Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bisbee Stitches Interview

Mark Hundley is a genius. I started selling his work several years ago and it has been a pleasure in every aspect. His work is amazing. Each piece is well made, has so much personality and is appealing to so many types of people. As a person, Mark has been so nice to work with and talk to. I always enjoy our email exchanges and I am very much looking forward to meeting him this winter at the Etsy Labs! Since selling his work I have seen many people develop a collection of his work. It is really fun to watch people look at his work, read the stories that accompany each piece to their friends and love them. And every time I get a shipment it's exciting to see how his work has developed more than the last time. I love him, Neko Case loves him and I think you will too.

S- Since I started selling your work, it seems like this has become a fulltime job for you. Is it?

MH-Oh yeah. It's actually been my full-time job for just over 4 years now! I've just been working on some bigger projects and stuff lately. But yeah, for 4 years now, it's been 6-10 hours a day , about 6 days a week of sewing.

S-Now I know that you started making plushies more after you made a few for your niece and nephew. After you made those first few, did you start just making more for fun and as a result you started selling them or how did your business begin?

MH- Well, basically, I made those 2 for Mary-Grayson and Cullen (niece and nephew :) and that was great, so I made a few more and some people I worked with saw them and bought them right away, so I thought "hey maybe I'll just quit my job and move to the desert and make a living doing this!" seriously. I'm still amazed that it worked. Around that same time, my husband Hywel (he draws the cards that come with each stitches) and I moved out to Bisbee Arizona . I made up my mind that I wanted to be self-employed, so I made some more Stitches and shopped them around to local stores until
I found 1 that would let me set up a display. My first display was actually this old suitcase that we had used for our trip out to Arizona. They weren't selling as fast as I thought they should , so I started setting up a little table in front of the store and I did that at least 2 days a week for the next 2 years. Nowadays , they seem to find homes all on their own.

S- Your work is really involved and different all the time. What is your background in sewing and art?

MH- I taught myself to sew when I made those first few stuffed animals. It was sort of a crash course . Like, I have no idea about all the various kinds of stitchesone can make and the terminology for all that stuff, but the basics are pretty easy to figure out. The challenging and interesting part is figuring out how to translate designs I see in my mind into parts and
pieces and then getting all that to work out just right. I've never used patterns, which usually works out just fine. But I've made about 2,000 or so Stitches plushies so far, and I think there are , like 4 or 5 that came out exactly as I imagined them. I
keep those for myself.

S- Bisbee seems like this magical place to me full of support for artists and crafters alike. You have sent me pictures of it and talk so highly of it. How has Bisbee supported you and your work?

MH- It's been so neat! Like I said, I used to sit out in front of this bookstore where I had a display and I'd sit there all day selling my stitches. Local people would buy my plushies, but then they'd also bring me bags and bags of all these cool vintage clothes . I didn't have to buy materials at all for a long time . Even now, every so often, there'll be a bag of vintage clothes left at my door. So everyone's been great. Very supportive.

S-Since your work is all so different, how do you go about contacting stores about caring your work?

MH- hmmm...that's a hard one. Alot of it has been sort of word of mouth . Like, someone on vacation buys one here in bisbee and when they go back home they show them off to someone who knows someone with a store where my stitches might fit in . Having an etsy store and having them at Schmancy has been very helpful, too. I think it was because of the PlushYou show last year that I got invited to a couple of other art shows. And then of course, there's the simple method
of just searching the internet and calling up stores and sending pictures. It is kind of weird though, because I don't think you can get the whole .... thing.... from a picture. They're much more impressive in person. I especially like to play around with textures and patterns and that doesn't really show through with photos.

S-Currently, what artists are you really into?

