This year I participated in March Meet the Maker. This was a spontaneous decision, but I had a lot of fun and had a lot of people say they enjoyed getting to know me better. For reference, here were the prompts:
You can find out more about march meet the maker here: https://www.marchmeetthemaker.com/
I'm Brittany Zerkle! I'll be 29 on the 8th in just a few days. No idea how I got that old. Most people assume my name is Bee or BeeZee (which are both nicknames I go by), but my business name comes from my initials. When I'm not making plushies I like to play videos games, read, and care for my small zoo of 3 birds, a dog, and a cat. I have a boyfriend of 3.5 years, Jon, and on the weekends we also enjoy visiting the lakeshore to swim and hike, going to museums and zoos, and shopping locally for dinner for the week.
This is where the plushies are created. We rent the bottom half of this house which my mom owns. Our rent is wonderfully low, but the trade off is we get to do all the yard work, minor home repairs for both units, and snow removal. Here in Michigan, that last part can be a full time job by itself... The house itself was built in 1900 although the exact date is unknown it's one of the oldest in our neighborhood. It's quirky and weird and fits my personality perfectly. Though I'd probably kill for more space, the apartment itself is 1,000 square feet which is plenty of living space for 2 people, but also running a full time business out of it and owning 5 animals has us packed to the gills. We have gotten very good at getting every last inch out of our living space.
Update: I now have a much better photo of the front with all the flowers in bloom. I love plants!
3. How you Started
People ask this often and I feel like it's both very complicated and also very simple. At the time I was struggling heavily with my personal life and depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. I was struggling to find a job that would accommodate my school schedule (which was often 10-12 hours a day) and cleaning houses on the side for some income. I started setting aside $20 a week and buying clay, paint, and sculpting tools slowly. I would make pokemon sculptures and dragons and sell them online. My first ones were these sleeping eeveelutions. I used the income to buy more materials and things for the business like a printer and shipping scale.
When I showed my psychologist my first business cards she encouraged me to keep going and convinced me that selling my art IS a job if I wanted to make it one. But I was losing a lot of money selling sculptures because they kept breaking and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop. A friend wanted to cosplay and I knew how to sew growing up with my mom and grandma teaching me to quilt. I said if they bought the material I would make the costumes. Loathe to waste the leftover material I tried to make some plushies. They came together amazingly well considering I'd never made one before and people actually wanted to buy them. And plushies didn't break!
After a lot of practice, some cringe worthy beginner mistakes, and very hard work (I was often going to school 10-12 hours, coming home, working 4 hours, doing homework for 2, and only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep) I managed to start making enough to pay all my bills. I stopped looking for other work and really embraced making plushies and eventually patterns. By my senior year of art school I was able to pay for my last semester out of my own pocket and I knew I had found my calling. I'm still growing and learning and some days I can't believe this is my life now. It's a pretty great job.
4. Favorite to Make
My favorite plushies tend to be the highly detailed and difficult sorts. For some of my plushies I've made thousands of them. And after the first few it's not "fun" anymore because for me the fun is in the challenge. Doing something new or difficult keeps my mind engaged and makes the work day feel like it flies by. And as far as favorite animal to make, I think I like dragons best. Which is probably why I have more dragon patterns than anything else. There's just so many ways you can make a dragon it's hard to get tired of them.
My photography set up is all portable or collapsible for storage. I use a Monfroto brand compact travel tripod with a quick release plate, a Canon EOS Rebel T6i (upgraded recently from a T3 which I still loved, but I wanted a flip out screen), and a Havox brand 24x24x24 photography light tent with built in LEDs with a white backdrop.
Using a light tent means I can photograph even in the middle of the night or when we don’t get a nice sunny day for 2 months (looking at you, Michigan winter) For my more recent photos, I use a wood textured vinyl backdrop from Mini Backdrops (https://www.minibackdrops.com/ - Since gone out of business) which I’ve been enjoying the look of.
