Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Serena Kuhl Interview and Giveaway!

I have had the pleasure of working with Serena Kuhl for several Plush You! shows along with her contribution to Plush You!: Lovable Misfit Toys to Sew and Stuff. She has always been supportive, inspiring and her work is funny to boot. I am so glad we finally have her for an interview. Leave a comment here for your chance to win your own cannibal bunny! Don't forget to leave contact info!

S- Can you first tell us more about yourself and how you got into sewing plush toys?

SK- My mum taught me to sew when i was really young, I used to sew a lot of pillows! I'd get sick of doing it half way through and then start making the stitches bigger and bigger! Then when i started school I was shown how to make these snake characters out of old tights, you were supposed to put them in front of doors to stop the draughts, so I ripped a lot of my stockings so i could make a legion of them! I didn't really make toys again until i was at art school. a bunch of female students were asked to respond to the theme "Male" in a sculpture, so i made a pile of pastel coloured phallic objects out of plush, and have been making them ever since

S- I feel like since our first encounter you have really expanded your work and your customer base. How have you reached galleries and shops so far away?

SK- Myspace is suprisingly helpful. It appears it's useful for something other then helping teenagers hook up! People have seen my work and requested it, or I send an email off to them. You get as many rejections and acceptances obviously, as there is a core crew who are operating at a professional level, and you find their work in every toy shop known. Ugly Dolls are a good example of this. A lot of shop owners are wary of investing space and money in something outside of the well exposed artists. and as I'm in a very isolated pat of Australia, everywhere is a long way away from me! So sending stuff to Sweden, the US or Melbourne doesn't really make a lot of difference.

S- You have also started curating your own plush shows. Can you tell us a bit how that came about and how others can get involved?

SK- Obviously i was influenced by you and the incredible success of the Plush You shows! I had had an idea for awhile about using the same format as the vinyl figure custom shows in plush, and then artists like Mju and Cupco got their versions out there, so I thought i better get on it! We have a Flickr group and a blog which has all the details, currently there is a lot of artist's profiles being posted, so it's another source of plushy info, along with the great Plush You blog. It's at http://plush-it.blogspot.com. Currently we have a full roster of artists, but if we decide to hold the show again next year, we'll send out a call to artists.

S- What are some of your most popular characters?

SK- Gimp bunnies, Poltergoost, and Bunbun. The first two I get, the last one is a weird looking pink bunny, and i don't understand it's appeal at all

S- I love the blood and whatnot you add to some of your characters...of which you did a fantastic tutorial for Plush You! book. Do you experiment a lot with various materials and how has that helped make your products unique?

SK- Actually no. Originally i was trying to make a clear drool with the silicon you use to seal windows, and that didn't work out too well. I then found dimensional paint. i used to use it just to embellish my plush, then i made the first Cannibal Bunny and it all fell into place very easily. You could say I'm just a natural at fake blood making!

S- I know you are a school teacher, have you made plush toys with your students and have any of them gotten into the plush movement?

SK- I don't really do plush at school. I assist any student whose interested, but kids get very leery when you try to push what you're into in a class. I also have classes with a lot of boys in it, and it's hard to sell plush as a manly thing to 15 year olds. Funnily enough, they're much more accepting of plush ideas when visiting artists suggest it. But we do do a lot of character design and stencilling, and my insane streak gets full range there

S- Because you have a full time job, how often do you even get to spend on creating new characters, participating in shows, etc.?

SK- A lot, but that's because I don't have a life! We have recently bought a house, so we can't afford to do anything except clean and renovate or hang around the house, so I spend my time making critters and coming up with new ideas. Luckily my partner is incredibly supportive, he assists with ideas and back stories all the time

S- What would you like to see for the plush movement at large?

SK- Maybe get a little more acceptance? Plush seems to be almost the poor cousin of vinyl. Looking at artists like Robyn Fabsits, her work is beyond what a lot of vinyl artists are creating. she rocks!

S-Where do you see yourself in the next 2 years?

