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Interview given to, March 2004:

Our 17th guest is Claire & Steffan Nicholson of Bunky Bears:

What inspired you to start making bears?

While struggling for ideas for a couple of Christmas presents at the end of 2004 we went into a local bear shop for the first time. We bought a small bear for a niece, and a winter special for a friend but by the time we left we had also bought her brother to add to a small collection of plush bears we had collected over time.

When it came to wrapping presents we (Claire actually) couldn't bear to part with the small bear so we had to buy another one for our niece. We weren't able to get another of the sister for our own purchase, as it was the last they had but after a little research we found that we had another three bear shops virtually on our doorstep and one of them had the elusive bear.

Over the course of the next few months we virtually lived in bear shops and by the time we bought a bear we had generally put another on layaway. During this time our local shop showed us a bear magazine and having bought a couple of issues that included patterns we soon realised how simple the basics of bear construction are—getting it right is another matter!

Not wanting to make other peoples bears we did a little research and bought a number of books from Amazon on how to design and build bears. This was closely followed by a number of plush bear experiments and less than seven months after entering our first bear shop we had visited our first fair and made our first mohair bear.

How many teddy bears have you made? Can you describe your teddy bears?

As we both work full time production has been limited but should increase soon as we are in the middle of converting a spare bedroom into a bear workshop. So far we have produced 21 designs but as we make one-offs and limited editions this still accounts for less than 40 bears.

Our bears don't like to be ignored so we try to make them stand out a little—although our bears are made using traditional methods and materials we try for more contemporary designs with a lot of character.

Currently we are working on two commissions as well as our first experiments with wobble heads, open mouths, eyelids and recycled fur.

Have you made any bears which have been your particular favorites?

Generally we tend to find each other's latest bear is our favourite but Peanut was our first mohair bear so still holds a certain soft spot—Fluff and Truffles both stand out as well.

Have any of your bears been especially popular with the public and what do they look for in your bears?

Fluff is popular as he is a perfect little handful with plenty of weight for his size and Major tends to demand attention as his sheer size gives him plenty of presence. The first Teasel never even made it to the shelves of our local shop as the shop owners immediately bought her for their own daughter.

Steffan would say that people look for a tail as all of his bears sport one but in reality what people see in our bears is character and something a little different.

How long does it take you to create one of your teddy bears? How many bears each month and what procedure do you follow?

Our bears take anything from a few hours depending on size, materials and how radical a change in design they are. We haven't really had a chance to get into a consistent rhythm yet having only been making bears for 10 months but once we have a dedicated space we hope to complete a bear or two each most weeks.

We tend to part complete a new design before cutting out its brothers or sisters and bringing them up to the same point so that we can assess a design but finishing can be done on the whole issue at the same time.

Where does the reward come from in creating your teddy bears?

To save face Steffan usually claims that he sees this just as a technical exercise but in reality we both love to see both the expressions appearing on the bears and on the faces of everyone who sees them.

Are there any special tools or materials you use when making your teddy bears?

We've amassed an assortment of needles (curved and straight) and ear pins but both find we get on better with long-nosed pliers than cotter pin keys. An old glass two fluid ounce measuring cup is perfect for accurately measuring the quantity of plastic pellets being used but a sugar spoon is better for adding steel shot to the 'liddle bears'. A teasel brush and a comfortable pair of scissors make the whole process less painful.

With backgrounds in 3d product design, photography and art we already had an assortment of drawing tools, photo manipulation software and an airbrush and compressor to help with the design and finishing of bears.

While most artists use ultra-suede for their paw pads we were lucky enough to purchase a bag full of suede and leather about ten years ago, which should see use through many noses and paw pads—perhaps it was destiny that we got into bear making.

Have you ever encouraged other people to try their hand at bear making? What advice would you give anyone about to make their first bear

Certainly—but the person we are still trying hardest to convince is a local bear shop owner who is often the first to see any of our designs.

Don't be afraid to give bear making a go but make sure you match the fur to the design and get your joints right—not too loose and not too tight. A bad first experience could seriously knock your confidence but stick with it.

Do you have any tips for new bear artists?

You really need, like any design project, to train your eye by looking at other peoples work in magazines, at fairs or just in you own collection—to not only see what you do and don't like, but why?!

Having worked out what you do and don't like in a bear you should then start by designing to please yourself—if you try too hard to develop designs that you think will appeal to others but aren't to your own taste you are likely to fail and end up with a bear that appeals to no-one.

Is there anything you want to add?

Thank you to Teddy Bears on the Net for giving us this opportunity to share our experiences—we look forward to seeing some of you at fairs in the future.

Thank you, Claire & Steffan

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