If something is too big for my backdrop, I tend to just photograph it on my couch or in my bay window and hope there’s enough light that day. I do own a Diva ring light if needed, but it’s not the best for product photography.
My camera also has a pretty purple galaxy strap I got from LiVeCameraStraps on Etsy which is not important, but it makes me happier when I’m photographing.
All of this stuff is able to be stored on a single shelf in a storage cupboard in my front room and I will set it up on our dining room table (which also folds down to about 10 inches wide, but folded up can seat 4-6, I meant it when I said we are all about space saving. The same room also has a day bed so it functions as our dining room, living room, guest bedroom, and photography studio).
The most important thing for me, though, isn’t the photography itself. It’s the editing that really makes the final photo look nice. So here’s some photos in the editing process. I tend to do most of my editing in camera raw, though I’ll fully open it in photoshop sometimes if I need to. I start with whatever I took on my camera which, more often than not, I take a bit underexposed to avoid blowing out highlights which is common with my light tent. I got in and erase any of the edges that might be showing off the backdrop. Then I’ll mess around with the exposure until I get a white/ish background or as close as I can. Then I’ll go into the curves and get the plush itself looking nice. If I wasn’t able to get the background white, I’ll often go in at this point and manually go around the plush with an adjustment brush to make the background white). With this picture I chose to crop it. Another step I tend to take at this point is going in and photoshopping out any obvious pieces of fuzz that the lint roller missed with the spot healing tool, particularly on darker colored plushies.
I made a full craft room tour post here that goes more into detail about each picture if you're interested: https://beezeeart.myshopify.com/blogs/beezeeartblog/craft-room-tour-2018
This is my craft room! It was still pretty dark today, but I tried to get some good photos (sorry if they are a bit blurry). I like to fill my craft room with plants and things I find inspiring and it also doubles as a bird room. I feel like I could have taken a thousand more pictures and I could talk about it all for hours (If you have any questions just ask). The room is actually really small, only 8x10, but I do try to use every inch in ways that are both functional and pretty.
We'll just use another photo of my craft room for this one since I'm honestly not sure how to show this!
I wake up whenever. I'm firmly against setting an alarm! I always feel crappy if I'm not allowed to wake up naturally in the morning. My boyfriend always wakes up before me, so he let's our dog out of his crate to go to the bathroom and he feeds the cat. He puts any packages that need to go out on the front porch. If he is leaving for work, he shuts the puppy in the kitchen for me.
When I get up I let the dog out again and I feed him. He gets his food in a ball he has to play with to shake it out, it takes him about an hour so I shut him back in the kitchen and take a shower. After the shower comes the birds. They get fresh water ever day, cage cleaning as needed, and I check their pellets, fill foraging toys, and give any fresh food they are getting that day.
Then I check my email, Facebook, and Tumblr, instagram, etc and answer messages or respond to comments. This can take 1-2 hours depending on how many emails I have to answer. I check my new orders and update my to do list for work.
Back to the puppy. We either go to the dog park or walk for an hour. If the weather is crappy we play with a flirt pole and fetch indoors. We also do a ton of training, but he doesn't notice because it's fun stuff. When he's got some energy worked out I get to work and he gets a chew to keep him from chewing something he shouldn't.
What I do depends on the orders I have open and my convention schedule. I like to work like an assembly line whenever possible doing one task at a time. The birds hang out on my shoulders while I work or on the desk. If they don't seem to want out, the dog gets to come in and lay under a desk. I take regular breaks to let the dog out.
6 or so is dinner time for us and the cat. My boyfriend does most of the cooking, I'm awful at it. Then clean up. After dinner we tend to watch TV and I schedule a pickup for the next day if I have enough packages. Then back to work until I'm tired and bed for me, crate for the dog, and cage for the birds.
8. Flat Lay (and also my birthday!)
This was a ton of fun, I've never set out to do a flat lay on purpose, but picking all the little things to include and just how I wanted to place them has a certain appeal to it that I didn't expect. I just finished this dragon last night, it's part of my Shuto Con stock.
