Originally from Lynchburg, Erica Vess moved to Richmond in 1997 to attend VCU’s fine arts and painting program. She now sells her work through her popular Etsy shop, Bee’s Knees Studio and is a vendor at this year’s Spring Bada-Bing! Find out how she got started and what to expect from her on Sunday.
Originally from Lynchburg, Erica Vess of Bee’s Knees Studio moved to Richmond in 1997 to attend VCU’s fine arts painting and printmaking program. You can find her paintings and prints on her website and her Etsy shop. She will also be selling her wares at this year’s Spring Bada-Bing! Here she tells about her history as an artist, how she got involved with the Richmond Craft Mafia, and what can expect from her at this year’s event.
Have you always been an artist? Do you remember your first painting?
I have been drawing since I could hold a crayon. My uncle Charles is actually a professional illustrator, so from a very young age I knew it was possible to make a living as an artist.
The oldest drawing of mine that I still have is a picture of two bunnies that I drew when I was five years old. My mom kept that one because she was so amazed that they were correctly placed in front of the horizon line.
When/how did Bee’s Knees Studio get started?
Bee’s Knees Studio evolved kind of organically, really: I didn’t wake up one day and say “Today I will start a business.” I guess it started with selling a motley assortment of paintings, jewelry, and other crafts at the Bizarre Market in 2006. I quickly realized that what people really seemed to be interested in were my paintings, so I gradually got rid of all the other stuff and focused entirely on my artwork.
How did you come up with the name?
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it was out of a Smiths song! I bought my domain name back in college and I was trying to be cool. It’s funny, I think my current work fits so much better than when I started using the name for my fine art work back in 2000!
What types of materials/paints/etc. do you prefer to work with and why? What is that process like for you?
I mostly use acrylic paint, because I love the flat, graphic quality of it. The image of a painting in most people’s minds is a lot of brushstrokes and big blobs of paint, but I really work to achieve a nice smooth surface. I think the simplicity of my subject matter demands smooth, precise painting. I can’t count how many times people ask me if my paintings are screen prints!
Your paintings can be enjoyed by both adults and children – was that a specific goal you set out to achieve or is that something that has just evolved?
That was definitely something that evolved. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be doing children’s art, I would have laughed at you.
Do you create works by request? If so, have you ever had a strange or interesting request?
I really try and steer clear of custom work because people have an image in their mind already and it’s so hard to give them what they want. I will occasionally paint dog portraits when business is slow. I really, REALLY can’t draw people so after a disastrous portrait of a customer’s wife and their dogs in a car, I’m now really firm about painting only the dog!
Would you say there is a common theme in your work?
My common theme is cute! I aim for world domination through cuteness. Seriously though, I love bright colors and I am never happier than when I can create just the right cute blobby animal, with just the perfect sad expression.
You are a member of the Richmond Craft Mafia. What can you tell me about the organization and your involvement?
The Richmond Craft Mafia is a small, tightly-knit group of crafty business people who I am happy to count among my best friends. I don’t know where I would be without these guys. I have come such a long way since I joined 3 years ago.
Basically, our organization exists to do two things: 1) To promote each others businesses. We do this through shared advertising, group trunk shows, shared group booths at out-of-town craft shows, etc. 2) To promote other independent/alternative craft businesses in general and to create an environment where indie craft businesses can thrive. We do this through organizing craft shows like Spring Bada-Bing and Handmade Holiday. Most typical craft shows are financially out of reach for many aspiring crafters and are frankly not the best venue for edgy, unusual or fashion-forward work. Through our shows, we connect small indie craft businesses with customers who appreciate stylish, offbeat handmade goods.
I am currently the RCM co-chairperson, a job title shared, thankfully, with the amazing organizational superwoman otherwise known as Tasha McKelvey. She is the point person for our holiday craft show, and I am the lead for Spring Bada-Bing. I also designed the graphics for Spring Bada-Bing. But we don’t do it all by ourselves — everybody in the group has an official role that they fulfill and special skills that they bring to the group.
Did you become involved with Spring Bada-Bing because of the Richmond Craft Mafia or was it the other way around?
I was a vendor in the 2007 Spring Bada-Bing and I was approached by Dawn Anderson, one of the founding members of the Richmond Craft Mafia. And she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…ok I’m kidding. She asked me to apply to be in the group; I did and was accepted and, bada-boom, here I am. When Dawn retired from the group last year, fellow RCM member Tasha McKelvey and I ended up taking on a lot of her leadership responsibilities. We all owe a lot to Dawn; there wouldn’t be a Richmond Craft Mafia without her.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Free time? I would love to have some free time, because right now I work a full time day job, do my Bee’s Knees Studio artwork at home after work, and am putting every other second of the day into making sure that Spring Bada-Bing is the best show it can be. I am exhausted! When it’s not Spring Bada-Bing crunch time, my husband and I take ballroom dance lessons, which is goofy but fun. I’m a pretty avid reader, and I also love watching stodgy BBC dramas.
What can people expect from Bee’s Knees Studio at this year’s Spring Bada-Bing?
I’ve started a second Etsy shop for a new branch of my work and I hope to debut some of it at Spring Bada-Bing. I recently invested in a nice wide-format printer and am busy making all sorts of new cute art prints, as well as stationery, paper dolls and models. But I’m only one of 65 vendors who will be strutting their stuff at Spring Bada-Bing.
Thanks to Erica for talking with us! Stay tuned for more profiles on Spring Bada-Bing artists this week. To see a full list of vendors set to appear at Spring Bada-Bing, stop by their website.
(The image featured comes from Erica’s circus train series available on her website, beeskneesstudio.com.)