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Artist Behind Incredibly Realistic Animal Creations Shares Journey Since Age 13

Lee Cross, also known to her community as Wood-Splitter Lee, has been creating spectacular works of art since she was a kid. The 21-year-old Alaskan native and self-taught artist is best known for her more than 400 handmade and super-realistic animal creations. It all started when her parents encouraged her to submit her first sculpture of a wolf to an art show (she ended up winning Best of Art). Since then, Lee's works have traveled the world.

What are your inspirations for these posable artworks?

Since I grew up in Alaska, I saw animals every day. We had swans on our lakes that would let me pet them because I was there so often, and an eagle's nest outside my window. So I didn't just want them to be sculptures, I wanted them to be more than pieces to be tabled and looked at. That's really how it started for me to make something more unique and different.

So what does your process look like? Do you base your creations off of animals that you see or even photos?

Each is handmade and I don't use any molds. I sculpt each face onto a posable skeleton and wrap that skeleton with stuffing. Then I put synthetic fur and hand-dyed fur onto the body and the face individually. The eyes are white beads that I always hand paint and gloss to bring it to life. When I first started, it took weeks and weeks, but now that I've made over 400 creatures, it takes less long.

When I create an animal, I find it best if I don't pull up any pictures or look at them because the features that stand out more in my imagination will stand out the most when I make them.

Your eBay weekly adoptions can hit up to thousands of dollars now, did you even imagine that would happen when you first started?

I had no idea that it would take off the way it did. I just did it for my pleasure and it pretty much happened overnight. It's become a worldwide must-have for just everybody, and I never expected it to be this big. I recently sold a baby unicorn for almost $5,000. I feel pretty blessed. I didn't work to become good at anything — it just happened overnight, as well as the attention.

It's all natural talent! Is this your main source of income?

Thankfully, I've never had to work for anyone else in my life. I was running a business of sculptures when I was 13 years old, and I stopped because I couldn't handle the eyes of the world on me because I was just a kid! But I went back to it when I was 18.

Did you always gravitate toward sculpting?

I've tried painting, but to see a flat image of, say, a wolf is not as exciting as something you can actually hold in your hands. Especially when you're designing fantasy things, [sculptures] are much more exciting to hold. It's like holding your imagination in your hands.

You were recently in Korea and were also invited to do some projects with Weta Workshop (a New Zealand-based special effects and prop company for films like "Lord of the Rings," "Godzilla" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"). Can you speak about these or any other collaborations you've had?

When Weta Workshop contacted me, I had no idea who they were. I had to look them up. Johnny Fraser-Allen, one of the designers there, showed my work to the owner of Weta Workshop, Richard Taylor. When he saw my work, they immediately asked me to come to New Zealand for the workshop, and they invite me back every year. I'm currently working on "The Wandering Woods," my first collaboration project, with Johnny. We were invited to Korea to showcase it and I also took a whole bunch of personal work with me. I've always wanted to go to China, and it looks like I'm going there! That came about by Fred, I met him in Korea, and he's the owner of the company Barbie. He just fell in love with my creatures.

Tell us more about "The Wandering Woods"!

Johnny is a sculptor too, so we sculpted the characters for the story. I made my creatures and he made his work, and we photographed the characters that we made. The creatures are (in theory) made from the foliage and they are the forest. From the back, creatures would look like trees and bushes, but from the front they look like animals and creatures. I made all of the animals and Johnny made all the tree people! It's expected to be released next year.

What role did your parents play in your journey as an artist?

My parents have always been very supportive. Since this all happened really over night, they were speechless seeing their 13-year-old daughter naturally producing these and had an income bigger than they did! They have always been very proud!

One [memory] that really stands out is my dad, who was so supportive in what I was doing, he would drive to a place that would take hours and hours to get there just so I could have a look at certain animals that were known to be in the area. It would be an all-day trip to get there and back but it was always really touching to me that my dad would take a large amount of time out of his day just so I would get a little inspiration from the animals that we would see. I think my parents have always been my biggest fans.

FOR MORE OF LEE'S WORK: Amazingly Realistic Toys of Baby Animals

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