Inside the Crafters Studio: Phil Barbato

Plush viking octopi? Chickens with beards? Expect all that and more from Phil Barbato at Sunday’s Spring Bada-Bing!

Phil Barbato, a New Yorker by birth, grew up in Fairfax and moved to Richmond in 1994. You can find his monsters here and at this weekend’s Spring Bada-Bing, hosted by the Richmond Craft Mafia. But first, let’s see what Phil says about his work and what we can expect from him at Sunday’s show.

Have you always been an artist/crafter? Do you remember your first creation? If so, what was it?

I’ve always made things. I love the process even more than the result. I really like getting my hands dirty if I can. I’ve been drawing since before I can remember, but I do remember a drawing I did in pre-school. We were making plates. I’m not sure what the process is, but we did drawings in marker and then they somehow got baked into plastic plates. My mom still has the plate. Anyway, it’s a drawing of a “Mountain Car” (a mountain with wheels) I remember sitting at the table drawing and I remember that “Mountain Car” made perfect sense to me, but I have no idea what my reasoning was. I was four, I didn’t need a reason, right?

When/how did you get started selling your monsters?

I remember selling my first monster to a friend of a friend. I think it was at the Bizarre Market back when it was at the old Chop Suey. It had to be almost ten years ago. She ended up buying a couple more of my early monsters.

What types of materials do you prefer to work with and why? What is that process like for you?

I love fleece because it’s stretchy and soft and very forgiving for a sloppy seamster like me. It’s also pretty cheap, especially when you buy used. I love the long pile faux furs because they look amazing and come in a wide array of colors. They are a pain in the ass to work with though.

My process is always changing. I used to make drawings and cut them into a pattern and make a monster from that. Then I realized that once it’s stuffed it looks nothing like the drawing anymore. So I started just pinning two pieces of fabric together and drawing with the sewing machine. Now I’m making patterns to streamline my process. The baby octopi are the first new monsters where I made a pattern before making a monster and it came out how I expected it to.

Did you start out your business with a specific goal or is it something that has just evolved?

There has never been a specific goal other than to make a living from the things that I make. We’re not there yet but we’re on our way. My beautiful, awesome, amazing wife, Meghan, manages the business side of things and she’s always on the lookout for new opportunities and new product ideas.

Have you ever had a strange or interesting request for a project?

I started doing the Whiskerbears for Whiskerino in 2007 (a bunch of guys grow beards for four months and post pictures of themselves every day) and I did custom orders for some fellow Whiskeroonis. The craziest was a guy who wore a chicken suit in his photos every day and wanted a Whiskerbear in a chicken suit. It was one of my most challenging pieces and is still one of my favorites. Custom orders are difficult for me, but they’re always beneficial to my craft. I get to push my skills and develop new techniques in ways I might not think to do otherwise.

Would you say there is a common theme in your work?

I like to make cute things and I like to make people smile. From a strictly graphic sense, you could say the teeth in my monsters is a connecting visual element or gimmick.

Are you a member of the Richmond Craft Mafia? If so, what can you tell me about the organization and your involvement?

Yes, my wife and I just joined the Richmond Craft Mafia and we are very much in love with the lovely ladies of the RCM. I can’t tell you anything else about the organization or I’d have to kill you.

Did you become involved with Spring Bada-Bing because of the Richmond Craft Mafia or was it the other way around?

It’s been a very long engagement between me and the RCM. My first show with them was the 2008 Holiday Heist, and I’ve been trying to join ever since. I did The Spring Bada Bing for the first time last year because it was a good, national-level show. The fact that the Richmond Craft Mafia was running it was a bonus.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time? HA HA! I play in two local bands, Now Sleepyhead and One Friend. I do freelance web design and illustration to pay the bills. I love to cook and bake bread. I’m an amateur know-it-all about food, wine, beer, and cigars. I love cars, but don’t have the money or the time for a project car at the moment, so I just read about other people’s projects. We live in a lovely old house, which means we have an endless list of upgrade, repair, and improvement projects.We also have our little puppy, Ella, who demands constant love and affection.

What can people expect to see at Spring Bada-Bing this year in terms of what you’re bringing?

We’ll have tons of plush from big viking octopi down to Whiskerbears and other little surprises, original paintings and prints, buttons, t-shirts, and a bunch of other stuff.

Thanks to Phil for talking with us! To see a full list of vendors set to appear at Sunday’s Spring Bada-Bing, stop by their website.

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Marge Weimer

Marge Weimer had the distinct honor of being’s first intern. She is a good sport, and we thoroughly enjoy her.

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