Jesse King is a self-taught artist living in Rhode Island who turns ordinary children’s toys into freakishly ghoulish monsters. One of King’s creations was recently seen at an event hosted by PVD Horror to benefit The Providence Animal Rescue League. The creepy, razor-toothed bear was extremely popular among the crowd and left attendees wondering where they could see more of King’s work. King answers this question and more below in her interview with Motif.
Amanda Grafe: How would you describe what you do?
Jesse King: I use my special effects artistry skills to transform ordinary toys into creepy creations. I have a growing inventory of unwanted dolls and stuffed animals that I acquire from thrift stores, friends and yard sales. There is an abundance of unwanted porcelain dolls and toys out there. I see this as a unique way to rescue these objects from ending up in the landfill by repurposing them.
AG: Besides stuffed animals and dolls, what other materials do you use?
JK: I use a variety of materials, but what I consistently use are liquid latex, paint, stage blood and a glue gun.
AG: What is the process of creating like for you?
JK: I have a dedicated corner in my living room for my SFX art. It’s this awesome storage cube shelf that holds most of my supplies and it has an attached table. I take a “before” picture of the toy in its original form and think of how I could make it completely disturbing. Or I just start working on it and see where it takes me. I may start by melting and molding a bunch of sharp teeth from plastic or building many layers of liquid latex and tissue paper on the doll’s face depending on what look I’m going for. Or I might just do a three-step process that gives the dolls that old cracked look. I aim to make every creation one-of-a-kind. I am resourceful and have used body parts and pieces from other dolls or teddy bears. I once used a decapitated Barbie head to make a shrunken head look. Once I piece and mold everything together and blow dry what needs to be dried, I get to paint. The painting is my favorite part. I love mixing custom colors and blending them into my work. That’s when everything starts to come to life. I think finding a suitable outfit for a doll is the toughest part. Most of the time, I can just use the outfit they came with after I dye it a murky gray or brown color. Sometimes, they just don’t have a suitable outfit so I’ve been known to shop the thrift store in search for the perfect outfit in the baby clothes section. Once, I even debated bringing my creepy clown doll in with me to find an outfit that would fit him, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. When everything else is completed on my creation, stage blood and a clear coat sealer are the final touches. I list my creation online with its own name and short back story.
AG: What first inspired you to begin transforming children’s toys into scary creatures?
JK: I’ve loved horror movies and books since I was a little kid. I’m a fan of made-up horror, gore, monsters and anything strange. I’ve loved special effects makeup for a long time. I used to do SFX makeup on people for practice and for Halloween. I even volunteered my services for a low budget movie one time. It was a lot of fun, but what I loved more than anything was creating my own gory prosthetics. I was so happy and content working on a dangling eyeball or a set of exposed ribs for hours. Then I just stopped doing SFX for years because I wanted to go back to school and get a “grown up” job. Life just got really busy and I never had the down time to be creative. I always missed doing SFX makeup, but I didn’t see how it could provide a good return on the investment of my time. I actually stumbled on the idea of creepy dolls by accident. In addition to my full-time job, I was selling stuff on eBay on the side. I used to watch YouTube videos to learn what kinds of products were selling online. One day, I came across a YouTube video about “Creepy Dolls that sold on eBay” and I was intrigued. I did not know that people collected creepy dolls! I guess I never even thought about it. I’ve seen those “creepy dolls” at the stores around Halloween and I even own one but it never occurred to me that there are people who collect them year round! After this, I immediately started researching what kind of creepy dolls were selling and what people were looking for. I saw that people were transforming ordinary dolls into scary dolls and I knew right away, this was my niche! Soon after that, I was at a yard sale and this woman was selling a ton of dolls. I saw this as a sign and was so excited that I bought them all! I dug up my old special effects train case, ordered a new gallon of liquid latex and stage blood and I got to work! It was then that I discovered that I LOVE transforming dolls into my own works of horror art. It was the perfect kind of work for my introverted personality. Dolls don’t feel uncomfortable sitting for hours while I paint them. I don’t feel obligated to make casual conversation with them. Most importantly, I don’t feel like it is a liability to work on them. I don’t have to fear them having an allergic reaction to the materials and I can use a hot glue gun on their face and not worry about getting sued. When they are finished, I can spray them down with a clear coat of spray paint and not have to worry about them passing out … just kidding on the last parts. I’ve always been responsible with my art, but it is so refreshing to be able to practice my art in a less demanding, quiet environment that is comfortable for me.
AG: Do you create by yourself or are other people involved in what you do?
JK: All my creations are made solely by me. My dog, Hank, likes to claim he is supervising me, but he really is just napping on the couch nearby.
AG: Are there any people in particular who you have learned from or have inspired you who work in a similar genre of art?
JK: I’ve always been a big fan of YouTubers, Glam and Gore and Ellimacs. They are special effects makeup artists who create their own prosthetics and do mainly horror looks. I’ve learned some techniques from them. I also appreciate SFX makeup on films like “The Walking Dead” and ’80s horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and I guess Puppet Master and Child’s Play are similar to my genre of art as well.
AG: What role does the horror genre play in your creative process?
JK: My creative process is primarily based on horror. I aim to create cringe-worthy art that reminds you of being a kid and imagining a monster lurking under your bed. Almost every creation looks better with some more blood.
AG: What is your favorite horror movie?
JK: I don’t have a particular favorite movie. I’m a big fan of monster, zombie, vampire and paranormal movies. It’s fascinating to me to see a creature that was once in someone’s imagination come to life in a movie or a work of art. My favorite generations of horror are the ’80s through ’90s. This is when, in my opinion, horror movies were actually scary. There were a ton of handmade special effects that were just creative, messy and scarier than a lot of cookie cutter scenes that are digitally done today. There was something disturbing about a real person actually being behind the monster on the screen.
AG: What are you trying to say with your work?
JK: There is nothing more powerful than the imagination. You’re never too old to play with toys.
AG: How is your work meant to contribute to the world of art?
JK: They are a fun escape for people who enjoy horror and appreciate the art of transforming an ordinary object into something dark and creepy. My creations are an awesome way for horror collectors to creep out their friends or trick or treaters on Halloween. I’d like it to be that I can contribute to keeping handmade horror art alive in a generation where everything is CGI or digitally done.
AG: Where can we find more of your work?
JK: Follow me on Facebook and Instagram @RoyallyCreepyCreations and visit my Etsy shop at Royally Creepy or use the web address: etsy.com/shop/royallycreepy to see what’s for sale.