Bee Things is basically the cutest husband/wife art team EVAR. Their graphic-based animal art is instantly recognizable with their signature style of creation that appeals to art lovers of all ages. With plenty of butterfly & bird wall art to browse through, their collection feels like a view into super awesome nature book, and we were lucky enough to get ’em on record discussing what inspires them, how they started working together… the whole shebang!
Wheatpaste Art Collective: Give us a little background on yourselves – how (and when) did you end up working together as a dynamic duo?
Bee Things (Jeff answering, with Shay backseat writing!): When we were first married, we lived in a little duplex apartment. When we found out we were going to be having a baby, I made her a little kraft snack bag every day. And since we’re both designers/illustrators, I just couldn’t send her off with a blank lunch sack. So I would draw a little different something on there every day with crayons, a bird, a little animal, or a silly visual pun. People she worked with would see the bags, and many suggested (rather strongly, in some cases!) that we should sell them. When the baby was close to coming, we decided to upgrade to a house. The one we found (and were lucky enough to get!) had a small back-house in the yard, not as nice/big as a guest house, but nicer than a shed. We were wondering what to do with it, and Shay suggested we turn it into a screen printing studio. Neither of us had ever screen printed, but we just went for it. I finished out the shed over the spring (put in walls, a ceiling, and power), and researched screen printing. We started, as planned, by screen printing snack bags, birds at first, and selling them on Etsy. I thought that since we were going through all the trouble of making printing plates and printing on bags, we should print a few extra images on paper and see if we could sell the images as prints. Six years and 5,500 prints sold later, here we are!
WP: Your work features a lot of animals – do either of you have a favorite or “spirit” animal?
Bee Things: Shay says “probably a cat,” because cats can be cuddly and warm, but they’re also independent and need their alone time. And anyone that will give her scratch her back is okay in her book. It’s probably weird that I can’t think of one – I studied ecology before I studied design and illustration! I guess I would have to say hedgehog (it’s to do with my spiky hair).
WP: What 3 items do you have with you at all times?
Bee Things: Shay definitely has the best for this question. She carries with her at all times a smooth stone, a tiny little bean bag about the size of your thumb, and the cut-off top of a Ziploc baggie. She’s a little nervous socially, so holding one of these things in her hand is soothing (baggie: she loves to hold it, and zip it open and pop it closed with here fingers. Mine are blank 3×5 note cards and a pen (I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve lost over the years to “I’ll remember that for sure,” so I’m OCD about having a way to sketch something with me all the time), and until recently (I just lost it last fall) a lucky silver dollar that I’ve carried in my pocket every day for over 12 years. I’m looking for another token to replace it.
WP: What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve created together?
Bee Things: It’s funny –we had every intention of doing prints in series of four or five at a time – a series of birds, bugs, flowers, dinosaurs, patterns, etc. But once we had a few bird prints done, we just kept going. We loved working on them together, coming up with new ways to interpret birds into simple shapes and patterns, we just had such a great time, it was a couple of years before we branched out into butterflies or other things (we’re working on some new things, now – more on that soon!). Other than that, we’ve started to do some product design for Crate and Barrel, and we are really enjoying it. It’s a challenge to think a little more dimensional, but it’s so different for us, it’s been a blast working on those projects.
WP: What are some of the challenges of working as a team?
Bee Things: Even though we see eye to eye on just about everything, our backgrounds creep in there sometimes, and we disagree on style. Shay is an art director and a very gifted stylist – she has such great taste. I come from a design background, so I’m more conceptual in my thinking. Once in a while we’ll disagrees on something, usually something I’ve done, that Shay will think isn’t cute or appealing enough. In the end, I always favor her opinion, and it makes me crazy when she’s right! But I’ve learned to trust her over my instincts. One of our all-time best selling prints is one where we argued a long time about the style, and she ultimately won out. One of these days, I’ll be right, just wait and see, she’ll be sorry. But to really answer the question, the only thing is that our work-life is so integrated, if we have an argument there’s no going home and cooling off – we are home! So we’re a little quieter at dinner every now and then, but it’s very rare when that happens.
WP: What are some of the rewards of working as a team?
Bee Things: I think the best thing is that your business partner is the person you love the most. For every great thing that happens (if we’re awarded a project, or some new prints do well), we’re there to celebrate with each other. And if something not-so-great happens, we’re there to make each other feel better. We’re both pretty sensitive people, actually, and we both like that immediate gratification/consolation.
WP: If you had any other profession, what would your “dream job” be? Astronaut? Broadway star?
Bee Things: Shay would be a travel writer – if someone would pay her to travel all over the world and try restaurants and hotels and shops, and report back and give tips, she would be all in. She’s been all over the world, actually – she’s been to Europe over 20 times, and lived in Germany for a stint (I’ve been once). I would be the bullpen catcher for the Boston Red Sox.
WP: Who are some of your favorite artists and inspirations?
Bee Things: We are very much inspired by Ray and Charles Eames for two completely different reasons. First, their design aesthetic is marvelous, and everything they touched – be it furniture design, architecture, graphic design or textile design – turned to gold. Secondly, the married couple created an amazing body of work together for all those years; they are our inspiration for creating a harmonious studio life and a home life together. We also love Jim Henson. Both his work and personality were colorful, optimistic and meant to spread joy. The legacy he left behind is inspiring, and his ability to connect with people of all ages is remarkable. Lastly, we think Pixar is just amazing. Their craft and attention to detail is unparalleled. Their process is inspiring, as well. They sketch, brainstorm, joke, and sketch some more. It’s amazing to us that no matter how big they are or how much they refine and refine, the finished product doesn’t lose a single molecule of the spontaneity and charm that the very first idea held. That is a very, very hard thing to do.
WP: What sorts of things do you do to relax?
Bee Things: Well, doing what you love to do for a living is a blessing, but a bit of a curse. We call our situation our ”work-life,” and we really do see creating and making a lifestyle choice, not a job. Our dining room table is our bee things office, and our home is filled with prints and art supplies. Our laundry room is filled with inventory for fulfillment, and our hallway closet houses shipping envelopes, tubes, and mailing labels. We love our lives, even though we never really get a separation from work. And we have two moppy-haired boys, three and six years old. If anyone reading this has kids, you’ll understand when we say that working IS what we do to relax!
WP: Last but not least – we hear everything is bigger in Texas. Confirm/deny.
Bee Things: Well, we’re pretty little – I’m 5’10”, and Shay is 5’ even, so everything seems a little bigger, I suppose!
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