The Big Forest, Brighton

Laura Cartledge meets a Brighton company which can help you reveal your inner animal and child.

Sometimes it feels like kids get all the fun. They get ball pools, smiley potato faces and dinosaur outfits while we grown-ups get bills, sorry sandwiches at desks and funny looks if we spend the day dressed as a Power Ranger or princess.

Benjamin Rowling and Michael Craven

Benjamin Rowling and Michael Craven

Thankfully Brighton’s The Big Forest is seeking to readdress the balance with its fun-filled wool-felt characters.
“People who buy our creations will say ‘it’s for my inner child’ – and I’ll always wonder why does it have to be inner?” says designer Michael Craven. “Why can’t we just embrace that part of ourselves?
“We believe that you should never lose the magic and excitement of childhood,” he adds. “We like the idea of things being special, that sense of wonder and surprise. One of the things I really like about craft fairs is seeing people break into smiles when they see us.”
Whether it is the party pug, the spaceman bear or Ernest the rather suave elephant who catches your eye, there’s no denying they all have an irresistible charm.
“It cheers us up working on them as well,” admits Michael, who works alongside maker-in-chief Benjamin Rowling. “There are no downsides to what we do.”
That is unless you see too much inspiration and too many ideas as a problem.
“Our key inspirations are forests, obviously, and the British seaside. We like 50s and 60s illustrators, we like dolls houses and model villages and 20s stuff. Sometimes it is a character we see,” lists Michael.
JPET Jun14 The Big Forest Brighton“Ideas come from different places, we’ll see something and then try to work out how we could make that something from The Big Forest.”
It’s not hard to see why it’s been a busy two years for the pair.
Something that started with just making pieces for friends and family now has a worldwide clientele, while later this year will see the first Big Forest book.
“What I think is interesting is that, when we started, we were really making art pieces,” recalls Michael explaining that, in a twist from the norm, “people would ask us to make things for their kids.”
This saw the range branch out to include finger puppets, key rings, brooches and cards.
Whatever forms The Big Forest takes, something that remains the same is the sense of personality.
“We have the character, then it is working out what is its story,” he agrees, saying it is a big part of their commission work. “People push us, we made one for a lady who was a midwife. She asked us to give her a moose midwife – we had great fun with the outfit and the little watch.”
Another recent project saw John Muir, one of the first advocates for nature whose work helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley in America, given a makeover by Michael and Benjamin.
The Found Gallery in Dunbar, Scotland, asked for a bear to be made to celebrate his life and mark the opening of the JPET Jun14 The Big Forest BrightonJohn Muir Way.
“I think every commission is a stand out commission,” says Michael, “it is so nice to work with something different.
“We try not to make two which are the same,” he adds. “We made a nudist bear, he was pink and had a fig leaf on, which was really popular but he was a one off.”
So what is next for the design business?
“Expanding our Big Forest world really,” replies Michael. “We’ve got lots of ideas of how we are going to evolve things.
“We want to do more teaching work as we really, really, love showing people how to make things,” he reveals, “and place based pieces are something which we would like to do more of.
“The Brighton one we are working on at the moment is using wood reclaimed from the decking of the pier.”
Add to this the growing collection of paper creations and, of course, the book and it is clear The Big Forest is set to grow even bigger.

To contact The Big Forest about commissions email To see more of its creations,
visit and or for more about what
inspires the work head to