Thursday, 29 October 2015

Shrinking bears again

This is becoming a regular theme.  This time I decided it was time that the six-joint standing bear should be treated to a smaller cousin.  And, as has been the case before, the shrinking process didn't go quite as far as I intended but I managed just over 9 inches; I will also try very hard to make sure that it doesn't grow with pattern revisions.

I thought that such a small bear deserved a very big name so the first one was called Hercules.
The small size has meant that I have had to revise a lot of the joint components and in particular a smaller nut and bolt set for jointing. I know that doesn't sound like much but after 23 years of the same it is a big change in my little world.  It was especially fiddly fitting it inside the neck section and I am still refining that.

I have had to use glass eyes over  my preferred vintage boot buttons too,  there simply aren't any that small.
Purely to give an idea of scale....

A bear has to eat, the dogs won't miss one biscuit
Hercules soon acquired a "brother" but in a rusty shade. It seemed quite an appropriate shade for Autumn so he decided to be photographed with some of the pretty leaves from the Acer in my front garden, I know, everybody else has pumpkins and I just wanted to be different.

This one is Wotan, another large name for a small bear, and I am pleased to report that, despite a few minor pattern adjustments he didn't come out any taller.
More information about my bears, including any available, can be found on my website at
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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Designed for the package

One of the peculiarities of our postal system catches me out often when I am sending bears overseas.  The cost is high these days, especially if you use a fully insured, trackable service; An 18 inch bear was quoted at £125 for such a service to Australia.  However, if the bear can squeeze itself into a carton who's dimensions do not exceed 90cms in total ( w+h+d) and the pack weight is under 2 kilos then it can travel by a partially tracked signed for service at about a quarter of that.

I never thought I would consciously design a bear to fit a carton but I decided that I would modify and shrink a version of the 6 joint standing pattern.

I wanted to keep the proportions, keep it just big enough to look right with the fabrics available and also work with the boot buttons which I have the largest supply of.  I wanted to keep it a reasonable height standing up and make the legs so that they would form the right dimensions when seated to fit into the cartons which are  available at my local supplier. 

Anyway it was a success and I have a new pattern which still looks reasonably large but can travel overseas at small pack rate.    Now of course by the usual laws which govern such things the first three all sold to customers in the UK but the latest one went to USA and I am very pleased to say that instead of something like £75.00 his shipping and packing was only £25.

And all of this also produced a pattern which is a comfortable size for me to make and stuff, so born from creativity and shaped by postal costs I thought I would share some pictures of the new bears.

These first four are sold but more will be available over the coming months

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Before and After

It's not my habit to share work in progress pictures but I thought I might just reveal a little before and after.

One of my personal preferences when I make traditional bears is to create them with a look and feel that I think is generally referred to as care-worn.   The expression is widely used and seems to cover every level of care worn from slightly matted to totally mangled according to the artist's intentions.

Mine are mostly care worn to level of being still in one piece but with sometimes with a few bald and matted patches.  I also set great store by the way they feel, difficult to describe but I like them to feel like saggy old wood wool and very loose. Basically the opposite to what everybody tried to persuade me an artist bear had to feel like when I started out all those years ago.

To get to the point, I do most of the ageing of the finish after the bear is complete; That seems to best give an impression of the wear and matting that would occur on a bear.  So after they are complete they spend some time getting the "treatment" and no I am not going to tell you what I do but I kept a "before" picture of Oliver.  The difference is quite subtle on him but I wanted to tone down the newness of the mohair and add some depth to the shade.

Above - Oliver before the treatment, the fur looks a bit dead and woolly.

Below  -  Oliver after the treatment - very subtle but to me it puts life and depth in the colour and I also fatigue the embroidery of his nose.

And basically another day's work for a very subtle change but it pleases me.

More pictures of Oliver on my website while he is for sale

Stretch to fit ?

A recent conversation with a customer caused me to look back at the remainder of the sweaters which my Mum had knitted for the bears.  Over the years I have used the ones which fitted the bear patterns but I had reached the stage where the last sweaters were mostly very nice but didn't fit anybody.

Now that I have embarked on the process of adjusting bears to fit the sweaters, the proportions are little different but I have also made the bear much looser and softer, especially at the neck and shoulder .

Oliver is the first bear who has been on a custom diet to fit into his sweater, more will follow but the sweaters are all different so it is going to be quite a long process.

More details about Oliver will be on my website while he is for sale

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Buttons and Bows

I seem to be in classic bear mode at the moment, my work schedule goes along with what I enjoy most and I have been enjoying smaller vintage bears.

Recently though I did make one larger one and as I had a pattern for a waistcoat in the correct size, I also made one of those for him.   The customer who bought him also asked for a bow tie, so I duly made one and was rather pleased with the effect.  However that gave me another little problem of detail, having seen how smart the larger one looked I felt that they looked a little under dressed with a waistcoat but no tie.

