A Costa Mesa castle of dolls

COSTA MESA — While some people may see faded pants or a worn button as destined for the landfill, Jzin Teng sees construction materials.

Often tossed-aside household items take on a second life once they move through Teng's studio, becoming building blocks for one of the dolls she crafts from her Costa Mesa home.

Her son's blue, faded pants from when he was 2? They're ideal for Heathcliff's coat from her Heartthrobs of Literature series.

Teng selects materials in part because of their aesthetic appeal, but also because many items have a unique quality or history that connect them with the place they are made. Aiming to give her creations a local tie, she named her Etsy.com store Castle of Costa Mesa.

Teng said she has made less than 100 dolls so far in her year of crafting. She said that as her children grow, her interests in art will mature with them, moving from dolls to painting or other artistic avenues.

For her daughter Elena's seventh birthday Nov. 4, Teng created some dolls and scenery for Elena to use while putting on a show. This caused Elena to not only receive gifts on her birthday, but also engage her friends.

"They can give back with whatever talent they have," Teng said.

Elena said her friends enjoyed the show.

"They were dressing up the bear and they all started laughing," Elena said.

While each doll she creates has a unique story for Teng, she leaves most of her dolls' faces largely plain — with the exception of a small bump for a nose or knots for eyes. This way, children can create their own narrative connected to the doll.

"I love making faces, but some people say, 'If you make it simple, the children can use their imagination,'" she said. "It's a lot of work to make it simple. … [fewer details] compels you to guess."

Teng envisions expanding her doll series to include Arabian Nights and Chinese fairytales.

Originally from Malaysia, Teng came to the U.S. when she was 18 to go to college. Initially hoping to study art, Teng was steered toward the sciences by her mother, who wanted people to take her daughter seriously.

Eventually Teng became a cancer researcher at USC, then later a stay-at-home mother of three. She never lost her passion for art, though.

Teng said it was a combination of "a need for sanity and stress relief" that drove her to begin her hobby.

"I realized, 'Oh my goodness! If I died tomorrow, I want to create.'"


Twitter: @lawilliams30

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