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Meet Shelli Heinemann of Potbelly Bears

Meet our October/November Artist: Shelli Heinemann of Potbelly Bears. Each month, we'll bring you an interview with someone in the bear world. Enjoy!

When did you start making bears and what inspired you to design your own?

I made my first bear in 2003, and sold my first bear in 2004. When I started, I purchased bearmaking books from a local used book store, and utilized the patterns they contained to make my first bears. From those patterns, I gained an understanding of basic construction and proportion and assembly and jointing.

I quickly developed a real hunger to create my own original patterns, though, and to find my unique "voice" in bearmaking, which drove me to give pattern design a shot for the first time in my life. After one or two failed attempts, I had a successful outcome.

Describe your style of bears and/or animals you make.

I like my bears to be "teddy-like" and huggable; they're neither particularly realistic, nor especially cartoon-y.

Last year I took a one-year sabbatical from bearmaking, during which I dabbled in 2D artforms -- and even authored a book! Now, totally reinvigorated and refreshed, I'm returning to the studio table with some new ideas. I'll still focus on the wide-eyed, winsome, detailed faces that I so love making, and that my collectors seem to really enjoy. But I also want to focus more on the "whole bear;" on creating pieces with attention to detail across every aspect -- like trapunto pawpads, for example. I'm really wanting to see each piece I make as more an art object you can hug at this point in my career, than a "stuffed animal" that happens to be a bear. It's a psychological shift and it might sound small and subtle from an outside perspective, but inside my head, it's really an entirely new approach. I SEE what I'm doing, what I want to be making, differently now.

Where do you live and where are you originally from?

I live in Chico, in Northern California, which is about four hours north of my original hometown of Mountain View. Mountain View is now better know as the home of Google!

What inspires you?

What doesn't inspire me? :) I'm particularly inspired by the wondrous, the beautiful, and the magical -- whatever that may be.

What is your favorite part of bear/animal making?

Oh, absolutely, the construction and finishing of the face. That's where each little furry soul gets born.

How did you choose your business name?

Hmm... That's kinda a long and probably boring story! The short version is that I originally wanted to be "ShelliBelli Bears," but my excellent friend and touchstone, Andrea, talked me out of it. She's a branding expert, marketing consultant, and graphic designer, and she gave me lots of smart reasons why that name wasn't ideal, such as: people would likely misspell "ShelliBelli" in a web search because both parts of that compound word are unusually spelled, and that might cost me website or eBay hits. I was convinced! So I morphed into POTBELLY BEARS which has more to do with the product I actually sell (another point Andrea made) and wasn't being used elsewhere, that I could find. It's proved an excellent choice, and when I branched out into other artforms, it was very easy to broaden that to include POTBELLY ARTS.

Do you have any other hobbies besides bear making?

The one that I find particularly consuming and enthralling is Artist Trading Cards, or ATCs. I'm a member at several mail art sites and a frequent participant in swaps. It's so great for my creativity to stretch this way, and the artists I trade with are spectacular, so I'm growing a lovely card collection along the way.

Do you have any children and/or pets?

I have a husband, two sons and two stepsons, and we are an absolute menagerie of rescued animals, with two dogs and four cats. Between that, and the mohair, I live a hairy life. I know that sounds totally weird, but it's true.

What are you most proud of?

Oh, gosh... I'm sooooo proud of my sons. That's an easy answer! They're incredible people, so accomplished and funny and cool. I could go on and on; I've basically been an at-home mom for 15 years now who's supplemented that life, when I could, with bearmaking and other pursuits.

But if you mean "professionally" or "creatively" I'd have to say I'm really proud of the bearmaking tutorials I've shared, because it feels so good to teach and share; I'm proud to have been asked to co-found the awesome teddy forum, Teddy-Talk.com, and to have been a moderator for years during its early growth and development. I'm also incredibly proud of the book I recently authored and edited, which was a labor of love and turned out really nicely. It's called COLOR: A COLLABORATIVE PERSPECTIVE and it's a collection of wonderful original art of all kinds made by friends of mine in the ATC world. You can view a preview -- or buy it! -- at LuLu.com.

Where do you sell your bears?

I'm formerly almost exclusively an eBay girl, but I've been giving a lot of serious thought to selling only and directly from my website from here on out. That one's to be decided. Once I make up my mind the options will be obvious; just visit my website. :)

Potbelly Bears
Potbelly Bears
Potbelly Bears Blog
Potbelly Bears on Teddy-Bears.org
Potbelly Bears on Etsy
Ebay Seller Name: potbellybears

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