As the holiday season nears and the year comes to an end, there is no one I would rather feature than the mighty imaginative Danamarie Hosler of mightyPigeon. I mean it — spending time with her will inspire you and make you smile! With creative monsters, an open minded way at looking at unfamiliar creatures and an uplifting spirit, Danamarie’s energy and animals will get you in gear to take on anything 2018 throws at you!
Just B More: So how did you get started in the making of monsters, Under Appreciated Animals cards and other imaginative finds? Have you always been making fantasy products or did you have another artistic outlet before this?
Danamarie Hosler: Professionally, I started out as a Children’s Book Illustrator & Muralist, but I actually started making my dolls back when I was a sophomore in college. I went to MICA and was fascinated by this girl in my Art History class who used to knit socks during the lectures. I’m from Miami, so the whole concept of wool socks was new to me in general, but also that she could come to class with a ball of yarn and leave each day with an entire sock was just… whoa.
So I taught myself to knit and it turned out that socks were kinda boring for me, but I had these silly little paintings I was doing of happy big-nosed creatures with little horns and cats with one big eye and teeny little feet, and one day I just decided I needed to know what one of them would feel like to hug, so I set to work knitting it. I called them Knitimals and the rest is kinda history. I don’t really knit the dolls anymore, but I’ve since expanded my line to include a number of new “species” of creature (all of them have the same sort of design style, which originates from the way I drew faces when I was little) and that keeps me on my toes.
In general, my work is about making childhoods happier, brighter, smarter, more imaginative & more representative. I want kids to look at my stuff and feel inspired by it, excited by it, to see themselves in my characters and see faces that look like theirs. And I want all those same feelings to reach grown-ups too, and tap into their inner child and feel connected to that part of themselves again. So, having all these different outlets and imprints/collections helps me do that.
JBM: I adore your Under Appreciated Animals line! Where in the world did you come up with that line of merchandise?
DH: The Under Appreciated Animals project actually started as something I was just going to make for my son. When he was two, his favorite animals at the zoo were the Okapi and the Dik-dik and he asked me one day, while going through one of his many ABC books, how come they weren’t in any of them.
I was just going to draw them and stick them over the O & D pages, but then realized that EVERY kid should know what those animals are and there’s no reason to keep giving kids the same animals over and over again. As an educator and with my Children’s Book background, it was something I knew I could (and should!) pursue. Once the cards came out, the rest of the merchandise grew out of customer response and request, believe it or not.
JBM: How long have you been in business?
DH: I officially launched my business in 2000 when I graduated, and used to balance other full-time/part-time work alongside it… and that got old fast. I wasn’t able to fully commit to my work and myself and eventually had to make the choice to just strike out on my own and see what I could do. I’ve been happily working for myself full-time since 2006.
JBM: Why the name mightyPigeon? (It’s adorable!)
DH: I LOVE PIGEONS.
My business is actually twofold; the plush side is called *might and the Illustration side is mightyPigeon. *might is a play on the double meaning of the word — possibility and strength, which is what I think of when I think of my younger audience. Little kids have so much amazing potential and possibility, and I think if we give them the right tools, they can be fortified and grow up strong & resilient and ready to take on the world!
mightyPigeon is who I am… the grown up version of the *might kid. I’ve still got the possibility in me, but I’ve already been fortified and I AM taking on the world! I relate very strongly to pigeons. They’re actually incredibly smart and skillful birds with rich histories & cultural importance all over the world… but they’re deeply misunderstood and taken at just face value, you assume you know everything you need to know about them (and a lot of it is actually false). People tend to see pigeons as a cluster, as opposed to each individual bird as unique and special. I want to change that! I want my art to make people pause and reflect. And for people to see their own value & strength — the mighty pigeons they are.
JBM: Your creatures are so whimsical and unique. Where do you get the inspiration for your pieces?
