Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Progression: A Timeline

The first little plush guy I ever made.

I thought it would be interesting to go back through my photo archives and post some photos of older pieces, in chronological order, to see where my work has come from and where it is, and where it may continue to go.

I think it's important to always remember where you started - and even to keep reminding yourself (as an artist, or whatever it is that you do) that even if you are feeling stagnant, or having difficulty with some aspect of your work, remember, you have come a long way! As creative people and makers, we are always going to be learning - I personally think we have to be comfortable with the fact that, in our lifetimes, we're never going to perfect our craft. But we can always keep improving it, and mastering it.

This is going to be an unusually photo-heavy post, so in the interest of organization I'm going to put it behind a jump link - click below to continue on:

Hand-stitched first small plush out of wool felt, which I stuffed loosely and stained with ink and paint. I still have him - picture at top of post. I named him Gilbert, because I was watching the movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" at the time that I made him. I never sold him or gave him away, and I'm so glad - he sits on a shelf above my work table and I see him every day, a reminder of where I started.

Fully hand-stitched, with silver-leafed sculpted tooth on his belly.

All hand-stitched. I was only aging things a little bit at this point.
This was all for fun, I rarely sold these. I mostly gave them to friends or sold them for like $25 if someone insisted on buying them. I learned a lot about sewing, fabric, and making simple patterns. I still remember the long hours on the couch with a needle and thread, sewing these. 

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of photos of the plush I was creating around 2007...I was not very committed to documenting them, because I was just doing it as a hobby, and also I did not have a smartphone and was not really into social media at this time, so it just didn't occur to me to take many pictures for posterity.

"The Twig Bearer". Freestanding soft sculpture.

"Origins of the Forest" five-piece set, shown at DVA gallery in
Chicago in 2008.

I used to use a lot of special effects, like rust and faux fur.

Dolls are completely hand-sewn (I didn't have a sewing machine), and stuffed with polyester batting. I did most of my staining with inks and powdered pigments, and they had soft faces with glued-on glass eyes.

Many of my early pieces had no lips and two rows of slimy teeth.
Early examples of faces with holes drilled for sewing.
I had a much darker aesthetic then.

"Pavlov II"

Clay faces become standard. First they have only eyes, and later into the year they get toothy grins. My recognizable "Dust Bunny" body shape can be seen, and instead of drawing up a new pattern for every doll, I begin using the same patterns for the bodies.  The eyes are often painted glass cabochons, and I poked holes in the clay faces in order to stitch them to the bodies by hand.

Around this time is when I begin showing and selling my artwork in group shows, and when I would get some unsold pieces back after the shows, I would sell them on Etsy. I only made a few at a time.

"Foxglove" edition of 25.

I started experimenting with antlers and horns around this time.

This year was a big turning point for me and my art career. It marked my first big foray into the art/toy scene, with two handmade plush editions sold at conventions (Foxglove, an edition of 25, sold through DKE Toys at Comic Con, and Deadnettle, sold through Rivet Gallery at DragonCon). I also began to really focus on the personality of the dolls - I refined their faces, got a lot better at sculpting, and purchased an antique sewing machine so I no longer had to hand-stitch everything.

From this point forward, my work has been a great example of how if you force yourself to do something over and over again, your skill level goes up exponentially. I went from making probably 30 pieces the previous year to about 70, and it's amazing how much one can learn about their materials and process when you do it so many times.

By now, the recognizable "Dust Bunny" shape and identity was solidified.

I still do darker things, like zombies, occasionally.

I begin having serious shows in galleries. I was asked to join the Circus Posterus collective. In 2011 I released two more editions: Belladonna, and edition of 50, and the Little Medic edition of 25. This was also the year I began working with Australian director and animator Christopher Kezelos, on his stop-motion short film "The Maker".  In late 2011, I also had my first large show at Stranger Factory, a two-person show with Chris Ryniak called "Late Season".

A customized "Lizzie" by Kathie Olivas, for Monsters and Misfits II in Japan.

