As born and bred BC girl, I feel most alive when I am knee deep in the thick of nature. Lush forest trees, ocean water and powder snow are high on my list of favorite things, and fellow nature-enthusiast Sarah Jane, creator of Ugly Bunny, uses her design talents to capture nature’s finest works and transform them into beautiful accessories you can wear year-round. Read on to learn the very adorable story behind the name Ugly Bunny, what Sarah Jane has in store for her fall line and why she once made a variety of handmade felt pork food products–Oh, and Sarah Jane has also graciously offered CAC readers an exclusive discount offer–so please have a read, browse the shop and send Ugly Bunny some kind words if you like what you see!
Explain what you do in 5 words.
Design, draw, sand, sew and create.
I’m sure you get this question often but why the name Ugly Bunny?
I’ve always been fascinated with the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen’s ability to use their stories to teach a lesson or moral. The name Ugly Bunny is inspired by a fable that I wrote years ago about a young, lonely bunny that thought it needed to change itself in order to be liked. In the end, it made the bunny even lonelier and unhappy because it changed so much that it didn’t even recognize who it had become. The moral of the story is to be comfortable with who you are and trust in the fact that being different is not a bad thing. It is those differences that make you, you! Just like something that is handmade, although each item may look the same, it is the slight differences and imperfections that make it unique and special.
How did you come to the decision to start Ugly Bunny?
I started Ugly Bunny as a side project while attending the Material Arts and Design program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. At that time my work was mainly textile and sculptural based whereas now my focus has shifted to jewelry design. Recently my talented fiancé Brett has joined the Ugly Bunny team. His architectural background and mad computer skills combined with my jewellery and design background help bring Ugly Bunny to life. Our recent body of work involves a laser-cutting technique to transform original sketches and designs onto wood and other alternative materials. Our goal is to be able to produce an affordable line of handmade/designed pieces of jewellery that can be enjoyed by everyone without sacrificing quality.
What does your studio/work space look like?
It really depends on the day. Brett refers to it as a cross between a nightmare and daydream… ha ha ha. I once read a statement that I thought was very fitting which said, “a creative mind is rarely tidy,” and I have to agree! Right now my studio is the spare bedroom in a carriage house that we live in in the sunny Okanagan. It is on the top floor of our house and has a little balcony where my little dog/sidekick Jimmy tends to spend most of his days keeping an eye on the neighbourhood.
What is the process you go through to make one of your products?
The process usually starts with a bit of inspiration that transforms into an idea for a piece. The inspiration could come from something as simple as hearing a song, listening to a funny joke, or seeing something on a hike. The next step is to draw some sketches or write the idea on paper so I don’t forget (my mind is swimming with ideas so if I don’t write them down I forget them!). The most important step is the “schematic design stage” (and this is where Brett is always a great help). How can we actually make it? What supplies/materials would work best? Are we familiar with how to use these materials or methods? After everything is sorted out, the final step is what is called the “design development” stage where we experiment and continually adjust and make changes until we are both happy with the final product.
What is your most used or most important piece of equipment?
It sounds so cheesy to say, but I would have to say that my hands and imagination are the most important part in creating, oh and Brett of course. I am still learning all of the different computer programs we use for the laser cutting process, and since Brett is a whiz kid when it comes to computers he is always a great help to bring all of the creations to life.
What is your favorite part of running Ugly Bunny?
The whole intention behind Ugly Bunny is to create fun, lighthearted pieces of jewellery and accessories that can be enjoyed by everyone. Our hope is that when people are wearing or viewing our designs that it will make their day just a little bit brighter. Life is way too short to be serious all of the time and we need to take some time celebrate the little things in life that make us smile.
What other artistic projects are you currently working on?
Right now when I am not working on Ugly Bunny projects, my friend Rachel and I have made it our mission to work through a book of dress patterns. Our goal is to create a whole bunch of new dresses and eventually document our progress on a blog. I think that it is a great way to keep my creative side engaged and help keep me inspired. We also enjoy making “extreme cakes” for our friends’ birthdays and special occasions — really any occasion since it gives us an excuse to eat cake and drink wine, what’s not to love?
What is currently a favourite artwork that you have made?