9. How It's Made
We’ve got another high speed sewing video. This one has me making a sleeping espeon plushie for Shuto Con convention stock.
This plush is created with a variation of my sleeping kitty pattern (Available here: http://bit.ly/2Fp94fB) which has been custom printed onto fabric from Spoonflower.
It is shown at 16X speed.
10. Time to Relax
What's that? I suppose this is one of my favorite corners in the house, it's bright and warm with 2 windows and 2 radiators. The window seat is the cats favorite place to hang out. Only downside is we live in a busy intersection and this corner is closest so it can be noisy. I read a lot. A lot! When I work I listen to audiobooks, but when I'm relaxing I like actual books. I'm currently a third of the way through Tamora Pierce's Tempest and Slaughter. She was my favorite author growing up so new books from her are a treat.
Update: I've since added lovely curtains to the windows and Captain Tribbles Purrcard's throne has also been upgraded. As you can imagine, it's now a much superior snuggle zone for reading and petting cats. We also installed a bird feeder just outside the window for some cat TV.
I'm excited to show this off, it came as a surprise birthday present to me from the designer who created my original logo. This updated version is much more "fun" and I'm pretty in love with it. Hope you all like it too! And if you need some awesome design work done, check out shibriggs.com! She's amazing, especially with hand lettering.
You can also purchase some of her other work at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/grossandcolorful
12. Postage and Packaging
When I pack my orders, I tend to wrap the plushies in purple tissue paper, tuck in a business card and a thank you card, and then tie it all up with some white yarn. Then it gets tucked into purple polka dot poly mailers.
I love wearing PJ pants and oversized t-shirts. Pretty much all my pajama pants I get from Walmart when they are on sale after holidays, especially Halloween. Most of them have owls on them so I call them all my owl pants. They even have their own song which is mostly me singing "owl pants" to the tune of the Spiderman theme song that I sing when I'm changing into them.
(For those curious, the lyrics are something like "Owl pants, owl pants, I'm going to put on some owl pants. Owl pants, owl pants, dah dah tada, owl pants.")
14. Dreams and Plans
I'm using a photo of my purple arcane shoulder dragon for this one since it's one of my favorites.
I have a lot of future dreams and plans, I always wish I had more time. Short term, I have a pile of patterns I'd like to create including a sugar glider, manatee, flamingo, and more wearable sorts of plushies like the shoulder dragons.
I'd also love to experiment more with custom printing and continue to mix my digital art skills with my sewing.
Long term I really would like a larger studio space. And a stuffing machine! Like they have at build a bear. I also think it would be cool to have space to host classes or workshops for other people who want to learn how to sew and how to start selling their crafts. It's always depressing how many people don't learn to sew anymore unless their parents or grandparents teach them. Being able to sew has not only provided me with the means to make my own full time living, but is also emotionally fulfilling. Given enough time and the right materials I can make anything I want. Clothes, bedding, towels, plushies, blankets, dog beds, the list goes on. Its a very freeing experience.
I recently achieved a major goal of mine. Check in stores in the Fall and you'll see this shoulder dragon pattern available from Simplicity. Seeing my work available in major stores was always a huge dream of mine so I'm absolutely going to cry and scream when I see it. One day, I'd also like to see my work published in a craft or pattern book.
You'll need to see this one over on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BgXX4LelwVs/?hl=en&taken-by=beezeeart
Just wanted to share a preview of the cute flareon I made last night for more Shuto Con stock. It takes me about a month of almost non stop to make all the plushies for a single con. It often pull 12 hour days and all nighters, it's a ton of work! But I enjoy being to meet you all in person.
My helper, code name Helper Mom, is as the name suggests, my mom. And helper. She started helping me out at conventions when I needed an out of state helper and couldn't get any friends who could help. Since then she goes to almost every convention with me and we cosplay together in pokemon costumes which we created together. She also helps stuff pillows when I need a little extra assistance. She's even helped package kickstarter orders and cut/punch pins. Without her help I'd never have been able to accomplish half the things I have.
