Wendy Froud Interview (April 27th, 2008)

I've been reading The Art of Wendy Froud and The World of Froud for review, and Wendy, your book is gorgeous.

Oh, thank you.

I'm just deeply in love.

W: Oh, thank you so much! I loved doing it, I loved putting it together.

Oh, it was amazing, it's really beautiful. The first thing that actually came up when I was reading it is the question that the world of faeries is frequently associated with women as a frivolous thing-- cute, pink, princess-y Barker flower faeries, y'know, that sort of thing. Yours tend towards the lighter but they also have a much deeper power and are much less little girl fantasy faeries and probably are more deeply in touch with feminine spirituality and the whole female spirit. How do you bridge that gap?

Well, I think faeries have always been a part of my life as a spiritual thing. My mother was always into nature spirits and when I was growing up we read fairy tales, but we read more serious books too: we read a lot of history, a lot of art history as well. And I think all of that just combined to make my take on the other world. Something a little more serious. I just never felt at home with the Disneyfied images of Faerie at all. They didn't do anything for me. I always sort of made up my own ideas of what things should be. Strong little girls and strong women have always been a part of what I feel is important to portray.

That makes sense.

Good? Okay.

I kind of did the same thing. I was never into the 'ooo! They flit around in flowers and have little wands' and that sort of thing, so that actually leads to another question which is: Even your dark fey never come across as evil. They usually seem more mischievous than menacing. Is that a conscious choice to stay away from the really dark side or do you just not see it that way?

It's a conscious choice. Brian and I are both very conscious that what we put out in the world is really there. It's there for people to experience and we don't want to add to the darkness. At all. There are enough people out there doing that. Although, we both believe very much in a balance between light and dark and the fact that the world of Faerie isn't all light by any means. There's certainly enough darkness  to balance out the light in it. For the most part, we like to concentrate on the mischievous ones, both of us do. They're much more fun; although, sometimes even that has its problems because then they tend to cause problems in the house! We bring them to life. You know, like if I sculpt something that Brian... sometimes he'll do a drawing and then I'll sculpt from that. One time in particular, he sketched one and I thought 'oh, this is great!' It was really mischievous, and I sculpted it and then everything started going wrong in the house. It all pointed towards this little guy. We had a flood and the water was just going right towards him. All the lights blew in the house: they started right where he was and kind of radiated out from that. So we had to put him in the garden shed for a while. And then he learned to be a little bit-- a little bit better!

(laughing) We're giving you a time out now!

Yes, he had quite a long time out.

Okay, you need to learn to behave yourself... No. Yeah, that just makes me think of the whole Goblins book, which was just --

Oh, I know.

-- so much fun. So much fun.

Yes, he was, he actually is the one on the cover.

Oh, is he? Oh, he's darling. I love him.

That's something I've always wanted to ask you, actually, because I've grown up with yours and Brian's work as some of the first real Faerie that I got into: Labyrinth, of course, and Dark Crystal and things like that. I've always thought 'they don't really go for the dark stuff very much...' Certainly there are enough people out there working in the dark side that, yeah, you're... you're putting out something a little different.

Well, we like to -- both of us put a lot of real healing energy into our work. So the pieces that people either get from us as gifts or purchase do come with a lot of healing energy in them that people often say they can feel. Even if they don't know that it's there, they don't know that I've done anything, put any kind of energy into it, but they've come up to me later and said, 'You know, that piece has helped me so much' or 'I found that, when I was ill, if I kept that piece by me, it seemed to help me.' Which is great: you can't ask for more than that.

Well, I think that's translated over into Faerieworlds because that is one of the nicest places I ever go.

Oh, fantastic!

Just one quick thing to throw in: a couple of years ago at Faerieworlds, we brought some gifts for some people we were going to meet up and accidentally left them on top of the car in the parking lot. We realized this a couple of hours later and my husband went back to get them and they were still there! Completely unmolested. We completely expect that.