To this day one of my favourite pieces that I have made was a stuffed pig I created for one of my first year foundation classes at OCAD. The project was to make a piece of art using the word “transformation” as inspiration. When it was my turn to show my piece, I started to cut the stuffed pig open to reveal a variety of handmade felt pork products such as a baloney sandwich, bacon and even a link of sausages! This was even more humorous and twisted since I was and still am a vegetarian… ha.
What do you do when you are not crafting?
Part of the reason we decided to leave Toronto was to be closer to nature (and snow). In the small amount of time when we are not working on Ugly Bunny, we like to spend it outdoors. In the winter we spend our free time snowboarding, and in the spring/summertime we enjoy longboarding, hiking, camping or just lounging on the beach.
Why did you choose to leave Toronto for Kelowna? And how has living in Toronto and Kelowna influenced your artwork?
I will always have a giant spot in my heart for Toronto and I am fortunate to be able to visit my friends and family there every year (even if only for a few days). The decision to leave Toronto was not easy but we decided to move to the Okanagan to live a lifestyle that allowed us to be more active and to enjoy the outdoors. Brett is into splitboarding, snowboarding and basically anything outdoors. We thought that it would be a nice change from the hustle and bustle of living in a big city (although at times I really miss the constant crowds of people and all of my friends that still live there). In terms of how this move has affected my art, I’m not sure if moving back to a smaller town has directly influenced my art, but I do think that as I grow older and encounter different experiences that will continue to help shape the artist I can become. There has always been a sort of underlying theme in my work that depicts the struggle of man vs. nature and nature’s constant struggle to adapt to the ever changing world around it. This was displayed much more in my sculptural work but it still seems to resonate in my current work now that I live in Kelowna.
How do you balance your personal and business life?
Since moving to the Okanagan, I have been so fortunate to meet and be a part of such a wonderful group of talented people. Everyone here is always so supportive and is always willing to help in any way possible, so my personal life and business life sometimes tend to cross over. In the past year, I have realized that although I love what I do it is equally important to dedicate time to non-work related things such as hanging out with friends and other outside interests (like hiking, cake making or snowboarding). Having some downtime has been beneficial to my work and ensures that I don’t burn myself out.
What magazines and/or websites do you frequent for inspiration?
I always find it inspiring when I come across blogs of people that are trying to make a go of their art form just like me. I know it sounds crazy but I always find it somewhat comforting when I read a blog and realize that the person, although in my eyes is super talented and successful, has the same worries and concerns I do. I always love coming across new blogs as they are such a great way to get me inspired again. They really help to keep me motivated to continue with my own work. Right now a few of my favorites are: Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” and ‘Featured sellers’ articles, Poppytalk, Lushlee, Skeleton Hug, Camille Rose Garcia and Elizabeth McGrath.
Do you have any favorite places in Kelowna to go for inspiration?
It depends on the season. In the winter, I find snowboarding at Big White and being surrounded by the mountains is always a great way to be inspired. In fact, the winter and mountains are the inspiration for my “I Heart the Mountains” pins* (author’s note: the mountain pins are my favorite item by Ugly Bunny!). And during the summer, we are lucky to live just about 5 minutes from a dozen different beaches as well as tons of great hiking trails. There are many great places to clear my mind and help get the creative juices flowing.
How much time do you devote to staying in touch with your fans/customers through social networking?
I love getting emails and I am always so flattered when someone enjoys my work enough to send me an email so I always do my best to respond right away. I have been saying for years that I should create a Facebook fan page but it always seems to make it to the end of my to do list.
What are your 2012 goals for ugly bunny?
My goals for this summer are to step it up and get my website, Facebook page and a blog up and running so that I can help to get Ugly Bunny out there. Also, this summer will be spent focusing on prototypes for the new fall line. The line will feature reclaimed leather from old furniture fabric swatches as well as wood inlays and painted wood that has been laser etched. Other goals for 2012 include having Ugly Bunny expand into more stores across Canada and the USA. Getting Ugly Bunny into more stores is key as we have come to realize that this is more than a hobby, it is the start of a successful business that we need to keep working on.
Lastly, any art or business mistakes/advice you want to share with aspiring makers?
The most important advice I can share is to stay positive and when you make mistakes, try to learn from them and keep moving forward.
*** 20% discount on Ugly Bunny Etsy shop orders for the Month of June 2012. ***
enter coupon code at checkout: UGLYBUNNYSPRINGPROMO
Do you have a favourite Ugly Bunny piece? Any comments for Ugly Bunny? Share your thoughts below!