Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jennifer Strunge Interview

The first time I was exposed to Jennifer Strunge I freaked out. I couldn't stop staring at the monsters and wondering who is this Jennifer person and will she be my friend? Her work is very inspiring as she takes monster making and sewing to a totally different level. Her inflatable monsters are too good to be true, her monsters for exhibits and sale have so much personality that you could easily be fooled into believing that when they are done they sit around and yap it up with Jennifer in her studio. Perhaps some drink whiskey, they definitely tell good jokes and you will want to invite them over for a nice dinner and good conversation. In a perfect world, this would all be very possible. Thank goodness we have Jennifer in the world.

S- I was reading about you in American Style and they quote you saying you have been "a practicing artists and puppeteer since preschool". Do you remember some of your "early" pieces you worked on at such a young age? Any favorites?

JS-Ah far back as I can remember I was making things from scraps and trash, and more often than not, they turned into characters of sorts with names and stories of their own. Mr. Weiner was a very early memorable one, he was basically a three foot strip of foam padding that I drew eyeballs and a mouth on...but as simple as he was, he provided many days of fun, until one day I brought him into the local pool, and he was never the same! I made some pretty rad sock puppets back in the day too! My mom was a school teacher, and also used to take me to this place that sold factory salvage things by the pound, so there was always tons of weird stuff around to be used for creations.

S- You were in the fiber arts program at MICA. As a trained artist, did you feel that your schooling was supportive to your kind of work?

JS- MICA was a great experience for me as an artist. It allowed me to experiment with so many different mediums and interact with tons of people with totally different views. I found the fiber department conducive to the kind of work I was drawn to making...things that were tedious, time-intensive and repetitive. My senior year I started making these three dimensional quilts, and eventually giant monster puppets, it was something that no one else was doing at the time, and I got fantastic feedback and support.

S-One thing I find so appealing about your work is the color schemes. Your monsters don't have a lot of patterned fabric going on or anything too distracting so that you really just feel like your monsters are almost alive. The colors go together beautifully so that they are really pretty monsters...if that's possible, you are the one for the job. I know you use mainly recycled materials so is this a big challenge for you or is it a pretty organic process?

JS- It definitely takes time. Each monster is different, and made from recycled clothes and materials, so I never have one set color palette to work from. Basically when I'm making monsters I have a huge heap of clothes/linens piled up in my studio, and I just start pulling out colors that I find pleasing together, sometimes they are the first things I pull out, sometimes it takes a while to find just the right arrangement, and sometimes I have to stop what I'm doing and take a trip to the thrift store, or my closet! I really let the materials, in form and color, help dictate what the monster will turn out to it's important to me that they are recycled, and in a way given a new life.

S-In the issue of Urbanite, they say "Even in Strunge's apparently friendly monsters, there is a conflict between what is approachable and safe for the viewer and that which is distant and dangerous." To me they look more friendly, like they would be the perfect thing to tell your secrets too because they would keep them. Would you say your monsters are more friendly or dangerous?

JS- Definitely friendly. I like to think that they are on my side...but would protect me from any real scary stuff that may come my way. They are protectors of your secrets, and your toes.

S- Your inflatable monsters are truly amazing and seem like the hardest thing to make. What was this experience like for you in making such large scaled monsters that are also inflatable?

JS- I basically just had to think about things differently, as these monsters were given form by air, not fiber-fill. Usually I work intuitively, making it up as I go along...but for these guys I definitely had to do some planning. One is made from an old army parachute, so I used some of the original shaping and seams to help guide the shape of the monster. It was a totally fun project since these were the biggest monsters I've ever made, but also challenging for sure. If those guys had been stuffed, they would have to be moved with a construction crane!

S-When I look at your work and know that for one, no two pieces are ever the same as you do not work from a pattern and then for two, I realize how long some of these processes can be, how are you able to price your work so reasonably? It really is impressive.

JS- Well, I've come to realize that I should be charging more, and will eventually have to if I want this to become my main source of income. Right now I work at a puppet theater and in school programs. I want people to be able to afford them, but now am realizing if I can only make 1-2 big monsters a day, then they need to cost more. I'm still figuring out the business part of my Cotton Monster venture...and I'm definitely an artist first, so it's a struggle managing everything else.

S-I am not sure if it is obvious on this blog yet but I am a HUGE fan of Craft magazine. I love what they are doing and how they have really helped to grow the craft community and to help expose so many crafters. I really loved the monster bra featured in the last issue and I really love the costumes you have made, how often do you make wearable monsters compared to the more cuddly kind?

