Donning a kiss-print button up shirt and a beaming smile, Christian, better known as HeXtian, met up with Jellysmack to discuss their evolution as a creator, the unique art form that has captured the internet’s attention, and what’s on the horizon now that their fan base is in a period of hyper growth.
HeXtian describes their exploratory early beginnings as a creator, and how things evolved before they found the content style that resonated with big audiences.
“It was a whole journey of me doing K-pop dance covers, comedy skits, and blogs. I ended up back on art and making dolls which has been a passion of mine since the beginning.”
The 29-year-old Filipino American artist has amassed a seven-figure subscriber base through their time-lapse videos of an ancient artform, one that has a ubiquitous presence within nearly every culture in human history: doll making.
“I’ve always loved dolls, loved playing with dolls,” HeXtian says. “I wasn’t allowed to. YouTube became an outlet for me to express my creativity.”
A creativity that is hard to deny. The mixed media creator’s incredible range of artistic abilities are showcased in nearly every video. HeXtian’s content shows them freehanding a perfect cat eye on a Bratz doll’s eyelid with surgical precision, sewing tiny dresses together from chiffon with the dexterity of a concert pianist, and sketching whimsical fashion concepts that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique fashion house nor on the boardroom table of a product design meeting at Mattel headquarters.
“I’ve always loved character creation and character building. The fact that I was able to do that using dolls as my medium, as my canvas, was such a great opportunity and experience,” Christian says.
The craft of doll making is an intersection of several skilled trades, encompassing painting, sewing, sketching, and working with all kinds of materials. For Christian, inspiration comes from some of the most innovative and experimental art genres.
“I look to drag queens, fashion, and anime,” they say. “Those three things are my greatest inspirations.”
Much of what HeXtian can do for a doll, they can do full size, too. Moonlighting as a drag queen, Christian is also a haute couture designer and makeup artist, creating extravagant looks that blur the line between the digital world and the real one.
They join a rich legacy. Beginning in the twentieth century, doll making and fashion have had many points of intersection. Another designer of the same name, Christian Dior, was an avid collector and clothes maker; Oscar de la Renta designed dresses for Barbie; Isaac Mizrahi designed clothing for the Madame Alexander Doll Company.
Dolls have been a fixture in human civilizations for thousands of years. Some of the oldest known dolls found in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites are estimated to be over 4,000 years old. They have been found in ancient burial sites of children in Greece and Rome. In Japan, dolls have been recovered dating back to 500 B.C., and there are groups in modern day Japan that believe dolls can harbor souls.
Dolls have a presence on every inhabited continent. Their cultural significance ranges from props for educational development to spiritual and emotional symbols. The rise of their use in fashion houses came about for practical reasons: designers would first sew prototypes on a smaller scale to get a feel for working with different fabrics and materials. This practice increasingly shifted the cultural meaning of dolls toward models of beauty standards. It’s something that seems to weigh heavily on HeXtian’s mind.
Part of what makes Christian’s channel so popular is the inclusiveness of their artistic vision, one that seeks to represent the full spectrum of beauty. Over the 300+ videos they have posted throughout their creator career, HeXtian has created dolls in the image of every shape, size, skin tone, and culture, canonizing beauty in its many forms.
That guiding creative principle has led to the creation of “videos I never thought I’d be able to do,” they say. “Like my Lizzo doll video. Sculpting a realistic body, which was so beautiful to do. It was really cool and I felt like an actual artist, sculpting the body for this doll.”
HeXtian infuses this millenia-old craft with a modern twist by creating dolls inspired by pop culture icons, both real and fictional. Their channel’s most popular uploads include a Vladonna doll transformation into Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and a reimagining of a Barbie doll into Taylor Swift in her “Look What You Made Me Do” video. It’s where doll making tradition meets the digital age.
“I love Sailor Moon. I love to think that all my dolls are like villains in Sailor Moon or something. That’s always my goal, I want them to look like villains,” they says. “They’re always more fun. I love a good witch, a good, wicked witch. I love all types of witches.”
With nearly a decade of video content creation under their belt, HeXtian has collected a following of more than two million across social platforms including YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Their YouTube channel boasts 1.2 million followers and features over 45 videos with over a million views.
Though Christian initially found their fame on YouTube, they were ready to take their craft to new frontiers. HeXtian partnered with Jellysmack through the Creator Program with the goal of sharing their content inventory with Facebook audiences.
Long story short, it was an alley-oop. HeXtian’s fan base skyrocketed to nearly 700,000 page likes over an 18 month period. Fifteen of those months were spent on Facebook’s top 10 Kids Entertainment and Animation pages in the United States (source: Tubular Labs).
With so many years of experience, Christian has become accustomed to the trials and tribulations of life as a creator.
“Because it’s such a creative field, burnout is definitely a thing,” HeXtian says. “Every time I’m working on a doll, I’m already thinking ‘what’s the next three dolls I need to create? What’s the next one?’ That, for me, can get stressful. It’s always ‘what’s next?”
It’s a sentiment echoed by almost every seasoned YouTube creator, a phenomenon that has driven many successful, big names to walk away from their popular channels for good. Creator burnout comes in many shapes and forms, and it hits with varying degrees of severity over time. As a veteran in the creator economy, Christian had some thoughts about coping strategies to manage the drain and fog of artistic blocks.
“For me, it’s really taking a break. Whenever I’m filming and I feel myself burning out, I’ll step away from the project, even if it’s just for five minutes, just a break,” HeXtian says. “Then I’ll go back in.”
Sometimes that works––but sometimes, they have to go a step further.
“If it’s really, really bad, I’ll watch a few videos, get re-inspired, and maybe watch a few comedy videos. I’ll do something that relaxes me and makes me happy, or go brainstorm with a friend about the next steps and what to prioritize. It helps a lot. I think self care when you’re running the risk of burnout is important. Maybe look for inspiration, the beautiful things that inspired you from the get go.”
As for creators just getting started, apprehensive about where to start, HeXtian has some advice about that, too.
Just do it, you know? Get that camera, stand in front of it, stand behind it, just do something that you think the internet needs to see. See if you can add something to the internet world.HeXtian
With the ten year anniversary of HeXtian’s first upload fast approaching. We asked Christian about what’s next, and they didn’t answer in terms of years or growth metrics. Rather, their answer came in the forms of new canvases and mediums they had aspirations of exploring.
“Creating my own doll would be pretty cool. My own doll, with my own fashion designs, which will probably just look like me, in drag,” HeXtian says with a laugh. “I’ve also wanted to try tattooing…I think that’s so cool. More painting, too. Just branch out and see what other things I can do.”
HeXtian’s popularity as a doll maker is part of a larger-scale digital renaissance in which artists of every trade and medium have found unprecedented global audiences through technology. The range of talent and content types uploaded every day is breathtaking, spurring innovation and new ways of thinking. Or, in Christian’s case, it brings attention to a practice and tradition as old as civilization itself.
That’s good news for people like HeXtian, who has found their passion in thoughtfully immortalizing our cultural notions of beauty and inspiration into artifacts that will tell our story to future generations.
And for Hextian, it’d be hard to imagine it playing out any other way.
“I don’t think I can do anything other than art.”