Wednesday, 10 June 2015

An interview with the Tree Change Doll lady: Sonia Singh

Image: Sonia Singh
After having so much fun giving our own Bratz dolls a 'makeunder', The Quirky Parent was lucky enough to interview the inspiration behind it: Sonia Singh, the artist who turns second-hand dolls into the adorable Tree Change Dolls. Plus, don't miss the chance to win a gift from Sonia!

Can you remember the moment when you first looked at a Bratz doll and thought "I could change that!"?
I re-painted my first doll in November 2014. I had recently lost my job due to government funding cuts, but kept my child in childcare to apply for jobs. This meant I had some time to myself. I got thinking about a creative project to do with 'upcycling' and decided to upcycle dolls because I loved playing with dolls as a child and because I would see a lot of discarded dolls in second-hand shops. I wanted to style the dolls as children and give them a more natural look, like real children playing in nature.
Image: Sonia Singh
I tried first with several different kinds of dolls, but some dolls (such as Bratz) I found I could re-style a lot more dramatically. One of the major challenges was coming up with a way to create new feet and shoes for these dolls with snap-on feet.
Image: Sonia Singh
How long does the process of changing a doll take? Which part of the process do you enjoy most?
I love painting the faces. It's fun making each doll unique and seeing each one come to life as I paint. Making the new shoes and feet takes a lot of time. Brushing, trimming and re-styling their hair takes a while too. I love choosing their clothes too. My amazing mum Silvia designs all the clothes and sends me little packages in the mail. She really is an expert knitter.
Image: Sonia Singh
How many Tree Change Dolls have you made so far and do you have a favourite?
I have sold just over 100 dolls, including a monthly doll auctioned for charity. I try not to get too attached to them, but I also try to take a lot of photos of them before I sell them. One of my favourites was the May charity doll for Global March against Child Labour. She was inspired by my Indian heritage and I named her Neeti after my twin sister who I played so many doll games with as a child. She sold for about $1225 AUD. I remember brushing her hair and packing her to send to her new owner, and thinking she was lovely and wishing I could keep her!
Image: Sonia Singh
Where do you work? 
This has all taken off unexpectedly. I still work at my dining room table! The room looks out onto my garden and the chook yard and there is a tiny glimpse of the water (Blackmans Bay beach) through the trees. I only work on my dolls when my 2-year-old daughter is in childcare because otherwise I would never get the dolls back!

You are a scientist by background. Being an artist must use a completely different part of your brain and personalit– or do you see some kind of overlap?
I have always had creative interests and a love for nature and been involved in science. Science and art are similar in many ways. I've heard it said that science and art aim for the same thing: to find truth. I like that. Most of my career has been in science communication, working with children and communities to inspire an interest in science. I have presented science shows, activities and workshops across Australia and worked at science museums in Canberra and Melbourne.
Image: Sonia Singh
Do you do any other art?
I have always loved painting and drawing. It's one of the skills my mum taught me as a little girl. I have studied illustration and I have always had some kind of creative project that I'm working on from sewing puppets, making hand-cut stamps, creating pastel drawings of animals, to writing science fiction stories.

I learnt that a tree change is an Australian term for a move from the city to the country for a more relaxed lifestyle. Have you made a tree change in your own life?
Yes. I decided to move back to my home state of Tasmania to start a family about three years ago. I was living in the city of Melbourne before this move. Tasmania has a unique and beautiful natural environment. It has a much smaller population, so it feels like everyone knows each other. This was my tree change and I'm very happy with it.
Image: Sonia Singh
What are the most important things to you about bringing up a child?
I loved being a child. I remember the joy of creative play. It was what life was all about, at the time. I think playtime is when children are most open to new ideas and that this is the best time for learning. I want to give my child plenty of time for free play and plenty of time to explore in the natural world. I believe children have an inherent connection with nature and this is something I want to encourage in my daughter.

Finally, can you tell us three quirky things about yourself?!
1. I'm an identical twin. My sister and I spent endless days playing with our dolls as children. It was the best fun in the world.
Image: Sonia Singh
2. After growing up in Tasmania, I left to join a 'science circus' in 2003. This is a program run by Questacon - the National Science and Technology Centre to promote science. I traveled around Australia with a group of other young scientists performing science shows to school children and community groups. It was very challenging and a lot of fun!

3. I'm an introvert. Some of my best creative achievements happen when I'm working in solitude. Tree Change Dolls, for example. I also love creative writing. I loved reading as a child and wanted to be a writer when I was a teenager.

Thank you Sonia! 

Win a $35 AU bundle of 5 Tree Change Doll knitting patterns plus colouring book (drawings by Sonia) with DIY doll tips! To enter, simply Like The Quirky Parent FB page if you haven't already (button below) and email the words Tree change to Open worldwide. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced here on 19th June.

This competition is now closed: The winner is Cherie Varrin.


  1. Thanks for the interesting interview, Clair. I love reading about people who make big life changes and find happiness along the way!

    1. Thanks Susan. From scientist to doll artist - quite a change!

  2. what a change really like the new dolls

  3. Magical transformation, isn't it?