“They’re cheaper than taxidermy and nothing has to die.”
Celebrated artist, John Murphy, has a varied design background, and over the past 10 years has developed “Stupid Creatures” – his own brand of creative sock monsters. From their humble beginnings in a studio apartment, John and his creatures now find themselves with three published books and a new line of plush toys available through Land of Nod.
FPG: Hi Mr. Murphy – Can you tell our readers a bit about your background as a designer?
JM: I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, and my skills and interests are skewed towards character design and cartooning. I started counseling at-risk kids about 4 years ago and I hope to never stop. When I’m not busy trying to keep kids out of jail, I make stuffed toys from recycled clothing, I write books about how to make stuffed toys, and I teach classes to people who want to learn those skills. A number of my characters were recently licensed to the children’s toy and furnishings retailer, The Land of Nod (www.landofnod.com), and my third book, Return of the Stupid Sock Creatures (Lark Crafts) has just become available wherever books are sold. I live in the rural wilds west of Charlotte, NC and date a talented makeup artist named Leslie.
FPG: With your training in ceramics and illustration, what brought you to try your hand at textile/knit construction?
JM: Gracious. Cartooning, sculpture and soft toy design all go hand-in-hand for me. The cartooning was with me throughout my life to chronicle my ideas and scores of characters that continuously occur to me. The ceramic sculpture helped me, so to speak, get the monsters out of my head and into bodies of their own. I learned to sew when I discovered I could get the monsters out of me in a way that’s shatterproof, lighter weight and more easily stored and shipped than clay. Working with fabrics and stuffing these days is much more practical, cost effective and energy efficient for me than working with clay. When I get the itch to sculpt instead of sew, I make figurines from polymer clay, so the ceramic skills remain relevant and useful.
FPG: What were your early influences that brought upon creatures and monsters as your muses?
I played with stuffed toys as a kid when most other boys preferred toy cars or weapons or action figures. Since then I’ve been drawn to anything that can be personified or imbued with personalities. My earliest influence was a stuffed bear my mother made from a kit when I was three. I still have that bear on display. I used to make him talk and carry him everywhere with me. I’m drawn these days to such media as comic books, animated features, claymation, British comedies and the work of voice actors. I started sculpting monsters in college rather than literal animals because it bothered me how tightly people clung to the usual and the expected. Artists like Picasso, Tim Burton, Dr. Seuss, Roxanne Swentzel, Bernini and Chris Bachalo are among those who have influenced me the most.
FPG: As well as being an accomplished artist and creator, you are a youth counselor. Do you have any advice to young artists wishing to follow in your creative footsteps?
JM: Gosh. I have more advice than you likely have time to read. And I’m still learning as I go. I cannot stress enough to young people wanting to live and work as an artist in any discipline the importance of learning the business of the trade you love. Art in its purest, expressive, inventive form must of course be pursued and created. But everything that leaves an artist’s studio has a function or purpose, a materials cost and a target audience. I do not advise slavery to the almighty dollar, but wisdom about the way the economic world breathes and digests so that incredible works can be made by artists who can eat and keep the rent paid. I advise that every artist should take business classes and have plenty of funds saved before attempting to launch.