Photographs courtesy of Berkley Illustration
Above left: Ryan and Lucy Berkley of Portland-based Berkley Illustration pose with Kenny.
Above right: Ryan working on the original drawing of a squirrel in his finery.
Need some groovy new artwork for your walls or an original gift for your stylishly eclectic friend? Portland, Oregon-based husband and wife team Lucy and Ryan Berkley are the talent and wit behind Berkely Illustration; the purveyors of these uniquely charming and hilarious prints that have been selling like hotcakes on the Etsy website for well over a year. The best part? All it takes is the click of a button and your new 2D friends will be expedited to your doorstep, well dressed, exuding personality, and ready to make themselves at home.
Berkley Illustration Speak with Ava Living:
You two are both artists, Ryan with his illustrations, and Lucy with her photographic work, and you're both responsible for your business running like a well-oiled machine. I got my Berkley Illustration prints in the mail in a matter of days, with supreme customer service!. What’s your secret for working together harmoniously and effectively?
Thanks! We’re glad the prints got to you quickly! We have both worked in various customer service related jobs over the years, and we are arts customers ourselves so we really just try to follow “the golden rule” when it comes to customer service. We want people to be thrilled with our product, but also have a good experience in the process. Of course, being nice and efficient doesn’t hurt when it comes to repeat business as well.
Above: Part of the series "Oddwood Garden," a limited edition print from
Berkley Illustration's "Best Ever" selection of featured pieces.
You have an online shop on the Etsy website. How did you hear about Etsy originally and how has the experience been for you to date?
Ryan’s first “break” into this arts and crafts world was when he illustrated the book, Supercrafty and we met our now great friends, the women of the Portland Supercrafty business collective. Through them, we started doing the local craft fair, Crafty Wonderland (Ryan still illustrates all the marketing materials for the event), and became immersed in the DIY/craft world. Somewhere in there is probably when we first heard about Etsy.
Etsy has been an unbelievable tool for expanding our business. We initially listed a few prints with no expectations or business plan and we’ve been incredibly fortunate in the positive response we’ve received.
What did you do prior to Etsy to market your work? Gallery shows? Arts and craft fairs?
In addition to the Supercrafty book, Ryan did do some gallery shows and, as we mentioned, our local craft fair, Crafty Wonderland. He also designed t-shirts for local Portland label, Monsieur T.
Above: "Make way! This mama duck creates scavenger hunts as incentives for her children to do their chores. These ducklings love their mom's creativity and they always feel cozy when she tucks them in at night under the quilts that she's made."
You were both working day jobs when you first set up your online shop on the Etsy website in November, 2007, where you’d both come home and work at night on your illustration business. Is the goal to do the illustration and selling full-time, or are you happy keeping it as a side business? Have your hours gotten a little less hectic over the past year?
Funny you should ask. We’d been making plans for Ryan to get to a point where he could focus on art full-time, without the day job and then, surprise! Lucy got laid off a few weeks ago. We’d both love to make the business our full-time job and we know that if we had the time to devote to pushing the business, it could probably pay the bills. Still, it’s a scary leap — darn that health insurance. As far as hours go, no, things are definitely as busy as ever–especially through the holidays. We both mentally blocked out last December because we were so insanely busy. No complaints though.
Above: "This robot was once a glorious champion of the industrial age. Now he sits alone in a warehouse visited only by street dancers and taggers. Perhaps you can get his gauges turning again."
Your body of work features prints of robots, zombies, winged cowboys, and a swamp fellow named Kenny, but your most popular prints seem to be the impeccably dressed animals and insects. Can you give us a little insight of what inspired you to do these prints initially? How often do you add new characters?
At the very first Crafty Wonderland we did (in fact, it might have been the first Crafty Wonderland ever), we decided we would have booth theme months and the first month would be Ancestors. Ryan decided to throw some old-timey suits on various animals and everything grew from there. Fun trivia fact: The first animal was a koala in western wear. Second fun trivia fact: We never did end up doing another theme.
We try to add two to three new animals to the Etsy shop per month and we usually throw a non-animal portrait in there too. A few times a year, we hold a vote on our blog asking for input on what the next animal should be.
Above: "These two have been lovebirds ever since the misses walked into the bank where mister worked to take out a loan. They've now been together for 31 years and they are as in love now as they ever were. She still loves the way he always tells jokes incorrectly and he still thinks it's cute when she swears while doing the crossword puzzle. This pair is made to last."
One of the additional aspects that I really love about the prints is that each is featured, and comes packaged with, their own story, a bio of sorts. It really helps the personality of the characters to shine through! Are these formatted before or after a character is created?
The stories definitely come after Lucy sees the finished animals. Ryan might have an idea of a type of character in his head when he draws them, but Lucy writes the bios based on what he draws. Most of the time, he’s happy with the life choices she make for the animals but occasionally, he’ll have some specifics he wants to include. Actually, the only one we can really think of is the penguin. Ryan really wanted him to eat ice-cold herring pie when he got home from work.
You output your prints with an archival printer, which helps you to sell multiples but also keeps the costs of the prints very affordable. Does this help to create repeat business or do you mainly get people that are new to the Etsy website?
We’d say our business is 75% new customers and 25% friendly repeats. We’re not sure if they come back because of the affordability or because they have an animal addiction! We constantly debate doing a higher-end form of printing. Even though the digital print isn’t necessarily “high-brow printmaking”, we do like the way it makes having an art collection more accessible for the everyday individual. Ideally, we’d like to experiment with other forms of printmaking, but those would be in addition to the digital prints.
What is the process of creating the prints prior to the archival printing? What’s your choice of medium?
Ryan does all of the original illustrations by hand with design markers and colored pencils. Lucy scans those in, cleans them up, formats them, and adds the colored backgrounds digitally. The background is the only digitized part of the work.
Above: Lucy and Ryan get into character while presenting a series of their prints.
Do you plan to eventually launch your own website and sell from there?
We definitely want to have a more formal website but we don’t have any plans to abandon Etsy. Now that Lucy seems to have a few more hours in the day, a company website will be on the top of the priority list.
Will you be participating in any shows this year? Where can we keep an eye out for Berkley Illustration other than the Etsy website?
We’re hoping to do the Renegade Craft Fairs in Brooklyn, L.A., San Francisco, and Chicago this year (if they accept us!). We’ll know about Brooklyn next week. We continue to do Crafty Wonderland every couple months and we’ll probably be applying to a couple of additional fairs.
Ryan also has gallery shows lined up for a bit later in the year. Most of the shows are in Portland but he will also be showing at Schmancy in Seattle in August. Our blog is the best place right now to keep up with upcoming events.
We have a couple other projects in the works too, but so far they are hush-hush — isn’t it fun to leave on a mystery?
To contact Berkley Illustration:
Visit Berkley Illustration prints and online shop: http://www.berkleyillustration.etsy.com
Berkley Illustration Blog: http://letsshare.typepad.com
Berkley Illustration Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/berkleyillustration
Berkley Illustration Myspace account: http://www.myspace.com/berkleyillustration
‘Kenny’ on Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/kennylikesyou
Lucy Bird online shop: http://www.lucybirdphotos.etsy.com
Written by Ehren Seeland