The perfect work environment enables you to work at your best and produce great bear-making results.
Everyone has his or her own idea of what makes the perfect work environment. For you it might include listening to your favorite music or radio station, or it may even be a place where you can go to have absolute peace and quiet away from the hurly burly of everyday living. Or you may be the kind of person who thrives on activity and bustle and prefer to set up your workstation where you can be at the heart of family life.
Whatever your own personal preference, there will be a set of criteria that enables you to work at your best and produce great bear-making results. Whether you are lucky enough to have the space for a studio, or commandeer a spare bedroom, or if you work out of a corner of the kitchen or living room, it is essential you surround yourself with the things that are most conducive to concentration and creative endeavor.
No matter what your circumstances, good, natural lighting is a must. I cannot emphasize this too strongly. As we get older we find that we need more light to see by, particularly when doing close-up work, so make sure your studio space is adequately lit. You can supplement natural light with the addition of daylight simulation bulbs fitted to a lamp, but they are not a substitute and will not make up for a poorly lit workspace.
Ellen Borggreve, an award-winning artist from the Netherlands, tried almost every room in her house until she found the best one suited to her needs. “I work in a bedroom upstairs with a small window, but I do have my own room, which is already much better than before when I used to work just about everywhere in the house. This is an improvement and I do have a sense of going to work in the morning now, even though I just have to go up the stairs,” she says.
Many people use a spare bedroom for working in, as I do myself. I work at the front of the house in a room with large bay windows so it is always flooded with light. The other big advantage of having a whole room to yourself is that you can shut the door at the end of the day and no one else has to put up with your mess!
But while it may be great to have room to spread your stuff around and not have any pressure to clean up after yourself, you will soon find a messy and chaotic work environment is unhelpful—and you may spend more time looking for things that have been “lost” under piles of detritus than actually making bears. I personally find that an overflowing trashcan is a big distraction, so I make sure to empty mine regularly and leave my studio tidy at the end of a week, ready for Monday morning.
As you can see from the pictures of Borggreve studio (left and above), she is an exceptionally well-organized and tidy person. She has plenty of drawers and closet space for all her materials and keeps them in meticulous order.
“My studio has one cabinet with mohairs and alpacas and another big closet, which contains all my patterns, plastic pellets, ribbons, Ultrasuede and paw fabrics and my magazines,” she notes.
“It also contains little leftovers, which are all sorted by type, so I have a box for alpaca leftovers, a box for mohair leftovers and a box for synthetics. I also have some small cabinets with drawers that contain my joints (sorted by size), the eyes, the embroidery threads, etc.”
You will also notice from the pictures that Borggreve has lots of photographs on her table and stuck around the walls of wildlife that she is in the process of re-creating in soft sculpture. This is an excellent idea as it helps the unconscious part of our brain absorb information even while we are engaged in other tasks. I recommend that you begin to collect images of bears, animals and whatever else takes your imagination that you think may be useful at some point. Keep them handy in a folder or portfolio so you can use them for reference and inspiration.
Michelle Lamb is fortunate enough to have a purpose-built studio attached to her house; it is here that her incredible award-winning “One & Only” Bears start life. “I’m lucky to have just added onto my previously small house and acquire a large studio space in the remodeling,” she explains. “Prior to this, I had to rent a space. My new studio is actually on the backside of our garage and mirrors the same space, only it also has an attic/loft above, which I use for storage and as a guest room when needed.
“I have a glass patio door we recycled from an old section of the house for my window and on other end is a clear glass garage door that serves as another large picture window. I have lots of shelving salvaged from department store displays and my husband also constructed a two-sided rack for my furs, which hang from those clip hangers for trousers/skirts. This prevents fold lines and also allows me to easily browse through them.”
Lamb describes herself as a packrat because she is continually storing away fabrics and accessories that might come in useful one day, but defends this behavior as necessary to her working methods. “Whenever I bring home a thrift-store treasure, I immediately put it in its proper drawer for future use. I find it very satisfying to be able and shop from my personal store. I hate to stop in the midst of inspiration on a bear to go off and find that perfect something that’s in my head in a certain color,” she comments.
“When I have a bear almost coming alive, I like to be able to see if it’s meant to be dressed or undressed and what further adjustments are needed for a specific costume I might come up with. Even attaching small props like pocket watches or bow ties or fans to these still unformed beings really sparks a picture to form in my head of what it needs to become. Packrats are usually known for being messy, but on the contrary—I think we’re highly organized and quite specific in those treasures we accumulate!” she laughs.
One of the most overlooked but essential items of furniture (other than your table, of course) is a decent chair. By which I mean one that is fully supportive of the back and lumbar region and has wide, adjustable arm rests. So many bear artists wind up suffering from back and neck problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, but a proper chair can help alleviate these things.
Ideally, you also want a chair that has a “forward tilt” mechanism so that when you lean forward, to use a sewing machine, for instance, your spine is kept in the optimum position to avoid back strain. Be prepared to pay a reasonable sum of money on a good chair—regard it as an extension of your body while you are working and buy the best you can afford.
So whether your dream space is a dedicated studio or a little attic room, make sure it is filled with light and comfort and surround yourself with all the things that make you most content and inspired. Lamb describes the ideal work environment as being one that “makes you feel like Geppetto, or an alchemist in his lair.” So go create that space and work a little teddy bear magic of your own!