FK chats to artist Sai-Wai Foo who is the amazing talent behind Pleatybunny by Miss Foo!
How would you describe the style of your work?
By me Miss Foo, and your timing is pretty good as Pleatybunny is just coming up to its first year! It’s a menagerie of well-dressed creatures so basically stuff I like to draw and things I like to make. They are mixed media assemblages combining hand drawing, pen & ink illustrations, painting, pleated vintage books, maps and paper. They draw inspiration from fashion design, nature and love of all things furry and feathered. In conjunction with Pleatybunny I also have a fine art practice and everything is very proudly made in Melbourne.
What is your background and what lead you to where you are today?
My training is in Fashion design I studied at RMIT and have spent many years in the fashion industry. I been lucky to work with some amazing people and the experience has given me a really diverse skill set. It’s an industry I am still involved in, just not in a design capacity, I still love fashion design and it really influences my artwork. I had spent a bit of time being frustrated and not creatively challenged. So I enrolled in Visual Art Course at RMIT TAFE in 2009. I pursued this during a bit of a creative crisis on a part time basis to give me a creative kick in the pants. Drawing and illustration is something I have always done but I had thought I wanted to paint. The course at the time was a really good foundation art course, so you got to dabble in a little of everything, turns out I really took to the sculpture and printmaking components. Also it was an opportunity to learn new techniques & to learn in a creative environment again & the pressure of having to produce work was the push I needed. Having said all this Pleatybunny by Miss FOO really didn’t come into being until a early 2012 when after a big/exhausting work contract finished up. I had a bit of a break from everything and just started drawing and making things again. Funny thing is the more I make the more ideas I have and the more I want to make.
What inspires your work, and where do you look for inspiration?
It’s a mix of lots of elements as I am always looking. I suppose the key ones are animals and fashion, but having said that inspiration comes from so many sources it’s a good thing too you will never get stuck for ideas. Visually there is so much around with sources available at your fingertips via the web, from books, films and nature.
What do you love about working with mixed medias? And what keeps you creatively motivated?
Mixed media is a nice way of saying you like to play with everything. It let’s me move between different disciplines and try out new techniques and materials all the time. It’s challenging. I can cherry pick ideas, so it keeps it interesting and any trip to the opp-shop, Bunnings or even the beach are filled with potential new finds. What keeps me motivated is that it’s mine, so I have to be able to stand by what I do 100% and be happy with to put my name to it. The reality is with starting a brand is you get what you put in you can’t expect a fledging brand to do well if your not nurturing and keeping at it. Besides it’s fun and different everyday so it doesn’t feel like work. It helps that I surrounded by creative people, I am really luck to have a network of creative friends who I can talk to & ask for opinions, advice and generally whinge to. Other things I do to keep the creative juices flowing is I go to zoo, the zoo pass is one of the best things I have ever bought! It’s great to go with a camera or sketchbook and just watch & see how different animals move. Also I take part in art prizes and group art shows. I find that ‘themes’ act like little creative projects, also it gives me a chance to swap between illustrative and fine art projects. That way I’m not working in a bubble or having a narrow focus.
What is your workspace like? and what is your creative process?
Swings from semi-ordered to utter chaos, ebbing and flowing like the tide. I wish I were an uber-organised neat maker with a craft space Martha Stewart would be proud of but sadly no! I am normally juggling a couple of projects at once as I like the momentum and also the way ideas feed off each other. Disparate projects have a nice way of tying into each other and it helps me develop ideas which in turn lead to different lines of inquiry. I have loads of old books I use in my work and I love words and word play. I have a collection of vintage dictionaries, encyclopaedias and reference books that I go to if I get stuck. I find words and images / illustrations can trigger ideas. I scribble lots of notes, do rough sketches and draw as I develop ideas. Working on commission pieces is great as there is the interaction & it’s a collaborative process. I find working to a brief challenging and fun, it must be my freelance designing past! I am watched over by the Pleatybunny and also Mini the Wonder dog a fluffy rescue shar pei who is my studio manager, security, foot warmer, snorer & delivery girl.
What challenges have you faced being an artist, and what are some things you love about it?
Just getting started. I suppose it’s just a case of jumping in and doing it. If anyone is in the same boat just give it a go! I had a label back in the late 90’s called Miss Foo – which was a range of bags made of washed denims and Japanese vintage fabrics, things I had learnt from this came in helpful! Things I love - I get to work from home, sometimes working in my oniese…. It happens more then I’d like to admit! I am able to work on things when I want to and stay up late. I have really great retailers who are so supportive and have really helped me grow my label. They are my eyes and ears with my customers, their feedback is invaluable.
What new plans do you have for 2013 and where do you see Pleatbunny by Miss Foo in the future?
I think it’s going to be a big year! I’m just starting to work on some new pieces for my retailers and I also plan to get my online shop happening too. My Etsy store is idle at the moment but I will be keep updating my social media when it goes live! I will do at least 2 to 3 markets this year as well, I love meeting people at these events and having a chat. Also the design markets are great for people watching & seeing good outfits! I have a trip o/seas to India and Nepal to recharge & get some new inspiration! I think it’s going to be complete sensory overload!!
There are 2 solos shows planned in March and April respectively, both being held with two of my fabulous retailers!! I am excited, mildly terrified and anxious all at the same time. Quirk and Co. in North Melbourne are hosting a show in March, titled “Dedicated followers of Fashion”. It’s part of the L’Oreal Melbourne fashion festival calendar cultural of events. The show is a mix of sculptural and illustrative work that explores fashion, identity, popular culture and self-adornment. Basically it’s a motley crew of fashion animals posing and preening. The show pays homage to the fashion’s style mavericks and fashion eccentrics who embrace fashion and dressing up, so it really does encapsulate the things I love.
Image credit Craig Huxtable
The second show in April is being held at Artifice Store, in Williamstown it’s titled “A sailor store my heart” this is part of a Hobsons Bay Council initiative called Art in Public Places. It’s a kind of artist/business blind date of sorts, you submit a proposal of the type of work you want to make and you get set up with a business in the area to have a show or installation. The guys that own the store are fun & are making a themed installation to go with the show too!
Otherwise my other plans for the year include: • Draw lots • be happy • have afternoon naps • make lots of things • growing my distribution base, I have a wish list of stores I want to stock at!
For the future, I would love to grow the brand & diversify the Pleatybunny by Miss FOO product mix and further the illustration based work.Would love to work on a book or print based project. Also develop soft furnishings and flatware/ ceramics for a home wares line as well as a limited edition textiles. Same really could be said for the art practice too. Would be great to do a collaborative capsule range or special design based projects, I’m pretty much up for anything!!