I am so excited to have nabbed an interview with Jessie Cunningham of Past Your Porchlight. Her work is beautiful, full of whimsy and magical….just perfect for a holiday season post!
~ Where are you from and what got you started in plush sculptures?
I grew up and live in rural Ontario, Canada, on the edge of a large wood. Deer are common sightings, and at night the calls of talkative coyotes and distant owls are comforting in their familiarity. Twice I’ve seen black bear, though typically they dwell further north. Living here has undoubtedly influenced my art; there’s nothing as enchanting to me as a dense grove of trees and all the life it shelters, but there were many years of experimentation with different arts first, and it was actually a number of frustrating struggles with my health that brought soft sculpture to me as a medium.
The fabrics I used to work with were too bulky, the sewing machine too big for me to lug out on days when my energy was very low. I wanted to keep creating and wool felt (a stockpile of it my grandmother gave me ages ago) was something I could pile next to me on the couch and work with easily and at a smaller scale. It was during one of the back-to-back animal documentaries I was watching that I was struck by the iconic silhouette of a polar bear – everyone knows it, that memorable shape against a sea of ice – and I really wanted to make it into something tangible. Every soft sculpture I’ve made since has been done with a similar goal, to bring something to life and hopefully evoke some of that same wonder I carry for the natural world.
~ What are your favourite materials?
Wool felt! The texture, endless color variety and easy simplicity of it. And there’s just something about having all those snips of color that feels a bit like crafting when I was a kid. Other than that, Golden brand paints, Gorilla glue, and Sculpey and Apoxie for sculpting are staples on my desk.
~ Do you prefer hand sewing or machine sewing?
Hand sewing allows me to get obsessive over small detail and shape in a way I just can’t with a machine, like following the bend of a grizzly’s ankle as it takes a step, or stitching the narrow paws of a curious fox. But, man, do I miss the speed of a machine.
~ How long have you been making them and has there been much evolution in your work?
It’s been a year and a half since I started with wool felt and I would say there’s been an evolution, with some big ones coming up in the near future. A few months after that first piece I began to incorporate more movement in poses, designing became more intuitive, and it wasn’t long until I started adding elements I used to include in my old plush work – sprouting branches, mushrooms, and other woodland things that tie nature in further.
~ One of the main reasons my English self ended up in Canada was from watching Grizzly Adams and Gentle Ben as a kid. I love North American wildlife and bears always seemed so magical. You obviously have a love of bears, is there a special reason for that?
Magical is a perfect word for how they feel to me. I don’t think it’s possible for someone to see a bear, be it at the zoo or walking across a field, without having an emotional experience. There’s something about an animal that can look so cuddly and so powerful at the same time. I don’t have a particular memory that ignited my affection for them, it’s just always been there, but when I was a child I used to wish (and wish and wish) that I could speak to animals, and having a bear for a friend would’ve been the coolest thing.
There’s also a few lucky practical reasons for why bears feature so frequently in my work, and that’s that they’re one of the least finicky things to make, they give me a larger surface to cover with whatever strikes my fancy, and people just really enjoy them.
~ What are your top 5 favourite animals?
Polar and Grizzly bears tie as one. Also elephants, orca, muskox and the common raven. And my dog!
~ Your work was recently featured on the cover of Stuffed, are there any exciting new projects, products or events coming in 2016 that you would like to share?
Nothing I can share just yet, but the best way for someone to keep up with what I’m up to is to follow me at instagram.com/pastyourporchlight.
Becky Gould is the big kid behind Scrumptious Delight. Working from her home in Vancouver, BC she makes plush toys and soft sculptures that combine a love of food, all things furry and an unnatural appreciation of small appliances.