That's lovely.

Back to the question! I just had to throw that in. Obviously, your faeries are inspired by nature and, in your book, you talk about being inspired by the pre-Raphaelites and Rackham and the Greek myths. Readers always like to hear surprises so is there anywhere you find inspiration that would surprise them if they knew?

Ooo! That's an interesting question. Oh -- boy. What would surprise them? ... yeah, I suppose that I also get inspiration from really bizarre things like going to K-Mart and seeing a really strange display of something that just looks a little off -- I don't know how to explain that, but going to places where you think you're seeing very, very ordinary things and you look again and there's something strange and wonderful about what you're looking at if you can see it the right way. And that, to me, I find that very inspiring because then it begins to tell a story. And you don't know what that story is, but, just by beginning to think about it, you can then begin to populate it with characters. What would live there? What would it be like? And often it is in really the most ordinary mundane places that those kind of ideas can come from.

I think writers and artists probably have that sideways glance into things that other people don't.

For a long time, I assumed that everyone did. It's so normal for me. And I grew up with parents who saw sideways too! So it was always a real shock to find out that people weren't seeing the same things I was seeing, or seeing them the way I was seeing them or interpreting them that way. And maybe that's another reason why it's so gratifying to create something and have people say 'Ah! That's what I see!' or 'If I could do things, that's what I would do, because that's the way it appears to me when I think about it.' I love that.

Then there's also the 'I never thought of it that way before!' comment.

Oh, yeah, yeah, but then, when they do, it seems to make sense.

I like that. And, again, everybody asks about influences and inspirations and things like that. I'm wondering who among your contemporaries and the new people inspire and challenge you. Who are the newest people on the scene that you think are the future wave of Faerie?

Ooo. Well, I just finished reading a novel that blew me away. I loved it. Loved it, loved it. It's called Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand. It's just a stunning novel. So she's my new absolute I don't know what, but I think she's fantastic. In terms of artists, boy, I don't know. It's interesting-- I'm really bad with names, to be honest. [Mia laughs.] I am.

It seems like a lot of people are inspired by you and Brian, so that makes sense. But art doesn't happen in a vacuum so we all inspire each other.

Let me put it this way: it's always really uplifting and refreshing to see people who either haven't been inspired by us or have been inspired and moved on to really, really create their own things, that have gone in a totally different direction. It's always nice to see people that use our images for their own work and in their own way, not the ones that copy.

There's such a difference between 'derivative of' and 'inspired by.'

Exactly. And 'inspired by' is great. We love to see that, both of us do. Then it's wonderful to come across people who do things that we wouldn't have thought of, that make us go 'Oh! Look at that. I wouldn't have thought of that! But it's amazing...' but, I don't know, I don't know the names.

So, you talk a little bit about it in the book, but is there a myth or a tale or something that really resonates with you but you haven't either been inspired to work from or said 'No, you can't do me!' -- something that you've tried and it's just not going to happen right now?

I think... no, I'm going to have to think about that for a minute. I mean, there are lots. I think, now, as I'm older, and I go back and look at myths again, I see them from a different perspective. So, I would, if I used them again, I would do something different. Like, I've used Christina Rossetti's poem, 'Goblin Market', and I've used pieces and images from that but I know that, if I did it again, I would do something very different now. I know that if I went back and looked at fairy tales, even taking something as simple as Cinderella or the sister who has the swan brothers, anything like that-- they're all much deeper than I thought they were when I was young and even when I was in my 20s. So I think the idea of going back and rediscovering imagery from things that I've always loved, is interesting and that's something that I'm going to be doing more of. And now I also very much want to concentrate more on, for my own work, probably more on goddess images. I know that can sound trite and I don't mean it to be but I just... again, there's so many aspects of those women that I find fascinating that I would like to see what my take on them is. And I don't know what it is yet.

