Andrea Skyberg is not your average children’s author. In addition to penning her first book, Snickeyfritz, Andrea created all the character dolls featured in the book…out of masking tape. Celebrity Parents spoke to Andrea about her inspiration, her grandfather, the power of masking tape, and what exactly is a Snickeyfritz.
Tell me a bit about your background.
When I was 17, I had to write a short story for a class. I wrote about the Snickeyfritz. I always knew that I wanted to make the story into a picture book. Years later, after leaving my job as a curator in a gallery in Milwaukee, I was able to stay home with my daughter, Evey. I realized that if wanted to work on the book, this was the opportunity to do it.
How did you come up with the ideas for the dolls?
Most of my background is in Fine Arts, specifically in fiber arts and museum studies. I knew that I wanted to create the dolls. I wanted them to be different. One day, I was playing with Evey, and I thought of creating masking tape to use the characters.
Why masking tape?
I was making doll clothes for Evey out of masking tape. When I was little, my mom had us use random stuff to make dolls clothing. I used old socks and leaves! So I grabbed the masking tape and made the clothing for her dolls. Then, I started making tiny dolls, which Evey loved. I decided to make the dolls big, since I work big with my artwork. The question was whether the dolls would hold, and they did. The dolls have gone through a big transformation in the year that it took me to make them.
In the beginning, their eyes were hollowed out, almost like to give them a marble eye. It gave them a scary vibe, though! I didn’t want them to look like they were on the brink of coming to life. I wanted them to look somewhat lifelike, and the masking tape has a nice skin-like quality. It almost looks like wood.
What else are the dolls made from?
Their bodies are stuffed with newspaper, and their heads are almost fully masking tape. The hair comes from costumes that I made that I turned into hair. For example, the brown-haired doll’s hair comes from a weaving I did with letters from my grandmother. Each doll is different, but all of them have a sentimental meaning, especially the brown-haired doll.
How big are the dolls?
Papa Pumpernickel is over 6 feet tall. The blonde girl, Penelope, is the size of a 2-3 year-old. She is the same size as my daughter. Piper is probably five feet tall.
And they are all made from regular masking tape.
Yes, but I buy a higher brand version of the 3M. I get it at Target.
Let’s talk about premise of book.
The three girls are stuck inside their house on a rainy day. Like many kids, they’re bored. Their grandfather tells them to go on a treasure hunt and he gives them three strange clues. When they’re searching for the answers to the clues, they’re forced to think hard about them. The girls begin to rediscover things around their house, and they’re using their imagination. They are also working as a team. They figure out the first two clues, but they’re stuck on the “Snickeyfritz”. They finally ask their grandfather what it is, and he tells them that they’ve already found it; it’s their imagination. They lost that idea that they could create their own fun. Knowing that, they can never be bored again.
You dedicated this book to your grandparents. Are they the impetus for Snickeyfritz?
Yes, my grandpa actually invented the word. When I was in first grade, we would go on long walks together in the woods. He would ask me if I could see the Snickeyfritz. I think he imagined it was a character in the woods, but he never told me what it was. He would say to me, “You tell me what it is.”
It must be amazing for your grandfather to see the book and know it was inspired by him.
It’s a legacy for him now. I dedicated the book to both of my grandparents. I used phrases that they used and wrote about the experiences that I had. My grandpa is now 92 years-old. Both of my grandparents enjoyed seeing the actual book because they saw me working so hard on it. To know they had that affect on me is a wonderful feeling for them.
What was the experience like of creating the book?
Making the artwork was thrilling. I got to work while I was home, which was wonderful. I worked on both the book and the dolls simultaneously. My husband helped take the photographs.
How do you balance your work with your family time?
It helps that everything we do, we do as a family. My daughter comes with me to school assemblies where I speak to the children about the book. My husband will also come. We all get to experience it together. And when I’m working on dolls, she’ll come in and draw and color while I’m working. We are working together yet separately!
What do you have planned for the future?
I’ve been working lately on promoting the book. I’m also working on a follow-up to Snickeyfritz. It’s great to start creating again. I’m working on a Grandma character and also a boy character. Evey is helping me!
It’s wonderful how you can take something that you love, and take items from around the house, and have your child participate in it with you.
As parents, we have to remember that we can entertain our children with stuff we already have. Kids can use their imagination and get back to that way of playing with their hands and using their minds to create stuff. If more kids could create stuff, they’d be amazed at what they can do. They can start by getting out their masking tape and seeing what happens! I hope the book acts as a catalyst for that.