Where is your boundary between producing art for yourself and to make a living?
I feel like I’m still working that one out.  I started out making my art work purely for myself so it was never meant to be a way of making money, so to be honest it’s been a bit of a shock that I am now making a living from it. I’m very lucky to be a teacher and designer too, so I have a steady-ish income from that which means that I’m not relying solely on my artwork to make a living, but this year I’m shifting my focus more onto the artwork and less on the other sides of my work.

Can you explain the reason between the different eyes on your dolls?
I’m not sure if I can, although it’s something that seems to be winding down now and a lot of my newer pieces have two matching eyes. When I was a little girl I used to have an irrational fear of losing my right eye, and I still don’t really know why, but it seems to have crept into my work. I always try to work instinctively, then work out why things are as they are later on down the line. In a few years time I might see that something in my life over the last while was triggering something that was somehow linked to that childhood fear and it all came out in the dolls faces.

How did you get started making dolls? 
It’s something I’ve always done. I can’t remember not making little figures and creatures. My dad is an engineer and I think I get my analytical approach to making from him, and my mum would make beautiful, fantastical halloween costumes for me, so I think I just blended the two. One of my earliest doll-making memories was when I was about six or seven and I made a whole family of characters from crab-apples, sticks and leaves; they were almost like tiny scarecrows.  When I was little, I didn’t really have much of a sense of things being either real or imaginary – the lines blurred a lot and the dolls were a way of getting things from my imagination out into my life a tangible way. I would imagine a character or creature, work out what materials I had to hand and then think about it until I knew how to arrange, sew, glue, and construct what I wanted to create, then I would just go ahead and do it.


What is the most challenging part from start to finish of the process?
Getting started on the making probably. It’s a bit frustrating when you know how you want it to go but you have to go through all the practicalities of cutting and sewing and stuffing first. I prefer to hand sew everything and sometimes I wish I could fast forward through some bits, but it gives me time to get to know the piece I’m working on. There’s actually no part of the process that I don’t enjoy.

Where does your inspiration come from?
A big mix of everything and anything that I come across. I think the music I listen to has a big effect on the work I produce, and the fabrics themselves can inspire a whole piece. I’m a bit of a forager and gatherer and my studio is full of feathers and seashells and acorns and bits of fabric and fleece and thread and it all adds up to the pieces I make in one way or another.   I rarely consciously decide to work with a particular theme or story, but when I do it’s usually a dream or a memory or story from my childhood. I also love mythology and fairy tales.


How do you overcome a creative block?
A mixture of doing some grunt work – cutting out fabric, mixing dyes etc. or trying completely different projects with no regard for the outcome, or walking away and doing something else. I find that wood carving is one of the best ways to calm myself down when I’m getting uptight about my work. There’s something about working with a sharp and potentially dangerous blade that forces you to get a grip on whatever you’re freaking yourself out about.

Your daily routine?
I don’t think I have one! I work in a lot of different places and in several different roles so each day is different. I cannot start my day without a cup of tea though, I think the last time I tried to get through a day without one was about five years ago and I made it until maybe 10am before I cracked. Whatever I’m doing I try to do yoga every morning then I walk my dog. After that it just depends on what job I’m doing and where I’m doing it, but the only constants in my life seem to be yoga, dog walking and tea.

Do you keep a sketchbook? If so can we see a page?
I do keep a sketchbook and a couple of different journals.  Some of them are for working things out and some of them are more for just filling pages with things I like.


You’re based between Norway and Scotland- do you prefer one to the other?
Yes and no. Scotland is definitely my home, it’s where I belong, but Norway is like a really good friend that I love being with and can’t ever imagine being away from for too long.Both countries are exceptionally beautiful and I wish that the Scottish people would connect with nature as much as the Norwegians do. In Norway people spend their days off work in the mountains or forests or out on the water. It makes me really sad that a lot of Scots don’t or can’t do the same. On the other hand, when it comes to anything creative Norway is generally very insular and cautious about anything unfamiliar, while Scotland has such an incredible, challenging creative culture.

Where do you find the most inspiration?
The forest. I don’t care what forest or where it is, but there is nowhere more magical, frightening and beautiful. When I’m in the woods I feel so small and so much a part of something larger than myself. Nothing in a forest spends its time sitting all depressed and self involved and wondering what its role is; everything just does its thing to the best of its ability, grows when it needs to, lives when it needs to, and dies when it needs to and I find that incredibly soothing.  It gives me all the perspective I need to just do my thing and not take myself too seriously.

A favourite song?
Today it’s “As the World Falls Down” by David Bowie in Labyrinth.

Which three people, living or dead, real or fictional, are the most inspirational people for you?
Jim Henson is probably the biggest influence on my creative life. I wish I could have worked for him. Apparently I was born during an episode of the Muppet Show, that would have been a good icebreaker if I’d had the chance to meet him! Henson was such an incredible story-teller and he never seemed to lose his curiosity or the love for what he did. His stories were always so heartfelt and original, not to mention just how gorgeous his characters and puppets were or what a talented performer he was! I miss him.<

Princess Leia. When I was very young I remember asking my mum why women in movies were always screaming and getting captured and why the men were always the heroes and she told me that even though that was usually the case, Princess Leia was one rare exception and that if it wasn’t for her Han Solo would still be encased in carbonite and Jabba the Hut wouldn’t have been strangled (I swear, this is what my mum told me!). Princess Leia was my earliest role model, she’s still the biggest single inspiration for the way I dress, and if I’m completely honest, she’s probably been more of an inspiration to me than most real people.

David Attenborough. Not only is he a fabulous writer, broadcaster and educator but he’s so utterly passionate about what he does. He has as much of a glow talking about birds of paradise now as he did as a young man, and his work has always been so progressive and groundbreaking. I have every single documentary he’s ever made and I never get tired of watching him. He’s one of my greatest heroes.

How much does social networking play a part in your work?
Most of my work is sold and publicised online so social networking is really important in that sense, but not in terms of what I actually produce. The best thing about social networking is the connection I get to have with people who appreciate my work. Sometimes people will just email to say hi and that that they like my work and I’m floored with gratitude every single time.


Do you have any advice to other creatives?
Tell the truth. Keep going. Never beat yourself up but know when to kick your own arse.

See more of Johanna’s work on her website: thepalerook.wordpress.com