Photos courtesy of Candi Taylor
I am always gob-smacked by how talented an artist can be. I’m fairly decent at drawing and sketching, but the notion of taking fabric or fur, plying a needle and thread, and coaxing forward a nearly lifelike critter — well, that boggles my mind!
I guess you could say I “fawn” over soft-sculpture artists who can render a realistic cat or cub, Fido or Bambi. They truly impress me, and one of the really impressive ones is Candi Taylor.
A few months back, I was lucky enough to interview Candace “Candi” Taylor and she was a delightful subject to profile. Taylor goes by the informal name of “Candi,” and it fits her sweet and serene critters. Many of them look like they have emerged from a Disney film during the animated studio’s golden age. Just like those pioneer cinematic illustrators made cartoons become real and heart-tugging, Taylor’s creatures are realistic and heart-stirring, too.
Taylor is well aware of the draw that her lifelike beasts have for collectors everywhere: “I think people are drawn to my work mostly due to the realism. I achieve this by using needle-felting techniques on the faces, handmade claws, and often times I use 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. When looking at an array of my work, people can see and easily identify that I’ve made it, but at the same time the pieces are all very different and unique (unless it is a limited edition).”
Fortunately for Taylor, she is a natural-born lover of nature. Her affection for the four-legged or winged critters that share our planet helps to motivate her to sit down and conjure her magic. “I live in Oregon, and we do live out in the wild. We have lots of wildlife — deer and elk, plus bear, cougar, bobcat, coyote, and fox, just to mention a few predators,” she shared with me. “It makes life interesting! We moved here in 1978 and built our home, meaning my husband did all the work, and we finished over many years.”
The artist’s inspiration stems from what she spots in her surrounding landscape, but it also comes from other motivating sources. “It comes from my visual world. Sometimes it can be a picture I see — something in a magazine that is inspiring — or it can be animals in nature,” she explained. “I love the challenge of making something that comes off looking realistic. This is my passion! Often times I can combine the realism with the traditional teddy bear and end up with my Russian Dancing Bear or my pandas.”
When Taylor attended college, she majored in clinical psychology with a minor in art. I wonder if the artist draws upon her dual studies when she sits down to coax forth another seemingly alive creation. Does she wonder about the impact her work has on her collectors? Is she figuring out how close to an articulated living critter can she usher forth? Does she imagine what runs through the mind of a fox when it is running across its terrain? It’s a fascinating combo: psychology and art. Maybe all artists have a bit of a therapist within them. They know how to take their dreams or the dreams of others and make them come true!
“Many of my designs were asked for, and I was intrigued by them,” Taylor remarked. “Once the idea is formed there must be a connection in my mind between all the factors involved meaning the design, furs to use, mobility of the piece, etc. I often find that if I love the animal in nature, it’s easier to develop it in my art. Good thing that I love almost everything out there! I have a shop owner/friend that does quite a few shows allowing her to hear what the public says and what they would like to see. She never lacks for ideas, thank goodness!”
Over the course of her 20-plus years in the business, Taylor has created squirrels, chipmunks, hares, rabbits, fox, birds, lemurs (even life-size ones) and, of course, bears. Taylor greets each of her working days as an opportunity to improve, improvise, and challenge herself: “The most important thing I’ve learned is that all the creations out there are special and there is something for everyone. 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. I love
to do this work. I get a wide variety of issues to work on, such as sewing, working with the combination of multiple styles of fur to create a special piece, making clothing, shoes, whatever challenge that comes from designing a new piece.”
Among the many compliments she receives, she especially treasures when she is told her work is realistic and lifelike. That is what she strives toward. However, the most heartwarming compliment she has ever gotten came courtesy of a four-legged critic. “When I finished my Abyssinian cat, our little rat terrier tried to get it to play with her. It took her a bit to figure out it wasn’t real.”
Candi Taylor dismisses that antiquated advertising slogan that helped to drum up margarine sales. Her handiwork flies in the face of the expression “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” She and her menagerie of critters are doing it on a daily basis, and her collectors are sure glad.