It’s with great excitement today that I welcome Benjamin Rowling and Michael Craven to KID independent. These guys are the creative duo behind TheBigForest; a handmade menagerie of felt animals that will put a smile on your face, no matter what side of the bed you woke up on! Let’s take a sneaky peek into Benjamin and Michael’s imaginative world…
Two Artist/Makers, Benjamin Rowling and Michael Craven. We began working together about ten years ago and founded TheBigForest in 2012. Our creative collaboration takes many different forms – sometimes we bounce ideas around together, sometimes we critique each others work, and sometimes we make parts of the same work using our different skills.
Creations from TheBigForest are made in three favourite materials – beautiful wool felt, paper construction, and more recently we have begun adding reclaimed wooden bases and wood fretwork accessories. We love being silly and making folks laugh! We make tableau with felt animals (cats, bears, dogs, rabbits) that tell a story, three-dimensional portraits of customer’s dogs, animal brooches, and key rings for grown-ups. For kids we make finger puppets, large felt murals for kid’s rooms, amazing mobiles and our cut and colour greetings cards. We make lots of other things too. We also write and teach and are never, ever short of creativity!
When we look around our workspace we see…
A dog, and also a bear commission on a wooden base, which we will finish soon. We can also see our notice board with images that inspire us, our computer with our latest writing project on the screen, huge bolts of felt, a pile of old books to spark ideas, some vintage toys set in a silly scene, and a lovely view of the trees.
We are based in London and Brighton, England on the sunny Sussex coast. We always say that we work in TheBigForest hut or cabin in the forest but eagle-eyed customers soon spotted that there aren’t many cabins or indeed forests in either of these cities. Our studio has huge windows which let in so much light, in the summer you could almost be sitting outside which is one of the things we love about working here.
Our design style is influenced by…
A whole bundle of things is the quick answer! For me, Michael, it would be classic English illustrators like Edward Bawden, S.R Badmin, and David Gentleman. We love telling stories in our work and narrative illustration – particularly mid-century kids books – gives me lots of ideas. I also love the clear colours and fun designs of 1970’s kid’s toys and you can see that in the things we made and our greetings cards from TheBigForest.
Benjamin’s main influence is the whimsy and colours of the Festival of Britain, an exhibition of the best of Britain in the early days of the 1950’s. He loves the colours and the quirkiness of it all, particularly the animals that were part of the exhibition – Lions and Unicorns and odd beasts. He also has a collection of toys from the 1980’s which inspire him, and films like Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki are a big influence with its magical but slightly believable world.
Of course our biggest influence is forests (hey, what a surprise!) and the seaside too. We spent most of the summer tramping round the countryside gathering ideas, getting fit and tanned, and growing bushy beards!
The next handmade items we plan to make are…
Mobiles. We have made mobiles to commission in the past but we are now making and designing a range of new mobiles each, which will tell a story! They will be available in our Etsy shop soon. We are also designing felt pictures for kid’s rooms – fantastic, magical designs to fire kid’s imagination with dogs and knights and cars and dinosaurs (not all together… but then again that sounds like a fun idea!). Some felt pictures are small scale and some are huge. We are looking forward to felt picture commissions.
Our favourite childhood memories are…
We both had a wonderful childhood, neither of us has lost the magic of being a kid and it certainly inspires TheBigForest. For Benjamin, his favourite memory is feeding the fish at a trout farm. One minute the water was empty and then you leant over with a small container of food and suddenly the water was a seething mass of hungry fish all intent on getting a nice lunch!
For me, Michael, my favourite memory would definitely be camping. My family camped whenever we could and I loved (and still love) everything about putting up a tent, making it home and then cooking and sleeping outdoors. Now camping is a bit more civilised in my campervan ‘Bruno’ but each adventure is definitely inspired by childhood camping trips.
My idea of complete happiness is…
Being in a forest miles away from anywhere is Benjamin’s idea of happiness. We stayed in a cottage in a Welsh forest last year and spent our time collecting blackberries and making crumble and baking bread and filling up sketchbooks with ideas and sitting in front a wood burning stove. Perfect happiness!
It has to be writing for me, Michael. I love writing our blog and I’ve recently written for magazines and writing our book ‘Cute Felt Bears’ was great fun. It’s a completely different type of creativity from making our felt and illustration goods and makes me very happy. Particularly if cake and a cup of tea are also involved! Complete happiness is cooking too. I love baking and making new recipes.
Benjamin’s favourite song, book and food…
Song – Hey Soul Sister by Train. It always makes me feel happy and I can sing along.
Book – The Dark Crystal – by ACH Smith it’s the novel of one of my favourite films.
Food – A really good homemade sour-dough loaf and homemade soup. Yum!
Michael’s favourite song, book and food…
Song – According to my I-pod it’s Bubble by King Creosote and John Hopkins. The animation on YouTube is brilliant. Maybe it’s a bit sad but it is uplifting too.
Book – Walden by Henry Thoreau. I read this cover to cover a few years back but now I dip in to it to remind me about living with nature in a wood.
Food – I see Benjamin has put homemade bread so I need to be original – I think my favourite food is apple crumble with ice cream.
Our biggest weakness is…
Homemade cake and chocolate without a doubt. How neither of us are the size of hippopotamus we will never know. It must be all that walking through forests and chasing after felt dogs and bears that keeps us so trim.
Our biggest strength is…
Creativity. We have big boundless, woppy, wonderful amounts of creativity and we use it all the time in TheBigForest to create new things for our customers.
If I were a superhero, my super power would be…
We both chose the same thing – we would make people be nice to each other all the time. And we would definitely make people write nice emails and say please and thank you!
Thanks so much for sharing Benjamin and Michael, it was a pleasure getting to know you!