All you have to do to become Etsy royalty is draw a T-rex wearing a cowboy hat. Ryan and Lucy Berkley, the husband and wife team who created this week's cover image, found that out when they started their online shop on the DIY arts and craft site over six years ago. The Portland couple makes a full-time living selling old west-inspired cameo illustrations of anthropomorphized animals wearing flamboyant outfits from their Etsy site. The portraits number in the dozens and depict an imaginative variety of characters—a shark in a green corduroy suit, a roadrunner in full astronaut garb, a chipmunk in a beanie and a flannel shirt. Each is hand drawn with marker and colored pencil by Ryan, and then Lucy writes a personalized bio for each character. The couple has sold over 37,000 prints through Etsy, and that success has led to production runs of their work with Urban Outfitters, with a pillow series in the works, and a calendar to be sold in mall kiosks. Not bad!
Source Weekly: Give me some background on how you got started as an illustrator?
Ryan Berkley: I always enjoyed drawing. My grandfather was a professional artist. I don't know if its possible to inherit artistic talent, but we were always in awe of him. I was self taught and didn't go to college for art. I drew all my life and was interested in doing comic book art. Then I got old enough and realized that it's really tough competition. I am still a huge comic book person; it's all I drew up until I met my wife in 1999. Lucy is kind of the business mind, so she was able to take my art and shape it into something we could make profitable.
SW: How did you start drawing your signature animal portraits and how did you become so successful on Etsy?
RB: That idea started with the first Crafty Wonderland show. We needed some kind of art to sell and my wife was working at the Oregon Historical Society and I had a vast library of old timey portraiture at my disposal—old western, turn-of-the-century portrait style. I decided to draw a couple animals. I just thought it would look funny.
Right about that time (November 2007) we built up an Etsy. We put a couple of prints on there and the next day a few sold. We were getting sales everyday and Etsy did a feature on us that December, saying watch out for these guys. That got us out there and sales were rolling in, and it increased every year to the place where I could quit my full time job. We do everything by hand. We purchased an inkjet printer; we've run through seven or eight. We cut every print with a paper trimmer. We're packaging them and my wife writes bios for all the animals so we include that with the print. We ship tens of thousands of prints from our home.
SW: Tell me about the cover piece?
RB: I've always been a yeti and Sasquatch fan. Since the third grade I've liked Big Foot. Living in the Pacific Northwest, there's a lot of that culture and fantasy. The cover may have spawned off of this big foot superhero I created. He still lived in the woods and would come into public to do good deeds and fight crime.