Sunday, November 4, 2007

Flying Star Studios

I can't really remember the first time I stumbled upon the work of Florence Forrest of Flying Star Toys but I do remember how her work made me feel. I was immediately in awe of how pretty her work was, how you really could see how much care she put into each piece and how it would appeal to a large audience. With that being said, I decided I needed to spread the good word and asked her to do an interview. It was really fun thinking of questions for her and I am so glad she had fun answering them. Thank you so much for taking the time!

S- It's ironic to read that you grew up in a puppet theater as the last woman I interviewed, Jennifer Strunge, currently works for a puppet theater. I've never thought so much about puppets before! How do you think that growing up in this kind of environment influenced your work today?

FST- I believe that time growing up in the environment of the Queensland Theatre of Puppetry to have had a significant influence on me as a toy designer. The characters from the puppet theatre were characters imbued with stories and I got to see them act out their stories in their soft fabric flesh within the magic precincts of the theatre. The theatre is still a place I'm very much intrigued with today and hence my work with OzFrank Theatre here in Brisbane as design dramaturge.

It certainly has aided my close relationship to toys and characters and the imagination of stories - they were my first friends.

S- Back in 2004 you started making plush toys by making 20 miniature cloth dolls that represented the creative community of Brisbane. That resulted in you making two life size dolls which you named, Lilli and Tom. You continue to maintain a blog about the life and the adventures of them. How has your plush changed since their creation and how has their life helped to broaden your work within your community?

FST- Lilli&Tom miniature series and Lilli&Tom life-size were a great opportunity to take art into the community, into the lives of people. Like many artists today I'm a big believer in the magical, transformative nature of art and that transformation and magic is best when it intersects with people in unexpected places and within the ordinary day, not just housed off in special places like a gallery. I think of my toy designing as type of folk art in the sense it is an art people can associate with everyday and is a common type of object, though this is not strictly the definition of folk art I feel that generally people can more easily relate to a toy than they can to say Abstact Expressionist painting. For me I'm looking at the gentle communion of story and experience of vision and the poetry that lies inside the human being - toys are a perfect medium for that journey.

Lilli&Tom life-size go to places you and I might go, they turn up and I photograph them picnicking by the sea or having coffee at the weekend markets. They enter the arena of life and enliven that place for others; something is happening, something unexpected, additional and other is happening in that environment. I'm creating a direct individual act upon my society and by doing so it becomes part of the culture of the city, it's very exciting. Lilli&Tom stand for honest contentment and natural piety. They are a reminder to enjoy the peace and security we have, for as we have it here in Brisbane it is indeed like a paradise. Lilli&Tom are not obsessed by anything, they are however self-posessed meaning that they act and enjoy and that their clear minds do not create mischief or distubances. This is the image I want reflected into people minds when I take them into the world and when people see their photographic journey, at least at the unconscious level.

When I first made Lilli&Tom minature series they were an art piece mascarading as a product. They are individual, completely handsewn each having its own outfit made from vintage kimono fabrics and story of what they do in Brisbane with the overall intention of an installation to be seen by Brisbane people. They are very specific to their region, infact you might say they are more akin to native costume dolls. My work in toy designing has over the years, since then, developed toward a product orientated approach which has taught me a great deal and has rather improved my toy designing rather than restricted it.

S- You say in one of your blog posts that wholesome is a good word to describe your toys. Can you explain more about this to the readers here?

FST- When I started making toys in 2004 the Plush revolution had just started. Mostly the toys were of the ironic kind or monster plush, my work is, in contrast, poetic and rooted in the skills of the embroiderer. So for a long time I felt my work to be outside the trend....not that I let that stop me :) But Plush has evolved to include so many more sub-genres. It really is an exciting area to be a part of because we are making it happen as each designer develops their own style and contibute to the scene as a whole. I think that there is room for all original toy designers now not just the ironic or the odd.

Wholesome is a one word description that encapsulation what I have called The Flying Star Toys Manifesto: To bring joy the the weary heart, to be a light in the darkness, and to be a vision of compassion is what it means to be a Flying Star. This guides what I develop and what finally becomes a Flying Star Toy design. A Flying Star Toy develops in a relationship to the purpose stated in the Manifesto so, that is to say, that a Flying Star Toy is a manifestation of wholesomeness. It is also another reason why I take great care with all the materials and construction of each toy because it must be a worthy vessel to carry such intentions

S- What I find so interesting about your work is that you seem to think a lot about the world, our environment and how we view our connections to both and then you translate that into each piece you make. It is almost as if every piece you make is a sociological experiment or something. How do you see your work fitting into our environment and surroundings?

