“Last week we introduced our new blog series, Creative SA. In this series we will regularly feature South African makers. To kick off our very first Creative SA post we chatted with Capetonian illustrator, crafter, and design entrepreneur Liesl van der Hoven. Liesl is the owner of Fairy Caravan and makes stunning handcrafted toys and décor.
Since we first interviewed her in 2014, Liesl has truly found her passion and niche which is evident in her growing range of delightfully whimsical handmade dolls. These are no toss-them-later Barbie dolls – they are future keepsakes – each unique in their own way and beautifully made…“
Q: Tell us a little more about your pillow friends. I believe that each animal friend has his or her own story?
A: The sleepy pillow friends initially started with the idea of creating an animal character to depict each of the four temperaments from ancient Greek theory. I wanted to create characters with distinctly different personalities, because I have found that knowing the personality of each character makes it easier to write stories about them. They almost become “real” in my mind when I’m thinking about them, and I know how they will react in different situations.
I chose the four temperaments simply because four felt like a manageable number of different personalities to start with. I have since expanded on the idea when making the four different dolls and fairy dolls. For instance when I was doing research for creating the fairy dolls, I also discovered that each of the four temperaments correspond to the four elements Air, Fire, Water and Earth. I brought the colours of these elements into the illustrations I did for each fairy’s fabric banner.
Q: You have recently added a few more friends to the fold; can you introduce us to the new additions?
A: With pleasure! 2016 has been a BIG year in terms of new characters. I started the year by adding three more sleepy animals to the collection. 2015 saw the addition of Kiki the Klipspringer, and this year I also added Fantine Fox, Dana the Dassie and Cara the Caracal. So now there are a total of 8 sleepy animal friends.
In July I introduced three sleeping fairy babies. These are simple little baby dolls available in two different sizes – they look like little babies swaddled in leaves and flower petals. I have been wanting to make a simpler doll since making the larger dolls in 2015 – so very little girls could play with them. They also look lovely as hanging decorations – each fairy baby has a ribbon loop at the tip of their hat from which they can hang.
I then developed the idea of my dolls a little further, turning them into fairies complete with wings. They are still called Daisy, Poppy, Violet and Lily, just like the bigger dolls, but now they are a little smaller and they are dressed in leaves and petals – and of course they have wings! (I have a story all planned out about how the dolls got turned into fairies which I will share at a later stage.)
Lastly I added a magical unicorn. Ever since making the first dolls I have become fascinated with the possibilities of making two-dimensional illustrations come to life as “real” three-dimensional characters. So I challenged myself with this one. I learned an enormous amount in the process of designing and creating this character.
It’s strange that it didn’t feel like I was being overly ambitious with how many new characters I was creating this year, but looking back on it all now… It feels like I need to go lie down and take a nap!
Q: Tell us a bit more about your gorgeous and whimsical handmade dolls. A lot of work must have gone into their creation…
A: Yes, designing and creating the dolls was a huge amount of work, and it still takes a whole day to create a single doll, as each one is made by hand. But it is SO worth it! I love making them and I am blessed to slowly be building a team of ladies who are helping me to bring these characters to life.
I think that it is important that we teach our children the value of quality handmade goods even when they are very young. We are living in a world that is completely flooded with mass-produced things, and this is definitely true for the toy market as well. Some plastic toys can even be harmful for children, as they release chemicals and gasses over time.
I do an enormous amount of research before I start making anything – from the details of which expression would be best for the dolls to have (neutral is best to stimulate creative play) to the safety of the fabric printing process and inks I make use of. I do this because I believe that there are plenty of people who share my philosophy of putting more thought into what we give our children to play with and what the impact of the making of these products have on society and the environment.
Q: I believe you have even designed a pretty range of clothes for the dolls?
A: To be honest, I did not enjoy designing the doll clothes very much! I realised in the process of designing the clothing patterns that I am first and foremost an illustrator, and that I LOVE sewing and making my characters come alive. There is magic in turning and stuffing a little doll or creature that you have made and watching it come to life.
But teeny tiny little clothes – not so much. I think there is probably scope here to someday collaborate with a fashion designer – someone who loves clothes and designing them a lot more than I do!
Q: Your fairy babies are ABSOLUTELY adorable. How did they come to be?
A: Thank you very much – I’m so glad you find them adorable! As I mentioned earlier, I basically got the idea of creating a simple baby doll almost as soon as I had made the first, larger Fairy Caravan dolls in 2015. I then put the idea on the backburner while I developed more story ideas. I knew that I wanted the stories to go into a more magical, fairytale-like direction, and I wanted to bring fairies into the story.
So while all of the story ideas were rattling around in my head, I one day realised that the simple baby doll should be a fairy baby! And even though the dolls are fairly simple so that they would be completely safe for a toddler to play with, they had to be beautiful and interesting enough so that even adults would fall in love with them!
I put a lot of detail into the illustrations of these babies and I added interest and dimension with the loose leaf swaddling on the front and by adding a leaf hat.
Q: I see that you have penned a cute collection of bedtime stories on your website…
A: The stories are a very important part of what I do. They are my way of adding value to the characters that I create, and also a way to give something back to everyone – whether you have bought something from me or not. I want everyone – and especially as many children as possible, to share in the joy of having a bedtime story read to them, and getting lost in a magical, innocent world.
I have made a promise that I will always continue to share free stories on my website. The story writing has been a bit slow this year because I was creating so many new characters, but I feel that next year my focus will shift to telling more stories.
Q: Stories AND beautifully illustrated characters – have you thought about publishing your own children’s book?
A: I have, and it is definitely part of my big plan for 2017. My husband actually made me promise to start focusing on the stories more next year after I completed the unicorn! I agree with him that the time for more stories are perfect now that I have such a large collection of characters about which I can tell stories.
I also want to make more time for illustration next year – bedtime stories need to have beautiful pictures that go with them!
Q: What is next for Fairy Caravan?
A: I am working on a big plan for 2017 to make my dolls and toys more accessible and affordable to more people – and I am not thinking about having anything mass-produced!
The plan is still in the early stages of being hatched, but it involves lots of new stories, there are going to be story videos (little movies featuring my characters) and all kinds of exciting things happening!
At the same time I am working on expanding my team of seamstresses so that we can continue to make each product by hand, but also supply in a growing demand for the toys and dolls.
There is definitely going to be fewer new characters in 2017, but I know myself – I won’t be able to resist coming up with at least one or two…