For our seventh Maker Interview we asked the self depreciating Mimi Soan 10 Questions about her diverse working practice. From large scale spray paint to small scale drawing, to thread illustration and handmade plush toys, Mimi Soan can't be pinned down.
Mr Fox and Mr Badger that she made for Simple Shape are a tiny showcase of her talent.
The Out Takes
1. WORKS: with the seasons...summer smells of spray paint, winter means working with wool
2. DRAWS: with threads as well as pens
3. LISTENS: to UK underground hiphop, Indian disco...'international boogie'!
4. WANTS: to paint something huge in Brazil
5. DREAMS: of a two floor studio by the sea
Q1. What’s your background? How did you start making?
I have been creative for as long as I can remember but the making probably started in earnest for me after graduating. I was working as an assistant for my dad, Jeff Soan, who is a wood sculptor. I was learning how to use all the machinery in his workshop and began creating my own automata’s from wood. I absolutely loved creating the characters but am not particularly mechanically minded so I was always fighting with the mechanisms to make them move. I decided then to turn my hand to sewing and making plush toy characters and that for me was way more therapeutic!
Q2. Did you study design? Where?
I studied ‘Theatre with Visual Art’ at Brighton University. My degree show was a small show in a tiny theatre involving a menagerie of creatures including a piano playing spider, fish girl, silk worm and a pretty moth whose wings caught fire. The piano was constructed into an automata from my childhood dismantled piano, the script was mostly poetry and I made all the costumes, set design and props.
Q3. You have a very diverse making / creative practice...can you describe your work?
My working practice can be pretty chaotic, I have not settled on one single medium although I’ve noticed I tend to work with the seasons. For example the outdoor painting (street art) happens mostly in the summer, for me spray paint is the smell of summer! The plush toys are my autumn/winter activity, working with wool and textiles suits cozy nights in my home studio (I seem to trail fluff and threads all over the house!). In the springtime I do a lot of my drawing and illustration work. But mostly it depends on my mood.
Q4. What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
All sorts of things and all over the place! Artists and makers that inspire me include Tim Burton, Mattise, Os Gemeos, Donna Wilson’s textiles. I am inspired by colour, travel and nature is a massive inspiration for my work. My dad’s wooden creature creations have influenced my own soft ones. Also some of the characters I make are based on my partner Neale’s drawings, for example, I’m currently working on a batch of Bipolar Bears (double sided bears with two contrasting expressions) that he has designed the faces for and I am drawing them in thread with the freehand darning foot attachment on my sewing machine. We often collaborate when we paint too. When I am working with textiles the material itself influences what I make. When I found the rusty orange colour wool jumper I just knew it had to become a fox (see Mr Fox, below left.)
Q5. What’s on your headphones when you’re working?
My brother is a DJ and chef so I get a lot of my music mixtapes from him, he describes the sound as international boogie!? It can be pretty eclectic anything from UK underground Hip Hop to Indian disco to South American cumbia. Bonobo are a favorite to work to but I also like to listen to radio 6 music to hear something new/old/undiscovered.
Q6. If you could work in the perfect studio what would it be like? where would it be? who would be with you?
Big! Probably over two floors with specific designated areas and really organised - the total opposite of my little studio now. I would like it to be open, airy and light all day with lots of plants, animals and an amazing view, probably by the sea, there is something very special about the light that is reflected off the water, it’s what I miss about living in Brighton the most.
Q7. Do you have a ‘wish’ list of design projects? What would your ideal project be?
I would like to paint something huge in Brazil. To be paid to paint around the world would be a dream.
Q8. If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
I feel like Japan is calling me. I can't quite afford it yet but I’m saving.
Q9. What one thing couldn’t you live without?
Or... a pokey stick (cropped paintbrush) and plastic straw that I use for turning small items, like arms or tentacles inside out. I use it for stuffing too, it's totally revolutionized my working practice.
Or... my dog Messy (see left).
Q10. What is in the Mimi Soan 'pot of dreams’?
Travel more, keep on making & creating, paint all over the world. My day job is as a teaching assistant in the Art Department at a London comprehensive school, I love working with young people and it compliments my artistic practice but I often wonder what could happen if I committed 100% to my art. The possibilities are really exciting but the financial side has always been a worry. I feel like I’m building up to it though.