Designing props and having a baby!

by Carmen - Director of The Prop Factory

Thursday 10th October 2019 08:07:40


While my friends share love and likes of my maternity shoot at Colehayes Park, with images by Aga Kowalska, all I can think about is the props! Being surrounded by lots of childhood inspired props makes me question if the pitter patter of tiny feet in my life will influence my prop design ideas once again.A lot has changed in the company since I last had a baby 10 years ago. In fact, the company didn’t exist at all. It wasn’t until my son was two, almost eight years ago, that The Prop Factory started - and it was a world away from what it is today.Just a handful of items started what has become The Prop Factory. Mostly vintage china and a bit of bric-a-brac made up an inventory you could fit in the boot of a car. Today we have an 8,000 square foot warehouse of props and a busy workshop of five prop makers. Certainly the running of the company has changed in the eight years too. I didn't have a clue what 'return on investment' meant or what a 'key performance indicator' was when I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom back then.

What I am wondering is: have my inspirations changed? When this business began I was studying graphic design at university, specialising in children’s illustration. Having a very small child at that time hugely influenced the visual world around me and, in turn, influenced my prop designing.In just over a month I’ll have another baby boy in my life. The only things I saved from previously bringing up a child are all the children’s picture books. I love the works of Brian Wildsmith, Emily Gravett, and Oliver Jeffers.

I also love vintage children’s books and the humble illustrations with their gentle colour pallet and simple notations of life, a far cry from the crazy colours and abstract characters of modern illustrators.Children’s films have had a huge, probably the biggest, influence on my prop design aspirations. I can quite confidently say I never would have watched children’s films had I not had a child. Yet now my top 10 favourite films are all of the children’s/family genre. I love the immersive world created in children’s films.I have recently watched, for the umpteenth time, Inside Out (2015), which imagines some amazing worlds like Dream Productions and Imagination Land. So much inspiration. Other great films to watch are Despicable Me 2 (2013) for the ostentatious and unique furniture in Gru’s house; Nanny McFee (2005) for the mix of Rococo style furniture but in bright clashing colours; and The Nutcracker and The Four Realms (2018) for the entire film set. It pretty much epitomises all my favourite themes - from vintage circus, to the land of sweets, icy forests, Victorian Britain, enchantment, castles, science and, of course, Christmas. You can read more about my views on this film in my blog on The Nutcracker and The Four Realms here.I know a lot of new films rely heavily on CGI so it is quite an interesting turnabout that our quest is to bring traditional prop making back into creating these worlds. We're making imaginary worlds into real worlds that are not just confined to the world of screen.

The set our stylist, Carys, created at Colehayes for this maternity shoot is a nod towards creating our own immersive worlds.I hope one day to have everything you would need - from props to flooring to backdrops - to basically create film sets for events, with a level of detail, craftsmanship and imagination that they rarely see.Film set aesthetics with an event budget - that’s the dream.

I loved sitting in the grand living space (sadly not mine) at Colehayes, surrounded by our handmade creations and carefully curated collection of props. The props we used to create this set consisted of - ABC Blocks, Traditional Small Wooden Rocking Horse, Giant Teddy Bears, Teddy Treasure Chest Trunks, Vintage Remo Bass Drum, Giant Lollipop, Giant Velvet Bow, Sheep Skin Rugs, Giant Duck, and our newest Large Vintage Wooden Rocking Horse.Of course the photo shoot was also about capturing the beauty of a baby bump too, The second heir to The Prop Factory, ha!Knowing that my time spent at work will become more limited, I have taken on my less responsibility within the company and my new job will solely be product designer. We have recently taken on four new prop makers and a production manager in a bid to grow the company and its capabilities over the next 12 months.I am very, very much looking forward to going places with my new little one and sitting with a sketch book inventing new prop ideas. I wonder if being in 'baby locations' like soft play and Crealy (Crealy - a local adventure park here in Exeter, and my place of choice to hang out when my other son was young) might, consciously or subconsciously, influence my design ideas. Only time will tell.I have been working with the new prop makers for six weeks now and it is a lot more intense than I had thought to keep up designing - less of a part-time, relaxing maternity job and more of a full-on all guns blazing role.One fundamental change that has had a huge impact on my designing is that now I am not limited by my own creative skills. When I first decided to make a few props in the early days, rather than buy them, I was pretty clueless about woodwork and roped in a few people to help me. My designs were simpler eight years ago, now there are a lot fewer limitations.I have a team of skilled painters, carpenters and textiles prop makers at my disposal. So the question is: what will happen when I revisit my original sources of inspiration, but this time round with a lot more resources at my disposal? Eek! Very exciting times! Follow our Instagram where I will be sure to keep uploading what inspires me and my design ideas - I love as much feedback as possible, good or bad. See all the props featured in our maternity shoot here. Some may have now sold on our exciting new ebay store check it out here.

Carmen x