Photos courtesy of Lombard Bears
My children, like all other kids in the modern world, get a big kick out of memes. Beyond the legendary “Hang In There” poster, which featured a striped Tabby dangling off a branch, many memes showcase kitties in quirky, comical, and hilarious poses.
It’s not just cats — though they do seem to rule supreme — that have mastered the meme sensation. A new biggie today, which is gaining loads of views, is the Internet video that has gone ferociously viral. It’s tagged as a “Dramatic Chipmunk” and it boasts an up-close picture of a chipmunk’s face. Melodramatic, suspenseful music swells as the chipmunk turns its head, and its eyes nearly pop out of its head. Views of it are ticking upward every second!
That’s why the work of Australian teddy bear artist Linda Down is such a favorite of my kids. Working under the banner of Lombard Bears, Down has been a part of the ursine world since 1995. We had the chance to chat via e-mail a year ago, and her conversation was upbeat, positive, and quite revealing. Here, then, are some of the insights she shared about her wide-eyed wonders and why she goes about making such mesmerizing faces.
“My favorite part of creating a piece is definitely sculpting the facial features from wool by needle felting,” she shared. “I enjoy watching a character slowly come to life in front of my eyes. I love that you can sculpt fiber onto fiber until they are one. It is MAGIC to me!”
Down knows that her critters are extremely quirky, and their uniqueness is part of her soft-sculpture strategy. She wants them to become memorable and instantly recognizable: “I see my creations as theatrical caricatures of bears and animals, with a few totally fantasy-based creatures appearing. These characters definitely come from having worked front of house at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth for 13 years and having seen many fantastic live shows and musicals!”
Yes, there’s definitely something fictional and fantastical about Down’s handiwork. It’s hard to imagine such big-eyed creatures dwelling in a forest or residing in a cave. Their physiques might pay homage to actual hibernating grizzlies or climbing apes, but their personalities belong in a theatrical spectacle or in a child’s colorful pageant. Down’s characters are bursting with character — amusing, lively, and kinetic.
“My philosophy, or my motto, I suppose, is simply to ‘be happy’! I find it hard to make a creature that isn’t smiling. I hope that they all make people smile too,” the Aussie artist exuded. “They are meant to raise spirits, and I think I’ve succeeded in doing that.”
Regarding her reputation in her homeland, and around the world, Down is confident that she has always been on the right track with her unusual beasts. “I think that my teddy bears and their friends are viewed by the rest of the world as diverse, well made, and a little eccentric. As long as you are producing a high-quality creation, you will always find a collector base, whether it is the collector of traditional-based bears or the collector who is looking more for creations that fall into the ‘soft sculpture’ area, which is growing steadily every year,” she opined. “If you can produce pieces of high quality that have your unique signature on them — without needing a label and are recognizable worldwide as yours — then I don’t think collectors have a problem paying a fair price for a unique creation, which you have spent many, many, many hours creating.”
The talented mom divides her time between her artistry and the raising of her beloved daughter: “As much as I love creating, I love my little girl so much! My time is split in two wonderful directions. I have the best of all worlds! I love to make my bears, chimps, rats and other creatures that come out of the depth of my imagination. Honestly, I never know what a piece will look like until it is just about finished. It is so exciting to watch something spring to life!”
Likening her career to “being like a kid in a candy store,” Linda Down admitted that the pull of the fabric and the variety of colors is what keeps her motivated and keeps her creating. “As with all bears and critters, I want mine to have lots of character and to talk to you. I took part in an arts-and-crafts program that ran for two weeks. I had such a fabulous response to my work from the general public and artists from all different areas of the arts. The intense interest about how I create a face just from wool and a felting needle was lovely to respond to and to demonstrate how it is done . . . usually to their total amazement!” Down declared.
“The positive comments from my peers and the public, and their smiling faces as they looked at my creations, made me feel like you can follow a dream and find a niche. It’s all possible if you just keep doing what you love! I love what I do!”