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Sofie Skein, the creator of Bonjour Poupettes, continues to branch out into new art forms. Her new website shows her creative diversity as well as a glimpse into her everyday life. In this portion of her interview, Sofie gives readers a chance to delve deeper into the mind behind the artist.
ToonariPost: When you first started did you ever hit any bumps in your art process. What were they and how did you overcome them?
Sofie Skein: In the beginning, with the Poupettes, I had very little money to invest in materials. Fortunately, polymer is affordable and my pieces were small. At that time, I was more interested in form than color and all of my figurines were monochrome, about half the size that they are now (4-5″), and I made them in my hands, without tools of any kind.
I kept getting requests for pet portraits and larger figurines, which I was game to make, but they were particularly time consuming and sometimes impossible to make without tools. I reached a point where I had to decide whether or not I was going to invest in this project or move on.
I have never regretted the purchase of a single tool, and every one I’ve acquired has improved my work considerably. The tools I speak of are mostly hand tools for modeling as well as a pasta machine for conditioning and blending the polymer compound. They completely transformed the way that I worked.
TP: Who or what are your inspirations and why?
SS: I’m inspired by the creatures, ideas and things that I love – and what I love tends to be both vulnerable and brave. These are qualities associated with the human soul, but I recognize them in poetry and music, plants and animals, special places and objects as well. Also, the logic of dreams and fairy tales has always been close to my heart.
A world where animals stand up and walk around on two legs, wear clothes and have conversations in human languages makes sense to me in a way that the everyday world does not.
TP: Have you ever had to deal with a situation where someone else took credit for your work?
SS: Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this. My style of figurine is pretty unique and it has evolved over time in ways that I could have never planned for. Not only do I custom blend most of the polymer I use, I also use particular techniques and tools to achieve each piece.
TP: What is your favorite subject to design and why? You design a lot of animals, does any one in particular have special meaning to you?
SS: I’ve always loved to study faces. To me, animal faces are as expressive and revealing as human faces if you pay close enough attention. I do enjoy creating animal people and pet portraits because it’s an excuse to study their faces and discover what qualities really differentiate, for example, a fox from a wolf – and decipher what qualities are essential to maintain our recognition of a type of animal.
For me, this is an ongoing, evolving process of discovery. I have a personal story to tell about almost every creature I make. For example, when I was a child, a small circus came to my village and set up in the empty lot behind my house for a week. We were free to wander about and I spent most of that week watching the elephants and even got to ride on their backs.
I realize it sounds like something that happened in the nineteenth century, not rural Oregon in the 1980′s, but it did happen and those elephants have been a part of my imagination ever since.
TP: If there was any art medium that you wish you could master, what would it be and why?
SS: This past year I have been exploring an ancient technique of portraiture using encaustic wax medium and a torch using a four-color palette of naturally occurring pigments. It is exceptionally difficult but the results can be astonishing. It would be an amazing achievement to master this technique!
TP: How did you hear about encaustic portraits and what made you decide to take on this new medium?
SS: I’ve actually been painting with encaustic for a lot longer than I’ve been making poupettes. The pieces that I’ve shown publicly have been exclusively encaustic landscapes.
The portraiture technique I mentioned is based on a four color palette that the ancient Greeks developed. I was inspired to learn about this technique after studying a book (‘The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt’ by Euphrosyne Doxiadis) about the Greek funerary paintings entombed in Egypt. It’s something that I would absolutely love to study in depth.
TP: You have also mentioned that your partner is an artist? Can you tell me a little about his creative process?
SS: Nicolas describes himself as ‘a maker of things’. Currently he’s making miniatures, digital artwork, and Egyptian votive sculptures. We are both passionate about our work and share a studio, however, our creative processes couldn’t be more different. My creative process is rather orderly and structured, whereas his is much more organic and flowing.
My approach toward my work tends to be painstaking – working from a big picture idea and whittling it down to the detail; his ideas seem to spring out of nowhere, fully formed. We are both very appreciative of each other’s approach and instead of our differences creating conflict, we get to share our unique perspectives, which I think enriches our work as well as our relationship.
TP: What are your goals in life?
SS: I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve finally achieved two long-term goals: supporting myself with my creative work and making a home on the coast. For now, I’m content with continuing this path; however, I do feel called to share more of my writing, in the hope of encouraging and inspiring others who are trying to find their way to a life that truly supports who they are.
Five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined achieving the goals that I had dreamed of, and I strongly feel that if I could do so, it’s possible for anyone who is willing to commit to their plans.
TP: Do you feel that your culture or background has influenced you in some ways that make you different than other artists?
SS: I never planned to make animal figurines and would have been nonplussed if you had told me even just five years ago that I would be doing this full-time. However, it seems kind of inevitable to me now. I grew up next door to a veterinary clinic, both of my parents were passionate vets and horse-people. Animals were such an intrinsic part of my world and considered a part of the family.
I’m in my thirties, so I might not have enough perspective on this – but the older I get, the more impressed I am at the profound influence of both landscape (especially the physical landscape of our childhood) and history (personal history as well as family history) on who you are and how you view the world.
It seems that many of us spend the first half of our lives trying to escape those forces, and the second half trying to find a way home to them. If you are an artist, your work is likely to reflect this cycle of departure and return.