Creative Interviews - Brandi Miller

I met Brandi Miller some years back at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, here in KC, and have followed her creative process and growth in artistry over the years online. Her creations, work ethic, and constant presence of positive and fun designs, are a very welcome sight online and at shows. I've had a growing admiration of her tenacity and very much self made career. She has carved a great and expanding niche, that celebrates humor, cute characters, and a determination in business aptitude that is profound.  
A wonderful selection of Brandi's work.
Your company Dorky Dino has been around for a few years now. What is the story behind the name, and your inspiration for wanting to start it? 

Ever since I was a kid I've had some entrepreneurial tendencies. Instead of having a lemonade stand, one day I set up an "art stand" in my grandparents' front lawn and tried to sell my drawings. My grandmother (Nana) was the only one to buy something from me, and I didn't think that counted, so I was very disappointed! It didn't stop me from wanting to start my own business, though. 
Brandi keeping it real in the young entrepreneur zone. 
I went to university for graphic design, with a minor in photography. As I took classes, I kept finding myself more and more interested in art and creativity. I started getting commissions and selling my work. In my senior year I had to do a big elective project, and the university would fund up to $1000 in supplies for it. It was a really cool opportunity! I was thinking about it and I had this idea, "What if I can use that to start something where I can make more money?" So I decided my project would be to start a business. I designed my branding, wrote a business plan, and designed my first 8 products. With my funding from the university, I was able to order business cards, envelopes, letterhead, a banner, and my first stocking of products.

It took me a while to land on a name. I knew I wanted something cutesy and catchy, and I wanted to work one of my characters into it as my mascot. I had a long list of names and finally decided on "Dorky Dino" because I love dinosaurs and alliteration, and I consider myself a dork. I had already made a t-rex character that I really liked, so I gave him glasses and buck teeth and adjusted the design a little, and he became my mascot! I kind of think of him as a representation of me.

Your art has a definite kawaii aesthetic to it, what other inspirations play into the process of your art creation?

I am certainly influenced by the Japanese "kawaii" style. I pull a lot of inspiration from Sanrio (creators of Hello Kitty), Japanese advertising, and anime. The things I loved about being a child influence a lot of my work. I think that's what gives it that nostalgic, childlike feel. My mom was a cake decorator when I was growing up, and I didn't even realize it at first, but I think that's why I love incorporating yummy treats like cupcakes into my art. I've always been an animal lover, so cute animals are one of the biggest inspirations for me overall.
"Chubby Unicorn"
When I'm making my art, I try to pull from many diverse inspirations. I think having a wide range of influences gives artists a more well-rounded view, rather than mimicking a single style. If I'm drawing animals, I reference pictures of the actual animals, alongside other artists' renderings. I identify my favorite aspects of each style and mix it with my own views to create something unique. 

Since you started working as a professional creator, what are some of the most important things you’ve learned? 

One thing I've learned is even if you're doing something you love, it is still work, and it can still be incredibly difficult. There will still be times you feel unmotivated and times you feel you have no idea what you're doing. However, it makes it easier to push through if you have a strong dedication and sense of purpose in your goals. 

I've learned a lot about selling in person. I struggle with social anxiety, so the idea of trying to talk to strangers and sell them things was terrifying when I first started. I've worked hard to push past my fears, and now seeing people at events is one of my favorite parts! I do still get incredibly nervous the days before a convention, but once I'm there I really enjoy myself. I surprised myself with how much I was able to accomplish by getting over my fears. I've started taking chances that I never would have been comfortable with before. I think it's important to take those kinds of risks: the ones that scare you, but excite you at the same time. 

Do you have a creation of yours that identifies as your favorite, or one that you are most proud of?

I have different favorites at different times, but one I love right now is my "Alpacacorn" painting. It's just funny, and her little face makes me grin. I'm also really proud of my Chubby Unicorn because it has become my most well-known piece. 
You attend a lot of different kinds of shows to sell your work. What do you find that is a positive change in modern pop culture creation, and what is one of the challenges you’ve encountered?

