There must be a secret to gnomes.
Why else would people from all over the world — six of the seven continents so far — scour Etsy shops for the whimsical creatures and eventually find some made in Colorado Springs?
Brandy Robinson doesn’t know the secret, but she’s happy people click on her creations.
She’s a gnome maker, or in her preferred way of saying, she practices “gnoming.” She hand paints and sews colorful felt clothing for the mini figures.
Robinson, who is 44, started making them for her then-3-year-old son. She noticed that when he was playing, he was recreating what he saw on shows like “Blues Clues” and “Dora the Explorer.” She wanted to push his imagination.
With Robinson’s small and simple wooden gnomes, her son could create any story he wanted. And the gnomes, at around 4 inches tall, easily fit in his small hands.
“They didn’t have preset characters or preset stories or scripts,” she said. “It was a way to open his world up.”
Now, 18 years later, Robinson sells them under the name Painting Pixie Studio. Robinson says her mission is “connecting the world through storytelling.” She makes gnomes for kids to play with, for gnome collectors and, sometimes, for couples to use as wedding cake toppers. She estimates she’s made more than 1,000 gnomes.
“I’ve definitely put in my 10,000 hours,” she said.
She makes gnomes inspired by the seasons and holidays and trees and flowers. Some are inspired by emotions, like melancholy or sanguine. She’s made a rose gnome and a Mother Earth gnome. She made a Brussels sprout gnome once, because a customer requested that. Robinson wrote a little tale to go with the gnome, wearing a green hat. “Mr. B, self admittedly,” the story goes, “is not the life of the party.”
Her gnomes were featured in a photo exhibit by gallery owner Abigail Kreuser, who focused on local artists and how they create by hand.
And this is not even Robinson’s day job.
She also teaches kids how to make gnomes and other handmade crafts through private lessons and at Mountain Song Community School.
What is it about gnomes for her?
“Who doesn’t want to design clothes for little gnomes?” she says. “ I love what I do. If I could retire on gnome making, I would.”
Instead, she leaves it as a hobby and as a “mental reprieve.” She learned that was best after making 100 gnomes in a 33-day stretch.
“I was burnt out,” she said. “My fingers literally wouldn’t bend.”
Robinson comes from a family of makers and artists. Her grandmother, a homemaker, would reclaim denim jeans and create homemade gifts for all of her 14 grandkids. Robinson clothed her Barbie dolls with outfits made by her mother and filled dollhouses with furniture made by her father.
So you could say creativity comes naturally to her. As she makes her gnomes, she likes letting her imagination run. She turns the challenging and meticulous work into a meditation of sorts. And she thinks up wild backstories to go with each little creation.
But the stories are not always for her to decide. That’s why Robinson leaves each gnome without a face. She just makes their cheeks rosy. So for some who buy them, the gnomes are simple and handmade treats. For others, especially for kids who play with them, the gnomes could be a character in any story.
That might help, Robinson says, them discover the “magic of storytelling.”
“You know, they’re just little pieces of wood with fabric,” Robinson said. “But if you’re so inclined to imagine more of them, that’s when they become magical.”