Samantha Bryan: In which there are fairies
Journey into a world of quirky fairies as we talk to Samantha Bryan about her life and her delightful artistic creations.
Samantha Bryan’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Samantha Bryan: also known as ‘Brain’, has made people smile for over 20 years. There’s something about fairies that hold a specific magical power that captures many people’s attention. And as a mixed media artist dedicating her career to fairy making an invention, Samantha Bryan is a creator of magic.
She aims to give us a glimpse into a magical world through illustration and sculpture. In her words, the objective of her work is to realise the necessities and requirements that provide everything a fairy would demand during its daily existence. Samantha welcomed Fibre Arts Take Two behind the scenes of her fairy world for an evening that was just like her fairies; delightful.
Samantha’s love of storytelling and the fantastical come from her childhood time spent with her grandmother, with whom she and her mother lived for some time, “She used to tell me stories when we were going to sleep,” says Samantha, “My Nan is 90 this year and going strong, but she’s always had an awful memory and a big family. So she goes through tonnes of names before she gets to your name, and it was always the same with stories. We spent a lot of time in the park, and she would tell me tales about the creatures that lived in the pond in the park and things like that. I’d get fixated on a particular story. But then, when I wanted her to repeat it the next night, she couldn’t remember it. It ended up being quite a collaborative process telling these stories, ‘what about this character?’ and ‘you’ve forgotten such and such’, so imaginative storytelling was there from a very early age.”
“I went to Hereford College of Art and Design. As it happened, it was the perfect place for me, and that’s where fairies were born,” says Samantha on the genesis of her fairies, “You were encouraged to look back into your childhood and into the things that are deep-rooted in the things that make you tick. And that’s when I started to think about where my love for stories and characters comes from. And one brief while at college was to create a witty Christmas character. And my response, I made my traditional fairy with a gold skirt, bodice, and things. It was a hit, and that sparked it all. But then, I wanted them to be more than pretty fairies. I was trying to push it in a different direction.”
Samantha’s fairies have evolved to become the recognisable creatures they are today. The process remains as mysterious as the fairies themselves thought. “It’s tough to track back, actually,” Samantha says, “because they’re part of me now when they come out. But in the beginning, I looked at bugs. So beetle bottoms made the fat-bottomed fairy, bug eyes and things like that. And, when I do look back, their eyes were further round. So even without realising, they’ve come in a little bit. I’m fortunate that I sell everything; really, I’ve barely got anything, so you don’t necessarily see the tracking of the development and things. But somebody did mention that their husband was an optician and noticed the wide field of vision that fairies have.”
Over the years, they also gained some distinctive characteristics, “So the patches,” says Samantha of here fairies’ distinctively patched clothes, “I think it wasn’t a conscious decision, but the course leader at Hereford always had one of those army jumpers on with the patches, always in different colours. That’s all he ever wore. And I think it just must have seeped into my conscious and taken over because they’ve always really had patches.”
And then there are the goggles. “They’ve got bigger and bigger over the years,” says Samantha, “but it was about making them into aviators. I was looking at old-fashioned flight helmets and flight attire, and they’ve just become bigger and bigger.”
Samantha’s fairies are busy, “They’ve got lots of duties. But the massive main duty is to collect, distribute, and identify fairy dust. And those particular tasks can be very time-consuming, laborious and all of that.”
Happily, the fairies now have Samantha to create ingenious vehicles for the fairies to use to collect fairy dust, “It’s quite a privilege to be able to invent vehicles, devices and such like that make that a bit easier for them so that they do get a little bit of leisure time because they’re very, very overworked.”
Over the years, Samantha has had to find different ways to sell her fairies to the public, “I had a waiting list about two years long, which was a lovely, lovely place to be in, and I felt very fortunate,” she says, “But I also felt very stifled, sounds like a horrible word. But it did do something to creativity. Because in January, I had to make this; in February, I had to make that… everything planned. It left very little time to realise some of the ideas in my head because inevitably, with commissions, people want something similar to what they’ve seen.”
With a baby on the way, things had to change, “I just thought, I don’t know how I’m going to do this when I’ve got another person to look after. Maternity leave was the first time I’d ever been taken away from fairies for anything longer than a couple of weeks’ holiday. It gave me time to reassess and think about what I needed to do and what was important. I’d always hoped to build, make and then sell what I’d made to have time to develop. So I took a leap of faith when I had my little boy. And I said, ‘Right, I’m closing my waiting list’, which was terrifying.
I said no to all my schoolwork and teaching and closed it all down. I then decided to release a group of fairies every two months from now on and keep it much more straightforward. I gave myself a period to develop the ideas that had been tapping away like a woodpecker. But also, whilst my brain is tired and my brain is busy, it simplifies maker life. So I’ve been doing that since 2019, when I had my first little boy, and it’s been perfect. Every time I do a release, I have to pinch myself because they sell so quickly.”
About the artist
Unconfirmed sightings of ‘Fairies’ were first reported at Hereford College of Art in 2001.
Reports started to emerge of a recent graduate trying to invent labour-saving devices for fairies. Officials initially dismissed these reports; the graduate was ridiculed and labelled a loon.
However, sightings continued to increase and were eventually linked to the efforts of designer-maker Samantha Bryan (later known as Brain). Her pioneering approach to improving fairy life saw a sharp rise in fairy appearances. Sightings became frequent and widespread. Things took a dramatic turn when an official sighting was confirmed in Islington, London (2001). Brain was called in for an urgent interview; a full report was published in 2002.
The article catapulted Brain and her fairies into the spotlight. Suddenly people were happy to have fairies in their homes… keen even. Fairies started travelling far and wide. Brain was labelled revolutionary rather than ridiculous. Brain was delighted, thrilled… jubilant!
Samantha Bryan was nicknamed ‘Brain’ at Hereford College of Art. A particularly curious elbow-patch-wearing tutor decided it was a fitting name for a pupil who frequented the metal workshop wearing a white coat and goggles. The name ‘Brain/y/iac stuck fast, and fairy flight suits developed elbow patches.