I have been asked a lot over the years and indeed quite often at markets and events why my fairies have no faces. My mum suggested that I write a blog post about it, and I thought that was a good idea - so here it is! 😊
The faries and dolls that I make are inspired by the Steiner-Waldorf tradition in which the aesthetic of children’s toys and dolls is based around leaving room for the child’s developing imagination and exploration of their own inner world – it is thought that a doll with minimal features leaves plenty of room for the full range of possible emotions to be present whilst the child explores their inner imaginative world – it is suggested that the opposite is true, for example, of plastic dolls where the features are often more expressive and detailed - yet fixed and often of a limited emotional range.
The wool fairies follow this principle however they also have the added dimension of other-worldliness – not only are they made of soft wool that have the quality of ‘ether’ ‘air’ or ‘spirit’ – but they are intended more as decorations than toys, to be appreciated rather than played with. Because of this they have an added quality of elusiveness (just like any ‘real’ fairy!) and thus can become anything in the imaginative eye of the beholder.
Indeed, to me, even though my fairies don’t have faces – I see faces! Each fairy has a character, a sort of essence – not especially happy or sad, or portraying any emotion in particular – but a sort of aliveness, that may exist in the realm of my imagination, but feels non-the-less real. Very occasionally, I add simple faces to my felted creations. When I do it is often in the Kawaii style – as I think this is another example of the way in which simple marks can leave room for imagination – there is an expression, but it is more of a suggestion than something concrete – leaving room to fill in the blanks. There is even a name for the psychological trait in humans to see faces in every day objects where none exists: pareidolia. Maybe seeing faces in my fairies is related to this, but even if it is I would argue in defence of imagination and all the feelings of wonder and joy that breathing life into these little beings can bring.
Imagination is important! Around Christmas time last year I read a wonderful essay by Katherine Rundell (we love her books in our house!) - Why You Should Read Children’s Books Even Though You Are So Old And Wise – in which she expresses her passion for children’s fiction and argues that reading it even as an adult can be wildly life-affirming and enriching; not least because it can so inspire, protect and preserve imagination – which plays its own important role in finding a way ‘home’ to that childlike place within us of being able to experience wonder and awe at every turn:
“Children’s fiction… offers to help us refind things we may not even know we have lost. Adult life is full of forgetting; I have forgotten most of the people I ever met; I’ve forgotten most of the books I’ve read, even the ones that changed me forever; I’ve forgotten most of my epiphanies and I’ve forgotten how to read: how to lay aside scepticism and fashion and trust myself to a book. At the risk of sounding like a mad optimist: children’s fiction can reteach you how to read with an open heart. When you read children’s books, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened as if it were an optional extra. But if imagination is not and never has been optional: it is at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspective of others: the condition precedent of love itself… Children’s books can teach us not just what we have forgotten, but what we have forgotten we have forgotten”
So too is this true then of every fairy story, fairy art doll and the like, and every piece of children’s story illustration art!
I feel the same amount of passion towards my world of fairy-making and fairytale art. Since I started making and drawing all those years ago I felt I was waking up and remembering to remember so many forgotten things… Yes fairies and fairy drawings exist in the realm of children’s toys/art but, I believe, reaches way beyond and serves to awaken in adult life that precious, so easily lost and forgotten, magic of the imagination that take us beyond the ‘normalness’ of our everyday daily realities and back into curiosity.
I also just simply love being surrounded by soft beautiful things. Needless to say, our house is full of – faceless but expressive and alive feeling - fairies! On the website Bella Luna Toys former Waldorf teacher and seller of Waldorf toys, Sarah Baldwin explains beautifully how Waldorf toys fit into a wider aesthetic, one of which is to cultivate a beautiful outer space – which in-turn can facilitate greater inner harmony. I am sold on this too. Both from the perspective of creating a warmth, softness, and beauty in the outer environments of our children, but also for us as adults. For me, having objects around that remind me of childhood is a part of creating this warmth and beauty. And whilst it would be naïve to claim that all of childhood is a dreamy haze free from moments of fright and fear, I think enjoying these faceless fairy beings as an adult can connect us in a moment back to a point in time where the world was still forming before our very eyes and reminds us that leaving breathing space for the imagination, as well has having objects and decorations that inspire it – is all part of the same quest for beauty and harmony, wonder and curiosity, that we all embark upon at times. It is this that essentially keeps me fairy-making, and why I keep seeing faces in my faceless but whimsical and beautiful fairies.