Originally published in Teddy Bear & Friends November 2016
Candace “Candi” Taylor is the ebullient creator of a marvelous menagerie of bears, owls, squirrels, chipmunks, and all other manner of four-footed critters. Residing in a small enclave in Oregon, Taylor describes her hometown as “living out in the wild.” The animal aficionado couldn’t ask for a better home base and creative outlet: “We moved here in 1978 and built our own home (meaning my husband did all the work) finishing over many years. We have lots of wildlife — deer, elk, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and bears. It makes life interesting.”
Inspired by Reality
It also makes her body of work something that she can witness and experience firsthand. Her embrace of nature’s variety is evident in her award-winning creations. “My inspiration comes from my visual world,” Taylor said. “I can see animals in nature or a picture in a magazine. I love the challenge of making something that comes off looking realistic. This is my passion. Often, I can combine this realism with the traditional teddy bear. That is how I end up with my ‘Russian Dancing Bear’ or my pandas.”
Working in the soft-sculpture field for 20 years, Taylor has garnered rave reviews for her handiwork and has built a loyal and supportive collector base. Her customers respond to her meticulous craftsmanship and devotion to getting everything just right, just as it would be in the natural world.
“I think people are drawn to my work mostly because of the realism,” the artist said. “I achieve this by using needle-felting techniques on the faces, creating handmade claws, and often times using special-ordered glass eyes that I then hand-paint. Many of my pieces also have a double neck joint and armatures to allow many different poses.”
In fact, Taylor’s finished creations are so lifelike that they often fool the people — and animals — who behold them: “I have had many compliments over the years on my work. All of it is very nice and rewarding. However, the best compliment yet was when I finished my Abyssinian Cat and our little rat terrier tried to get it to play with her. It took our dog a bit of time to figure out it wasn’t a real cat!”
Adding to her amazing mimicry of real animals and their beautiful appearances is Taylor’s penchant for making her critters as life-size tributes. Her larger-scale designs allow her to approximate the different breeds’ recognizable attitudes, physical traits, and behavioral personalities. “I have completed a life-size baby fawn, lemur, and squirrel, along with others, and I am wanting to work on a design of a near-life-size wolf, badger, and groundhog.
“Sometimes it takes me quite a while to create these new designs because I have so many orders and shows that it is very demanding of my time,” Taylor said. “I’m just one person in my business. My husband helps quite a bit, which is really nice, but I am mainly working on my own.”
Taylor’s husband and son are supportive of her efforts. Her son manages the CandiBears website, and her husband helps to cut, pick, and trim the chosen fur. “We have a nice working relationship, helping each other in our separate businesses,” Taylor said. “I paint realistic portraits on dichroic glass of people’s pets for my husband’s glass business.”
The couple earns their living as self-employed, self-directed artisans. It is a way of life that is not for the faint of heart: “As opposed to working for someone else, my husband and I have always had our own businesses. It takes discipline to work at home — it is not for everyone!”
The Oregon artist is accustomed to forging her own path by taking unexpected and unanticipated twists and turns. She received a degree in clinical psychology with a minor in art from Chapman College. “I’m sure my parents were a bit surprised in the direction I went,” she said. “I feel I have a balance of learning about the use of different art materials and then the self-taught aspect when all of these are put together. I like to try different and new things to see what might work in my art.”
Creating the Critters
Taylor has discovered that affection for an animal is a key part of her creative process. “If I love the animal in nature, it’s easier to develop it in my art. It’s a good thing that I love almost everything out there!” she said. “I also have a good friend and shop owner who does quite a few shows. This allows her to hear what the public says and what they would like to see. She never lacks for ideas, thank goodness!”
Blending what her customers want with how she wants to create is a delicate balancing act, and it is a heartfelt pursuit that Taylor has mastered. “I have a number of collectors who order items regularly, as well as the collectors who order through shops. Collectors often come up with ideas that I find intriguing. Many times, a request is one that requires a lot of time to come up with the design, to develop the pattern, find the appropriate furs, and then create the piece.
“I let the collectors know when it is in the works. Once the idea is formed, there must be a connection in my mind between all the factors involved, which means the concept and design, the mobility of the piece, the furs to use. I work with mohair, alpaca, wool, and Tissavel.
“When looking at an array of my work, people can see and easily identify that I have made it. At the same time, though, all of my pieces are all very different and unique — unless it is a limited edition,” Taylor said.
Meeting design challenges head-on, interacting with collectors, and getting to know and respect her colleagues, Taylor has built her own perfect world. “I absolutely adore what I do and hope to continue for many years! The bear world is full of very friendly artists who, for the most part, are willing to help others and share some of their knowledge to help fellow artists in their endeavors,” she said.
“I love doing this work. I get a wide variety of issues to work on. There is always something new! The most important thing I have learned is that all the creations out there are special,” Taylor said. “There is indeed something for everyone, and that is so satisfying for an artist to learn.”