Handmade Weekend- The Maniacal Menagerie

Hi! I'm featuring another super awesome etsy artist this week-- Eden from Maniacal Menagerie! If you're into quirky needle felted art and/or zombies, you're going to LOVE Eden and her shop!

Q. Can you please tell us a little bit about who are you, where you're from, and what you do?
A. My name is Eden, and I am the mastermind behind The Maniacal Menagerie. I was born and raised in California and have lived all around the state, top and bottom. Currently I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband and two cats. I am a photography student at Academy of Art University, and will be graduating with my BFA this December (2014). I love art in every form, and about two years ago I picked up needle felting and fell in love with it. I felt quirky things to brighten your day, like black cat pins, squished zombie bookmarks, severed head earrings, and Zombeez Travel Companions- needle felted zombie doll-pins to accompany you on life's great adventures.

Q. What is the first craft project you remember making?
A. Oh gosh, haha. I've never been good with my hands. I wanted to learn to sew but nothing came out right, I wanted to draw and paint but a five year old can draw better than I. I've tried crochet, and I don't know how you screw up crochet but somehow I do. If I were to recall my earliest attempts, I'd say I tried sewing clothes for my dolls when I was little. They all fell apart! As a teenager I tried papier mache, which didn't end too horribly but I wasn't very into it. In my 20s I tried clay sculpting but that wasn't much better. If my history shows anything, it's that I'm nothing if not persistent! I saw a needle felting kit on Etsy, and after some thought decided to try it out. I finally found my medium, and that was the start of The Maniacal Menagerie.

Q. What inspires you?
A. Music is a big part of my inspiration. One song can inspire so many ideas. I love music that has multiple layers of meaning, like Tool, because you can really get lost in thinking about it. Literature is also an inspiration, my favorite book is Dune and I can't tell you how much it has affected me. But largely my ideas just pop into my head randomly, triggered by something like a stranger's t-shirt, and my brain somehow connects it with something equally as random, like with Bruce the Birthday Party Banana Slug. This is the basis of my sense of humor and it usually just results in silence and awkward stares when I try to make a joke, but it works for quirky sculptures, evidently.

Q. Can you describe some of your creative processes?
A. When an idea pops into my head (which they very literally do) I add it to my idea list in Evernote (I can't tell you how much I love lists). I typically have a rough lineup in my head, but even so I usually just work on whatever I feel inspired to work on that day. I think about how I want to approach a project for a long time before I start it, until I have a very clear view in my mind. If it's vague, it doesn't come out very well. That said some things are very clear right from the beginning and I can make them almost immediately. I've started and scrapped quite a few projects that I really wanted to do but didn't think out clearly enough, and unfortunately once I scrap a project I rarely go back- it tends to make me lose my inspiration. So I've learned the hard way to take my time first.

Q. What is your most prized handmade possession?
A. A bowl that my husband painted for me as a present when we were dating. When I say "bowl" it's like a decorative jewelry holder or very tiny flower pot. He painted our names and hearts on it in black and red, my favorite colors. :)

Q. What was the hardest thing about starting your Etsy shop?
A. Starting it was the easy part, trying to decide the best way to grow it is hard! Pricing I think was my biggest hurdle though. Being a starving artist I'm a terrible cheapskate at the moment, so pricing my work high enough to cover the labor, fees & expenses was really hard for me as I perceived my prices as being very high! Then I learned about the magical pricing formula and how you're supposed to triple the end result (my prices didn't seem so high then). I still haven't reached that goal, but I'm working toward it.

Q. What's the BEST thing about running your Etsy shop?
A. It makes me so happy when I receive positive feedback from customers. I love creating these little felt things, so for someone else to actually like them too means a lot to me. I also love that I'm building myself a little empire, and every week it grows a little more and I get new ideas of how to reach more people. It's so rewarding to look at what I've built and say "I run this, and there are people who like it".

