In our Makers section we are introducing you to the awesome people behind innovative products. Our guest this week is Leah Lester the creator of Little Lazies.
Please tell us a little about your background and what you are doing.
Hello! My name is Leah Lester and I am a Monster maker living in Seattle, Washington where I am the owner and creator of Little Lazies – handmade, one of a kind, sculpted creatures! Before Little Lazies, I was a full time Cake Decorator at a Bakery in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. I also attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and in 2008 I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Graphic Design. Little Lazies entered my life in 2010 and with a lot of hard work and determination it has now grown into a full time business of Monster making!
So I bet you are thinking, “Really, what are these Little Lazies?” Well, they are creepy, cute collectibles one can display on a desk or on a shelf!
I sculpt these creatures in Polymer Clay, cure them in my home oven, then sell multiple different designs online in my Etsy.com Shop. Little Lazies designs are primarily Monsters, for example Zombies and Cyclops, but I also make a variety of animals, as well as original characters – anything my mind wants to create!
I chose Etsy as my primary selling platform not only because it is a popular place for makers and buyers alike, but it is easy to use and comes with a lot of helpful features, my favorites being the Shipping Tool and the Messaging System. Other than fees adding up, Etsy is a great place to showcase and sell your work!
What inspired you to create Little Lazies?
It might sound silly, but Little Lazies all started in a small Bakery in Virginia. In 2010 I was a full time Cake Decorator, designing Wedding Cakes and Specialty Cakes which allowed me to sculpt with edible sugar paste and fondant. I would make flowers, animals, and a variety of decorative items you usually see on cakes, but one day I decided that I wanted to decorate a cake for my Sister. I wanted it to be my own creation for her and with no hesitation I decided to make a Monster, because who doesn’t like Monsters?! So I did just that; I sculpted her a little green, toad-like Monster out of sugar paste and placed it on top of a cake decorated to match. It was a hit – my Sister loved the Monster and so did others I showed it to and they wanted more… They wanted a Monster they could keep for a lifetime! Sugar paste would not do the trick, so I decided to try some Polymer Clay from my local Craft Store and from there I experimented and practiced as much as I could until I developed an unique style to call my own.
In the beginning I sculpted Monsters for my friends in my free time, giving them away as presents, but with a lot of encouragement and motivation from others I decided to make an Etsy Shop. My intentions at first were to sell to my friends and maybe some of their friends, I was just having fun! But with each Monster I made, Little Lazies seemed to grow… little by little (pun intended) Little Lazies reached more and more people, either through Blogs sharing my work or through my willingness to work with other companies to get exposure. It took time and a lot of patience, but eventually Little Lazies was getting a fan base and an actual following which means more orders and more Monsters! More orders also means I had a decision to make: stay working at the Bakery and continue to do Little Lazies part time OR take a leap, retire as a Cake Decorator and do Little Lazies full time – I chose the latter and it was one of the best decisions of my life…
“It isn’t easy, working full time as a small business owner never is, but it sure is rewarding.”
What goes into developing new monsters?
When it comes to developing new Monsters, I tend to grab some clay and start brainstorming! Think of it as if I am sketching with clay instead of a pencil and paper. I sit at my work-desk, with a vague idea swirling around in my head, then I sculpt until I have created something I am proud of. I call it the first draft of a design – the prototype. It might take several attempts to get it right, but it is worth it in the end because now I have a new design to work off of! Once I have the prototype finished, I then create several copies of that design, meaning I sculpt each figure one by one. I do not mold and cast my work, I do not work with any sort of printing – I make each piece by hand. With each Monster being handmade, that also means each will look slightly different and one of a kind. It is time consuming, but I find that fans of Little Lazies appreciate that each piece is unique from one another!
Making the creatures is one thing, but finding inspiration is a wonderful (and sometimes hard) process on its own. Inspiration to me comes from within – I take a lot of inspiration from the memories of my childhood: the pop culture of the 80’s, the toys I had as a kid, the cartoons I watched, Halloween – it all comes through in my art in some shape or form. I have always been a fan of Monsters, especially the classics, like Cyclops, Zombies, Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monster, Mummies, Werewolves – they are just so cool to me, perhaps the appeal comes from the memories I hold dear from childhood! I think most of all, I am inspired by animals of all kinds, as well as mythical ones – the characteristics are distinct and work well in my art. Sometimes inspiration doesn’t come so easily, and that means it is time to recharge – I will go for a hike or listen to some creative music then try to become inspired by what is going on around me. It is a tricky thing, inspiration doesn’t always come from what you see, but it can also come from how you feel.