SK- Getting a website together....yeah that might take 20 years

S- Any places we might find your work in the next few months?

SK- I have several pieces going to a Monster show in Sydney Australia, at Ruban Rat Gallery. Gallery 1988 in San Fran was kind enough to invite me to be a part of their monster show as well. Larry's Corner in Sweden just bought a shipment of my stuff, so Scandanvian buyers can get stuff from there, and Gallery 696 in Melbourne Australia has also just stocked my stuff as well

Don't forget, leave a comment here for your chance to win your own Cannibal Bunny!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Coco Howard Interview

I am trying to remember the first time I saw Coco Howard's work. (I went over the questions and now I do) I had heard of her because her son Atticus shopped at Schmancy and told me his mom made some plush creatures. All I can remember in my sleep deprived state is how much I was in awe of her work when I finally got to see it in person. I do remember emailing a bunch of folks telling them about it and how they had to see it! It's really amazing-that's all there is to it. I am thrilled that she will be showing this year at Plush You! and so excited to see what she does next. Until then, here's more information about Coco for you. Leave a comment here (with your contact info please) for your chance to win your very own Coco Howard design!

S- Where to begin....Well for our readers that might not know much about you yet, can you please tell us more about you and your work?

CH- I grew up in Hawaii but have been living in Seattle for the past 20 years. At age 21 I had my first child, Atticus. He started drawing at an early age, and his artwork was my original inspiration for getting into character design. When he started school, I volunteered so I could be with him more often, and it was there that I got the opportunity to start an art therapy program. The program focused on plush toy making, and seeing what the kids made inspired me to start making plush on my own for fun. I’d been selling and giving creatures to friends and family, and a lot of people told me that I should try to sell them professionally, but I never thought it would be practical. Then last year I became a single parent and now I need to financially support my family on my own. My hope is that building the Softlife business will allow me the flexibility to parent while earning an income at the same time.

S- The first things I saw of your work were your amazing needle felted wall art at Anne Bonny. Since then, you have moved on to HUGE installations, recycled materials, various animals and creatures. Was the needle felting where it began or just the first stuff I saw?

CH- My first plush were felted dolls and creatures made from recycled sweaters that I made with the kids in my art therapy program. It wasn’t until I started making things at home on my own that I developed the felted paintings, which are my real passion, although they’re extremely time-consuming!

S- You started a blog sort of recently. I love looking at it to see what you are up to and read all the cute stories, see the clever pictures and whatnot. How much time do you spend on your blog daily and how has that helped you as an artist?

CH- The Softlife blog started in February, sort of on a whim. I had an idea to do a daily creature blog and started it the next day. I think I spend 3-4 hours a day on the blog, including making creatures, taking photos, and writing the story. Sometimes I feel limited by all the time that I have to devote to it, but it’s also good because it keeps me disciplined and forces me to create a steady stream of a variety of characters in order to keep the blog fresh. I’ve also really developed as a photographer, which I had no experience with before starting the blog.

S- Your work has a Japanese feel to it. Like your creatures belong in Miyazaki films. Where do you get your inspiration from?

CH- Japanese character design has been a huge influence on me. As a child of the 70s growing up in Hawaii, I was exposed to Japanese character design like Sanrio early on. Aranzi Aranzo has been a big influence on my work. The idea for the blog was inspired by an early Aronzo photo book that I found in the 90s. My kids really love Miyazaki and I’ve watched all his movies with them. His work is incredible. My biggest source of inspiration continues to be children’s art. I like things that blend light with dark to create a sort of mystery or surrealism.

S- You have some big pieces up in Seattle but you mentioned recently that you would like to do larger installations. How long do those big guys take and do you sell them?

CH- It takes me about 2 full working days to complete one of the 5-foot tall Denizens. The tough part is finding materials to fill them with. The Denizens that I make have inspired me to do larger things. My dream art project is to do life-size plush environments. I’d also really like to do needle-felted murals.

S- What have been some of the great unexpected pleasures you have received since you started crafting?