FST- Toy making for me is an extention of my curiousity into areas of story creation, mythology, human relations, imagination and the intersection of objects with the mind. That said it is a personal artistic journey of process, myth making and creation. The curious way in which I must come into a relationship with something for a toy design to be born. To let you in on a little secret I rarely ever sit down with a piece of paper and try to come up with a toy. People sometimes ask me, can you make me a duck or a dragon? I say no, that I haven't designed any of those yet and I don't know if I ever will. I simply haven't come into a personal relationship with them yet and so they have not appeared. It is the witnessing of life and thoughts, and one's surroundings both big and small that end up generating my designs.

S- You seem to be a big art collector, critic and one who supports your local artists. A lot of people ask me why I think plush has become such a popular medium with artists these days. I believe it has been a great way to get your art out there, and your name, for a bit cheaper than canvas art. How do you think plush has helped artists to get into the world?

FST- Plush is a legitimate medium in its own right with its own rules and restriction, its own freedoms and natural subjects. Exhibitions such as Plush You! are doing a great deal for the respectablity of Plush as a craft/arts form and its popularity will only increase with time as it builds its own momentum. Making Plush is still a very new thing too and so there are still far fewer people making Plush that say painting or illustrating, perhaps it's easier to get noticed as a point of difference.

S- Birds seem to have been a popular thing to plush in the last few years. I really love your interpretation of finches and other birds. I have been thinking lately about how I see so many amazing plush pieces and in a way it seems to be inhibiting me from taking a crack at things because I think I can't do it as good as so and so or think that it's been done so many times why bother. Do you ever battle with similar issues and how do you deal with them?

FST- I too marvel at the work that's being done by the many other amazing plush artists. I feel we are all spurring each other on by taking ourselves and the work of our peers seriously. It is hard sometimes not to feel intimidated but these are the gifts of creativity born in humanity and the expression of it in the hands of true artists is always an individual journey that should be enjoyed for its variety. Having one's own journey with Plush is what it is all about. This is the same for any artist and their medium.

S- With that being said, how do you think your work stands out from all the other plush out there?

FST- Aside from the aspects I've already discussed, Flying Star Toys are not based on one particular character family that is then elaborated. Having one character family is an excellent way of exploring Plush but my journey takes me to various waters creating many character families brought together under the manifesto of the Flying Star Toys. I often think that I have selected a difficult route but it is the one that is open to me and is the one I must follow.

S- I have also been thinking a lot about my process and one thing I always go back to is how when I am making something on a daily basis and then look back at them, often times I have a certain color palette I was drawn to on a particular day and how that seems to reflect my mood or feelings. You make a wide variety of plush toys that seem to change from time to time. How does your work reflect you as a person and what is currently going on in your life?

FST- Currently I have about 8 new designs yet to be released created in my last design period, which included work like Ishmael's Whale and Red Finch White Finch. This design period bought me closer to forming my signiture style that represents the core nature of Flying Star Toys. The process of maturation has been both exciting and painful. The development of Flying Star Toys could not have happen without my dedication to that process. One of the hardest lessons for me was to understand were the line between art and design was. Learning how each could serve the other and learning when the art needs to butt out and knowing where designing for a commerical market needs to take the back seat.

S- As you continue to market your work "in all seriousness", what else do you see for yourself in the future?

FST- One of the benefits of having a complex toy world is the number of avenues I can take them. Mostly I'm aiming for the high end retail market that appreciates high quality, limited edition design. I'm also planning ranges that are more one-of-a-kind art pieces, which now that I've established a solid base I can go back to. And as story is such a large component to what I do, in the long term I'd love to develop books having the toy as its subject. Finally, of course, exhibitioning as much as possible.

S- With the holidays approaching, what are you expecting to be your hot sellers? What are your big holiday fairs?

FST- I have work going to a toy Exhibition in Cairns called "Toy Box" - 23rd Novmber to January 5th. The Umbrella Collective ( is holding our annual Christmas show on November 17th and Flying Star Toys will be at the Makers Market at the Gallery of Modern Art here in Brisbane on the 25th of November so its all coming up very quickly. The main toys I'll be selling this year will be FlockA2s, Ishmael's Whales, Red Finch White Finch, Biscuit Bunnies, Katkin Rattles and Fruits of Eve (launched this month). Yikes! I'd better get to it!

Thanks again Kristen for giving me such researched interview questions. I really do appreciate your interest in my work.
I'm looking forward to Plush You! 2008 :)

Warmly Yours,

xx Florence

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