One Monday afternoon in October, I had the pleasure of meeting Phoebe Wahl, who is a junior illustration student at RISD. She’s taking a class with my friend and former teacher Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges this semester, so Phoebe must have learned about my artwork from her. She sent me an e-mail with a link to her website and I was so charmed by her paintings and cloth characters that I invited her to visit my studio. It’s a manageable distance, so she took the bus from Providence to my home on Cape Cod. She gave me this gnome doll, which she had made the night before.
I love how she works quickly, so her dolls are fresh, not fussy. She draws beautifully, too and she showed me her sketch book.
Look at this juxtaposition of pages!
After talking with Phoebe for a bit, I spontaneously called my neighbor, illustrator Molly Bang and asked if we could walk over for a short visit. Phoebe remembers seeing Molly’s book, The Paper Crane when she was young, so it was nice to connect the two. Molly enjoyed meeting her and looking at her work, too.
I recently saw on Phoebe’s blog that she’s made an animated film called CIRCUS. In a few weeks, she made a whole cast of animals and performers, then made the film all by herself in one weekend! The character’s movements could be smoother, but this animation shows such potential! She describes the film as an experiment and she plans on learning more about stop motion animation this winter. I’m so impressed by her diligence and artistic drive. She is really taking advantage of her time in school to try different ways of bringing her artwork to life. CIRCUS can be seen on vimeo here.
Phoebe describes the project in her own words:
“I made ‘CIRCUS’ for Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges’ Artist Book class. The assignment was to make a large book, using no paper, and we had another assignment where the theme was ‘circus’ or ‘carnival’. I was stuck trying to think of ideas for traditional artist books and decided to combine both assignments. My visit to your studio definitely inspired me to start incorporating the handmade dolls and animals I have always loved to make into more of my schoolwork. Working hands-on sewing my characters into life is what feels right a lot of the time, although I will always love to make more traditional on-paper illustrations as well. I loved seeing your work from when you were my age at RISD, how even then you were making things that spoke in your voice, and your characters were so wonderful and created with so much love. I was inspired to take my little dolls and animals further even if it meant stretching the boundaries of assignments, since the process of making them is so important to me.
Originally I didn’t make the animals to be animated, (maybe somewhere in the back of my mind…) but after I brought the basket of elephants and lions and tigers into class, my professor Judy Sue decided to send me on a different route than the rest of the class, realizing how excited I was about what I was doing, and that I needed to take it further. It took me about two weeks to make all of the animals and dolls, and I made the animation in one sitting the next weekend. I did it completely on my own, locked in our spare room surrounded by desk lamps and animals with my camera taped to a box on a stool instead of a tripod…
A lot of my work is rooted in nostalgia. I feel like all the things I am drawing or painting or sewing, I am making for my childhood self. I think ‘CIRCUS’ is less about an actual circus, and more about a toy circus coming to life. That all the characters were touched and loved and imperfect is important to me. I find myself constantly illustrating places or people I want to be. I think ‘CIRCUS’ is an example of my constant quest to return to the magical places I inhabited as a child, where I didn’t even need a camera and a computer to make my toys and drawings come alive.
This Wintersession a friend in the animation department and I are doing an independent study, working on another animation. I’m excited to learn the real techniques of stop-motion animation and puppet making, since ‘CIRCUS’ was a bit of an experiment. Hopefully the first of many adventures in animation!”
Phoebe’s circus characters remind me of Alexander Calder’s
famous miniature circus (shown below).
Phoebe sent a thank you note in this envelope. Be sure to look at her website to see her work. Thanks, Phoebe. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create next.
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