Sunday, July 8, 2007

featured plush artist

Florence Forrest – Flying Star Toys
http://flyingstartoys.etsy.com/

by siansburys

Florence Forrest is the creator, designer and maker of Flying Star Toys. Florence is an Australian artist who divides her time between toy designing and her artistic work as Design Dramaturge with international touring company Frank Theatre.

"The soul of a toy is the most important ingredient, my art is just this. The little beings should look gently at you as if they had always existed and you have just happened upon them. I've had the pleasure of making toys and practising embroidery since childhood so for me quality as an indispensable part of my work as an artist and toy designer."

Florence Forrest on Toymaking

Florence, you come from a very artistic family – were you encouraged to make things from an early age?
Having a creative mother certainly has helped as there is nothing better that a childhood role model to offer pathways to experience. But oddly it was my Aunty Villy who first sat down with me and gave me a project to sew. It was a lavender heart to hang in the wardrobe. I think it was that experience that first brought me into the life of craft.

Do you remember the first toy that you made?
I remember very clearly the first toy I ever made. He was only the second thing I had ever stitched. I was in primary school, I would have been under ten years old. He was a tiny teddy bear made of calico. The stitching was rough and on the outside. The pattern, however, was quite advanced having inserts and joints. He was very primitive, but his personality was charming. I called him Patches and I had him with me for a very long time. It was early 1997 that I last saw him...I lost most of my possessions and unfortunately he was among my small treasures.

Your work is obviously influenced by Australian wildlife and culture. How do you think this makes your work unique?
It's certainly an important part of the Flying Star Toy collections, it seems only natural to make toys based on those things that are familiar. Living as I do near wetlands, I'm lucky enough to share my environment with many of the curious and wonderful beings that are unique to Australia.
(Pictured above: ‘FlockA2s’ by Florence Forrest – Flyingstartoys. Design based on the famous Australian bird, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo)

How important are folk art and storytelling to your toy design?
This is the fuel in the engine room of my imagination. The loving creation of folk art touches me, observing it nuances coupled with its naivety brings me great delight. While the folk tales of the many cultures of the world is an endless telling of the way the psyche of man comes to terms with its environment, social functioning and spiritual well being. Through the study of art, folk tales and poetry the conscious or intellectual imagination develops a flexibility parallel to the flexibility of the unconscious imagination whose use of myth and metaphor is its native tongue.
When designing Flying Star Toys I hope to develop a style that sit comfortably between the contemporary world and the ancient dreaming psyche while expressing the warmth of human compassion.

Your work as an artist has lead to your involvement in a number of community projects – tell me a little bit about these and how they have affected your toymaking.
The journey of Flying Star Toys begins in mid 2004 when I conceived of a notion of making a series of 20 handmade dolls representing those who work in the creative industries in Brisbane. I wanted to show that the creative industries was a normal and viable career option just as any other so called normal job like doctors or nurses. This first project was called “lilli&tom ningyo: Brisbane Dolls, Brisbane People” and was an installation at Craft Queensland in November 2004.

This lead me to make Lilli&Tom life size, that is life size cloth dolls called Lilli and Tom. I took them around Brisbane and photo documented their lives recording them on a blog. You can read more about these projects here - http://lilliandtom.blogspot.com/
These projects led to a series of installations with the Brisbane City Council Libraries and some toy making workshops with local children. I was pleased that my art projects came to travel Brisbane widely and hopefully leave some trace of itself upon those who saw them.
I was happy to have gained in 2006, a contract with the State Library of Queensland and Education Queensland to design three toy characters and make 10 of each for the Travel Buddies program. The Travel Buddies program aids children to learn skills in interactive computer technologies. These three toys Muncha, CkA and VeUa (The ExplorAnauts) now travel to primary schools all over Queensland.
Lilli and Tom, however, have been very quiet lately having to subsist with life in the toy studio. I've been too busy to take them on any more adventures...but as I'll be going for my driver's licence soon (finally), I hope to be able to continue their story.