I think that'll be fascinating, because trite is a really good word for that: there are so many people doing the same goddess image. They really are.

I think there's an enormous amount of information just waiting to be translated. I'm going to try more of that on my own, I think.

That'll be really interesting. I look forward to that. In your book, the Dreaming Sphinx is probably my favorite image in the entire book. Absolutely amazing.

Oh, thank you! I love that. And that's an image I've worked with a lot and I'm not done with it at all. That's something that I just need to keep exploring. I also actually really love the combination of animal and human. I want to try different forms of that too.

That, I think, is a really amazing thing. My husband is just pointing out his favorite. Which is your favorite? On page 50-- Gargle? Yes, Gargle, as we were talking about. That's his favorite.

Oh, Gargle is so bad! He's the one that we've just had to-- in fact, I had to actually sculpt him a minder. Somebody who would come and take care of him. So he has another little goblin that has to stay with him because he is so bad. Well, Brian took him to California once on a plane and he had him in the hand luggage. And the plane got up and then had engine trouble and had to come back to the airport. It was a huge wait for that and Brian phoned me and said, 'You know, I think it's Gargle. If I could just send him back to you right now, I would, but I can't find a way to post him back. So I'm going to have to take him.' And then, when he got him to Robert's house, immediately all of the air conditioning just blew. He was just so bad!

I really love the images, the Greek myth-based images.  The minotaur with the puppet strings is just amazing. Those are really gorgeous...and you definitely have a different take on those than a lot of people.

Oh, thank you. Well, I am beginning to write short stories -- they're just short pieces that go with all of those as well. Because I really want to develop my writing as well as sculpting and I'm finding that's very interesting to do both at the same time and it's working well. So, I'd like to put a book together--

I was just going to say: do we get a book of that?

Yes! Yes.

Excellent. That's going to be awesome.

I hope so! I'm really looking forward to doing that and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. --because I never know! I mean, I really don't. And I never sketch. So I just start sculpting. 

That's interesting and yet, when you work from Brian's-- is it easier to work from his sketches or just start sculpting?

Sometimes, actually, it's easier to start sculpting. It depends on what it is. When I'm working from Brian's sketches, then I feel obligated to go back to him and say 'Well, how does this look?' And then he always goes, 'It doesn't look anything like the sketch! What are you doing?' So we get into a big argument, but then eventually it does so... we come to terms with it, both of us.

Well, you've worked for yourself and you've worked for other people's visions, so-- yeah, when you have to conform to something else, it can be a little bit intimidating, I think.

Also, as I get older, I just don't really want to do that very much anymore. I like my own things; although, I don't include Brian in that because I love working from his sketches. But working for other people is something that... I think I'm too cranky now.

Yeah, yeah, I can see that, I'm getting there. (laughing)

Does it ever bother you when you make something and it has to be used in a production or you're giving it away, does it hurt to part with your creatures?

Sometimes it does. Especially if I'm doing things that have to go someplace really quickly after I finish them. If I can live with things for a while, usually I get to a point where I think okay, now I can let this go. But Brian and I had an exhibition in London at the beginning of December this past year and I was making things right up until about two days before the exhibition opened. And I got them there and I looked at some of them and I had prices on them and everything. I ended up having to put SOLD stickers on them because I couldn't let them go. I still haven't -- some I think I probably won't ever let go because I just realized they need to be a part of our household. So, yeah, it can be really hard. Other times, when I make things, they just absolutely want to be off somewhere. Then those are the ones that you just let go with a blessing and know that they're out there doing what they're supposed to do.

Do you sometimes make things specifically with someone in mind and send them right off?

Oh, certainly. Yeah. Yeah, I do. And if I'm making things for friends, I'll often make... when friends of ours have babies or, you know, on birthdays and things, I'll make something specifically for people and then they always are very eager to go...

I have this image of what your house must look like. Ari's told me a little bit about it and Robert has talked about it and I'm thinking, that's kind of the way I used to envision my house when I was a kid.