MH- My main original inspiration was Takashi Murakami. I saw some of his work at a gallery in Cincinnati and I was just blown away. It was a touring exhibition called superflat, I think. That was great to see all this cartoony art in a gallery space. I remember there were 2 giant inflatable pink rabbits when you first came though the doors. That was wonderful. Of course Mark Ryden is just amazing. I like George Condo's stuff. I like some of the very early early Disney stuff... And I grew up watching old Looney Tunes stuff and Merrie Melodies , so all that's in my mind. So that's like, Tex Avery, Leon Schlesinger, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Isling , Fritz Freleng. They had some great character designs . Obviously, I get alot of inspiration from Japanese manga and anime for my eyes and stuff. I spent months trying to figure out how make those eyes. I like Jeff Smith's comic stuff. It's deceptively simple looking, but he's created these "Bone" characters that are just as iconic as Mickey
Mouse or Charlie Brown. I'm an avid comic reader, so I like alot of Joe Madureira , Humberto Ramos , Chris Bachalo , all those people. OH! and I can't forget Jamie Hewlett. I've admired his work since the tank girl comics. Ooooh...and Jhonen Vasquez. Very cute designs. I really enjoy when people integrate art styles from various cultures to come up with something new.

S- As a retailer, I really love selling your work and watching people’s reactions while looking at each piece. People love the stories you attach to them. Each piece really does seem to have a personality all of it’s own. Do you look at each piece and the stories just naturally come or how does this process happen?

MH- I spend so much time making each one, that by the time I'm done, I can look at them and just know what they'd be like. I always try to imagine what each one might say to the class , like on the first day of kindergarten . Like, this bunny-monster might stand up and say , "I like green apples and not carrots. I can tie my own shoes. I like flying kites!" that sort of thing. Also, they tend to have expressions that mirror the mood I'm in when I'm making them. I didn't realize that until recently, but it's true. I can look at one and remember 'oh yeah, that was a grumpy day for me', or 'I made that one when I was deliriously happy."

S- Do you have any advice to artists about getting your business started? Any hard learning lessons you might like to share?

MH- Making a living off art is very very difficult. I assume everyone knows that , but it's so true. If you're going to art school or something, I'd say definitely take some business classes. I think things wouldn've been slightly easier for me had I taken some very boring business classes when I went to school. Pricing is a very hard thing to do, also. It's really hard to have the confidence to charge as much as I feel like they're actually worth. Let's see....rejection seems to be a constant; whether it's
retailers or customers . And to be there when someone decides that they don't want to pay the price you put on something , that's a huge maddening , ego-busting thing. So basically, expect to work really hard for years before you even really get started. I've been doing this for 4 years ; I've made about 2,000 pieces, and I feel like I'm just really getting going now. So yeah, patience, and persistence , and luck. That's the stuff.

S- Where else might people be able to find your work besides Schmancy?

MH- Well, I have the obligatory website at and I have an Etsy store ... just search for Bisbee Stitches on (though I only have 3 or 4 of them up for sale there right now). The TrunkSpace artspace in Phoenix has a few for sale. Toytown in SilverCity, NM . The Petticoat Pirate in Greenville, NC. And of course, here in Bisbee, Arizona at 2 stores; Acacia art and antiques , and at a co-op art gallery that I'm now a member of called Bizzart. At Bizzart, I have an entire room for my stuff that I share with a friend who makes marionette puppets. It's sort of Bisbee's only designer toy store. I've had them in a few art shows every year. And then I'll be having a one man show on December 7th in Manhattan at a place called PopandCo at 425 W. 13th street ... I'll have at least 100 stitches for sale at that show! And that's just the day before the PLushYou book release party in Brooklyn.

S-What future do you see for Bisbee Stitches?

MH- Within 5 years, I'll have my own store (hopefully on main street) here in Bisbee. Within 10 years, I want to have a cartoon going using my designs. I'd eventually like to be able to concentrate on very intricate gallery pieces . I'd love to be able to
spend a few months working on 1 giant , perfect plushie. I'm also kinda into turning furniture into Stitches. So far I've done a few giant stitches as shelving displays and I've done a large couch with a stitches scene as the upholstery and I converted a
chair into a big stitches monster. I'd love to be making some of those type pieces to sale. And some Stitches quilts would be cool to make, too. But for the immediate future, I see lots and lots of sewing .Which is good because I find it relaxing and I very much enjoy it.

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