While many of us may have played around with pipe cleaners when we were kids, the best we usually made was some sort of warped stick figure. But American, Lauren Ryan has taken the medium and made it her own, transforming it into extremely life-like animals. What’s more, she uses no other material in her sculptures. It’s pipe cleaners (also called chenille stems) all the way! And what better material to use to create animal fur? Her furry friends look so good, you actually want to give them a stroke.
Come and have a look at her beautiful animals and find out more …
Tell me about yourself and your artistic background
My name is Lauren Ryan, I’m 21 years old, and I don’t have as much art education as I probably should. I am mostly “self-taught” and spent as much time drawing as I did sculpting. When I was a kid, building and creating new things with ordinary materials was more fun than playing with toys. I never focused much on practising art to get better at it; art was just something I did because I loved it. I spent about two years studying art at my community college and recently completed one year as an apprentice under a sculptor who made bronze figures. I’m currently working under a wonderful and incredibly inspiring artist and I hope to keep creating my own body of work as well.
When and why did you begin exploring/ working with pipe cleaners?
When I was twelve I started using pipe cleaners to make very simple little creatures that were essentially stick figure animals. As I practised with the material and continued to study animal anatomy in my drawings, my sculpted creatures became more detailed. I was surprised that so few other artists had explored this very fun medium. It just felt right for me. It seems that different artists gravitate towards certain mediums more than others. For sculpting, it’s most commonly clay, metal or wood that people like to create with. For me, I discovered that pipe cleaners fit my methods and ideas the best. My favourite subjects are animals, so it helps that pipe cleaners are fuzzy.
Can you tell me about the creative process and the materials you use?
Sometimes ideas seemingly come from nowhere, other times I get inspired by some new animal or thing that I find interesting. To begin I start with the eyes, which usually happen to be some of the most challenging parts. After I’m more or less satisfied with them, I begin attaching strands to make a sort of frame for the head before building out around the eyes in layers. From there on, most of the body is built out bit by bit, with a simple frame as a guide for proportions. I use a technique that’s somewhere between weaving, sewing and tying annoyingly complicated knots.
Occasionally for areas that are tighter I use needle-nose pliers. Colours are purely pipe cleaner most of the time but for more detailed shading and colours that haven’t been manufactured I will sometimes use markers.
You appear to love animals and know a bit about them – tell me about this and why your work focuses on animals, particularly wolves, foxes and thylacines?
I love animals for countless reasons, especially the dangerous, maligned or obscure ones. I always was intrigued by our connection to other animals, how they can be so different from us yet almost the same. To me they are all beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Sometimes it’s hard not to play favourites. I suspect the reason I find canines and dog-like creatures so inspiring is probably due the fact that I’m a dog person!
Thylacines are special to me in part because they became extinct less than a century ago but left behind haunting images that made their destruction all the more disturbing. I think in a way creating their image in art can be a way of accepting and understanding such a loss.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a multitude of projects at once – mostly commissions including a horse, a life-sized cat, an English bulldog and many more.
Who or what inspires you?
What inspires me is the desire to honour that which I find beautiful, excitement for the process of creating something new and the challenge of constantly trying to improve. People that inspire me are my loved ones, every artist I meet or learn about, and people I consider artistic masters such as Leonardo da Vinci or Hayao Miyazaki.
What would be your dream project or commission?
My dream commission would be something huge and life-size. A thylacine, spotted hyena, or a big feline such as a tiger would be incredibly fun.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t usually create spare time away from art other than spending a few hours with my dog or loved ones. Sometimes I go on the internet researching animal species for fun or looking at other peoples’ art.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought?’ moment?
I never thought anyone would enjoy the work I create as much as they have! It has made me very happy and has inspired me to continue to sculpt and work on improving my art as much as possible.
Many thanks Lauren! And if you want to see more of Lauren’s work you can find her at her blog, Chenille Stems.