CH- In just the first year of starting Softlife, I’ve met a ton of other artists. It’s been really fun to share ideas and get inspiration from them. I’ve also been amazed at how much positive feedback I’ve gotten from people. Another thing that’s surprising is the fact that the more I do, the more ideas I have for new things I want to do.

S- Your pictures are great. I especially loved June 19th with the slug. Have you ever thought of making a little book or something for all of them?

CH- Doing the photography for the blog has opened up a whole new world that I’m really enjoying. One of my motivations for doing the daily creature blog for a year was the collection of photos that I’d have when I got done. I’ve recently begun to toy with the idea of putting together a photography show of photos from the blog, and I’d love to make a book out of the blog one day. If anyone out there wants to give me a book deal, I’m ready!

S- What are some of your big goals as an artist for this year?

CH- I have a lot going on this year. I’m doing the Plush You show in Seattle, as well as the one in San Francisco. Then there’s a third show in New York with Gallery Hanahou. A big goal of mine is to get the Softlife business up and running, and to expand awareness of it. Keeping up with the blog is another big one. I also want to look into getting grants that would allow me to do larger installations.

S- What are you most excited for in your career thus far?

CH- What I’m excited about in my career is the idea that this could be a career at all—that it might be possible to do something I love and make a living at it.

S- Where else can Plush You readers find you?

CH- Anyone can find me at my open studio at the Anne Bonny in Capitol Hill. I’m usually here for a good portion of the day, Tuesday through Sunday. I love to talk to visitors and share ideas. I’ll also be at the 3 shows I mentioned—Plush You Seattle on October 10th, Plush You San Fran on November 7th, and Lovable Huggable in New York on January 7th. You can also communicate with me on the Softlife blog (http://softlifeindustry.blogspot.com/) that I’m working on everyday.

Friday Coco brought me this! I sure am one lucky lady.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Devout Dolls Interview and Giveaway!

I believe that Sara Lanzillotta is one of the old school plush ladies out there. She makes amazing plush dolls from her Hollywood plush portraits to her two headed dolls. She's super talented, super sweet and I am glad she is finally up here with an interview. Leave a comment here with your contact info for your chance to win one of her owls.

S- How did you start sewing? When did you start developing toys?

DD- My mom tried to teach me to sew when I was pretty young since she was a sewer as a profession and my grandmother was a sewer. I, however, was way too impatient and stubborn and didn't want to learn so I managed to avoid it until I was about 20 when I started teaching myself. I used to draw a lot and eventually started coming up with ideas for dolls and stuffed things that I wanted. Since they didn't exist in the world, I realized I would have to make them myself. I didn't have a machine back then so I was doing hand sewing. Eventually it lead to me getting my own machine. Once I had all the knowledge and accessories I went to town and made as many different things as possible. There was no looking back!

S- I see you at craft fairs all around town. Have you ever done shows outside of the PNW? Where can people find ya'?

DD- I occasionally do shows in Los Angeles. I'm from there so I get to cheat and use it as an excuse to visit family while I'm back. I do a lot of group shows as well that are across the country. It is easier to keep my shows close to home though so I tend to stay here a lot. If you're in Canada, you can find my things at The Lounge Collection in BC (www.theloungecollection.com). In Oregon I'm at Jaminga (www.Jaminga.com), and in Los Angeles I'm at Monkeyhouse Toys (www.monkeyhousetoys.com) Also, you can check out my "Stores and Events" page on my website. I list all my upcoming gallery and craft shows there. www.devoutdolls.com/stores.htm

S- Your squeakems, two headed dollies and mini pins seemed to really put you up on the list of plush makers. But your other dolls; such as the silver screen dolls, etc., are also really amazing. Which came first? How much time do you spend on both?

DD- I started with something more like my "floppy doll", very simple with clothing sewn straight onto the doll. My sister and I thought it would be funny to have a pretty doll in cute clothing but it would have something wrong with it like an extra head or extra arms and legs. I had so much fun making that first batch I just had to make more. The dolls led into me making plush monsters and then eventually into more structured art pieces. I split my time between the art dolls and making simple plush. I kind of have two businesses in a way. Half of it the easily reproduceable (but still one of a kind) plush and dolls that I sell to stores and on my website and the other half is more detailed soft sculptures for art shows and custom pieces.

