GW: Hello Wendy Thanks for sitting with us today.
WF: Glad to be here.
GW: It's my understanding that you have been a Doll Maker since you were very little. Where did your inspiration to make dolls come from?
WF: I have always been interested in dolls. Both of my parents were artists, my father was a sculptor and my mother was, and still is, a painter and collage artist. They were also both teachers so we had art all over the house all of the time and access to all sorts of materials. They always encouraged me to make things, but my mother also read to me a lot as a child. Every night we read fairytales, we read the Narnia books and as I got older she read the Tolkien books. It was one of our favorite, favorite things to do. Now, while I always loved playing with dolls I could never find dolls of the creatures I read about in those books, so I started making them. I started making fawns and centaurs and fairies, things that I could not buy and then I mixed them up with my doll house dolls and they had their own little world that I created.
GW: At what point in your life did you think, "This is what I want to do?”Or was it always “This is what I am going to do?" Was there an "Ah ah!” moment?
WF: I think there probably was. I went to the Interlochen Arts Academy for high school and I didn’t take art there, I took drama. I was a theater major. I loved it, but I realized I didn't want the pressure of performing. I just didn't feel like I could do that my whole life, so I went to the Art School my parents were involved in. My father was the president and my mother taught painting. I realized that no matter what class in 3d I was taking, everything I made ended up being some kind of doll or object that was more than just some piece of sculpture, more than a piece of ceramic. I mixed my media all the time, much to the consternation of my teachers; they didn't know what to do with that. I suppose it was then that I decided that I really, really enjoyed it and I also felt that I had an important vision that I wanted to develop further.
GW: You started to work with Jim Henson pretty young, was that one of your first studio jobs, or was there a progression getting there?
WF: That was absolutely my first studio job. I moved to New York with several of my friends from Detroit when we graduated CCS Art College. None of us knew what we were going to do. I was going to be a waitress like everybody else. So, I put together an exhibition in the loft space we had of puppets and dolls that I had made. We invited anyone we knew, anyone we knew who might have money and might want to buy something like this. Luckily one our friends knew the art director from the Muppet Show, Michael Frith, and brought him along. He bought one of my puppets for Jim Henson for a Christmas present. Then one day I just got a phone call asking if I would like to come work on a new project...I was amazed, that doesn't happen very often. And that’s how I started. I knew that this was the break I needed and then I knew I had to be the best I possibly could be from then on. Because you get a break like that and you have to do something with it.
GW: What was your first feature with him? Was it Dark Crystal?
WF: Yes, it was Dark Crystal. I did work on the Muppet Show as well and I worked on the Muppet Movie. I was just there doing everything and while we were working on the Dark Crystal I also worked on Yoda. So I went back and forth for different projects. Which was great for me as it just taught me so much. I learned from every person I came in contact with. I learned something from everyone like Frank Oz, Stuart Freebourne who was the head of the makeup department on Star Wars was incredible, he was an amazing man.
GW: Staying with that, you have sculpted some of the most iconic figures on film such as like Jen and Kira from Dark Crystal and Yoda, of course, possibly one of the most recognized characters in film culture.
WF: We had no idea that he was going to turn into such an icon. Those of us who worked on him had no idea; he was just another character in the story. Also, he was an experiment because until that point no one had really mixed puppets and people in that way and used puppets so extensively. This was before we did Dark Crystal.
GW: So Yoda influenced the making of Dark Crystal?
WF: In a way.
GW: When you see these characters that you have created finally animate, how does that feel for you? I think that it would feel like giving birth in a way.
WF: It is, but the first reaction and I have a feeling this is true for a lot of people who do things and see them realized in other media, the first thing you see are all the mistakes. So, the first time you see anything on the big screen or in rushes, you think "Oh my god no. What is? How could? No? What? No! It isn't supposed to be that way!" But in retrospect, now I can look at those films and I don't see those mistakes. I see, hopefully, what other people have seen and loved throughout the years. Sometimes we would come out thinking, "this is amazing" and other times it was, "How can we be doing this?" But with all of these years now in retrospect, it is a different vision.
GW: All those movies have been such a great influence on other artists and generations of moviegoers.
WF: They really have been and continue to be. That's the interesting thing about so many people that grew up with the Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. Now when people who are experiencing Labyrinth for the first time meet our son Toby, who was the baby in the movie and is now 24, they are kind of like, "Wait, you were a baby just a week ago when I was watching the film for the first time" So it is perennial.
GW: You and your husband Brian Froud have created this amazing “culture” of your work, the World of Froud. It's expanded into jewelry and clothing and now your goblins at FAO Swartz. How is that for you? Does it help in your doll making or do you feel it detracts. The business that is, from making the art?