DH: I’m inspired by a lot of things. Color is a big one for me; color is so emotive and sometimes I’ll just lay a bunch of fabric out on the desk and see what combinations occur naturally and pull my eye to them, or I’ll just let myself paint and move colors around the paper until something starts to look like something. I love patterns and repetitive shapes and designs. I’m inspired by my kids and the things that get their attentions or seem to be interesting them. I love seeing the world through their eyes — the perfect way they draw, without rules and restriction, the connections they make, the words they use to tell stories.
I’m inspired by current events too — though, most of the time these days, what I’m trying to do is make work that can brighten a dark day, give voice to the voiceless, draw attention to an issue that needs addressing, or simply say, “I see you. I hear you. I value you.” Its hard to stay positive all the time, but if I can find one thing to make me smile each day, that helps and sometimes I need to be the one to make that thing exist for myself.
JBM: So I have to know, do you have a favorite collection?
DH: A favorite?!?!?! DONT MAKE ME CHOOSE!! I don’t think I can pick favorites. I love them all for different reasons. There, that’s my “mom” answer for you.
JBM: Do you have any fun stories from the business?
DH: My work has traveled far more than I have. In fact, I have sent work to every continent on Earth, which is a pretty fun claim to fame.
I did MegaCon, a convention in Orlando, FL last year though and it was SUPER fun. I’d never done a con before so I was anxious and had no idea what to expect, and then the doors opened and whoaaaaa! It was SO crowded, SO fast. And EVERYONE was so incredibly kind and patient and passionate, it touched my heart every day since.
I LOVED seeing all the cosplay and how people would stop and pose for pictures with strangers of all ages — and the cosplay was so detailed and intense; people clearly put so much pride into their work and then would stop by the table and buy something from me and tell me that they wished they had my talent. Meanwhile my jaw is in my lap because I’m gawking at this larger-than-life, fully functioning, robo-exoskeleton something-or-other that they’re wearing like it’s nothing. I don’t know… I just loved that experience so much. I love geekery. I love seeing the things people are REALLY into… because, like, I get really into stuff and geek out about it and have to collect the heck out of whatever it is and can talk to people about whatever it is for hours on end, so to have an entire convention center full of people with all these various but often overlapping fandoms, and to see them all connecting over it, it was kinda beautiful.
It was clearly an environment without judgment and there were people of all ages mixing and mingling. It was all a really nice reminder of how lovely the world can actually be.
JBM: You’re such a joyous person and you seem to absolutely love what you do! What do you love most about mightyPigeon? Is this your forever job?
DH: This is absolutely my forever job. I will probably continue to ebb and flow, add products, do less sewing and more drawing and then come up with some great new idea for a new doll design and go back to doing more making than painting, but I will be an artist and will run my own business forever and ever and ever and ever.
I love the freedom it affords me, both in terms of actual physical freedom (hello working in my pajamas!) and mental freedom (I just don’t feel like doing anything today… so I won’t). I love that I can homeschool my kids and still work — that I can prioritize without having either side of my life suffer. I love that if and when I have some nagging idea that has to be acted on, I can just go and do it and I don’t have to wait until I finally get that vacation time I’ve been accruing, like when I was managing another full-time job.
But mostly, I love that I am doing exactly what I have always wanted to do, ever since I was little. And its not easy… at all. And money is very often tight. And I am very much at the mercy of other people’s tastes and budgets and gift-giving lists (all of which I completely understand). BUT I am also very lucky to have found and cultivated a wonderful following of supportive art lovers, who appreciate what I do and have made room for it in their lives. And I love that about my job too. I’ve met incredible people and knowing that other people are out there loving my work as much as I do is just the coolest thing.
JBM: I’m thinking that people should all own at least one of your creatures to give them some of your positive spirit. It’s hard not to smile when you look at them. How can people get in touch?
DH: Follow me on Instagram for (nearly) daily posts — sneak peeks at works in progress, studio scenes, inspiration and more — @mightypigeon_art.
JBM: Thank you so much for your time. This was a delight!
DH: THANK YOU!!