Buzzzzzzzzzzzz! Prepare to be joyfully stung by the whimsical art of Shay Ometz and Jeff Barfoot, better known as Bee Things! We had the esteemed pleasure of sitting down to interview these two zany characters recently and we got to discuss what all the buzz is about. This dynamic duo has partnered up, in more ways than one, to bring us a delightful collection of art that is nature inspired and ultra colorful. Here’s what we found out:
OD: Can you give us the scoop on the story behind your name – Bee Things?
BT: (Jeff) My nickname for Shay was always “bee,” and neither of us can remember why. That’s what happens when you have kids: you forget things like baseball stats, what actors played in what movies, or what it was like to eat in a restaurant that isn’t “Chili’s”. Anyway, Shay is an extremely talented art director and stylist (she’ll deny it but it’s absolutely true). For years, she’s always brought props from her shoots home, everything from little milk jars for flowers to Nelson lamps and would rearrange the house accordingly to make a home for the new thing. It seemed like every week there would be another something in the house and I would jokingly say, “There’s another bee thing!” When we started to actually collaborate on things (aside from our relationship that is), I surprised her for Christmas and had done our logo, stationary, and packaging for our new studio we were starting and named it “Bee Things.”
OD: When and why did you guys decide to create art together?
BT: When we were first married, we lived in a little duplex apartment. When we found out we were going to be having a baby, I made her a little Kraft snack bag every day. And since we’re both designers/illustrators, I just couldn’t send her off with a blank lunch sack – sacrilege to our profession. So I would draw a little different something on there every day with crayons, a bird, a little animal, or a silly visual pun. People she worked with would see the bags, and many suggested (rather strongly, in some cases!) that we should sell them. When the baby was close to coming, we decided to upgrade to a house. The one we found (and were lucky enough to get!) had a small back-house in the yard, not as nice/big as a guest house, but nicer than a shed. We were wondering what to do with it, and Shay suggested we turn it into a screen printing studio. Neither of us had ever screen printed, but we just went for it. I finished out the shed over the spring (put in walls, a ceiling, and power), and researched screen printing. We started, as planned, by screen printing snack bags, birds at first, and selling them on Etsy. I thought that since we were going through all the trouble of making printing plates and printing on bags, we should print a few extra images on paper and see if we could sell the images as prints. Six years and over 6,000 prints sold later, here we are!
OD: Describe some key elements of your style or technique – you don’t have to give away any secrets!
BT: We love color. Lots of color. I think we’re both pretty good at working with it, which sounds weird, but other designers and illustrators will know what I’m talking about. We’re always trying new and unusual color combinations, and any chance to use bright color, we don’t hesitate. We also both love, love, love mid-century (60s) design. We love the products, chairs, lamps, fabric patterns, colors, whimsy, everything from that era. We even nerdily live in a mid-century modern house (built in ’61). We are in awe of designers and illustrators that were prominent in that period – Alvin Lustig, Paul Rand, Jim Flora, Max Huber, Disney Animation during that time was stellar, Otl Aicher, Charles and Ray Eames. We could go on all day.
OD: Birdie Tea Party has a very vibrant and poppy color balance to it. Can you tell us why you chose to mix those crazy colors?
BT: Actually, that illustration is inspired by a real bird. The painted bunting (we’ve seen one only once – they’re endemic to southern Texas and Mexico, but wanted up here (we’re in Dallas) from time to time. If you’re reading this, you should look it up – it looks totally made up, like a bird from Avatar or something. It’s red, blue, yellow, green, gray and black. Beautiful! They remind me of Easter when I was a kid – I grew up in the stick in southern Colorado, and each Easter we would go to the feed store and get little chicks they would dye bright colors.
OD: We noticed in your profile pic that you have 2 kids and 2 dogs. Do they ever help or inspire your creativity.
BT: Quite the opposite – they are so much work! No, we kid. The Wiener dogs, no so much. But the kids do daily. The things they draw are amazing – rarely do they draw “something” (like a dog or tree or whatever) – usually it’s just patterns and colors. And kids have no inhibitions with their amazing little art – they mix whatever colors, patterns, on whatever paper is within reach. We bought them a pack of Japanese tape – tape in bright colors with dots and stripes and patterns. They draw and stick other bits of paper on with the crazy tapes. Most times, it’s bedlam. But sometimes, it’s amazing and delightful. We have several things framed. We’re inspired by those – we’ve actually tried to capture that inhibition, try color combinations and pattern combinations we wouldn’t have tried before. And don’t get us started on picture books –we have a huge collection. Some of the most amazingly talented illustrators working out there are doing picture books. We are in awe every evening.
OD: Another interesting piece of yours is Terns. Was your intention to create a feeling of symmetry and balance with the birds?
BT: Yes! One of the few times the sketch and final illustration were exactly the same!
OD: Do you have any quirky artist characteristics like painting in your PJ’s or only eating peanut butter sandwiches on the days you create?
BT: Shay definitely has the best answer for this question. She carries with her at all times a smooth stone, a tiny little bean bag about the size of your thumb, and the cut-off top of a Ziploc baggie. She holds one of these things in her hand, and it helps her think (baggie: she loves to hold it, and zip it open and pop it closed with her fingers. Mine is, I love to create to white noise. I buy tracks that people usually get for sleep sounds – rainstorm, fan blowing, waves crashing. I put on noise-cancelling headphones and go to work. It’s weird – I like it better than music for thinking, but after the sketches are done and I’m just executing, I like music better.
OD: How long does it typically take you to create a piece, or does it usually vary?
BT: Sometimes, we love a sketch and it takes a while to get the final rending just right. I actually have a folder on my computer with illustrations that are still waiting to be “just right.” And others, like “Terns“, took only a few hours to get just right. We never know, but that was a lucky one.
OD: Is there any meaning or reason behind the placement of the symbols rotating around the bird from “Zebra Finch”?
BT: I wish there were. Sometimes we just wing it. We knew we wanted some little bugs and seeds and things to complete the composition we have in mind, but sometimes we like to keep that loose, and just have fun once we start the illustration (after the sketch).
OD: If you could go back in time and give your 10yr old self one piece of advice – what would it be?
BT: Shay: I would tell myself to be myself. I spend a lot of time trying to fit in, sort of denying my true self. When you’re in high school, it’s hard to do that. I probably ended up being the same person, but it took me a little longer to get there. 🙂
BT: Jeff: I would tell myself to be true to what you love. I actually have a degree in Marine Biology of all things, and although I don’t regret a credit hour of that, I always had design and art in my heart. I probably would’ve saved my parents a few years of tuition payments had I listened to that instinct (I was trying to be practical, with a “real job“), but I don’t regret it at all. I do love science, and I use it in my work every now and then. Plus, if I’m ever on Jeopardy! I’ll know what the tiny scales on the skin of a shark are called!