2012 - Present: 
By now, the trajectory of my work and career was fairly set - it had been some time since I had left my full-time job, and at this point I had made the difficult decision to stop pursuing my other career, Squeaky Queen Soap Laboratory, in order to fully immerse myself in my art. In 2012 I had my first solo show at Rivet gallery, after which I had another huge show with Chris Ryniak at Stranger Factory ("Migration", in March of 2013). This was also an incredibly exciting period of time in which I traveled to Japan twice for Monsters and Misfits exhibitions with Circus Posterus, released two resin figurines (Pumpernickel and Pipsqueak), participated in many more shows, and began work on my first Japanese sofubi toy - plus many, many other things.

In terms of the progression of my work, the changes aren't as obvious at this point, but they are there. Every time I make a mistake, or have to work really hard to make something happen, I learn something. I learn how to do things better or I learn what NOT to do. My confidence has increased a lot, though I still know I have a lot to learn.

What I love most about looking back at old pieces though, is that even though some aesthetic decisions or skill limitations might make me cringe a little bit, all those ideas and looks are so incredibly "me". I may not have know what I wanted to "say" with my art at the time I was making it, but I did very much know what I was trying to accomplish with it visually, and for the most part, I really was able to take the skill sets I had at the time, and give form to what I wanted to create.  Every critter I have made, from the very first one, to the sometimes embarrassing ones in the middle, to the ones I create today, are all ideas and aesthetic explorations straight from my brain, and I will always be able to reflect on that.


  1. This was a fascinating post, Amanda! I've followed your work for a while, but I wasn't there at the very start & it is great to see where you came from & where you've gone. Looking forward to the next chapter! <3

  2. Wonderful post. Its a great reminder of being true to your art and showing the journey. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. Absolutely - it's always good to remember where you started, and WHY you started something. Keeps you true to the course!

  3. This was a wonderful and refreshingly open post. Too often, I feel like I've met/read about creatives who are afraid to reveal too much of their journey. But I believe that it's our struggles and imperfect moments that makes artists truly real and loved. Thank you for sharing this :)

    1. I've done my share of sweeping embarrassing projects under the internet rug in the past, for sure, but you know, I see so many aspiring artists and young people just trying to find their voice and getting frustrated...thought it might help someone to see that everybody has work they're not particularly proud of, but even the awkward stuff serves a purpose.

  4. It's fascinating to see where you began. I started following your work in 2011 and was lucky enough to grab a Belladonna. Been loving your work eversince :)

    1. That's awesome! The Belladonna was a real favorite of mine - I still remember hand-dyeing about 10 yards of striped fabric to get that perfect plum color!

  5. It was really cool to see those early puppets and read about your development! I didn't know that you even had a soap business before. I checked it out and it just enhanced my impression of what a great sense of aesthetics and quality you have! keep up the good work, Amanda!

    1. Oh, thank you so much! Yeah, Squeaky Queen was my baby...it was so hard to leave it behind! But I find that I'm still able to fill some of those artistic needs with my bunnies. Especially now that I am working in colored resin - it's almost like making soap (just without the pretty scents and easy clean-up, ha ha)!

  6. Neat! While I still miss my Squeaky Queen (a LOT!), it's great to see your art and your progression. Best wishes on your journey!

    1. I miss it too! I'm never going to say never though...maybe a Dust Bunnies x Squeaky Queen collab in the future?! who knows....

  7. I learned about you through the animated short, The Maker, when your dust bunnies were already the form that they are now. It is wonderful to see how your work evolved. It is inspiring for those of us starting out and trying to figure out what that "thing" is that we can call our own.

    1. Thanks so much for following me as I continue my journey!

  8. Thanks for sharing your art journey with us all. I liked the seeing the progression of the dolls from the first one until now.

  9. Love this post so much. I love to see how how other artists' work changes over the years. I see so much growth in my crochet work in just the last year and a half that I've been doing it, like how my basic doll pattern has changed, though I'm still looking for that perfect way of doing hair, haha. Anyway, thanks for sharing your journey! It was cool to see your earlier work and see how things evolved into your current style.

    1. Sometimes it's hard to see how much you've progressed, until you look at older work! Like your crochet work, when I look back on my older stuff I think "wow, I really HAVE gotten better at this!". It's a good feeling :)

  10. Amanda it is so cool to see the progression of your art and how it really does represent who you are. I have many fond memories of sitting around your mom's kitchen table and you showing me your very first ones. Your work is amazing but then I have always thought that you were amazing.


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