Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Bess Petty. I’m 29. I live in Oakland, CA in a studio apartment crammed full of garish thrift store finds and craft projects. I’ve been in the Bay Area for a while now; after getting a degree in studio art from UC Berkeley and doing this and that, I ended up working as a graphic designer at a commercial sign shop. It’s a pretty interesting job and it provides me with the crazy scrap materials I use in my products!
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I work full time at the sign shop. I cook a LOT, everything from Indian food to giant pots of pinto beans to marmalade. That’s probably my number one means of procrastination. I tend to my little vegetable garden—it just got warm enough to put in a tomato plant! My boyfriend and I do a lot of local low-budget wandering on the weekends—sometimes it’s hiking and bird-watching up in the hills, sometimes it’s a ramble through the thrift stores and taquerias of the Mission district in San Francisco. I also really like going to the public library.
What first made you want to become an artist?
I can’t remember not doing artsy things. My parents really encouraged creative endeavors when I was growing up. We weren’t allowed to watch TV (something I am so grateful for now), so I spent a lot of time reading and doing art projects. I’ve just always gotten satisfaction from making things.
Please describe your creative process (how, when, materials, etc).
In terms of adding to my lineup of bird/animal graphics I flip through books and look at photos online as well as observing real live nature. I do some pencil sketches to decide on a good pose, then do the final drawing in Illustrator. It takes quite a while to get the colors and feeling just right. Sometimes a bird that’s adorable in the wild doesn’t translate well into a coin purse.
In terms of the crafty part, I’m always folding and stitching in my head, brainstorming better ways to make things and new things to make. The sign industry generates a lot of scrap—when an odd-sized banner or sign gets printed there’s usually a big chunk of material left over that gets trimmed away and tossed. Bird vs. Bird grew out of my desire to keep stuff out of the trash. I keep the computer files of my designs at work and print them next to customer orders in those “waste” areas. I try to be super-efficient with the actual production processes and motivate myself with entertainment; I’ll sew a huge pile of coin purses or cut out a zillion decals while listening to the radio or watching a movie. Thank goodness for NPR and Netflix!
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I treasure the handmade cards I’ve gotten from friends and family over the years. I think it’s especially sweet when someone who isn’t habitually a crafter or artist takes the time to hand-draw a birthday card even if all they have to work with is ballpoint pens and a red Sharpie.
Name your top five books, movies, songs/musical groups, and web sites (besides Etsy).
Books: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, A Field Guide to Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken by Seth.
Movies: Breaking Away, The Ice Storm, The Big Chill, Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Station Agent
Musical Groups: Feist, Songs: Ohia, Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, Will Oldham (in his various incarnations)
Websites: foundmagazine, craftster, thisamericanlife, epicurious, cuteoverload.
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Even if you aren’t sure how much of a “real” business your shop will be, project a confident, professional image in your profile, descriptions, pricing and photos. Show as many details and angles as you can in your photos and be specific about materials. Try to look at your shop through a stranger’s eyes. If you had never seen your items in the flesh, would you be able to get a clear sense of size, materials and colors from the photos and descriptions? People might initially be drawn in by the look of an item, but they aren’t going to buy it if they can’t imagine holding it in their hands.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
My favorite thing is really that it exists at all! I love the Storque—good advice and ideas, and I like getting a peek into the personalities and lives of different Etsyians. Shop Local is cool too!
It would be nice to have a separate “store policies” section/tab for each shop so that there’s an obvious place for nitty-gritty shipping/return info to go. It seems like a lot of sellers don’t understand that it’s important to put that information in the profile section and that buyers might not understand they should read sellers’ profiles before making purchases.
How do you promote your work?
Because I work full time and want to keep at least a smidge of leisure time I don’t feel the need at this time to go nuts with promotion. I’ve been lucky to have friends talk up my stuff to their friends and to have had people stumble across me on Etsy. I just joined the SF ETSY Street Team, and I’m working on updating my blog. I always carry business cards with me and I use/carry around my own products.
In ten years I’d like to be…
Living a sweet, simple and happy life. And I’d really like to have a whole room just for crafting!