Probably not as many cobwebs!

Well, you know, hey, faeries like cobwebs!

It is-- you know, we're so used to it that we don't see it as other people see it now. Most people are pretty amazed when they walk in because it is absolutely full of interesting and arcane things. Of course, all of our artwork, all of our friend's artwork, and then things that we've collected from everywhere. So, yeah, it's pretty interesting. And it's very old as well so that also helps the atmosphere. But I will have been away for six weeks when I get back and that's about the longest I've been away for years, I think. It's going to be interesting for me to come back and see if I see it differently.

Actually, I have two different ways to go here. I have two different things that I want to ask you that are completely-- have nothing to do with each other. One is about Toby...I'm sure he gets the baby-in-Labyrinth question every ten days or so and it drives him insane...

W: Oh, he doesn't mind, he's used to it!.

But he's so much more than the baby in Labyrinth because now he's a grown up and he's doing all his own projects. What have you guys been working on with him?

Well, we're working on a series...we're starting small: we're working on two puppets. They're hand puppets and they're very much Froud creatures. And we want to have Toby and our friend, Todd, puppeteer them in 10-20 second spots that we're going to put on the website. Just talking, kind of like Calvin and Hobbes sort of stuff.


W: I know, I just think it would be so much fun to do that. Toby's fantastic at making hand puppets! He's going to be teaching a class in that and he and I both just taught one together. So we're really up for that. And we might, if they actually turn out and we can get them done, we might bring them to Faerieworlds too because I think that would be fun.

Oh, absolutely. People will eat that up.

Yeah! Toby and Brian actually aren't working on anything at the moment, but they've been doing a lot of video and DVD stuff together. Imagery on computer. Computer imagery. But Toby's been over in the States for the past three months so we've been without him. He's been doing his own things. But he can tell you all about that...

I would love to ask him about that. That actually goes into my other question which is about your doll-making workshops and the DVD and all of that. Is there anything you hope that people come away with other than just the technical knowledge of how to build a doll?

Yes, I do. I hope that they come away inspired to delve into their own creative mind. I would really like them to be able to explore and then have the ability to turn what they find in there into something in three dimensions. If I can give them the basics, the beginning, of the skill to realize something that comes from their own imagination-- that would be fantastic. And I found that in the workshops that really does happen in the three days that we have. People seem to be really amazed at what they can do: certainly at what they can accomplish, but also what comes out of them that they had no idea was there. And that's wonderful! To give people technique is great, but to inspire them is what I really hope to do.

I'm sure there are some people who go thinking 'I'm going to learn how to make a Froud faerie!' and then discover that they can make something else!

Yeah, they do: I wouldn't say a lot of them, but some of them certainly come in with that expectation. But by the time they finish doing the meditation that I always do at the beginning of it, and by the time they finish sculpting, they've come to realize that no, actually, what they're doing is something much more interesting to themselves. Because it's absolutely theirs. And they're all so different! I usually have a class between fourteen and sixteen people and everybody's piece looks totally different and totally unique. And that's what I love about it.

That's wonderful.

It's been fun, it's been great! I've got two more workshops in New York to do and an evening demonstration, but all the ones we've done so far have been wonderful! I'm really pleased.

I'm fairly three-dimensionally incompetent, but I do have attending one of your workshops as an eventual goal. I would just love to do that just to see what I could do.

Oh, you definitely should! You can definitely do it! So many of the people that I teach have never done anything before. And sometimes they're the best ones! They end up just being fantastic at it. So, do, yeah, come!

Oh, I will. It's on the list of fun things to do.

Oh, good. I might do one in Portland. I think I want to do one up there next.

That's where I live.

Oh, well! There you go.

There you go. If you do one in Portland, I am so there. I will be there with little faerie bells on. Thank you for talking with me today!

Thank you!

[Mia Nutick]