Scraps of felt, bags of polyfil, spools of colorful thread and scattered sewing needles surround artist Trish Tatman as she lays out her latest plush creation. Currently gearing up for Zig Zag, an event for designers showcasing handmade crafts for children, she spends all of her free time churning out simple plush animals, foods and accessories as well as her more complex doll designs. At the ripe age of twenty-five, Trish is an impressive force within the plush community. She not only has the gift of craft but a keen business sense, too. Her dream – to have her own art gallery in five years.
Miss Melanie McMinn the Moose Girl
Plush toys, born in Germany in 1880, thrive among craft shows in Southern California and all over the world. If you are in the market for something cute and cuddly, look no further. These creations, typically made from felt, fleece or other soft fabrics, are stuffed with polyfil then stitched shut. Trish typically uses the running stitch as it leaves little evidence. Plush dolls are adorned with various materials, such as buttons for eyes, and also use an array of fabric to dress them. She also makes plush foods, like “KC the Carrot,” “Berkley the Banana,” “Chicken Wings and Drums” and “Super Plush Sushi Two Pack.” Her buyers really do eat them up.
If her next show is distant, she welcomes her design chops and sketches new characters at her worktable. Each year she develops about four new designs, along with modifications to existing ones. Next to her worktable is an inspiration board covered in colors, fabrics and interior design samples. A plush concept is born from a series of about fifty drawings, evolving through several different body shapes, colors, types of fabric, noses and sets of teeth and eyes. This is the most time-consuming part of her process. She then cuts the fabric, laying out/designing the doll. “Trish works extremely fast, and when she has an idea, she is really focused and can finish a doll in two nights if needed,” says Justin Parpan, an L.A.-based illustrator. Cutting and laying out/designing a simple monster, for example, takes about one hour. The next hour and a half are spent sewing while watching TV. Her larger, more complicated designs can take days, spaced out in two to three hour bursts. “My largest plush, a four foot long red squid, took two hours to cut, one hour to layout and nine hours to sew.” She shudders slightly.
Her favorite doll shape is “oval with long, dangling legs.” She grabs the sugar shaker from our table at Joe’s Main Street Diner in Santa Monica, illustrating this beloved build. Smitten with her favorite creation, Cyclops with hipster jeans, her hands explain the little bits that complete her precious one-eyed monster. Each doll is brought to life by Trish’s adoration, naming and photographing each one in unique poses and locations for her Etsy store, Plush Parade. Dolls also come complete with short biographies and detailed physical descriptions. Zelda Fitzgerald, a hybrid female human and deer, sits comfortably on a window ledge and is “great to have over for fine tea and finer conversation.” Who knew?
|Cloff G Hoffernoff|
According to Justin, Trish’s deer girl line is a big seller and a huge success. He notes that he knew the line would do well, adding, “The proportions and cute/jaded expression on the faces of the deer girls were really humorous to me.”
As a successful illustrator, Justin also juggles a full-time job, busy online store and frequent shows. Always coming to his rescue on the business side of art, the “extremely organized” Trish handles the money at all of his shows and helps manage his online store. He admits, “I'm a guy, so multitasking doesn't come easy!” Her ability to prosper in both the creative and business worlds is very rare for an artist.
Though currently based in L.A., Trish spent her youthful summers in small-town Indiana with her grandparents where her craft was born. Following the instruction of her grandmother, she first learned to fabricate sock puppets. “It was very simple, but I felt like I accomplished a lot,” she says of her first sock puppet. Using one of her grandpa’s white socks, she sewed on button eyes and a small squiggly line for a nose. The puppets entertained her for hours.
During her junior year at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, Trish witnessed an inspiring illustration by a fellow student. After receiving permission to create a plush bunny based off the cute characters in it, she spent an hour with white linen and paint. Trish proudly displayed the finished product at school on her work desk. Another student requested her own plush bunny, and suddenly Trish was buried in orders. Holding up her hands to demonstrate size, Trish recalls that the dolls were small and sold for $5-$8. “I thought, oh cool, food money!” she remembers. “People basically forced me to sell them. I kind of fell into it.” Ringling’s art show organizers soon received news of these fabulous plush creatures and asked Trish to create some for an upcoming show. The word was out.
|Super Sushi Plush Set|
Flash forward two years, we find Trish describing herself as “lucky” and “grateful.” Picking off gooey globs of cheddar from her grilled cheese, she beams while explaining her busy schedule of working full-time and managing her Etsy store, blog and upcoming shows. Rising around 7am each day, she makes the time to fulfill her creative outlet and plush orders, and of course to eat breakfast. “Meals are very important to me,” she tells me, dipping a curly fry into dollop of ketchup. My assumption that she must rely on caffeine to power her through such long days is largely incorrect. She survives on her impressive, rare natural energy, a trait that most of us would burn down a Starbucks to possess. When a plush show is approaching, she spends her mornings doing inventory and preparing for the event. This woman has her plush together.
You might be helpless against grabbing your wallet while visiting Plush Parade. Ecstatic compliments in all caps fill the page, while pleased customers refer to their new plush dolls as “cute,” “amazing” and “wonderful.” Trish also welcomes commissioned projects and appreciates those who are specific in their orders. A great example, she says, is “a purple bear with big sharp teeth. I know exactly what to do.”
Plush Parade is featured on the event flyer for Zig Zag, which takes place December 5, 2010 in Encinitas, California. Having learned much about kids through her work, Trish incorporates bright colors, recognizable shapes, child-safe adornments, soft fabrics like felt and fleece, and plenty of “huggable items” into her parade. She will haul her entire stock to the show, about thirty-five dolls, as well as her smaller creations for the children. How many she will sell depends largely on the audience, but most times she sells between ten and twenty dolls.
Trish’s dream gallery would promote her plush dolls, foods, brooches, hair clips, key chains and also the work of other independent artists. Constantly researching this goal, she is well aware of where her money situation needs to be to bring her gallery to life. She has been taking the necessary steps, like saving, to organize and prepare her finances. Judging from the shredded napkin in front of her, Trish is equipped with the energy to do whatever she wants. And she has the right attitude, too. Amidst “felt, fabric, buttons, pen, paper and thread,” one of her favorite materials is “fun.”