The Dead Menagerie
I went through four or five different ideas for the module before settling on my ‘The Dead Menagerie’ project. The ones I’d been most keen to work on were collaborative projects, and as both my partners changed their minds part way through the planning stage, I ended up moving on and working independently by about mid-October. (Link to planning.)
The inspiration for my project came from my fascination with moveable handmade fantasy creature dolls, such as this one. (Source)
I had some minor experience with making things from faux fur and sculpting with clay, and thought that it would be an interesting and challenging undertaking to try and create my own unique creatures.
To get me started I spent time doing further research into what already existed on the market, as well as looking at guides on how to create them. Though these did provide me with some good advice, most were overly rushed and sometimes the end products looked a little too amateur. While working on my prototype I contacted some of my favourite creators, who were able to give me some very useful tips and tricks that I otherwise would not have had access to. (Questions.)
I think I may have been a little overambitious with my prototype. With a fully moveable wire skeleton, four limbs, wings, a long tail, sculpted face and paws, two different types of fur and three different colours of felt, it proved to be quite the undertaking for my first attempt. It took me just over a month to finish the creature I dubbed ‘Protobowie’. However, the final result was very pleasing.
I certainly learnt a lot from creating the prototype. I’d never attempted anything like him and many of the aspects of the creation process, such as making the wire armature and using a hot glue gun, were completely new to me. I also learnt from my mistakes. I didn’t create a pattern, leading to one place at the back were the fur wasn’t able to completely cover the felt beneath it. This, along with the fact I didn’t record proper measurements for the wiring, meant that I would effectively have to start from scratch if I wanted to make more just like him. (Sketches. Progress pictures. Reflections on the creation process.)
I only realised this after I’d completed him, and once I did the project ended up stalling for a while. I felt overwhelmed by the thought of having to start from the very beginning again, and was unsure at that point in time of what my end goal was with this project. I planned to set-up an Etsy account to sell my products, but at that point that’s the only direction I had.
Talking with my guiding tutor helped a lot with working out where I could take the idea. We decided that rather than selling them as ‘live’ creatures, they could be taxidermy and that I could create a marketing angle to support this using the persona of a steampunk inspired Victorian era explorer who catching and stuffs rare creatures. (Planning notes.)
I did some more research and planning for the project, and designed a batch of three new creatures. This time around I decided to make some ‘Feathered Serpents’, 68cm long dolls with 14cm wide felt wings, sculptured faces, feathered tails, white ruffs around their heads and long manes down their backs. I planned out and recorded their measurements properly to make the process more efficient. I also designed each one with a different face shape and colour scheme in mind to make them all unique. (Planning sketches. Progress pictures.)
However, progress at this point slowed down again as I was feeling anxious about trying to create products of to professional level standard to sell to the public, and I had fast approaching deadlines in other subjects.
During another meeting with my guiding tutor the idea of taking my wares to an event of some kind, which had been previously mentioned, was brought up again and I agreed that it would provide me with a solid and challenging but achievable goal to aim for. I went away and started looking into different events I could attend. (Notes.)
I decided to go for Whitby Goth Weekend up in Yorkshire. (Explanation.) The event would start on the 23rd of April, giving me roughly a month to get everything done. Once I’d got a set event to aim for, I got straight to working, writing content for the blog I planned on creating, designing a flyer to hand out, and of course, finishing the taxidermy pieces I had been working on.
Though I was able to work much quicker on the ‘feathered serpents’, the creation process still took a lot longer than I would have liked. However, the end results were very satisfactory. Each creature came out to a high standard, being both aesthetically pleasing and physically robust enough for me to be happy to sell them on.
While finishing them, it became apparent to me that at the pace I was going, I would likely only be able to finish another one or two before the event. I didn’t think a stall with only four or five small items on it would really be enough, so I ended up changing tack a little. As well as the fantasy taxidermy, I’d had an idea for faux fur stoles. As fur items were fashionable in Victorian times, but many steampunks have expressed a distaste for real fur, I thought there might be a potential audience for faux stoles.
Using this pattern, and with some help from my boyfriend, I was able to get the first batch of three done in a week. Due to their lack of wings, wire armature and sculpted faces, they took a lot less time to make. I did have one unfortunate setback though, as my sewing machine broke. This meant that sewing that should have taken half an hour took all day to finish. Luckily I was able to borrow a different machine to finish the rest. In the time before the event I was able to get another three completed. (Reflection on creation process.)
By the 23rd I had nine items to sell, individual bags made for them, my persona and site content sorted, my flyer finished, my Etsy account set-up, and ‘field sketches’ for each specimen painted using tea and coffee. The only thing I didn’t have done was the content actually uploaded to the website, which I planned on doing at the event. Since our Internet stopped working I ended up doing that afterwards instead. (Blog Plan. Blog. Etsy.)
At Whitby I was able to set up a stall in the ‘Rifle Club’, a small building dedicated to steampunk wares. Though not a busy location, I was able to get a stall for free, rather than having to spend around £300 as I might otherwise have had to. On the first day my table was right at the back, hidden away behind a rack of clothing in one corner. Friday was very quiet, which is apparently normal for the event. I was also a little nervous about approaching people, something that gradually wore off as the day progressed. (Stall and event pictures. Further information about the stall.)
On the second day it was decided by the organisers that I should be moved to try and make my stall more accessible. Unfortunately, the new location actually proved to be more out of sight than before. This had the positive effect of forcing me out of my corner to engage with people more. I was able to engage a good number of people in conversation and sold two of the taxidermy pieces for £45 each and three stoles for £25. Pictures of the buyers with their new purchases can be found in the stall and event folder. (Event Feedback. Digital feedback)
By the third day I was far more confident than before, and felt comfortable putting on my explorer persona. Since another stall holder left, I was able to have his space, which was much more out in the open and accessible. Unfortunately, it proved to be one of the quietest Sundays the other sellers could recall. Barely any members of the public entered our area, and at some points in time there were none at all. I only managed to sell one stole that day, despite reducing their price to £20. That meant that over the weekend I sold two thirds of my stock and made £185.
To make good use of my spare time on the Sunday I spent much of it talking to the other stall holders, getting advice on how to run stalls and sell things. I also had a long conversation with an independent publisher of steampunk books, whom I’m now going to be getting some publishing and editing work experience with over the summer.
My Creative Enterprise project proved to be an interesting and challenging one. It allowed me to explore a creative endeavour that I’d been interested in attempting for some time, while pushing me out of my comfort zone and getting me to engage with the public. I learnt a lot from both creating my creatures, and from promoting my project. If I could go back and do one thing differently it would definitely be getting myself to start on the taxidermy earlier, as it would have been great to have had time to make more complex creatures like my prototype.
Master List of all Links Provided: