It is my pleasure to introduce Etsy artist Jessie Cunningham from Ontario, Canada! Jessie’s shop, Past Your Porch Light, is a charming place where “grizzlies wander and owls take wing.” We both hope you enjoy this artist interview and can give Jessie’s shop a look-see!
Each creature you sculpt seems to come from a dreamland! Where do you get the ideas for your soft sculpted creatures?
That kind of dreamy quality is something I really value, in art and in life, and I’m so pleased that it comes across. For the most part my inspiration comes from where you’d expect, nature and wildlife. I grew up in Canada with access to the woods behind our house and as a child I’d climb trees for hours exploring that world. I had notions of being a professional animal watcher or leaving home to make friends with orcas off the coast of British Columbia, and while I grew out of those somewhat unrealistic ideas (mostly) I’ve never lost my fascination with the animal kingdom. There’s a magical quality to those sort of unconquered areas of life that I can daydream about for hours, personalities or stories I can imagine creatures having, and more and more that’s where my creations find their beginning.
That dreamland and the details in our own natural world play the biggest parts – I can obsess over conveying the weight in a grizzly bears footstep, or capturing the posture of a badger pausing to listen to its surroundings before moving on. Other times even a song or scene in a film can spark an idea.
Why did you decide to use this soft sculpting medium for these creatures and not another medium? How long does it take you to make one of your soft sculptures?
It’s been a slow process of discovery but the love and obsession was immediate once found. I’ve tried many kinds of art since I was young, I knew I wanted to create but not always what or how. When I first dabbled with fabric I worked with faux fur- it’s great stuff but messy and can be difficult to maneuver, which is ultimately why I discovered felt as a medium.
Wool felt sort of happened to me when I was dealing with some health issues that restricted me from using more labor intensive materials, it was something I could easily pile next to me on the couch on a bad day and sew by hand. During that time I watched a lot of nature documentaries, and one day was struck by the image of a polar bear. Their silhouette and posture is so distinctive, almost otherworldly, and I knew I wanted to somehow capture that, and the feeling it gave me, and make it into something tangible. That iconic shape became the focal point of that first soft sculpture project, and those are things I pay close attention to on every new undertaking. While I still integrate previous mediums into new works, wool felt has really taken root with me. It may change, it will definitely evolve, but for now I’m really enjoying finding those shapes and feelings in felt.
How did business on Etsy start and how has your experience been so far?
I found Etsy more out of necessity than because I had a plan. I posted something I’d made on another website and to my shock it became popular very quickly, people would message asking how to purchase and I needed to scramble to figure that out. The business aspect is the area I’ve struggled with the most – I didn’t go into this established as an artist, or even as the person I was going to be, it’s been something I’ve grown alongside of (sometimes clumsily, I changed my brand name a few times.)
I think a lot of artists get into this “JUST CREATE” mindset and maybe don’t put the effort they may have to into getting the art seen. For a long, long time that was a huge issue for me, but Etsy has taught me a lot. There’s a really resourceful community there rich with advice and opportunity, but I also think promoting off the website is very important too. Instagram has been my biggest help in that arena.
Do you have any future plans for your business and do you plan on adding any new creature designs to the shop?
At any given time I have about 6 new creature designs in a prototype stage, with dozens more on paper and loping around my mind. As for future plans, they range from developing a better understanding of color combinations and design to something as ambitious as having a studio space. I’m still very much in my beginning stages so I’m mostly happy to continue to learn- but I also have some very cool collaborations coming up as well that I’m pretty excited about.
Jessie also sells enamel pins in her shop along with her soft sculptures:
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