We adore Abigail Brown and her handcrafted animal faces. Each animal begins with a sketch which Abigail brings to life using layers of papier-maché painted with playful details. They inject happiness anywhere you place them, whether as one joyful accent or arranged in your own menagerie. Keep reading to learn more about how she creates these unique pieces of decor.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT MATERIALS?
From a very early age I've just been drawn to making things; watching my maternal grandma sewing, a neighbor making things in his wood-working garage, it's always fascinated me to see someone create something from nothing and I think I've always had the compulsion to do it too.
After spending so much of my early years with my grandma, her sewing machine, loose threads and fabric scraps around her, it felt very natural for me to work with those same materials. She had a patchwork bag she had made in which she kept scraps from previous projects and seeing that I liked this bag so much she made me my own much smaller version and filled it with an assortment of fabrics for me to play with. In the beginning the things I made from fabric were generally glued together and drawn on with felt-tip pens, but my mum then taught me to hand-sew and I started making little tiny quilts for my Sylvania Families and a padded appliqué cushion of an underwater scene for my friend to sit on on the back of my bike as we rode around the neighborhood.
From that small collection of scraps in my 'raggy bag' my fabric collecting obsession began!
At art school I stuck very much to the drawing and painting I felt confident in and the textiles room where I learned free-motion sewing on the sewing machine. I built up images in different layers of fabric, illustrating people's faces and words with the machine stitch.
I was an incredibly shy person growing up and sadly didn't have the courage to go exploring other areas of the college to try my hand at different processes, so when it came to choosing a university course it was the one that combined fabrics and illustration: Surface Decoration.
Straight away I wanted to change courses when I saw the work my housemate was bringing home each day from her course, Decorative Artefacts. They explored ceramics, sculpture in wood, plaster, latex, different types of embroidery processes and fabric manipulation, all to create sculptural pieces that would be exhibited in craft galleries. At that point I really felt I'd found my calling but my dad felt I would have more opportunities for employment if I stuck with the course I was on.
As soon as I finished my degree I began to explore my own ideas in the field of decorative artefacts, working with clay to make little birds with feather tails, paper mâché with handmade papers, and lots of appliqué/embroidery pieces and plush toys. At some point I surprisingly found the confidence to approach a gallery in my home town, Leeds, and my journey of making and selling my work commenced.
For a long time I worked solely in fabric, creating soft/plush toys and embroidery pieces, then the bird sculptures, and then a few years into working full time in my studio creating these pieces I felt the urge to explore a new way of working and paper mâché struck me as the perfect medium to try.
I had a studio mate at that time who worked with laser-cutting and I thought it would be interesting to see some of my illustrations cut from wood and acrylic so I started to experiment with that too.
It's a huge regret of mine that I didn't explore all the opportunities available to me at art college, so I make a point now of turning my hand to anything I get the impulse to explore, if of course I have the means to do so! Most recently I've tried wax carving for metal casting to create jewelry, picking up tips from other makers at my studio, acquiring lots of exciting new tools and teaching myself how to use them.
I also got an urge to try wood carving so with a birthday gift of some wood and tools I've been whittling some little animals and taking slices out of my fingers! There's a great joy and satisfaction from learning a new process and successfully creating something from it.
Who knows what's next!!
COULD YOU WALK US THROUGH HOW YOU CREATE AN ANIMAL FACE? WHAT ARE THE MATERIALS? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
I work with cardboard, newspaper, masking tape and wallpaper paste, sometimes wire if there are complex shapes to construct that require the support: horns or long ears.
I use the cardboard as the base, then scrunch-up the newspaper to build the form of the face, taping it to the base with the masking tape. As the face builds the ears and horns are added with cardboard and wire and then the layers of paper mâché. They generally dry overnight and then the following day I can add two layers of a white base coat, before painting the colored design, finishing with pencil crayon detail.
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH ANIMALS TO MAKE? DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FAVORITE?
I'm fascinated by the animal kingdom and delight in finding new species I'd never heard of before. Thanks to the wonderful documentaries of Sir David Attenborough and the writings of Gerald Durrell from his animal collecting days, I've got to know all kinds of wonderful beasts and have a very large list of favorites! Anything from the dik-dik to the elephant shrew, lemurs, coati, jerboa, okapi... really if it's cute and furry it's in!
WHEN YOU CREATE A NEW CREATURE DO YOU WORK FROM PHOTOGRAPHS OR DO YOU RELY ON YOUR IMAGINATION AND MEMORY?
The pieces are stylized but I start from photographs, sketching out how my interpretation of the animal would be, and refer back to the photographs when painting to get the colors and markings roughly right.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EXCITING PLACE YOU HAVE SEEN YOUR DESIGNS?
I've been incredibly lucky to see my work end up in some wonderful places: a Vitra design house, a Canadian children's hospital, Liberty department store with an additional feature in their Christmas window displays, but maybe the most exciting came very early on when I had first started exploring paper mâché and a buyer at Paul Smith commissioned a whole menagerie of animal sculptures and heads to decorate one of their stores. The heads had a huge feature wall on a patterned background and the sculptures where dotted around the display cases wearing sunglasses and neckties. As a design hero I felt terribly excited to see my work in his shop, it was such an honor!