JS- I love the wearable monsters; those were really how the Cotton Monsters began in my senior year of school. I haven't had too much time to make them as of late, as the online business of making the little monsters has taken so much time. The monster bra was made last year for a breast cancer foundation fundraiser, and I've done a few big commissions recently...but would love to have an extra day in the week to work on bigger projects! There's nothing like walking around the city with a big old monster hanging over your body! Luckily Halloween is here, so I got to allot some time to make a monster bunny mask of sorts.

S- As far as having a full time job goes, your job at Black Cherry Puppet Theater seems really ideal for you. How has this job helped to foster your creativity and exposure?

JS- It's been great. I love being involved with different communities, and working at the Puppet Theater has taken me to all edges of Baltimore, that I may not have had much access to before. I really love working with kids and just seeing the awesomeness that comes out of their creative projects is always inspiring to what I'm working on. Kids have such a fresh eye sometimes they can make you re-examine how you've been thinking about something. I also perform with the theater's marionette shows, and it's always fun to be on that end too...manipulating something and making it come alive. I recently got to work with another local group, Nana Projects, as a guest monster artist, cutting out monsters and skeletons for a "magic lantern show". This job has definitely opened lots of doors for me!

S- I think one of the most satisfying things as an artist is not just the recognition you might receive from fellow artists, colleagues or the press but to actually see how much joy the actual work brings to the viewer or buyer. It seems like this is also very important to you in your work. What has been some of the more satisfying moments you have had in making your monsters for exhibits and festivals?

JS- Totally. I think that's what keeps me going. To know that whoever is getting this box that I'm mailing out with a monster inside, whether they are young or old, is going to get a giant smile on their face and not be able to resist hugging it! It's great at craft festivals to watch people's faces as they approach one, or they immediately pick one up and refuse to put it down. The last installation I did, I spent probably a couple hours arranging all these monsters, giant ones, big ones, and little ones. Within the first half hour of the opening, they had all been completely moved around and re-arranged. So even being an artist in a gallery, where you traditionally are told 'not to touch', the Cotton Monsters just cry out for that human interaction. And I think it's awesome!

S- If your monsters had advice for all of us, what do you think they would tell us?

JS- Not to take ourselves too seriously. It's hard to be in a bad mood in a room full of Cotton Monsters. They surely help me put things in perspective.

S- What is on the horizon for Cotton Monster?

JS- Oh man, more breeds are always developing. I would love to make more giant and wearable monsters too. I'm excited to begin new work for gallery installation projects...hopefully in the not too distant future. And there is this quilt I've been dreaming of for years, which I will make entirely of eyeballs, that's next!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Robyn Fabsits

Robyn Fabsits was one of those hot topics of Plush You! Her stuff sold super fast, is very detailed and basically amazing. I decided that I would love to learn more about her so here is a lovely interview with her.

You received your MFA and do commercial work for Shoebox (a Hallmark line). Is this your full time job or do you do other commercial work?

My MFA is from the School of Visual Arts in New York. It was one of the best things I could have done and I’d do it again. My major was Illustration and that’s what I do today. I work for Hallmark, here in Kansas City, and create illustrations and designs for the card line,Shoebox. For those who don’t know, Shoebox is Hallmarks edgier humor line. It’s my full time job and luckily I get to work with really talented
artists and writers who all have different interests outside of work. Occasionally I get a chance to work on special projects here as well. I’ve done a few week long plush workshops in our textile studio as well as some other textile workshops and I’ve been involved with quite a few plush brainstorms. So I get a variety of things to do other than just designing cards. When I started 7 years ago I always thought I’d attempt to do freelance on the side but found out It just wasn’t for me. That’s when I began sewing. Not just plushies, but bags, pouches, name it I sewed it.

2) Was making plushies always something you were interested in or was that something that developed later in your art career?

Plush and Toys are always something that I’ve been interested in and have tried to keep up with viewing on the internet. Locally there just aren’t a lot of places that carry that stuff. It’s the midwest, and there just isn’t a real market for it here.
I’d have to say that working on my plushies started about 5 years ago after the first workshop I had at Hallmark. I thought ‘I can do this’. From then on it’s been a constant development with each piece getting more and more complicated. I started out really simple. Most plush work I’d seen was relatively simple in construction and was super popular. I love a challenge and soon got bored with this. My plush soon became 3 dimensional versions of my illustrations. They became more and more detailed. And
most of the time there is a concept behind them. I have to work illustration and design concepts out every day on paper and it soon took over into my plush as well.

