Jenny Maj is an artist and plush maker living in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a member of my private Facebook group for soft toy designers and earlier this month announced that she’d opened a shop on Etsy called Fluffmonger to sell her plush toys.
When I saw the images Jenny had created for her Etsy listings I was so struck by her creativity and artistry. Let’s take a look.
Baxter the Horse in a green hoodie by Jenny Maj.
This guy is adorable and well-styled (check out the hands in the pocket!), but with that backdrop he really becomes something special. Here’s another:
Falafel the Llama in a red sweater by Jenny Maj.
Look at that leaf on the yoga mat! Again, a charmingly styled photo and you’ll notice that the llama and the horse are similar in proportion and materials. They are recognizably of the same collection. Okay, one more:
Griswold the Sheep getting coffee by Jenny Maj.
The cowl neck on this sheep is fantastic. Wait, one more. Here is her brand new Christmas collection:
Jenny has a degree in sculpture from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is licensed as an art teacher. She focused on figurative pencil drawings and ceramic sculpture in high school and college, but says she was never really passionate about anything until she started designing stuffed animals.
I really admire how cohesive Jenny’s toys look. It takes a lot of thought and planning to not just create softies, but to dream up an entire collection and a world for them to inhabit. It turns out that some self-imposed limitations on the types of materials she could use really shaped how the toys look:
I want to incorporate the use of materials that are better for my health, the health and well-being of others, and the environment so I choose to use organic and ethically made materials that I hand dye using low environmental impact dyes.
When I decided I wanted to start selling plush designs that I made using only organic and ethically made materials, I had to cut out a lot of things like safety eyes, faux fur, fusibles, and polyfil. That pretty much left only embroidery for making the eyes and mouths, and embroidery is not my forte, so I decided I needed make simpler designs for my pieces.
I wanted to create a line of characters that each had its own story line with an underlying theme that tied it together with the others. I felt that their designs needed to be similar but unique enough to give each its own personality. I started with the llama, then, using the same simple design, I created the sheep and the horse. All of the animals are about the same size: 10″ and 13.5″ tall when standing.
The toys are like an adorable family or community. I asked Jenny if she would explain how she creates the backdrops and what effect she feels they have on the way her shop looks and the way potential customers perceive her toys.
I feel that the backdrops help draw customers into the world of each individual character. I have always loved pop-up books and architecture, so I decided to make my 3-dimensional characters interact in an environment made of 2-dimensional drawings set up to look like a pop-up book. I chose to make the backgrounds black and white so that the characters remained the center of focus.
I draw my backdrops first by hand. If I need to add text, or if the backdrop requires the same drawing to be repeated, like the leaves I made for the park scene, I’ll scan my sketches into Illustrator to edit them. I then transfer the drawings onto foam board, go over them with black acrylic paint, and cut them out with a craft knife.
I put all of the backdrops and props into light boxes I make. I take regular cardboard boxes, cut out four sides, and cover the holes with white muslin to diffuse the light. Most of the scenes you see in my shop are made in 16″ x 18″ x 18″ cardboard moving boxes. If I can’t find a box with the right dimensions I’ll make one out of foam core.
The hole at the top of the box allows me to hang each plush piece from a yard stick and pose it however I like in the scene. If I decide to have one of the characters holding something or crossing its legs, for example, I’ll use thread to stitch them in place.
I’d say for simpler scenes it probably takes me a day or two to make the entire scene. The Christmas scene took me close to a week, however. Painting the outlines is the most time-consuming part. I shoot the photos with a Nikon D5300 and an 18-55mm lens.
To me, Jenny’s style is well-suited for illustration or stop-motion animation. Sure enough, she’s thought along those lines.
When I was a younger, I always said I was going to write and illustrate children’s books. I’ve actually written one, I’ve just been too afraid to do anything with it. For some reason, drawing seems to be more stressful to me than making 3D art, so I can definitely see myself using this style to illustrate any books I may publish in the future.