WF: We are very lucky, our business partner Robert Gould, who is the mastermind behind "World of Froud" is the person who brings all the projects and without him probably both of us would be working the hardware store somewhere.
GW: I doubt that (laughs).
WF: No, but we would stay home. He has brought us out into the world and has given us back to the people who like our work. It is amazing for us to have that contact because otherwise we wouldn't. We really do live in a remote part of England, it is a beautiful part of England and we love to be home, but we need that push to go out into the world and do different things and think in different ways. I think when we are doing things like the fashion, that was a lot of fun, and the dolls and puppets it pushes us. At the time it can be annoying and you could think "This IS taking me away from what I want to be doing" but I think we need to be pushed we need to be stretched. Challenge is always a good thing. If you don't step up, if you don't take that challenge, then you stagnate.
GW: Many artists we talk with discuss what a challenge it can be, especially in the entertainment industry, to juggle professional and personal life. You and Brian have a unique situation in that you are working together a lot on projects. How do you find that balance with family and career?
WF: I think we are lucky because we both work at home and we have studios at opposite ends of the house because we like to work together but not all the time. We come out and see each other at lunch and then we come out and spend time together after we finish working. Basically we try and do a 9-5 day. So we finish up and spend time together in the evening. But we also try to carve out blocks of time so that we have time to work at home and then we will carve out 3-6 weeks of coming over here, traveling around here, if we have fairy worlds festivals or if we have business meetings and try and bunch a lot of them together. We have to do that because otherwise we would be going back and forth all the time. When Toby, our son, was little it was more difficult to travel because we had to see if he could be taken out of school, there was more juggling then, but now that he is older he actually works with us on projects. He is an amazing sculptor and builder and he is much better at that "technology" than we are. So at times, even though he doesn't live at home and lives in London, we will need him to program computers or set up the DVD player so it's, "Toby can you come home one weekend and set this up?"
GW: How digital are you guys? You started are both traditional artists mainly. Has the digital medium filtered into what you do?
WF: It certainly has for Brian; he uses computer imagery all the time. He still paints at his easel, but he also spends a lot of time with computer imagery and photography. He and Toby have done some amazing video work for bands and images to put behind some of the light shows and things for the festivals and they enjoy it, I don't. I just don't do anything on it at all.
GW: You are here at the Gnomon Workshop this week working on a follow up title to your very popular Fairy Making DVD. Tell us a little bit about your new title, what is the focus this time?
WF: Well, since the first one was creating a fairy figure and it was a lovely female fairy and I thought it would be nice to show my techniques on sculpting heads and characters. I love sculpting old people and wrinkles, anything that gives the face character is so much fun. And if I am sculpting a whole series of beautiful fairy heads I will take a break and sculpt something just character driven in the face. So this DVD I was not quite sure how I would start out, but then I ended up sculpting 4 different heads, I was going to do one but then I ended up doing 4, And gotten them up to the point that they have hair on them and have painted faces. So the heads are finished and now I am going to take one of the bodies and complete that so there will be a whole figure but I will eventually complete all of them.
GW: What other projects are you working on right now?
WF: At the moment I am focusing on a 6 week workshop tour across the country. Which will be very tiring, but a lot of fun. They are 3 day weekend workshops, the first one is in Pasadena this weekend and then one in Portola California and there I am doing a 2 day puppet making workshop with my son Toby which will be fun.
GW: How do you like working in the workshop environment? Where you have students to work with and interact with?
WF: Well, since I grew up with parents who were both teachers it really wasn't something I was planning on doing because you just don't ever plan on doing what your parents did. But I love it, I absolutely love it. I was really surprised and I have been doing it for ten years now and I get so much out of it. One of the major things I get out of it is seeing how much the students get out of it. It's such a reward. I am happy I am able to explain things well enough to pass onto other people. It's a fantastic feeling.
GW: Finally, what words of wisdom or advice would you give to artists who are learning now and trying to develop their talent and follow that passion that is so hard to follow at times?
WF: Apart from "Don't give up”? I guess that it needs to be more than a job; it needs to be a vocation, something you truly believe in. Another thing is that you need a good foundation of skills, you need to know what anatomy is, you need to be able to draw, and you need to be able to have those basic skills. If you want to make something believable you need that behind you. That's really important.
GW: Thank you, Wendy.
Wendy Froud - For More information about Wendy's work visit: www.worldoffroud.com
All images courtesy of Wendy Froud.
This interview originally displayed on the Gnoman Workshop website.