-consuming: Susan spends up to four weeks finessing her ‘babies’ with layers of paint to achieve the mottled skin of a newborn
Individual: Each doll is different, and Susan says the price varies depending on the amount of work and the unique elements that go into each one
Going, going, gone! The artist says her dolls tend to sell out before they are even finished, thanks to her dedicated social media following
Detail: Each doll comes with a Bassinet-bag, an array of clothes, a stuffed toy, a pacifier, an empty bottle, a blanket, a Certificate of Authenticity, a birth certificate, and a dolly passport
Emotional: Susan says each doll serves a different purpose. Some are made for grieving mothers who have lost a baby, while others are used as therapy tools in nursing homes
‘I get a lot of inquiries daily. I can’t keep up with the messages. I always tell them that I will post photos on my social media when I’m done but usually my dolls sell before I start painting them.
‘People message me what my line-up of kit is, then they secure the doll that they want to adopt.’
Susan’s stunningly life-like creations come equipped with a Bassinet-bag, a wide array of clothes, a stuffed toy, a pacifier, an empty bottle, a blanket, a Certificate of Authenticity, a Birth certificate, care instructions and a dolly passport.
Customers buy Susan’s dolls for a range of different reasons, she explained.
‘Most of these dolls are used as therapy tools in nursing homes,’ she said.
‘Some are memorial dolls for mothers who have lost their babies or had a miscarriage. While some are just collectors’ items.
‘They are also used as special effects props in the film industry, especially birthing scenes.’
Susan was able to share a particularly sentimental moment with her mother in 2011 when she gifted her a special doll.
Big screen: The artist says her dolls are also used as props in movies particularly in birthing scenes when they need the prop to look lifelike
Special: Susan says she takes comfort in knowing that her intricately designed babies will be in safe hands, once she passes them on
Details: Some of the dolls come with accessories like baby bottles, or car seats, depending on what the customer is looking for
Connection: Susan says that she doesn’t want to sell her dolls on a major website like eBay because she wants to get to know as many of her customers as possible
Art: The dollmaker says she isn’t worried if a certain doll doesn’t sell – she would rather make them based on what she wants to do rather than working to custom requests
‘She never had a doll as a child,’ the doll-maker explained. ‘So on Christmas, I gave her a doll that I made to look like me when I was a baby.
‘It was her very first doll and she was 83. She squealed like a little girl and cried happy tears. That was priceless.’
Susan takes comfort in knowing that her intricately designed babies will be in safe hands, once she passes them on.
She added: ‘I know most of my customers. Interestingly, they are young mothers between [the ages of] 30 [and] 40 from the USA.
‘I don’t have a big clientele like eBay users do and I don’t like selling on there because I want to know where my babies go.
‘I don’t do custom orders.’
For passionate doll-makers like Susan, reborn is an art form.
She said: ‘I paint my dolls how I envision them. Then I sell. If they sell, great. If not, great too because I get to keep them.’
Baby boy: ‘I paint my dolls how I envision them. Then I sell. If they sell, great. If not, great too because I get to keep them,’ she said
One by one: Susan makes baby dolls at different ages, from newborn until a few months old
Fan club: Susan’s Instagram is filled with her work, and the dolls regularly attract comments from fascinated users who are left stunned by their lifelike features
Astonishing: Commenters are stunned by just how realistic the dolls look, with many confusing them for real babies
Susan’s Instagram is filled with her work, and the dolls regularly attract comments from fascinated users who are left stunned by their lifelike features.
Many people have commented on a post that shows a doll with striking similarities to a newborn reclining in a baby chair.
One person commented: ‘Oh my goodness. He’s so perfect in every way.’
This was followed by someone else, who wrote: ‘I’m obsessed with him.’
Another person wrote: ‘I just want to give him a cuddle.’
Another photo shows a hyper-realistic newborn complete with a freshly-cut umbilical cord stump.
‘Wow… your skills are unbelievable,’ gushed one fan.
Another person was blown away by the intricate details and wrote: ‘She is soo amazing. Hard to believe she is a doll.’
Step by step: The dolls are incredibly detailed, with Susan considering every single aspect of them, from their skin to their mouths
Transformation: Susan gets the dolls in a very basic form, and she then paints them with intricate detail
Unremarkable: When they arrive with Susan, the dolls don’t look different to many other toys
Process: Susan then paints them and adds hair follicle by follicle, sometimes spending weeks on the process
Et voila! The final results look completely different to the original creation