What are your backgrounds in making?
Isobel has been making all kinds of animation since her high-school days. She studied Media Arts at RMIT and has been exhibiting animated artwork and screening short films and music videos for many years. Isobel builds sets and characters from various materials and photographs them frame by frame.
I started sewing my own little characters at university and giving them as gifts for friends. From there I began selling them in shops and decided to call my brand Cat Rabbit, named after myself and my love for rabbits. I now have a successful online store and make plush toys as well as felt jewellery, prints, pins and patches, as well as collaborative work with Isobel for ‘Soft Stories’.
Tell us about your new book Too Much For Turtle?
It’s about a turtle…named Turtle, who feels very shy and lives alone in her beautiful treehouse. One day a flurry of unexpected visitors arrive and turn her world (and her treehouse) upside down. It touches on themes of shyness, tolerance and the changing environment, and also encourages creative solutions to problems.
How do you both collaborate on the published titles you produce?
We write the story together to begin with and make a storyboard to figure out what will be in the pictures. We then write a list of characters, sets and props to be made. I get to work on the characters and Isobel makes the architectural structures, although there is a bit of swapping over at times. Then the props are shared out evenly between us. Once we discuss the design, colour scheme and materials needed, we take the photographs. Isobel does the lighting and I get started on the set dressing. We have designers, Tin and Ed, who design the layout of the book with photos and text.
All the characters and sets are beautifully handmade with so much detail – how long does it take to make one of the characters and sets?
Each character takes a few days to perfect. The sets took a long time and we went through a few designs along the way. Probably a day for each house and a day for each room then a couple of weeks to make all the props and furniture.
What do you hope that little ones can take away from the book?
We hope the children who feel shy can see how people who seem scary at first often end up being fun friends. We want to inspire people everywhere to get into building, sewing and designing characters and houses of their own. We hope the raw nature of our sets and props will show everyone how easy and fun it is to make things.
What feedback have you received from kids on both your books?
We’ve been told stories of kids pouring over the details and taking the book to bed to cuddle.
A turtle pattern to make your own Too Much For Turtle felt character comes with the book. Do you have any advice for kids for when they are making their own felt characters?
Just have patience. When you are making anything from a pattern, it’s best to take it slow and steady (just like a turtle!). Carefully read the instructions and gather all your materials before you start. You might want to get an adult to help you if you get stuck. It will be worth the wait in the end, you will have your own tuck-in turtle to play with.
What are some of your recommended tools and materials needed for making your own felt characters and set accessories?
We use scissors, retractable knives, cutting mats, tacky pva glue, lovely wool felt from JJ Davies, recycled cardboard and fabric scraps.
What are your top 5 characters or set pieces?
Isobel: the pelican, Turtle’s roof, the ukelele, Elephant’s stereo and the pencils.
Cat: Turtle’s book collection, Turtle’s giant shell, the loofah, T.L Loris and the sloths.
What books and characters inspired you as a child?
Isobel: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base, Towser by Tony Ross and Grug.
Cat: All the Richard Scarry titles, What-a-Mess, The Berenstain Bears and Roland Harvey sticker books.
Interview: Jenna Templeton / Featured Photo: Sean Fennessy