S- You are also apart of the Blythe Doll club here in Seattle. I see that you are making and selling clothes for Blythe. How did you get into the Blythe Doll? Any suggestions on good sites to learn more about her?

DD- I saw the book by Gina Garan called "This is Blythe" many years ago and instantly fell in love. I started looking at Ebay at Blythe dolls and decided that $40 was just too expensive for an original Blythe. Ha! If I had only known what it, and I, was going to turn into! An original Kenner Blythe now goes for thousands! Takara (a Japanese toy company) is re-making Blythe now so it's much more accessable and you have many doll styles to choose from. I currently own 10 Blythe and am completely addicted. For fun in my off time I make doll clothes (yes, while I take a break from sewing for work, I sew for fun, what a nut!). I started selling my clothes at different doll shows and now have them on my Etsy site as well. I'm also part of a Seattle Blythe club. We meet about once a month and bring our dolls and take photos. It's really fun!

S- At the last IHR, you had a new owl design that is adorable. How often do you try to come up with new designs?

DD- I'm constantly thinking of new designs and new ideas. You have to in order to keep up with everyone else but also, to keep me from getting bored. I have so many ideas all the time, most of them don't get a chance to be made but I'll occaisionally go back to an old sketch and try it out. It's such a tedious process to come up with a new piece, I don't have the time to do a lot of them. I do try for at least one new line a year though. I think you need new items to keep people excited and to keep your business growing.

S- When you are not selling your work in fairs, how do you advertise your work?

DD- I am very spoiled and really do no advertising at all. I usually have more work then I know what to do with so I've stayed away from advertising fearing it would suddenly give me too much to handle. I've also slowed down the ordering off my website by not having a shopping cart. I still like to do things the old fashioned way I guess and have people write me for orders. That way they have the choice to really customize things and I make sure they get what they really want.

S- What is your favorite thing about designing toys and your line of work?

DD- My favorite thing about all of this is that I actually get to do it for a living! It's a dream come true, I still just can't believe it. I absolutely love being able to go into my imagination and create a character and then build that character out of fabric. I feel like I'm doing a magic trick every time. I've been able to create my own little world with all of the crazy characters involved and, better yet, people like them. So, my make-believe world is living on through other people's minds when they adopt the creatures, and in that way, adding to the story.

S- What are some things you would like to see for Devout Dolls in the future?

DD- I've thought about having a line of toys made by a larger company where I can just do the designing but, I go back and forth on that one. I have mixed feelings about it. I think, ideally, if I can just keep this up for as long as possible and still be able to live off of it, that's enough to keep me happy. I have very simple goals, that way I always accomplish them. I also believe in fate taking the reigns sometimes. If something big is going to happen, I welcome it but I don't really go looking for it.

S- What is on the horizon for you and your company?

DD- Definatley more gallery shows in the future, they're a lot of work but they keep my juices flowing. I'd like to do more animal/doll hybrids I think. I love animals and I love making doll clothes so I'm thinking of doing a cross between those two. Also, more accessory type items. I make scarves and pins now but I'd like to add some bags to that as well. And, of course, more Blythe clothes! I'm addicted, what can I say!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dreamlets Interview

I met the fantastic folks behind Dreamlets awhile ago now and thought they were delightful. I was so happy to see Amy at The Lab last week...and she even brought me a present :) Anyways, they were so nice to answer some very last minute questions so we could have our weekly interview. Leave a comment with contact info, for your chance to win TWO of your favorite dreamlets!

S- We've read about your business online and love your work... can you explain a little more about who Dreamlets is?

D- Amy: Dreamlets is a company, a brand, and a line of designer plush characters created by my business partner and beautiful designer, Matty Harper. We started the company in 2006, and have been actively selling Dreamlets since the beginning of this year. The name Dreamlets is inspired by a reference in Geek Love, a book by Katherine Dunn, but also speaks to one of our ideals - that dreams do come true and anything is possible.