Q. How do your customers find out about your products?
A. I'm still working on that, trying to keyword my work is tough because I'm still not sure how exactly to classify it. I think a lot of my sales, particularly of my small pins, come from impulse purchases, since a lot of my traffic comes from people just browsing Etsy, and there's not too many people searching for "Felted Zombie Dolls".

I also have a blog that I've been putting a lot of effort into where I talk about my work, felt and handmade products in general, and I have a DeviantArt account where I post my work and both of those are turning into good traffic sources. I'm trying to turn my blog into a sort of front page for my business, so I can direct people there for both my store & blog.

okay guys, I can't tell you how much I love Bruce! Seriously!

okay guys, I can't tell you how much I love Bruce! Seriously!

Q. What are a few of your favorite items in your shop?
A. Philbert the Lovesick Plague Doctor is my favorite currently listed item. I almost didn't want to sell him! I don't have much time to make things for myself, so I put a lot of myself into what I sell, and particularly when it's a lengthy project or an idea that I've had for a long time, I get kind of attached to my pieces. Philbert was in my head for a good year before I had time to make him. My other favorite is Bruce the Birthday Party Banana Slug. He sold a long time ago, but people's reactions to him were priceless. They always asked how I came up with such an idea, and honestly I don't know. I saw someone with a t-shirt that said something about banana slugs, and my brain immediately went from that to Bruce, and I made him when I got home. I've been debating making him again and relisting him, but he was so bizarre I feel like he's more special as a one-off. That said, I might make Bruce earrings.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a new Etsy seller, what would it be?
A. Only one? But there's so much to learn! I believe the most important piece of advice I could give is learn to take good product photos. I'm one to talk, my own photos still need a lot of work and it's one the priorities I'm currently working on (it's painfully ironic that I'm a fine art photographer- I just don't normally do product shots). I see so many people on Etsy with dark, blurry photos, or photos with way too many unrelated props, that barely tell me anything about the product. Your photos are typically what makes a potential customer click on your item. If the photo is not visually appealing, as a buyer I'm likely to pass the listing by. Take a look at the Etsy homepage for a good photo guide. Most of the items that make it there have really well done photos, to the point where the photo itself is a work of art. A lot of people may say "But I'm not a photographer, I can't take photos like that!" and that's okay, you don't have to shoot for the moon. You have to take things one step at a time, so just think of homepage photos as your inspiration while you start reading up on simple techniques to create better light. There are some really great articles on Handmadeology on how to take good product photos, look them over and put them into practice!

Q. Where can we find you (etsy, facebook, twitter, etc.)
A. On Etsy at themaniacalmenagerie.etsy.com
Twitter at www.twitter.com/feltedzombies
Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/feltedzombies
Facebook at www.facebook.com/themaniacalmenagerie
DeviantArt at themaniacalmenagerie.deviantart.com
And last but definitely not least, my blog: www.themaniacalmenagerie.com
I'm in the process of upgrading my blog, so it might be a bit sketchy for the first week of June.

Q. Finally, tell us 3 fun facts about you!
A. Hmm! Well now, let's see if I can dig up something interesting.
1) As a hobby, I restore & sell vintage cast iron cookware. All of my personal cookware is cast iron, a lot of which belonged to my Grandma. I have some pieces that are over 100 years old. I've always loved antiques but can't usually afford them, and cast iron is probably the only antique you can use daily without ruining or diminishing its value, and that you can easily find for less than $10 at thrift stores. Plus, they're easy to restore. What makes this really funny though is I hate cooking.
2) I was in a Jack-in-the-Box commercial when I was 7, for the Patty Melt sandwich that they later renamed the Sourdough Jack.
3) I took flying lessons for a while as a teenager. I was obsessed with aviation at the time and wanted to be a pilot.



Thanks so much, Eden, for sharing a little bit about you, your shop, and your processes!


I hope that you all enjoyed getting to know a wonderful handmade artist and that you'll stop by and check out the rest of the super cute things in her shop (I am digging Philbert and Chadwick and of course, Bruce!)

If you are a handmade artist and would like to be featured, or you know know a killer artist that I should feature, send me an email at aprilbern@gmail.com or leave a comment in the section below!