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
There have been challenges along the way, for sure! There is no way a small business owner hasn’t experienced some sort of problems… I can’t remember them all (there are plenty), but I know there have been a couple that have set me back for sure.
Some things I have learned is to 1. Be patient: Give yourself some time to learn and grow. There is a lot to discover when you own a small business as a maker – it will happen in time, but not overnight. You have a lot of studying and exploring to do before you will grow.
“If you try to hurry the process along, you most likely will waste time in the long run. “
2. Accept help: In the beginning, I did not want help from anyone – I wanted to do it all when it came to my business. I wanted to do the branding, the promoting, the photography, the everything. Though now I have realized that it is not a bad thing to find help – hire someone to design your logo, do collaborations with other artists and companies, work with someone to put your work into production – it is okay to have partners!
3. Make friends. I am an introvert at heart, but during my time creating Little Lazies I have found that making friends with other artists and small businesses owners helps in so many ways – communication with someone that is like minded can be so refreshing – they are going through the same thing as you! Find your art community and bond with them, share their work, ask them for help – in most cases they will be happy to help out!
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
What do I consider to be Little Lazies’ greatest achievement so far? Most definitely being invited to do several art shows and collaborations with some of my favorite artists this last year. While doing these shows/collabs, I have also been able to work with several companies and galleries that I look up to in the art world including Martian Toys, DKE Toys, Clutter Gallery, FLABSLAB, Mothership Art Gallery, Sculpey Polyform – which has allowed my art to be featured throughout the US and Internationally as well. It definitely feels like an achievement when you have other artists and companies wanting to work with you and help you get exposure – being noticed by people you admire, that is success in my eyes.
What are your goals for the future?
My goal for Little Lazies is simple, I want my Monsters to be known throughout the world! Hmmm that really isn’t simple, is it? But dreams aren’t always easy. Sincerely my dream would be to have Little Lazies mass produced so they would be in stores for people young and old to collect. That would also make it so I would have a lot more time to create handmade pieces – I have always wanted to make a Little Lazies Chess Set or create a Book Series featuring my Monsters and one day I will!
What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started with their own project?
First, make the decision to start and be serious about it, then set small goals for yourself – baby steps! Make lists: write down your goals and deadlines, because nothing is more satisfying than marking something off a list – you feel productive and a force to be reckoned with! On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up when you fail… be patient and don’t give up when you make a mistake (because you will make a lot). Embrace the failures and learn from each one of them!
“Make sure you have a product that is recognizable and unique by developing your own style. “
It took me quite a while to create my signature style, but it will be worth it in the end – your art will stand out and people will recognize your work from a mile away. Once you have that, then you’re unstoppable!
Which resources, tools, insights have been the most helpful to you?
Honestly the most useful tool for me has been Social Media. I know, that sounds like the obvious answer, but without Social Media I wouldn’t be able to reach as many people as I do. As a maker, keeping your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter active is a big deal. Make sure you’re interacting with your Followers and have fun with them – Communication and being genuine goes a long way! Also, like I mentioned before, Social Media allows you to keep in touch with other makers and small business owners as well, so you always have someone to to ask for feedback, advice, or insight.
Another resource I have found helpful is a book called Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. It is a non-fiction book written by artists for artists – “The point of the book is to help the young and/or struggling artist survive in the art world and to conquer the various difficulties, obstacles and fears that the developing artist faces.” This book has helped me realize that making art requires more than just natural talent and skill – it covers the long term strategies that the authors have seen in successful artists.
What’s your most favorite little monster you’ve ever created and why?
This is a very difficult question, I sincerely love all my Monsters, but the first one that popped into my head is from 2014, a Little Lazies called My (Lazy) Pet Monster! If you’re an 80’s retro kid like me, then you probably know who My Pet Monster is – a blue, fluffy Monster with that hard plastic, bumpy nose, a big smile, sharp teeth, and orange cuffs with chain that you could break apart – roar! I had this toy when I was young and I loved it, we were best buds… So I created a Little Lazies version of this Monster out of nostalgia – it is special to me, it takes me back to those times when I was happiest as a kid. Plus, just look at that face, he was begging to be made into a Little Lazies!
What is your favorite movie/TV monster and why?
Cyclops! He is pretty deadly and kind of mean, but I have always had a soft spot for him. In mythology he was made out to be the bad guy, but I think he is misunderstood – think about it, if you came home to strangers in your house eating your food and taking your stuff, wouldn’t you be mad? Cyclops just decided to eat the intruders, which may have been a bit of an overreaction… now that’s my kind of Monster!