Matty: "Dreamlets" is "Let's Dream" flip-flopped.

S- How long have you been making plush? What got you interested in creating your own line of dolls?

D- Matty: I made my first plush in 2004 (it was really horrible). It was a mangled body with a barely connected box head made from cotton sheet fabric with a bad floral print. Stanley was born just a week later... he was pretty cute considering.

I've been a graphic designer for 16 years now, and a lot of my clients sold "solutions" or software, things that really have no visual presence. It made me crave real physical products; industrial design is where my brain has been heading for a while now. I'm also an illustrator and felt like plush was a really accessible way to bring illustrations to life or off the page.

S- When I first met you two, you were just gearing up to launch your site (which is fantastic, by the way). Since then, your business seems to have really taken off! I've even noticed your work in a few higher-end stores, like Velocity. Is it still just the two of you running the show? Or has your company expanded to include more people?

D- Amy: Thanks for the complement on the site we like it too, kinda... Matty is actually in the process of totally redesigning it. We feel like we are already outgrowing it (bad planning:)

Yeah, we've been shooting for high-end stores, we love it when people appreciate Dreamlets for their design ascetic, so it's a natural fit to have them with a bunch of other museum quality pieces.

Matty: Dreamlets is growing like crazy beans. We have so many wonderful people. We bought this huge building in the middle of downtown Seattle to hold all these people and a private gym and daycare and stuff.... We have an office in Paris too, its a little smaller than the one in Japan. I'm constantly amazed at how much money there is in stuffed animals.

Amy: Matty seems to be confusing the dream with reality; really living the brand. But right now it's just the two of us...though we do have a couple of super smart interns that keep us on our toes, without them we tend to work really slow, they provide inspiration.

Matty: Our interns are real sexy too.

S- Also, given your success thus far, do you have any advice for folks looking to succeed in the plush industry?

D- Matty: Try to focus, and as odd as it might sound, don't be scared of success... This probably applies to anything you do. Also allow more time than you think for everything, it will all get to were you want it as long as you know where you want it and make steps, even small ones, toward it.

S- I love the giveback/charity program that accompanies your plush. How and when did it come about?

D- Amy: We really like the idea of products that make us happy and remind us to be kind or consider beauty or just to have something sweet to cuddle with after a long day. That said we also know that consumerism can take a toll on our environment in every sense of the word - socially, ecologically, visually, etc. So we give back to try to minimize whatever negative effects we might have. We started doing that from the very beginning, inspired by Patagonia.

Matty: We give to organizations that support creativity because we believe creative thought is what ultimately will save us; for example: it will take creativity to create more feasible alternative fuels and it creativity to get the world to start using them and it will take creativity for every step between.

S- Has anything in particular been inspiring you lately?

D- Matty: This is gonna sound narcissistic, but positive feedback for the Dreamlets has been really inspiring, it's been a long hard road and so when I hear that someone loves them I feel like I want to keep going...

Amy: I'm inspired lately by the bit of momentum we feel right now and the people we're surrounded by. I've always wanted to have a business where I worked with and for people I admire, where we made art, and could lead by example in the business world. Now, we're talking to more people like you, other people in the community, in the design world, our great interns, friends and family, and retail partners, and it feels like everyone wants to help us. I love how that works.

S- If your plush characters were asked to give one piece of advice, what do you think it would be?

D- Matty: Try to always have a soft smile, unless you have a huge smile, then you should have that one instead.

Amy: Be simple. Love like mad. Laugh like crazy every time you realize everything you want is here, just waiting for you to want it.

S- Are you planning to keep launching new characters?

D- Matty: If we don't have any secrets this isn't gonna be as much fun for anyone involved.

S- Anything else on the horizon for Dreamlets that we should know about?

D- Amy: Yes. :)

Don't forget, leave a comment with your contact info for your chance to win two of your favorite Dreamlets characters!