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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with Lee May Foster-Wilson of Bonbi Forest

Meet the super talented lady behind the artwork and treats of Bonbi Forest: Lee May Foster-Wilson talks me through her inspiration and techniques. Fascinating stuff for new and old fans alike!

Written by Amelia Gregory

Equus Scarf Print by Bonbi Forest
Equus Scarf by Bonbi Forest.

I fell in love with the artwork and treats of Lee May Foster-Wilson’s Bonbi Forest many years ago, look so it seemed only right to catch up and find out what inspires this talented lady.

Dark is the Night Slouch Sweater by Bonbi Forest
Dark is the Night Slouch Sweater by Bonbi Forest.

Where did your name come from and what does it mean?
Bonbi Forest is an amalgamation of a few different things. Forest is an anagram of one of my names, order Foster, information pills so I really wanted to incorporate that when I was coming up with a name. Bonbi is a bit weird, but it comes from some paintings I was making at the time of little birds with speech bubbles. One of them was saying ‘Bonjour’ and I always called him the Bonjour Bird I can’t remember why I did it but I shortened it to Bonbi and it stuck! I like how ‘Bonbi Forest‘ could be a place or someones name.

Big Cats Scarf Print by Bonbi Forest
Big Cats Scarf by Bonbi Forest
Big Cats Scarf by Bonbi Forest.
 
You’ve developed a very unique style over the years – where does your inspiration come from and why do you think your work looks so individual?
I take inspiration from nature a lot for my imagery. I have always enjoyed painting animals and plants and looking at the abstract shapes in the natural world. I also like to jot down things I have heard that interest me such as interesting facts or lyrics from songs to get me thinking about themes to draw from. My Stillness of Horses painting came about because I read something in a book about someone observing how still horses can stand for hours on end and how they seem to be deep in thought a lot of the time. I like to work with things like that.

Stillness of Horses by Bonbi Forest
Herd Painting by Bonbi Forest.

It’s something I have never really thought about but I think that what makes my work quite individual are the processes I use in creating the different things I make. Painting and screen printing require quite different ways of thinking about the final image and they both feed into each other when it comes to informing my style – the graphic elements of screen printing have crept into my paintings and drawings and painterly elements can be seen in my screen printing work. Also, I am not very good at using a very conventional colour arrangements when making my pictures. I see nothing wrong with pink grass, blue trees and purple birds!

Jackdaw by Bonbi Forest
Jackdaw by Bonbi Forest.

Why did you move from fine art into illustration?
A lot of people ask me if I am an illustrator but I never consider myself as one. I’ve never really done any illustration commissions, most of the commissions I have worked on came about for the fact that I could screen print the end result as well as supply the images!

I Love You Hand Printed Card by Bonbi Forest
I Love You Hand Printed Card by Bonbi Forest.

I was criticised a bit at art school because my work was too illustrative and I wonder if it would be the same now as I think these days there is a lot more crossover between the two disciplines of fine art and illustration.

Goodnight Locket by Bonbi Forest
Goodnight Locket by Bonbi Forest.

Your newest range uses a very clever print technique to print onto lockets and curved metal rings. Is there anything that you can reveal about how this is done?
I apply the images using a transfer technique which is a little time consuming but I love the end result. I think proper crafty types could probably work out how it is done but for the first time ever I am zipping up about exactly how I do a technique as it has taken me ages to work out how to do it. As much as I like to share I am keeping this one to myself!

Feathers Locket by Bonbi Forest
Feathers Locket by Bonbi Forest.

Not many people have successfully managed to use illustration on jewellery. Why was it important for you to find a way to do this?
It has bugged me for a long time that I haven’t been able to make that final connection between my painted and printed work and my jewellery. Although the colours I use in my jewellery take inspiration from my other work and I use little charms that pick out the themes dear to me, I have always felt this disconnect and that it didn’t really have that special unique ‘Bonbi Forest‘ edge that my other work had. It was all made with beads and charms that anyone else could find if they looked hard enough.

Dark is the Night Locket by Bonbi Forest
Dark is the Night Locket by Bonbi Forest.

I have been considering for years how to do it in a way that was a bit different to the usual illustrated jewellery that you see (such as images behind glass) and finally hit the nail on the head earlier this year. I have figured it out for pendants and rings and now I am working on ways to make it into pretty earrings and bracelets…

Blossom Pop Earrings by Bonbi Forest
Blossom Pop Earrings by Bonbi Forest.

Your products are described as ‘treats’ – why do you think it’s important to treat oneself or a loved one?
We all work so hard for what we have in this world and it is nice to be able to treat ourselves to something lovely every so often. I like using the word ‘treat’ as it implies that this is something worked for and that you (or a loved one) deserve it. Something special rather than another piece of throwaway fashion from the high street that can be bought at any time from any shop…

Locket Making by Bonbi Forest
Locket Making by Bonbi Forest.

