One of the best things about crafting is that it is often a shared hobby; it has a wonderful way of drawing like-minded people together, whether it be exchanging skills at craft clubs, knitting around a friend’s house or sharing sewing machines. And once you make the move to starting up a business, this network of fellow crafters can be essential to your success. From running a market stall together to collaborating on a one-off project, having the imput and support of your friends is a wonderful motivation.
After meeting at university in 2003, Flavia Marele and Ildiko Muresan decided to go one step further when they started up their craft business Harem6 together. Their eerily beautiful work walks the fine line between fine arts and crafts, using delicate illustration, traditional embroidery and clay or paper to create fantastically surreal toys and figurines.
In this post, Flavia and Ildiko speak to made.in.transylvania about why they started collaborating with each other, how they operate together during the creative process and the importance of having a shared but diverse vision.
What were you previously doing before you started working together?
Ildiko: We were both students at the Art Academy in Cluj Napoca. I was in my final year and Flavia still had one year left before getting her photography degree.
Flavia: We met at the opening of an art exhibition which was followed by a party so we got the chance to meet and talk. Ildiko was very fond of photography but she never got the chance to work with a camera as she was studying drawing. Soon after we met we realized we had a very similar vision about art, living and the world in general. Of course there were many aspects we thought about differently, but that was perfect. Why? Because what is the need for two people to create together if they are both the same? Actually the differences united us.
Ildiko: We started with mixed media images: photography combined with drawing. It was only about three years ago that we began creating art objects together.
Do you both have a specific skills that you bring to Harem6?
Ildiko: Flavia makes all the shapes of the dolls and the animal shapes are created by whoever wants to do it at that moment. Most of the drawings are created by me. I say most of them because recently Flavia also started to draw.
If I were to describe the process of, let’s say, the making of a doll, Flavia creates its shape, and when it is dry I draw the face and body. Then Flavia adjusts the arms and legs and in the end she makes the skirt
What are the benefits of working as a pair? Are there any disadvantages?
Ildiko: There are no disadvantages as long as you get along well with the person you work with. We both know our roles in the process and we also support each other when it is needed.
Flavia: I remember once that we had to create some animals for an exhibition and there was very little time left. Ildiko was really tired as she was drawing a lot so I decided to help and make the drawing for a few pieces. That’s when I started drawing on the objects. I always loved drawing and I used to draw a lot. But when we met we both had our roles in the process, I worked with the photography and shaping the clay and she was with the drawing. So somehow I left drawing behind. However, Ildiko kept encouraging me to draw because she liked my graphical works.
What I mean with this example is that working together is amazing because it’s the combination of two minds. We both come with our own ideas which are then transformed because each of us adds something new to the piece. So working together is powerful and beautiful both for this creative mix and the support we get from each other.
The characters and creatures you create are amazing and very unique; beautiful but at the same time quite spooky and dreamlike. How do you find inspiration for them?
Ildiko: This question is very hard to answer to as inspiration comes from everywhere. We love reading, watching films, documentaries on animals and plants. I certainly would have liked to be a biologist if I were to become anything else than an artist and Flavia would have been a vet, she’s a huge animal lover.
But inspiration can come from unexpected events that happen in one’s life, sad or happy moments that we experience. Or it can come from an image you only saw for a second and then your mind suddenly starts processing it, shaping it into a new creature, a drawing or a photograph.
What materials and techniques do you use to make your creations?
Flavia: We use clay, fabric, pencils and acrylic paint at this point. Who knows what other material we might use, as we absolutely love trying new materials and techniques. We recently bought a sewing machine and we also started making soft dolls.
Your creations are kind of like toys for adults. Is there something childlike about your work?
Flavia: They are toys for adults although inspired by children’s toys. There is certainly something childlike about our work; our creations show a world where everything and anything is possible, just like children believe. When you are a child you believe that all the fantastic animals and people from fairy tales exist in real life. We somehow want to recreate that world, to make it alive again. Children are pure and full of hope and we’d all like to be pure and hopeful, wouldn’t we?
What kind of toys did you have when you were younger?
Ildiko: I did not have many toys before I was nine as there wasn’t as much diversity as these days. There were only five minutes of cartoons per week! I was nine during the revolution in 1989 and before that I only had a few dolls. I used to play outside with my friends more than playing with toys. We didn’t have as many possibilities as children do now. This certainly must have had an influence on me.
What kind of feedback do you get back about your work?
Flavia: The feedback is sometimes very powerful. Someone called us once to tell us she gave the dolls as a gift to her daughter for her new home. She said she had never seen her daughter having such a reaction, as she started crying slowly with joy at the sight of the dolls and could not speak.
Most of the people tell us that they are more beautiful in person than in the photographs. It’s an immense joy getting positive feedback and it makes us grow stronger in following our creating path. These works are our messages to the world, it’s our language, it’s how we communicate and if this communication is well received it is perfect.
It has never been so hard to choose photos for a post!