A huge positive is how accessible it is to become a creator now. With new technologies like social media and streaming, you no longer have to wait for a publisher, gallery, or cable company to take interest in you. This gives smaller artists a chance to compete with the bigger creators. This is great for consumers, as well, because there is much more to choose from. 
Show setup at KC Geekfest.
A challenge I've encountered is that at bigger shows, attendees are paying a lot to get in, then they are standing in long lines and paying for photos and autographs with celebrities. That leaves them very little time and money to browse the artists or up-and-coming entertainers. It's not all bad, because the bigger celebrities certainly bring a larger crowd, but that crowd isn't always a small artist's target market. 

For the emerging artists aspiring to work in the creative field, what sort of advice would you give?

Do something that you are willing to stick with in the hard times. Even if you are doing something you love, there will be hard times, and there will be times you think about giving up. You'll know it's right for you if you hit those difficult times and are willing to keep working because you believe in what you are doing. 

I would also recommend doing research on marketing. As an artist, you have to learn to market not only your art, but also yourself. There's a lot that goes into it, but the better you can do at this, the more likely you are to be successful. 

As far as traditional art materials, what are some of your favorites to work with? 

My recent favorite is watercolors. I love the flow they have. I have a hard time sticking to only one medium, though, so my work and styles vary a lot. I really enjoy working digitally in Adobe Illustrator. That's how I make most of my characters that I put on keychains and jewelry, because in a vector format they can be scaled to any size without losing quality. Some other mediums I work in are: acrylic paint, colored pencils, ink, clay, and photography. 
Some awesome manatee earrings.
I'm not super picky on specific brands, as long as they are a decent quality. I do use the Adobe Creative Suite for my design work. That's probably who I've been the most brand-loyal to so far. 

We live in a time where the advent of an immense amount of creative people now have virtually unlimited reach via social media networks from Twitter and YouTube, to the just now emerging Instagram TV. Some artists believe that we live in a time of overexposure, that a lot of the curtain to the creative process has been pulled back to an almost detrimental effect. Do you feel that it's been more of a positive or negative change to have that sort of access for the general public to encounter exposure of an artist and their works with?

As a small artist who uses social media as a primary marketing source, I see it as a great thing!

I do agree we live in a time of overexposure, which leads to consumers and art-lovers being inundated with media. The good side of that is they also have their pick of the crop, and entertainment is no longer solely chosen by big executives. This means the small emerging artists are given a chance to be seen, and art buyers can find things more specific to their niche. If artists are worried about the competition, the key is to focus on your target market. Can you give them something unique that no one else can?

If you had to pick your favorite two movies, what would they be, and why?

I am so horrible at picking favorites! I'll just go with two of my favorites when I was a kid: Lion King and Jurassic Park.

Mac or PC preference? And why?

I use both and don't have a huge preference. At home I use a PC because they are usually much less expensive, and it's easier to upgrade parts.

When you're in the zone creatively, do you enjoy working with music or any kind of background noise going on, silence, or are you indifferent to the outside surrounding ambiance? I ask this because so many artists I know have almost, rituals of sorts, where they need music playing to drown out all but the creative incentive, or maybe they need to brew some coffee beforehand. Do any of those sorts of things come into play for you in your studio/workday?

I almost need to have something going on in the background, whether it's music or podcasts. I don't know if it's an ADHD thing or what, but if there is nothing going on, my brain goes crazy and I get much more easily distracted. If I'm doing something like painting, it's best for me to have some sort of background noise that can keep that part of my brain occupied while I'm working.
[Left] Brandi doing a live painting demonstration. [Right] The incredibly cute dino growth chart. My nephews own this, it's really well made, and they love it!
If I'm doing something like reading or writing, it's the opposite. I either need complete silence, or music with no words so that I can focus fully on the words I'm reading or writing. 

However, once I really get in the creative flow, I become fully immersed. At that point I might not notice other things going on around me. I've even been caught making sound effects while drawing. For example, I was drawing ducks in my college illustration class and a friend started giggling. I asked her why and she said I was making quacking noises while I was drawing. I hadn't even realized I was doing it! 

What artists, current or historical, had profound influences on you? 

When I first started Dorky Dino, I was heavily influenced by Sanrio, and lots of other cute Japanese mascot characters. I saw other artists on DeviantArt who were designing cute animals and making them into products they sold at conventions. Some of my biggest role models at that time were Tasty Peach Studios, Celesse, and Apofiss. 

