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Jan 30, 2015

Interview with Lana Crooks


Lana Crooks is one of the top plush fabricators and has teamed up with many designers to bring their designs to life as well as meticulously creating many of her own faux specimens. She is without doubt a true master of her craft and can now add award winning to her resume as she recently won a Designer Toy Award in the Best Plush category. I reached out to Lana for a little chat.

Question 1_Lana Question 1_Pink Hermees

You have been nominated several times since the beginning of the Designer Toy Awards and in 2014 you won your first award in the Best Plush category. How did it feel to hear your name called? Where is the trophy displayed in your home?

Actually, I was starting to call the DTA award my white whale. So hearing my name called I thought maybe I was having a stroke or something. Once I figured out it was real I was super nervous, this year the awards were at an amazingly large venue. Did not wish to have my acceptance start with falling up the stairs or anything of the sort. I tend to work so much that I basically exist in a bubble so it is extremely humbling and heart warming that I am even nominated each year. It was especially great to win it for this piece in particular, The Hermees plush was thought up at the second Designer Toy Awards ceremony so it came full circle!

The award is in my studio, displayed above my sewing machines. It is the room I spend the most time in and also the place where I have the most struggle. Having it where I can see it is helpful for the creative block syndrome... I get to remember that I am capable of creating something awesome.

Question 2_Lana Question 2_ Lana_plush

You wear many hats from plush maker to gallery director. Describe the average week for you?

Well, no week is regular... I have to try to keep balance with ever-changing variables. Keeping my own creative ship afloat while also managing projects for clients, work with other artists, help maintain the OhNo!Doom collective (we are currently relaunching our site after having a brick and mortar gallery for over 3 years), and help with scheduling and hanging exhibits for Clutter Gallery. I have several lists going at all times. I usually try to tackle anything digital in the mornings, emails with a side of coffee. Then try to focus on whatever main project or exhibit that is on the table for as long as physically or mentally possible. Then switch to the next item. I started forcing myself to at least one day off a week and a “my art Monday” rule. A friend of mine also introduced me to a method of working where you implement a series of breaks, small 5 min windows of time to prevent burn out. I use these to insert some weightlifting into my day (real lifting of weights so I am probably doing “the break” wrong). But, the structure has really helped when work days become 16 – 24 hours long.

Question 3 - plush

Your fabrication skills are vast and varied. When did you first realize textiles were your calling? How did you develop the knowledge and skills you utilize in your art?

I always loved fabric and notions. My grandmother had an oval floral metal tin filed with antique buttons and for fun I would go thru them and sort them. She taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was really young. Over time I would just create costumes for events and parties, getting more and more elaborate.

I attended SCAD for Illustration but would create outfits for theme parties and eventually started working in costume design for productions. When I moved to Chicago I was working as both a freelance illustrator and a costume designer. One day (around 2007), walking through an antique show, I thought about how to merge my two professions. I stitched together a big pink octopus I called bubblegum and it became all I wanted to do.

As far as technique, I am pretty much self taught. I seem to have a brain designed for pattern making and puzzles. It is just a matter of how to get from point A to point B. Trying crazy things, failing (sometimes in epic ways), trying, refining. It’s probably like a 12 step program. I have learned so much from just making.

Question 4_feltskull Question 4_realskullQuestion 4 Lana_The return 2 Question 4 Lana_The return study

The specimen studies you create are amazing. How much research goes into the specimens?

Thank you! They are my new obsession I decided I should just start doing during a designer toy panel I was on at NYCC (fun fact).

The short answer is: A LOT of research. I have been lucky enough to be invited into the Chicago Academy of Sciences specimen labs, having done some work with the Nature Museum. I will basically sketch a few thumbnails of pieces I would like to make... just a concept. Then decide which species would work best with the idea behind the work. I will send a list of creatures over to the labs to see if they have any I can study. Whatever they have they pull for me and I just sit, draw patterns, take photos, and measurements. I will come home and just draw the same skulls over and over, trying to figure out how to translate into the fabric. I will then make flat patterns and see if I need to adjust scale, if they fit together properly, etc... Everything is just from drawings in sketchbooks; I could have a jaw bone one size on this page and then the cranium in a totally different size on another page. Having to play with all the different scales so they all match up in the end. I have sat at the labs for 7 hours before with only a handful of specimens.

Question 5 - greasebat Question 5 - Beetaronomy 8

You have collaborated with many artists bringing their characters to life in plush form. How do the collaborations come about? Do you have creative carte blanche or do the artists provide the basis for the final form? What is the process like?

It really all depends. Sometimes a collaboration will be of an existing character or design, like Jeff Lamm's Greasebat or Martin Hsu's Pufferpuss. Sometimes it's the brain child of the both of us, like the Old Beetaronomy and Beetling with Scott Tolleson. Or sometimes the collaboration meets in the middle, the concept is brought to me and the design elements are worked out together, like Tara Mcpherson's Day's Eye sculptures. The essence of the finish piece should be that of the original design but the form evolves.

Question 5 - Puffer Puss Question 5 - mcpherson

Working relations vary as well. I always ask for sketches or models and pantones. Then I share fabric and color choices so we can make decisions on the foundations together. Beyond that it really depends, some artists just set me loose, some artists want to be updated more regularly. It can sometimes be hard to share in progress shots because it is not always clear to other people what the finished product will look like. It is like a half finished painting, you know where you are going with it but someone outside of your brain may not understand. The piece always gets its own personality at the very end, when the most hand sewing takes place.

Question 6 amanda Question 6 -these pies are definitly haunted

Have you ever collaborated with another textile artist?

Yes. I have created art pieces for exhibitions with Amanda Louise Spayd and Steff Bomb. Amanda and I worked on a large piece for our show Imaginary Menagerie at OhNo!Doom. “The Duchess” is a wolf dressed in Edwardianesque finery, clutching a Dust Bunny. We worked on it over the phone and through the mail, sharing sketches, photos and fabric swatches.

Steff and I worked on a series of works for a collaboration themed gallery show at Leanna Lin's Wonderland. We created pieces based on pie related jokes and stories from when we shared a studio space. We called it “Lana and Steff are friends; a retrospective” or “ the prefect piefecta” depending on the day. We had to do a lot of “research” at a local pie shop.

Is there an artist that you have not worked with yet that would be a dream collaboration for you?

I have been planning a few pieces with Elizabeth Mcgrath for a while, I am very excited to work on that. I really like working with artists under the designer toy / pop surrealism umbrella but would love the challenge of working with more fantasy artists or authors. I would love to mix mediums. Dave Mckean is someone I respect greatly, I think something magical could be made there.

What do you have in store for 2015?

There will be a bit of a radio-silence period for me coming up. I will undergoing jaw surgery within a few months. There may be a long recovery time for that, I want to give my self some decompression as well. I have had to pass up a lot of exhibits this year due to the uncertainty of my recovery but I do have a few exhibits lined up: Opening Feb 7th is The Zealot's Elixir at Modern Eden, curated by Doubleparlour. It is also the date for When Hell Freezes Over II at Myplasticheart, curated by Lou Pimentel. Then I will be producing pieces for an artist feature at Light Grey Art Labs in April. And will be showing a larger collection of works with Kathie Olivas and Michele Lynch at Stranger Factory, July 3rd. Also there will be a large scale exhibit with Kelly Denato and Miss Monster at Archimedes Gallery in April of 2016. As far as collaborations, I am only able to work on a handful this year and those are all being ironed out at the moment... unless they can also clone me during my surgery... hmmmm

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