As an artist with a small craft business, I'm always intrigued by other artists who take their craft and turn it into a full-time job. I thought some of their stories would be great to feature on my blog.
While searching the internet for cute handmade items, I stumbled upon this completely adorable plush black forest cake with a little face stitched on by artist Anne Kirn. I immediately started looking through the other listings from her store House of Darkly on Etsy.
What I saw was an awesome blend of geeky and cute! So when I found out that House of Darkly artist Anne Kirn would be coming to Chicago for C2E2 (Chicago Comic & Entertaiment Expo), I had to stop by her table and ask her a few questions about her store.
Nash: Are you from Chicago?
Anne: I lived in Chicago for about 18 years, until about 10 months ago when I moved to Florida. Honestly, I'm probably going to move back to here. Chicago has this great combination of resources, without having a lot of the disadvantages of some of the other major cities in the US.
Nash: How did you start making items for your store. I read that you used to be a cosplayer, did it start there?
Anne: Yeah, I was a very serious and rather competitive cosplayer. I started out in about 2001, and at some point, it started to become a little too much. There was a lot of pressure to compete, a lot of pressure to win, and the drama started to get to me. I started looking for something that I could do that had less pressure, where I didn't have to conform to someone else's vision of what I was suppose to be doing. So I started making plush, and I liked it! Other people liked it too, and I decided that it was worth trying it as a business.
Nash: Did you start off making stuff for friends or yourself, and then it took off?
Anne: I was on a cosplay forum that had a Secret Santa. I made a cosplay plush that was a toy that you could get in Japan, but you couldn't get it in the US. After that I made plush stuff for anime character for a costume I never finished. Then I started thinking that it was more fun to make things that were my designs instead of someone else's.
Nash: You don't just make plush toys. Tell us about some of the other items you make.
Anne: I've just recently expanded into jewelry, buttons, and some small accessories like that. I got really interested in design in general when I started making plush. Typography and t-shirt design are things I was also interested in, so I'm kind of expanding in some other directions, and trying out some other stuff.
Nash: How did you transition from doing whatever your regular job was to running House of Darkly full-time?
Anne: Honestly, I got really seriously ill and I wasn't working. I was kind of losing my mind being in the house all the time. I had to do something. I got into doing this full-time, and I just never stopped. I don't know that I've even made the transition. I'm just still going, and I hope that eventually I'll get to a place where I feel it's very financially successful. But for now, I've just gotten so much positive feedback, that I'm not ready to get a normal job.
Nash: You do all the work yourself. What do you do to prepare for an event like C2E2? How much time does it take to prepare all the inventory?
Anne: Mostly I stay up really really late at night. I really need to improve my work/life balance. The 4 weeks before a convention I'm working until 3am, and I'm just doing nothing else during that time. I'll end up watching like 7 seasons of something on Netflix in a couple of days, because I'll have it on in the background while I'm sewing and hand-cutting stuff. It's definitely hard, because if you do handmade work you still have to do enough quantity to keep up. That's part of the reason why I expanded into jewelry. I don't personally have a laser cutter, so I design the pieces and a small firm cuts the acrylic pieces for me. When I get them I just have to assemble the pieces to make the jewelry.
Nash: Do you ever have anyone helping you? Or are you just a one-woman-show?
Anne: I'm really a perfectionist, and sometimes I don't even trust myself to do the job, so I don't really delegate to anyone else. For C2E2 I did have my mother help me with some of the jewelry, because I just ran out of time. It is hard to do a business single-handed, and you do have to pull people in every once in a while to help out. I'm hoping at some point I'll have a business partner who is going in the same direction I am, and we could sort of help each other out. But for now, I'm the online sales department, and the website designer, and I do all the cutting and constructing of everything.
Nash: What is your most popular plush?
Anne: Well the one people pick up the most, I have this Panic Banana plush, and everyone really loves it. Everyone knows some internet meme thing that somehow involves a banana, and they have to scream out every time they see it.
Nash: Which one is your favorite?
Anne: I really like doing monsters. I just started making them, and I wasn't making them before because they're very time consuming. I tend to get really attached to them though, and I don't really like selling them.
Check out the gallery below of some of the items House of Darkly had on sale at C2E2. You can buy jewelry, buttons, and plush items online at the House of Darkly Etsy store. Definitely check out her store, and follow her on Twitter! All photos were taken by Lesson 5 Photography.
Etsy Store: House of Darkly