Friday, July 25, 2008

Lobsters! What Was I Thinking?

I recently had the opportunity to meet and work with Liz Grandmaison, a photographer in Bangor, ME. She kindly and creatively made NotYerAverage Lobster portraits for me. I'll be introducing the lobsters in a series I am calling, "Lobsters! What was I Thinking?" I love the results of Liz's work and encourage you all to visit her website to see more of her delicious photographs.

Someone asked me of my work, "Why on this Green Earth did you pick lobsters?" Once I stopped laughing, I realized this was actually a very good question. What was I thinking? Why had lobsters--and particularly the making of my own version of these--dare I say it?...ugly and homely looking creatures--become so important?

The superficial answer: a customer asked for one. Lobsters are kind of a Maine cliche--and tourist shops are loaded with the little creatures in one form or another. Mostly, these toys and ornaments and hand-puppets are made in countries outside of Maine and outside the United States. Locals scoff at the idea of toy stuffed lobsters. In my humble opinion, these creatures get a bad rap. It is not the lobsters' fault they have been reduced to...well...bottom feeders on kitschy tourist shop shelves.

I admit (being a Maine-iac myself) my first reaction to this customer request was a resounding, "NO!" Then, okay, I started fiddling with a pattern and came up with a lobster I liked. The process took a while. I struggled with how to make this creature look at least a little...cute. I wanted the design to be simple, too. And relatively user-friendly--no sharp edges or eyes that could cause injury to anyone. I was thinking toys, then, not pieces of art...but I am getting ahead of myself...I'll talk about this evolution in a little bit and in subsequent postings.

Anyway...after several rounds of too skinny, too small, too fat, too strange looking lobsters, I came up with something that looked like the Red and Black NotYerAverage Lobster pictured here.

Through the process of designing my first lobsters and thinking about what materials to use for them, I started growing fond of the little creatures. After weighing the pros and cons for fabrics, I settle, primarily, on flannel. This fabric is also commonly seen on people from Maine. It gets cold here in the fall and winter...and much of the spring. Flannel makes great, cozy shirts and pajamas and sheets and all kinds of good stuff like that.

Then, me being me, I started thinking about breaking from the "traditional" red lobster scene. Lobsters are not naturally red. They get that way when they are cooked. Many people only see lobsters baked or steamed on a plate. So, many people, understandably want red lobsters. But, how boring to work only in one color! I looked to lobsters' natural colors which turn out to be various and speckled reds, oranges, greens, blacks and blues not always all that interesting or exciting if you want one as a toy or decoration or collectible. That is when the name "NotYerAverage Lobster" was born. I made a conscious decision not to get locked into any particular color or style.

As an aside--I now enjoy haunting the local thrift stores for flannel and wool clothing with interesting colors and designs. I can feel good about my purchases, too. The money I spend in these shops goes to help my community and my products are made (to the extent they can be) of recycled materials.

Though red continues to be the most popular color, I also sew lobsters in purple, green, pink, yellow, leopard and more. Here is a Slate Blue NotYerAverage Lobster.

After weeks turned into years of working with the lobsters, I made a connection with these cuddly crustaceans in surprising ways. For those of you who don't know, the name of my business is Sojourn Quilts. A "sojourn" is a "resting place along life's journey." Making the lobsters, bringing the idea to life in fabric, gave me the opportunity to think about Maine and my place within it. I realized these works, simple or complex, really do tap into something deep inside me. They symbolize a way for me to honor Maine, some of its traditions, and how this place has played a profound role in shaping the way I think about and interact with the world.

Since I began making lobsters in 2006, I have added What a Character Lobsters and Soft Sculptured Quilted Art Lobsters to my repertoire. I will talk more about them in other posts. In the meantime, you can see more of my lobsters in my shop on Etsy if you'd like.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Feel free to look around and read the interviews I have done with other artisans: jewelers, card makers, doll makers, and painters. I'd love to hear from you!


Liz Grandmaison said...

And may I say, having spent some time with these little creatures over the past few weeks, that they're fun, finely crafted, and take direction well. :-) The detail on the embroidered and quilted lobsters is fabulous! Congratulations on your "Lobster Launch," Janyce. It was a pleasure to shoot your work.

Michelle said...

I loved reading about your journey with the lobsters. They are really unique!

Mystic Silks said...

Janyce, I think your lobsters are beautiful and unique! Keep making them--:) Your story of how they originated, was very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

dollproject said...

I too loved reading the hows and whys of the lobsters. I love the variety you bring to them!