3) Your work was snatched up very quickly at the Plush You! show this year. Many people commented on how reasonably priced they were. I know it is hard for a lot of artists to try and price their work, is there any method you use for pricing your art?

I’m super pleased that my work was bought up so quickly and that there was interest. I’ve gotten quite a lot of feedback from people. One comment has been that I undersold myself. Plush You! is the first group show I’ve done. For the last year I’ve attempted to get into other shows and never get a response which can be very frustrating. I was overjoyed when I got into Plush You and thought maybe this could lead to more. So as a result of never being in a group show before I had no idea how to price my work . I also know that locally I’ve tried selling my stuff at craft-fairs and it just doesn’t sell because they think $60 is even too much. So I just decided what was the minimum I wanted for these and priced them at that. I even if that too high I’d rather get them back.

4) I love your sideshow plush. It seems like it was an idea you tooled around with a lot. Is there any background story on this collection or you just thought it would be fun to play around with this idea?

Oh, I am little obsessed with all things sideshow and oddities of all kinds. It all started in grad school when I did a series of 10 illustrations based on the sideshow circus. It’s become a joke with people I know that from the outside I seem so nice and sweet but I have a twisted sense of humor and like weird stuff. The weirder the better. Even my dining room is a circus theme with posters and circus tin toys. So it was only a matter of time before I did a series of plush based on that theme. I’m
surprised I didn’t do these sooner. But then again they probably would not have turned out as well. I still have sketches for more when I get back to doing them. I’d love to do the snake-charmer and the sword-swallower.

5) On average, how much would you say you work on plush in comparison to your other art work?

I’d have to say that my work is divided 50/50. I go to work and do card stuff and then come home and go to work in my studio sewing . I even do doodles for my plush during lunch. Coming up with my next plush idea is always on my mind. I am constantly thinking about it. I wish there was more time in the day.

6) Do you have your own collection or plush art and/or favorite plush designers?

I don’t have a huge collection of plushies. I did just buy a Knit Neth Creature this past July at Comic-Con in San Diego. I just don’t have a lot of room. I tend to collect a lot of different things. I have my collection of tin circus toys, small tacky ceramic animal figurines from the 50’s,cool printed fabric, toys I grew up with, movie monster figurines, cool prints, books, etc....I could go on about what I collect. My studio is basically filled with all things that inspire me.
There are quite a few plush artists I admire though. Such as... Heidi Kenney of
My Paper Crane, Hillary Lang of WeeWonderfuls, Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps, Jess Hutchison, Jennifer Strunge of Cotton Monster...I could go on. I keep a list on my blog of plush artists and other crafters that I like and I check them occasionally. The imagination these people have is awesome.

7) Your latest design, Jack, for the Softies Awards is really amazing. Do you plan on putting this one up for sale as well?

I’m really happy with the way Jack turned out. I really think he personifies the doodle I did of him that I posted on my blog. You couldn’t tell by just looking at him but there is quite a lot of support under all that fabric. His arms have a flexible wire and there is a wooden rod that runs from the top of his head to the inside of the box. This is what is actually holding him upright. As a result of that and the wood box he is quite heavy. I procrastinated a while on finishing the box because I didn’t know what to do. I finally came up with a drawing of a cemetery
that wraps all the way around it. I wanted to make sure the box was interesting but not stand out to much. I went the all monochromatic look that way Jack, especially his face, would stand out more. Unfortunately Jack is spoken for.

8) There were many people really sad they couldn't purchase your pieces from Plush You! Do you ever do commission work?

I can’t express more about how it makes me feel when I hear people loved my work and wish they had bought it. That has been the best motivation. I used to sell work on my website quite a while ago but didn’t get a lot of interest so I stopped and decided to focus on making contacts with people and get my work out there through my blog. It seems that within the last 2 months I’ve had people emailing me about work. I don’t have anything to sell currently but I am totally up for doing a commissioned
piece all you need to do is contact me.

9) What do you see on the horizon for you and your plush?

Right now I’d say my goal is to do more group shows if possible. I’m still finding it hard to find out about most of them and when I do it’s to late. I’d love to sell a few pieces in specialty stores as well. It’s not really about money for me though, it’s more about getting to meet new people and new artists.

Thanks Robyn!!
Hopefully you will apply to next year's show!

Next weeks interview will be with Jennifer Strunge of Cotton Monsters!