Name(s) + Company:
Jeff Barfoot and Shay Ometz, husband and wife owners of bee things, where we make products and art for the home, kiddos, and kids at heart.

Education Background (school / self taught, etc):
Jeff has degrees in Marine Biology, Illustration and Graphic Design from the University of Arizona. Shay has a degrees in Communication Design and German from the University of North Texas.

Where you first worked:
Shay: My first job was at Tractorbeam, a small studio in Dallas. At Tractorbeam, I was my own account manager, my own production artist, own stylist, my own everything (which isn’t a complaint, that’s very typical for a small studio), which made it hard to focus on creative. So I decided to work for Fossil, and I love the fashion industry and culture there.
Jeff: My first job was a cartoon strip. I had one in my college newspaper, and I got picked up by a syndicate my senior year. It was in a few newspapers around the country, which was neat, but it was so much work (a daily and weekend comic strip) for so little cash. I eventually had to call it quits in favor of my design career, but I don’t regret that. I love design and illustration, and the cartoon life is a hard one to break into.

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Favorite book ever:
Eames Design by Neuhart, Neuhart and Eames. Charles and Rey Eames are a huge inspiration for us. If you don’t know them, they were an amazing husband and wife design team that made absolutely gorgeous and smart furniture, textiles, posters, products, toys. Everything they did was beautiful, and they collaborated on everything, and shared a studio together.

Shay: We are huge readers, and I have to get these in! Favorite non-design books are Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger and The God of All Things by Arundhati Roy.

Recommended design / thinking / illustration book(s):
Oh gosh. We could write this whole interview on books we recommend. But here are a few that have inspired us.

1. Charlie Harper by Todd Oldham. We are compared to Charlie Harper a lot. He was a painter and illustrator, and is best known for his screen prints of birds. We are so inspired by him, and we love to design birds as he did. But we are very careful not to step on his legacy – we try to mix our styles and although we are enamored with him, we don’t want to plagiarize him. :)

2. The Complete Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Not just because of my cartooning background (Jeff), I am hugely influenced by Mr. Watterson’s ability to draw anything, anything at all, with a simple twirl of ink from a brush. The next time you see a Calvin & Hobbes book, take a closer look at all of the background and environment, the trees, snow, cars, landscapes. Gorgeous, and they communicate so much information with so little ink and (seemingly) effort.

3. A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. If you don’t know Dave Eggers, please do. He’s the Editor of McSweeney’s, and an uber-talented writer (novels and screenplays). This is his memoir of raising his brother after the death of his parents, and trying to start a magazine and get his career off the ground at the same time. We have two kids, and we’re trying to grow our studio day by day.

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The Professional Q&A

1. What made you decide to start bee things?
We love collecting books and ephemera. I (Jeff) would always tease Shay (whose nickname is “bee”) for collecting things and constantly rearranging and styling the house – I would come home from work and there would be a new something, and I would say “there’s another bee thing”. That’s where the name came from. We have always been creative, makers of thing, and we really never turn that off. Once we were married, we wanted to do something together, but we never knew what exactly that would be. When Shay was pregnant with our first son, I would make her a snack bag every day to take to work, and draw birds or bugs or whatever on them everyday, and people would comment on them and say “you should make those and sell them!”, and that sort of started it. Our house had custom-built shed in the back, and we converted it into a little screen printing studio without really knowing 100% if we would like it, but luckily, we loved it. We started printing illustrations on snack bags (we still do), and as we got better at it we started making art prints and other things. We feel so lucky in in life, and feel fortunate to have work coming our way and two healthy kiddos, we wanted our work to be happy, and we wanted to make things that we love to share our happy.

2. What’s your process for conceiving new designs/illustrations?
Being a husband and wife, we have a great advantage in that we can talk and bat ideas around anytime. One of us will have an idea while we’re brushing our teeth, and we’ll talk about it and go sketch it down. I (Jeff) can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve lost over the years because I didn’t have someone to bounce it off of or sketched it down. We work well that way. But as far as our process goes, we always sketch out ideas first to hammer out the big picture, and get the design far along on paper (it saves so much time to ideate that way) before we get on the computer. Then Jeff usually does the actual illustration, and then we talk about it back and fourth and get it to where we both are happy with it.Then we print it, but that’s a whole other article. :)

3. What do you regret not learning while you were in school?
We both wish we had taken more printmaking classes, now that that’s what we’re doing. We’ve had to learn as we go, trial and error. I’m sure there are probably better ways to do some of the things we’re doing, but we’re doing what works for us.

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4. What’s your most valuable ability? i.e. conceptualization, hand/computer skills, etc.
Jeff: Shay is amazing at color theory and art direction, knowing what people will like. She takes the renderings of the prints I do and really knows how to hone them, soften them, make them really appealing. She has this amazing ability to read the trends and know what people will like.
Shay: Jeff is very conceptual, a very smart thinker, and a gifted illustrator – had this crazy ability to take a complex thing and make it into its most simple graphic form. I hate him sometimes. :) And he can also interpret and illustrate in a lot of different ways. He can take the same bird, for example, and make it graphic, or hand drawn, or cartoony, or textured, or collage, or cut paper. All of our prints are a mix of styles but feel like they came from the same happy place.

5. What is the most exciting aspect of the art/design world right now?
It’s an exciting time right now. There’s a handmade revolution, an illustration revival going on right now. The 90s and early 00s were all about Photoshop and 3-D rendering, slick and glossy. Look at movie posters and ads – all slick effects. There’s a backlash against that, which happens with any trend. We’re noticing a lot of movie posters and tv ads that use illustration. It’s really refreshing and wonderful to see. It opens everyone up to doing more of that, and the general visual landscape is far more rich for it.

6. If you could move anywhere right now, in consideration of the art/design scene, where would you go?
London. We love London. The whole city is well designed, down to the public transportation, the posters, the museum exhibits, everything.

7. What’s your daily routine?
That’s the best part about what we do: we don’t have one. Every day is different. We may draw one day, print the next, pick at the website (new one coming soon!), or read. And we don’t mean to make it sound like everything is wonderfully fun all of the time, we do billing and figure out wholesale prices and do production. And because we’re still growing bee things, we still have our day jobs (Jeff runs his own studio, BarfootWorldwide, and I (Shay) am a Senior Art Director at Fossil, and oversee the catalogue group).

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8. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you, regarding design or otherwise?
We are constantly looking, always have our eyes always open for things that might inspire us. We’ve really made being creative our lifestyle, not just our jobs, so we never really turn it off. It’s like being a writer or comedian in that way – if you shut off your brain while you’re not actually writing, you miss all kinds of input and things that would trigger ideas or jokes.

9. In illustration/design, do you think is it more important to have a very distinct and solid style or have more of a range of styles?
Both. We really strive to have a range of styles but with consistent feel to everything. We want our work to have enough variety so that it’s interesting for someone to see everything we do and not get tired after seeing a few images, but they can’t be so different that they don’t feel like “us” anymore. We try to explore and experiment, but stay true to our “brand” or flavor of work.

10. Who would you call a mentor / attribute as the inspiration in how you work / do things?
Each other. :)

See more work and goodies at www.bee-things.com.

January 2010.