What else inspires you?
Inspiration, that cataract of serendipity, the rapid of firing synapses of memory and sensation...how difficult it is to catch lightning in a bottle....Art, Poetry, Science, Philosophy, then also observation, love and care....

books and friends

Do you dedicate a certain amount of time to designing and making toys or do you just fit it in as you can around all your other projects?
Designing toys is central to my practice, it works hand in hand with all my other arms of practice, its sits as a concrete discipline within the framework of my artistic development. I have come to a place where I do something in one area and then move on to another in a smoother transition than when I tried to complete everything in one sitting. I try to listen to the feelings of stress that result from overwork and allow myself to leave it for some other type of work or rest. This is still something I have to work on as I have inherited the workaholic “genes” of both my parents.

Talk me through your design process a little bit. Do you work ideas up on paper from sketches, do you formulate a design in your imagination, or do you just pick up a piece of material and see where it takes you?
All of those methods plus a rather unusual one of finding interesting silhouettes from the off cuts of other toys that I'm working on....Snow Walker's shape was designed based on this method. Leonardo da Vinci, I remember reading, recommended looking at shadows and such things to inspire the imagination with the composition of scenes. My work and study of origami and paper cuts has obviously had a significant influence in this regard.

(Pictured left: ‘Snow Walkers’ by Florence Forrest - Flying Star Toys”)

Describe your working method and environment. Do you sew by hand, machine, or both? Do you have a dedicated workspace?
I have a room devoted to my studio work at home. I've been slowly developing it over the last few years and am always looking for ways to make it more functional and pleasant while being very budget minded. All Flying Star Toys involve hand stitching as I come from an embroidery background and the love of cloth and thread runs very deep. The bodies are machine stitched and are pressed at each and every stage until they are stuffed. Stuffing is done in a very careful, sculpted way.

Do you have any favourite materials or tools?
I look for something special in the design and weave of a fabric, I'm concerned with what “story” the elements of it are conveying. The use of materials in Flying Star Toys are fully considered and balanced for that particular toy. It can be a cause of some anxiety when designing as most of my fabrics cannot be found again and if a toy requires a certain fabric that is not replaceable I have to, with the exception of the pattern, re-design it entirely so that it its true to its story.
(Pictured above: ‘Katkin Rattles’ by Florence Forrest – Flying Star Toys. Made from premium designer fabrics, hand dyed wool felt and embroidered with Japanese variegated sashiko thread)

What has been your experience of Etsy so far?
I have only been on Etsy for a short time, since mid-March of this year. I have found it to be a positive learning experience in preparation for the development of the official Flying Star Toy website.
You have so many creative projects on the go – what do you do just for fun? Do you have any hobbies that are completely unrelated to the arts?
Hmmm....not really, but I have a partner and a cat whom both are un-arts related diversions :)What’s next for you?
I'm currently building flyingstartoys.com and once that is launched I'll begin to market my work in all seriousness. It has taken quite a few years to arrive at this point but I believe the time it has taken to mature has been worth it.

Thank you very much for your time Florence, and all the best for the future!
__________________________________________________________________________

Florence Forrest is an active on-line participant. You can learn more about her work by visiting the following places online:
http://windbagandthunder.blogspot.com/" (A world of Art and Toys)
http://lilliandtom.blogspot.com/ (The Adventures of Lilli&Tom life-size dolls)
http://cracklemountain.blogspot.com/ (Adapted Asian Folktales)
http://designdramaturge.blogspot.com/ (A new space in Art)

4 comments:

nervousonion said...

great feature on a very talened artist!

Kezzaroo said...

Great read thankyou :P

Florence said...

Thank you again for the opportunity to be the first featured designer here with Plush Team :D

xx

natasha said...

the comment you made about the personality and story of a toy...right on! i totally agree. i always feel like they just show up, too.

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