In Residence

Through this artist's eyes, Calgary is full of storybook woodland creatures

Enter the prairie fairytale world of Pickle and Francois, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence.

Enter the prairie fairytale world of Pickle and Francois

Bright-eyed and...wooly tailed. Dena Seiferling (a.k.a. Pickle and Francois) is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence. (Instagram/@pickleandfrancois)

Long ago and far away — seven years ago in Calgary, to be more specific — an artist named Dena Seiferling discovered she could do magical things with yarn.

OK, not actual magic. Her work's plenty enchanting, but Seiferling's no Rumpletstiltskin. She's a fibre artist, one whose particular specialty is needle felting. And to her 22K Instagram followers, the illustrator is better known as Pickle and Francois, the creator of unusually charming animal sculptures and music boxes — all featuring woodland creatures who have brighter eyes and bushier tales than the real thing, and a certain snaggletoothed joie de vivre, as well. (Maybe they've got a pinch of Muppet in their DNA.)

Rabbits, mice, owls, ground squirrels and even puffy wee bison: usually, Seiferling's creatures seem to be sprung from a prairie fairytale. "Living in Alberta, those are the kind of animals we're surrounded with, so I really was inspired by them," she says. (Pickle and Francois, her nom de felt, is actually a shoutout to her family's dog and cat — Pickle and Francois, respectively.)

But animals, wherever they might roam, are always her favourite subject matter, and she's begun adding some more international fauna into the mix: alligators, sloths, octopus. 

"I reference real animals," says Seiferling, who also works as an instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, "but my characters, the animals, all take on a bit of an imaginary narrative. I draw little bits and pieces from fables, and children's books and stories that I remember reading as a child."

Until recently, her creations didn't have tales of their own, but that's about to change. She's currently illustrating a children's book by Toronto author Cary Fagan. Watch for it in fall 2019, out through Tundra Press. And one of her original sculptures, a sharply dressed shrew, has inspired an upcoming animated short by Irwin Miller, a filmmaker based in L.A. Called "Sheldon the Shrew," Seiferling designed the puppets for the film — both Sheldon and his world-traveller pal, Amelia the Possum (who's voiced by Jenna Elfman).

Working on that project, she says, actually inspired her to try animation herself — and on this week's episode of Exhibitionists, she's shared a few of her latest experiments, which bring some of her sculptures to twinkle-toed life.

"I probably never would have tried animating them if it hadn't been for being a bit more immersed in the world of animation through the [film] project," she says. "And now I'm kind of obsessed with it."

As her skills evolve, she says a new chapter for Pickle and Francois might still unfold. "When I first started this whole thing, it was just focused on the little characters — putting them in their little dioramas and their scenes. But now, I really am now starting to envision a bigger picture, and all these characters are starting to inspire larger ideas."

Take a look!

(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)
(Pickle and Francois)

See more of Seiferling's work as part of Perch, a group exhibition featuring her and Stefanie Staples's mixed-media sculptures. To June 2 at Alberta Craft Council Gallery, Calgary. www.albertacraft.ab.ca

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Fridays at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4 p.m. NT).

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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