By Pam North
Welcome to California artist Denise Bledsoe’s world, one that is inhabited by wondrously wacky and endearingly engaging personalities whose goofy grins and impish expressions are irresistible. Her winsome creations capture the heart as they simultaneously provoke a few giggles. Bledsoe is amazingly talented at blending fun and fantasy into enchanting and imaginative characters. She creates one-of-a-kind (OOAK) figures, both human and animal, as well as assorted less identifiable anthropomorphic beingse. Each one is unique, and a joy to behold and own.
Bledsoe’s creative beginnings go back to her childhood, when she envisioned ideas for figures that didn’t seem to exist as toys, so she attempted to create them herself from cloth or clay. As she explained: “I never lost the desire for that, and although my current-day pieces wouldn’t be considered ‘toys’, I like for them to have a similar appeal in a grown-up form.”
Formal training in her craft included basic two-dimensional art classes in high school and a few random classes in college, but she considers herself largely self-taught in regard to what she does now. Over the years she has experimented with different mediums, including leaded glass; oil, acrylic, and watercolor paints; pen and ink; textile design; and book illustration, all leading to her current preferred focus — the combination of many different sculpting materials artfully manipulated into her charming little characters.
“I believe having dabbled in many different media has had an effect on the overall look of my current work, as I enjoy combining them into each piece. Part of the fun of mixed media is never getting bored, since every day one is using different materials. My figures’ armatures are wire, wood, and foil. The costumes are devised from any and all types of fabrics and trims, and I use various fibers to make wigs. The accessories can be made from anything!”
Her work and her techniques have evolved over time. “I have found that each sculpting medium demands its own specific techniques. I challenge myself to create with all of them to accomplish different looks and results.
“To be honest,” she added, “I think my very early work was aimed at trying to create things directed toward what other people might like. It’s not that that isn’t still a goal with my current work, it’s just that now I express more of my own vision and integrity, and that is what is encompassed in my creations. I find [inspiration] in the faces of the elderly, the instincts of animals, the innocence of children, and the absurd parts of life.”
Her biggest challenge, Bledsoe said, is setting a price on her work. “Pricing a piece according to the number of hours it has taken to complete most likely would not work without my emotions playing a part, so I stand back and consider what I would be willing to pay for it.” Still, emotion is a big part of her enjoyment in her creations. “When it causes someone to smile or laugh or even cry — that touches me.”
She has been married to her husband for 42 years, and they have one son and a granddaughter, so she has managed successfully to blend her creative aspirations with her family life and to enjoy their support.
Her workplace, like her artistry, has also evolved over time. “It started out as a corner of the room on a folding table, after which it was shifted to a separate room, and then to a large studio with cabinets, shelves, and a large worktable,” the artist said. “I recently moved and am in the process of building a new studio, so stand by for the next stage!”
Bledsoe has participated in art shows throughout the U.S. and internationally; her work is in the private collections of notable celebrities. Her creations are sold mostly through fine art galleries, although she occasionally will sell a piece directly to a collector after posting it on Facebook or on her website. As for what’s next for the artist and her creations, Bledsoe said, “I almost hesitate to say that I think my work could be taking a turn for the more weird! I keep wanting to push the edge, and my collectors seem to go there with me, so that’s good. I hope my work will continue to be desirable, and that my collectors will relate to the directions it takes.”