Oh, and she taught me how to sew as a kid along with my grandma! Which has, clearly, been an important part of my life.
So if you see her at a con be sure to say hi and thank her for all her hard work. And listen to her favorite joke. "Did you make these?" "No, but I made the artist."
17. Customer and Feedback
This is one of the sweetest messages I got not too long ago. It about melted my heart. I love my customers so much, you guys are awesome!
A lot of the inspiration for my style comes from the things I personally enjoyed growing up. Pokémon, spyro and other Playstation games, pokemon, neopets, and I loved all things dragon especially the books that acted like they were real. Harry Potter could also easily have been on this list. Stuffed animals were a huge part of my childhood I was very emotionally attached to mine, they all had their own names, stories, and personalities so to me a good plush design taps into some of those nostalgic feelings of the time.
These days I'm also inspired a lot by kawaii culture and cute animals. I've got a lot of pusheen plushies and I like to keep up with things that are popular with other geeky people.
And, of course, I am also heavily I inspired by basically all cute animals who I love.
19. Can't Live Without
I'd never manage to get by without my sewing machine. I have a Pfaff Performance 5.0 and the automated features and built in waking foot make my sewing much more efficient. It sees like a dream and when I want to have fun and experiment it has more stitches than I could ever want and a stitch maker to make my own. I seriously could not imagine getting where I am now without it.
I wanted to share this older video I made about all my sewing tools. I especially love hemostats. Seriously, try them some time.
21. Stories - A Day in the Life
These were just a few tidbits of my day as I was prepping for Shuto Con 2018
My sketchbooks aren’t usually filled with majestic finished art or anything, I just use them to doodle while I’m bored sitting in my desk. 90% of it is actually just birds or me writing down information I don’t want to forget. Most of my new designs come from these simple sketches.
Here you can see: Me planning how I want my Galaxy Bat Kickstarter image to look, Planning my business card, doodling my cockatiels, sketching some ideas for an owl design using the same base as my bats, my jenday conure, FLAMINGOS because why not, and the sketches that started my ITH corgi and bunny patterns
23. Hands at Work
I like looking at my hands, I feel like they tell a story about what I’ve done with my life. I have some scars from various animals throughout the years, all on my right hand. My right index finger has a permanent indent from where I hold scissors and I remember my grandma had that, too, from sewing so much. I have 2 freckles on the underside of my fingers of that same hand. I always find it interesting that my dominant hand is where all the “interesting” stuff is. It’s also noticeably thicker than my left because I built up the muscles a good bit in that hand during art school. I joke sometimes I need to learn to write left handed to even them out though.
It’s one of my biggest fears that I will somehow damage my hands. I love all the work they’ve done for me and it’s amazing to think how many creatures these hands brought into this world.
Some of my proudest moments have been graduating art school with my BFA and highest honors, both of my successful Kickstarter, and having my pattern picked up my Simplicity. There are lots of other little achievements, but those are the major ones for me.
25. Being a Maker Means
Freedom! I chose to use this photo of Detroit I took during Youmacon from our hotel room.
My job gives me an incredible amount of freedom. I can choose to take time off whenever it is needed to be there for my family and friends. I’m able to be home with my animals all day. I can travel for conventions and should I choose I could live just about anywhere in the country, my job doesn’t tie me down. Just being able to wear what I want every day is a wonderful freedom.
It’s also a sort of mental freedom to just be able to create whatever I dream of creating. The only thing that limits me is time.