Some current artists I look up to are Camill d'Errico, Lora Zombie, and Foyaland. As far as more historical artists, I've always loved Van Gogh and Monet. 

If you had the chance to work on a dream project, what would that be?

I would love to eventually work on a board game with my Dorky Dino characters! I think about it a lot, but I haven't nailed down a solid game mechanic yet, and I want to make sure it's good! If any game designers out there have a cool idea for a game mechanic, but need a cute theme or art direction, I am all ears! 
Some watercolor Pokemon. In my head, these was the aftermath of a fantastic taco eating competition. They both won.
I would also love to collaborate with dream artists like Sanrio some day! 

What aspects of product design have been the most challenging for you?

I really wish it was easier to find places to make particular products! Being a small, individual business, I can't afford to buy or store thousands in quantity, so that eliminates most wholesalers who are willing to create custom products. I have so many product ideas, but I don't have the ability to hand make everything I think of. 

Do you prefer Star Trek or Star Wars?

My dad is a huge Star Wars fan, so I grew up on Star Wars and never really saw any Star Trek. I don't have anything against it, just never watched it. In Star Wars, Yoda is my favorite. I love the wise-but-crazy type characters. 

This is one I've wondered for a while, especially considering the name of your business. What is your favorite dinosaur, and why?

The funny thing is, I haven't even made a product of my favorite! My favorite is the dilophosaurus (the spitting dinosaur with the frill). I have a sketch of it that I keep intending to make into products, but I have so many designs I want to create, I just haven't got around to them all yet. 

Do you enjoy museums? If so, which ones would you recommend or are your favorites?

I love museums, but surprisingly I've visited very few. I'd like to change that. I did recently visit Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, and I would highly recommend that just for the experience! I don't know if it counts as a museum as much as an art installation, but it's interactive and so much fun! 

This is something that I know a lot of creatives deal with. Do you have a method to balancing life between making art and down time for yourself?

This is absolutely one of my biggest struggles. I'm notoriously bad at relaxing or giving myself "down time," so much so that it's even come up in therapy. I have anxiety disorder and it can cause me to feel like I constantly have to be doing something. I give myself guilt trips for not getting enough done. The worst is when I'll be fighting with my own mind so much that even if I am "relaxing" I end up not really relaxing because I am feeling so guilty about it. 
A refreshingly adorable take on zombies as cupcakes.
Since it is something I struggle with, I've been taking strides and learning techniques to help with it. I try to remind myself that down time and relaxing are necessary for doing better work, and therefore it is productive. I'm also learning to recognize the signs of being burnt out, and learning to take a step back when I hit that point (or ideally before I hit that point). Some of my burnout signs are: being more irritable than usual, being more clumsy than usual, and my eye will start twitching! Now if I notice those signs I start trying to take it easy and maybe say no to some things for a while until I feel more under control. 

Where do you see Dorky Dino being in the next few years?

I see Dorky Dino expanding into more conventions, new products, and more cute characters. I have so many ideas for new products, so it's just a matter of finding the time to get them all going. (And, of course, choosing what to focus on first!) 

Out of all of the shows you've done, is there one that you'd earmark as your favorite?

There have been so many good ones and it's so hard to pick favorites! If I have to pick, I think Midwest Gamefest has been one of my top favorites. They instantly made me feel like I was part of the group, even when it was my first year. Now I host an art show for them (2019 will be my second year hosting the art show) and they have been incredibly welcoming and encouraging in letting me get involved. The whole crew is extremely nice, and the convention itself is a blast because it's filled with tabletop games and board games. My booth partner and I have been known to check out a game from their huge game library and play it in between customers. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to be part of my interview series Brandi. If people want to see more of your work or better yet see it in person at any upcoming shows, where can they find information about that?

Thank you for interviewing me! I really appreciate you spreading the word about other artists. People can find more information, and my products, at my website I love connecting with people on social media, so please feel free to reach out to me on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook. The very best way to keep up with me is by joining my email list ! I send out emails around once a month with announcements about upcoming events, new products, discounts, and giveaways.

No comments:

Post a Comment