So the latest one, Mortimer, now also has a bow tie, made from the cotton fabric I used for the back of his waistcoat.
 To make these things for an 11 inch bear is at about the limit of smallness with which my fingers will co-operate.  The waistcoat is a common enough accessory for a bear, but I think just about as much clothing as they need or are likely to get from me.

I finally worked out the sequence to sew the parts together to achieve a lined garment and I punish myself by insisting that they have functioning button holes, further more I like hand worked buttonholes.  All a bit of an obsession with detail and I am not really sure if anybody notices but essential for my own satisfaction.

Many, many years ago in my early naive days I entered a competition in a category for "dressed bears" and decided to go for a waistcoat.  At that stage I had very little exposure to the bear artist world and to my mind that seemed plenty for a bear to wear.  So I duly wrestled making a new bear pattern, fought with a piece of vintage hat velvet which frayed as soon as you looked at it, I lined it with silk and then tackled the buttons.  I wanted something special and spent a small fortune on vintage crystal dancing shoe buttons from a collector of vintage buttons and to finish the job also managed to hand sew almost neat little buttonholes. It all took significantly longer than making the bear and I placed it among the forest of fully costumed bears on the competition table.  Of course it didn't get a place but I was upset to be virtually told off by a bear world doyen for having the cheek to enter a dressed category with a bear just wearing a waistcoat.  To add to my displeasure I had made it as a gift for the promoter who invited me to my first US show, he looked at it with disdain and said something like "Oh, is that the one you made for me.... "  I didn't remain friends with him anyway after he informed me that he preferred his friends to be more charismatic.  

I do get bogged down with detail sometimes, Mortimer's waistcoat took me a whole day to make, I experimented with different threads to make the buttonholes until I ended up ordering silk twist which seemed to scale nicely, it frays in my rough fingers and each buttonhole took ages to sew working under a magnifier.  But I do it nowadays for my own satisfaction, it is nowhere near perfect but I am satisfied I have done my best and I continue my journey aiming to improve each time.  I am in danger of wanting to make a fully correct scaled bow tie next so that I don't have to resort to the press stud to secure it.

I often dream about making more fully costumed bears, but as it takes me the best part of a week to make a bear nowadays I can't see that happening anytime soon.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Classic Bears - Subtle evolution

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, I haven't written anything here for a while, I have probably hinted that the last year has been one of recovery and I am pleased to report that it has been going very well.  However, although other aspects have improved, I have been avoiding larger bears for some time due to a developing shoulder problem, this morning I had fluid drawn out of it and a cortisone injection to help, it doesn't seem to be working any better so smallish bears are on the menu for the forseeable future !

I suppose it is not really a surprise that I have a long standing affection for the very traditional style of bear.  Quite specifically the early German style, and I am sure that is quite obvious from many of the bears I have made over the years.  I am intrigued by the subtlety of their expressions, although not necessarily obviously cute, their long snouted faces are often kind with a slightly elusive smile; their matt finish boot button eyes are irregular and have a soft lustre which I prefer to the harsher twinkle of glass.  But the face is nothing if it is not balanced by nicely shaped shoulders, paws, arms etc any of which jar with me if they are not just so according to my own ideal.  And by that I am not saying that there is a right or wrong, but I have my own ideal which I suppose is a sort of composite inspiration from any number of antique bears I have seen over the years.

I regularly revisit the patterns I use sometimes just to alter the overall size but often to improve the shapes as I see them.  I  conversation I had with a customer at the recent Hugglets show prompted me to think about what I look for in a bear, and thus what I aspire to create myself.

My semi retirement has allowed me more time on each bear to fiddle and fuss over the final result and remake patterns between bears, it does sometimes mean I spend a little too long but I hope it shows in the result. It also affords me the luxury of only making bears for which I am in the mood, and I think that too focus my attention on the details better.

Now I have always been reluctant to say exactly what it is that each little pattern change is supposed to achieve, and indeed only I really know whether it was successful.  You would think that after 23 years I would have run out of steam but the intriguing aspect to me of making the simplest traditional bear come to life is an ongoing process, each is different and there are endless ways to give each a slightly different posture and expression.

I think of certain fundamental things as the basic vocabularly. I am, for example, especially obsessed by the shape of the arms, it is one of the things which jars most if I feel it has not been realised appropriately, and no I haven't always got it quite right myself, which only spurs me on to make little adjustments.  Within that "vocabularly" of basics there is plenty of scope to make an almost endless procession of bears and for each to have his or her own personality.

The latest revision was to create a little bear just over 9 inches tall, the reason being to use 3 pairs of tiny genuine vintage boot buttons and I needed a bear small enough for them to look correct in scale.  Mission accomplished but now I have to track down more of the tiny boot buttons, so the next bears will be a little larger but will of course incorporate all the improvements I made to my pattern shapes.  And I will be spending time on ebay tracking down the little buttons lurking in the endless listings of job lots of old buttons!