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!


  1. Gregory I hope your health is improving. Your bears are warm, friendly soul mates. I love them. I hope your shoulder improves so you can do some of the big bears you love.
    Hugs Kay

    1. Thank you Kay, the shoulder is slowly improving, and I am looking forward to making more new designs as the year progresses

  2. Your post sums up for me, the true heart of bear-making ... a gentle, heartfelt evolution. Perfectly expressed and a pleasure to read. I agree arms are so important to the traditional teddy form and yours are perfect!

    1. Thank you Paula, I find it difficult to describe the thought process, but so often people at shows ask and it helps make me realise what is going on when I fiddle with patterns. I think I enjoy the classic bears most of all, but I am sure I spend far too long tinkering with them getting the final finish just the way I like. I guess after all these years I should accept that I will never go any faster :-)