{ An Interview with Local Artist Jennifer Lawton, Who Makes Dogs Out of Foam }
Bill Julin
photo courtesy Jennifer Lawton

foamdog Bill Julin: The wrinkles on your dogs look so real.
Jennifer Lawton: The wrinkle marks come from the scissors, which is what I use to make the dogs. Phiskars I found is a good brand. For a while I was on a search for the perfect Foamdog scissors. For the big Foamdogs it's tricky, and you end up getting blisters on your hands because you can't get into the little crevices and spaces. I usually need smaller nail scissors for that.
J: How many Foamdogs do you have right now?
L: I think that I have about thirty at home, but when I get much over that amount I start giving them away—because what are you going to do with thirty Foamdogs?
J: Where do you get the foam?
L: It's the kind of foam that's inside a mattress. So, sometimes I get it when people put their trash out, or sometimes I go to a mattress store and dig through a Dumpster and get foam there. So far people have been very understanding. One time I was digging in a Dumpster behind a mattress store and nobody said anything. I stuffed my car full of foam; I mean it was coming out the trunk—tons of it. But I haven't had to scrounge for a while. When I was living in Shadyside, I found a mattress in a creepy alley near my apartment. I was running a little low on foam so I couldn't pass it up. I dragged the whole thing up the fire escape and put it in the tub and added some disinfectant because who knows what it was doing there in the back alley. So hopefully all the foam dogs are disease-free.
J: Yeah, I guess that you'll never know who was actually sleeping, sitting, or whatever on them before they became art.
L: Each Foamdog has a secret, dark history.
J: The foam looks like the stuff that I used to jump on as a kid. Sometimes we'd find massive cubes of the stuff behind furniture stores and play for hours.
L: I've tried it with other foams but this type is the best (pulls out a giant foam dog from her pocket) because you can smoosh them up and they bounce right back into shape. It's actually kind of like the same type of foam that they use to make the Muppets. But they use some kind of spray glue and felt to make the puppets different colors. I just haven't figured out what kind of glue.
J: Are they always terriers?
L: Yes, always terriers. I've tried to make other dogs, and I've tried to make other animals, and they all end up looking the same way, like cute little boxy terriers.
J: How long does it take you to do one of these?
L: A little one like this [begins smooshing up a Foamdog, which is approximately the size of a pharmacy pill-container] takes about a half-hour. The big ones—I'd say like a solid day really. And I do have aspirations to make giant ones, life-sized, but the problem is when you get the foam you're limited to the width of the foam. First I cut the middle, between the legs, so you just have the rectangle part. And then you kind of just work around the rest of the surface everywhere.
J: What is the foam made of?
L: I have no idea. It's definitely a synthetic. It's chemical, some kind of chemical. But I do know that any kind of glue will melt it. I've tried to reattach limbs on the dogs with glue, and it just kind of dissolves [starts to chuckle]. It gets all crunchy and gross. It's really sad for the dogs.
J: So if you dropped a dab of glue on this dog's head [picks up the largest Foamdog] it would disintegrate?
L: Yeah, certain kinds of glue do that. Elmer's doesn't really damage them but it certainly isn't effective. For a while, I was trying to give them real rubber noses, but it seems that the rubber too melts the foam. So.... [chuckles] Oh yeah, they also fade in the sun so you have to be careful. They turn orange.
J: Do you name the dogs?
L: No—they are just a collective.
J: Is that because you don't want to get too attached to them?
L: Well, okay. The big one does have a name. His name is Princess, but none of the other ones have names.
J: It seems that they should be treated just like another stuffed animal.
L: Yeah, I used to give them away to my little cousins who would come over to visit and become infatuated with them. But then they end up losing them.
J: When these dogs get wet from the rain, do they smell?
L: Not at all actually. They do have a lot of advantages over the real thing. I mean, obviously, they don't require any care, and you can pretty much put them anywhere you want. They even live on top of my television. But they do have some downfalls; they blow over in the wind. So if you leave a window open, you come home and they are everywhere.
J: Yeah, but they're not going to get hurt.
L: That's true. True. I guess you have to let them have a little fun now and then.
J: And you don't need a license for them either because they're not going to maul anybody.
L: Yeah, they don1t make any noise either. They're good guys.
J: Did you ever have a Pound Puppy?
L: I did. His name was Frisky.
J: I never had a Pound Puppy, but I think I remember the jingle. "Pound Puppy you were sad and lonely/I took you home and now you're my one and only/Pound Puppy you're my one and only puppy dog." That and the Snoopy Snow Cone machine commercial—I can't get that one out of my head either.
L: I really liked those. My friend had one and I was always very envious of her snow cone machine.
J: "It's fun-fun-fun, and it's cool and clean/and its name is the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine/You put the ice cubes in and the snow comes out" (and then they pan the camera to a kid who just says, "It's fun"), "fun-fun-fun is what it's all about." Do you still get excited when you find gray foam instead of the standard yellow?
L: Yeah, actually. I just have a limited amount of it and I haven't been able to find anymore. I only have four or five gray dogs and that's it. The funny thing about it is when you make them, especially the big ones, and you're clipping off these tiny bits of foam, it makes static electricity. So, little foam bits end up all over, and they stick to your body and then like a month later you are finding them in your clothes, or around your house, or in your hair. You go to work and people say that you have packing foam stuck to you. That's sort of a problem.

Foamdog orders can be placed through PaperKitchen.com.

back home.