Leather Monsters: An Interview with Lisa Lee
FINDING INSPIRATION IN DOG PARKS,
ON BECOMING A MONSTER MAKER,
AND WRESTLING WITH HER CREATIONS.
I first came across Lisa's monsters in Instagram. Having three young kids of my own, I was always looking for stuffed collectibles that would be durable and strong enough to withstand a child's hugs, kisses, and the common wear and tear that comes with being part of a physically expressive child's daily life. Most art dolls and art toys are not made for children and will not survive being mangled by them. My young kids are partially the reason I have not dabbled into collecting art or art collectibles - I just cannot take the risk!
All unique in their own way, Leather Monsters offers irresistibly cute monsters of all shapes and sizes. These monsters are not only immensely adorable, they are made of leather which means they are also tough as nails. Painstakingly, Lisa ensures each one of her creations is stuffed just right. Leather is not easy to work with. Lisa, however, has perfected the craft and without a doubt creates monsters that are truly one of a kind in both design and form. I had the lucky opportunity to interview Lisa and learn more about her monsters.
What inspires you?
Being asked to do things I have never done before has been a great source for new monsters. I hear “you know what you should do…” or “Have you ever thought of doing…” everyday and sometimes when you throw that much at a wall some of it sticks. Revisiting monsters I have done a couple years ago with new skills I have today - I have such a long list of what I want to do, some I have the skills to do now and some I have to wait till I can do it.
How and when did you first get started creating your artwork?
I was a hobby stupid sock creature maker- (Thanks John Murphy!) on night shifts as a mental health worker working the suicide hotline I would make these grumpy / sad characters between calls. They were the seeds of LeatherMonsters. In 2011 I began dating a Leathersmith. There was an annual art event called the culture crawl, he was in in it and I wanted to take part. I said I was going to make creatures, he said only leather work was allowed from his shop due to the designation in the event. I said fine I’ll make leather ones. He said I couldn’t, it would be too expensive (tell me I can't do something and watch me go). I called every leather supplier and person who made things out of leather within a 100 mile radius and requested free to cheap sample swatches or off-cuts for an art project. I was inundated with leather! They were warmly received and invited to show at a local art gallery by a scout at the event. It’s been a slow but steady increase since then from hobby maker to full time monster mom, which I have been all this year!
I am so moved I can make things that adults throw convention aside for. I know its not ‘normal’ for adults to have dolls in North America - so I’m super complimented people push past that every time they buy one for a partner or a friend.
What is the hardest part about creating your artwork?
Leather does not do what fabric does. The techniques involved to sculpt them with stuffing is the hardest. Leather does not want to stuff like fabric, the inner flesh of the hides resist and grabs all - as well the monsters (due to my desire and strict quality control) must be adorably plump in figure as well as firm to the squeeze. They are designed, assembled and stuffed firm to last 30-40 years. That demands they be able to withstand all sorts of hugs, tumbles and squeezes without ever loosing their shape. They must be sculpted from the inside with stuffing- 40+ minutes are spent just on the stuffing alone and the closure that is saddle stitched for security. Second hardest is making up my mind- I fuss and change my mind a lot about eyes or teeth or proportions or arm placement when creating.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Bugs!!!!! Super excited for a new bug thing I have going on - originally destined to be sweet fox faces that were laser engraved I discover if I cut the nose off and shoved teeth right between the eyes. I got shaky excited and smiled like a mad woman - click click goes the camera- Instagram people say YES YES do the bug! He has a tummy plate in the making as well as a praying mantis style arm that’s still in design phase but it’s gonna get there soon! Also Deadles (Dead-ells). They have the masks, pointy arms and legs and the amazing animal eyes you see on so much of my work. They are Gargoyle baby looking creatures that are all mischief.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I get up every morning and put on a Gray mechanics one piece jumpsuit from Marks work world warehouse, and it's a big deal when people who see me all the time see me in what I hear called “people clothes”.
Do you admire any artists?
So many! Your concessions area is chalk full of my idols. To name just a couple I hold on a high pedestal - Steve Ferrera, Stephen Thunstrom, Travis Louie, Sonia - she is Fainting Goat studio, Valency Genis, this list is so long I have hundreds of artists I adore on my Instagram feed.
Favourite or most inspirational place where you live?
Eyes and scraps of leather inspire me the most and they are all right here in my studio, short of that I would have to say the dog park— all the different dogs with their amazing eyes and colours and silly faces inspire monsters hugely. I often meet a pup and can't wait to get home to duplicate his or her eye colour combo.
Best or most interesting complement you have ever received as an artist?
That a monster I made helps someone. Helps them sleep, helps them cope, just helps them. Having worked in mental health for close to 20 years it affects me deeply that something I make can have a positive effect on someone's life. Two women were at a market I was at a week ago, they pondered sad bat, they left him. Then one of them came to the only other market I do in a year frantic, “Is sad bat still here? We have been talking about him all week”. She got him for her friend who tagged me on Instagram “thanks for making my dreams come true”. I am so moved I can make things that adults throw convention aside for. I know its not ‘normal’ for adults to have dolls in North America - so I’m super complimented people push past that every time they buy one for a partner or a friend.
What does being an artist mean to you?
It means pushing myself to improve, grow and keep reaching. Celebrating the plateaus by looking even 6 months back at how much I've grown, knowing I’ll get just a bit better every day. Setting goals while acknowledging there are many paths. There’s a level up both in presence and quality of work that I have to keep up.
Here are just some quick fun questions I was hoping you would answer to help readers get to know you better -
What did you have for breakfast today?
Always just coffee if left to my own devices, yet my honey is the best and makes me breakfast bowls of hash browns, eggs, greens and cottage cheese and salsa - Monster making fuel!
Morning, Afternoon or Evening - when are you at your most creative?
Morning is for packaging up monsters for shipping - I have a “monsters to go rack” my sweetness made me. Mid day with the best real light is my most creative. I keep some of the construction and decisions to when there is best lighting. Evening is the assembly and stuffing. With after 10pm being closures or simple blocking for the following day.
If you could re-live a certain point in your life in order to change its outcome, what would you re-live and why?
OOooooo I would have gone to Austria in my early 20’s when I had a chance. I hadn't done any travelling yet and it seemed too scary at the time. I have never regretted any travelling I have done since and wish I had taken that opportunity when it presented itself.
Hardest lesson you have ever had to learn as an artist?
That my work will not be accessible to everyone. This one is very hard for me as I know my monsters touch people. I want everyone who falls in love with a monster to have one.
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