What kind of things have you made for Bat for Lashes? How did you hook up with her?
Natasha and I lived together throughout university and are still close friends. I made her first ever BFL t-shirts which we sold at the first All Tomorrows Parties that she played at in 2005, and then I continued selling them online for her. She likes to work with lots of different artists so I haven’t made anything for her for a while but she wears Bonbi Forest jewellery quite a lot and we have chatted about maybe doing other things together in the future too…

Pegasus painting by Bonbi Forest
Pegasus painting by Bonbi Forest.

(in fact, going back to the ATP merch stand we had, I remember being very excited when the day was over and looking at the huge amount of email addresses collected on her mailing list clipboard and seeing your distinctive ‘Amelia’ signature on there. ‘Oh my god! Amelia from Amelia’s magazine was stood right in front of me and I didn’t even realise!‘ I think I said…)

Sketches by Bonbi Forest
Sketches by Bonbi Forest.

Who else do you aspire to dress? And what would you put them in or adorn them with?
To be honest it’s not something I have ever really considered! When I am making stuff I think about what sort of person would like to wear it, but I never have anyone specific in mind. I do have my ideas about how pieces look their best though and I am always intrigued to see how other people incorporate them into their own style.

Pegasus tshirt by Bonbi Forest
Pegasus Tee by Bonbi Forest.

I am always very honoured that anyone at all would like to wear things that I have created…in fact I have been known to blush when I see someone in a t-shirt or scarf that I have made out ‘in the wild‘!

Bonbi Forest custom made pleated purse
Bonbi Forest custom made pleated purse.

Why did you decide to live in Cornwall? Is it where you grew up or was there some other draw to that wild part of the world?
I grew up in Cornwall. I was born in London but my folks moved to Cornwall when me and my brother were 4 and 5 so I feel like Cornwall is my motherland (though I can never describe myself as Cornish. You can only do that if were born on the right side of the Tamar!)
Spring Cluster Necklace by Bonbi Forest
Spring Cluster Necklace by Bonbi Forest.

After studying in Brighton and living there for a few years afterwards the draw back to this beautiful part of the world was too great. Starting Bonbi Forest and making it work was the only reason I could come back as there are very few good jobs here. Thank goodness for the internet is all I can say!

Flowers Locket by Bonbi Forest
Flowers Locket by Bonbi Forest.

It sometimes occurs to me that this is a place that people move to when they have done the city thing and are ready for a quieter life. In my twenties I did worry that I was missing out on all the things that living in a cultural city could offer, but as cheesy as it sounds I feel so much more inspired here. I love the variety of the landscape here, you have the green fields and quaint villages and also the rugged and wild coast with it’s ever changing sea. I am a country bumpkin at heart it seems…

Lee May-Bonbi Forest Portrait
Lee May Foster-Wilson and her horse.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working? Any favourite activities?
Horses!!! I have been riding since I was tiny and there have always been horses in my life. I don’t own a horse of my own anymore (I sold him last year after 7 1/2 years together which was heart breaking stuff indeed) but my mum has a little black beauty mare called Pia who I go and ride a couple of times a week and compete in dressage with regularly. We don’t do too badly, this week we have just qualified for the British Dressage area festival national finals! I like how riding gets me outside on a regular basis and it’s exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. It clears the thoughts and sets you up for the day. I am VERY lucky to be able to do it so often.

Bird prints by Bonbi Forest
Bird prints by Bonbi Forest.

Other than that I like to hang out with friends and drink red wine, go to music festivals, go for walks, pull up what I think are weeds in the garden (I have the blackest thumb…I managed to kill a cactus once which is apparently nigh on impossible), bake crazy multi-coloured cakes for friend’s birthdays, eat popcorn in the cinema, and hang out with my husband on the sofa in front of crap TV.

heart balloon tee by Bonbi Forest
Heart Balloon tee by Bonbi Forest.

How does your consideration of the environment affect the way you produce work?
I am very conscious of how my work impacts the environment and try to think about how my practice impacts on the world around me. I use water based inks for all of my printing (much kinder to everything, including me, than the horrible Plastisol inks used in a lot of t-shirt print manufacture), recycled card for all of my card stock, British suppliers wherever possible and I even cut up all of the boxes that my supplies arrive in to use as envelope stiffeners when sending out my art prints.

Mens Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip Bear tee
Mens Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip Bear tee by Bonbi Forest.

I do use American Apparel for my t-shirts which I know have a fairly large carbon footprint having had to come from half way around the world. But having done a lot of research I can’t find another company that manufacture at an affordable price in the UK. A lot of the manufacturers and distributors based in the UK actually get the garments made overseas anyway. It just seemed logical to me to use a company that I know looks after their factory staff as well as having an amazing range of goods for me to use for my brand.

limited edition Sweet Butterfly Pendant by Bonbi Forest
limited edition Sweet Butterfly Pendant by Bonbi Forest.

What next for Bonbi Forest?
I really want to expand my range into home wares and stationary in the not too distant future so I think that is the collection that I will be working on next. I want to continue honing my skills and developing my work to be the best I can be…Other than that, onwards and upwards as they say!

Equus tee by Bonbi Forest
Equus tee by Bonbi Forest.

Lee May is off on holiday today, but if you pop by her website you’ll get 20% off any order over £10 by using the code HAPPYHOLS at the checkout! Happy shopping.

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