“I just thought that doing My Little Pony toys would be different,” says Rizzo Michelle, reflecting on her decision to customize unwanted toys and try to sell them at Comikaze 2013. “When I went there, people really liked my stuff and I sold all of my customizations at the show.”
The Oceanside artist takes My Little Pony dolls and augments them with new faces, transforming the children’s toys into the likes of Batman, Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, or Frank the creepy bunny monster from Donnie Darko.
“I’d never really customized any toys before, and I didn’t know I had any talents as a sculptor,” says Rizzo Michelle. “I use Super Sculpey, and sometimes other materials like fabric or metal. I sew outfits for my customizations, and I attach hair to the dolls as well.”
It takes a couple weeks to fully transform an old My Little Pony doll into a horse version of a famous person or character from a movie, comic, or cartoon. The artist shares photo essays of the process on Instagram (@thepinupchronicles), and it’s been through Instagram that ideas for customizations have come in from interested fans. The photo-sharing social network has been a huge part of her self-marketing plan, and Rizzo Michelle says that she receives the most interest when she shares pictures of the ponies’ creation, even more so than images of the finished products.
It takes about a week to do the sculpting, attach the hair, sew the clothing, etc., and another seven-plus hours to painstakingly paint the diminutive horse dolls’ new faces. And, no, the My Little Ponies don’t melt when the artist bakes them to cure the Sculpey. They’re only in the oven for about ten minutes at low temperature. But that’s one of the most common questions she hears.
Right now, Rizzo Michelle’s working on four different ponies for potential customers who found her via Instagram: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, Optimus Prime, Poison Ivy, and the Joker. She considers herself mostly able to “ponify” (her term) anyone or anything, but that’s already been tested.
“Someone asked for a celebrity — one of the members of [pop group] One Direction — and I didn’t know how to change that person into a pony!” she says.
It turns out that it’s a lot easier to ponify someone, or something, with more recognizable and easily represented features.
“You really have to have someone well known or distinctive,” Rizzo Michelle explains. “Like, when I did Cheech and Chong, one of them had the bandanna and the other had the beenie, and, well, you know, they’re Cheech and Chong!”
So far, the Cheech and Chong ponies, done as custom orders for an Instagram fan, are Rizzo Michelle’s favorite creation. She cracked herself up as she painted, seeing the characters come together and being delighted over how well her first two ponified humans turned out. She even got the satisfaction of having Tommy Chong himself post pictures of her customized pony on his Instagram page (@heytommychong).
Does Rizzo Michelle worry about pigeonholing herself as just the “pony girl?”
Not at all.
“I’m going to stick to the ponies,” she says. “It’s a challenge, because people are giving me requests and I’m like, ‘I can do that. I can take on that challenge.’ Except for the One Direction guy….I honestly did not know how I could do that. I wouldn’t be offended to be known as the girl who works with the ponies. It’s distinctive.”
If she’s going to keep ponifiying, Rizzo Michelle wants to take the show on the road and display her work in conventions (Comic-Con, WonderCon, etc.). She sells the completed customizations for $85-$100, which isn’t very much money, so she’s trying to get an Indiegogo campaign off the ground to crowdsource some funds for her conventioneering.
And if it works?
“I would love to ponify all the characters from Star Wars,” she says.