26. Books, Blogs, and Podcasts
I like to keep sewing related books by my cutting desk. Favorites are (please note, these are affiliate links so if you want to purchase them I get a little bit of $ from Amazon and it doesn't cost you anything more):
Big Little Felt Fun by Jeanette Lim
How to Make Stuffed Animals: Modern, Simple Patterns and Instructions for 18 Projects by Sian Keegan
Stitched Safari: 18 Adorable Animals to Make with Felt by Tomomi Maeda
The A to Z of Soft Animals by Carolyn Vosburg Hall
Sew Kawaii!: 22 Simple Sewing Projects for Cool Kids of All Ages by Choly Knight
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction by Abigail Patner Glassenberg
Modern Soft Toy Making by Margaret Hutchings
How to Make and Design Stuffed Toys by Rudi L.De Sarigny
Good Design in Soft Toys by RUDI DE SARIGNY
27. Recommend a Maker
Everyone should go check out @pincushion_cat_plushies! They sent me a most gorgeous espeon and are literally the only person to have gifted me with one of my purple obsessions. They make beautiful quality plushies with professionally embroidered features and I can tell you from experience they have an excellent flop to them and are super soft.
I already shared a lot of photos of my craft room showing ways I stay organized so for this day I wanted to show how I’m NOT organized. I put these silverware dividers in these drawers to help separate my pens and such. But I tend to just throw everything in there. Not all my drawers are this bad, but just know that not everything is as perfect as it looks in photos!
The largest community I'm part of and one of the best resources for any convention artist is the Artist Alley Network International group on Facebook. I highly recommend any artist who wants to do conventions to join up.
A couple things to keep in mind: It's a LARGE group. So it's important to follow the rules very closely on what can be shared and when. You should always search the group and read the group's files to see if your question can be answered there before posting. It's also a group from across the world and all walks of life. So you're not always going to agree with everyone. I find the best way to avoid drama is if you don't like someone's attitude to simply block them. My enjoyment of the group greatly increased after I adopted a "no tolerance" policy if simply blocking people who annoyed/angered me with their posts.
30. Top tip/advice
I don't have a photo for this one, but... JUST DO IT! Just do it. Just get started and get to work.
So many people I talk to want to sell their art, but they give up before they even get started.
"No one will buy this." You will never know until you try. I cringe when I look back at my old products, I can't believe people bought some of those! But they did. You would be surprised what people will buy.
"I made a few things, but no one bought them." Make more! Think about it this way. If you walk into a store and there are only 10 things sitting on the shelves in an entire aisle, would you even bother walking down that aisle? Probably not unless you are looking for something very specific. Online stores are similar. While there is no magic number, I generally recommend stocking at least 50 items to start.
"I can't afford it." Art doesn't need to be expensive. I've seen people selling paintings made with ketchup. Don't feel pressured into jumping straight into doing big things with expensive materials. Do what you can, when you can, with what you can afford.
"I don't know what I'm doing." You will learn. Read what you can and when you run into a roadblock don't forget google. You will make horrible mistakes you will regret years later. And you will learn from them. You will do some really good things, too, that you will remember and smile about years later. And you will learn from those. You'll never learn it all, though. I certainly haven't. I don't think anyone has. That's okay.
"It's not how I wanted it to be." No one will ever know how it was supposed to look except you. Don't stress about perfection. Done is better than perfect.
31. Creative Friends
I have so many more than I can ever list! Though here's a shout out to some of them. (Sorry, friend, if I didn't include you. It's hard to think of them on the spot)
Gross and Colorful is run by my friend, Shi! She's local to me and one of my best friends. I can always count on her for honest critique and excellent design advice (in fact, she's the one who made my logo!)
Butterscotch Biscuit is run by a dynamic duo, one of which is my good friend Brock. The other of which is his wife. They're both sweet and lovely people (they have a house FULL of rescue birds and dogs) who make amazingly cute fursuits.
Kimchi Kawaii is run by my friend Holly. I love how much work she manages to get done despite having a full time job. She works hard! Her designs are also amazingly cute and punny.
Kikidoodle is the studio name of my friend Christine. You may know her as the artist behind Purrmaids. I value chats with her about business topics, it's refreshing to find another person who treats their artwork as a professional business and is knowledgeable about it. I also think she is amazingly talented, her artwork is really top notch.
Again, that's not even close to all the artist friends I have, but I feel like this is a good stopping point or I could continue to list hundreds more.
That concludes the 2018 March Meet the Maker wrap up! I hope you guys enjoyed reading more about the face behind the products and I hope to do it again for 2019 :)