When I am asked about my creations by people that are not familiar with the world of teddy bear making, I have a hard time explaining exactly what it is all about. I feel that defining my craft as "soft sculpture" might feel pretentious, but simply saying that I make stuffed animals is reductive.
There are elements that are well known by collectors and teddy bear makers that I would like to explain to the non initiated... :-)
Every animal that I make is OOAK. This is an acronym that stands for One Of A Kind. It means that every creation is unique, it is like a person, or a real animal. You cannot find two exactly the same. This is not true for mass market soft toys that are made in many exemplars all alike.
Each creation is entirely made by myself. This means that the designing, sewing, needle felting, polymer clay sculpting, shading, trimming....all the techniques involved into creating this unique animal are my own achievement. It also means hours of work.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Sometimes I start with a vague idea. "I want to make a dog". Sometimes I have a precise idea . "I want to make a welsh terrier".
The first step is always...research.
Research in the internet age is easy. I start looking for images of real life photos, or sometimes anatomy drawings of what I have in mind. I put every 'inspiring' image into a folder. I also have a Pinterest account which helps me keeping my brainstorming in good order! Sometimes an image has only an interesting element to it. The proportions of the animal, a nose, the colours. When I have enough inspiring images, it is time to start designing.
Designing is one of my favourite steps. It can be time consuming and full of false starts, but I like the challenge of translating the image in my head into a three-dimensional project. At this stage, I already have chosen the fur that I will use but I often try my new designs on cheap cotton fabric first. Proportions change when using fur but this first step is very important to me, especially when I work on a brand new animal never tried before.
When I am sure of my newly designed project, I'm finally ready to translate it into reality: tracing the shapes on the fabric, cutting, trimming, hand sewing... There are many different stages in this long work: probably the most important and defining one is the face-head shaping.
I'm fascinated by the concept of creating using materials and techniques that traditionally come from separate 'categories'. This way of doing things appeals to my restlessness and curiosity to try new things. Two techniques in particular suit my need for control and detailing, and I have used both: needle felting and polymer clay sculpting. My creations have been crafted using either or both of these techniques which require lots of time and a great attention for detail.
I've used the needle felting technique to make my creations faces for quite some time in the past. In that instance the needle felting technique was used on a head which had been previously designed, sewn from fur and stuffed in the 'traditional' way. The muzzle-eyes area was shaped through the needle felting of sheep wool on top of a blank face area. Sometimes long mohair strands were successively inserted into the needle felted area to give it a furry look.
Polymer clay sculpting is another method that I have often used to sculpt small parts for realistic detailing, such as noses or paw pads. It can also be used for bigger parts, like entire paws, or the whole head. In that instance the entire head is actually shaped out of polymer clay (or other kinds of putty) and then the fur attached on top of it. The possibilities are endless, and the control over the detailing total. All my latest creations have been made using this technique.
Another very important element to be considered is the bone structure. I have worked hard to devise ways to give a natural stance to my animal creations. I like them to be able to be arranged in many realistic positions. Their limbs, heads and tails must be flexible enough to be gently curved and accordingly positioned. My solution to this is a flexible padded wire frame which connects head and limbs. It is a sort of artificial skeleton.
Last but not least, the scissor sculpting, shading and painting techniques come into play. Even a finely sculpted and furred face, or a body sewn using beautiful fur need skilled shaping through scissor sculpting. There I get to be pet groomer for a while! :-)
Finally, there comes one of my favourite steps of this long process: shading and painting...or giving life to my creation. I love to see a blank face gradually transform into a creation with life and personality.
I have been frequently asked about the techniques and paints used to enliven my creations. I experimented with several mediums and I have come to appreciate the use of both acrylics and oils, depending on the surface and the desired effect.
Ultimately, when my creation is born...I spend some more time designing a cute accessory to go with it. My 'brand' is felt, as I love creating embroidered felt ornaments. When the accessory is done, there is one last important thing. The identity card. All my creations have peculiar and distinctive identity cards, sewn from felt in matching style and colour with the accessory. I always use a piece of the animal's fur, it is a sort of DNA proof! On the identity card I write the name of the animal, the date of birth, and FB i.e. my initials and signature.
Do you have a question? Please, feel free to ask!
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