Julie B. was raised by two science teachers, and she's pretty sure that's why she sees something two-dimensional and her brain transforms it into 3-D. Plus the fact that she employs team members (mostly women, with a few guys), such as her metalsmith Carrie, who can handle everything from delicate airbrushing to running the giant Rotocast machine, which is "like an Orbitron ride in a museum, that rotates the model in every direction" to design hollow 3-D plastic forms.
The team produces things so real and engaging that Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come knocking at her Burbank art fabrication shop, Pretty in Plastic. Reddit had its Snoo alien mascot created in three dimensions here, and pop surrealism artist Luke Chueh had Jack created in 3-D on the premises.
Chosen this year by L.A. Weekly for its Best of L.A. 2015 issue, Pretty in Plastic is as much a crazy little factory whose innards look like a kid's morning TV show as it is an art house that works with serious creatives to produce high-end sculpture.
And since Pretty in Plastic is capable of molding anything into plastic and more, they do get a lot of really strange requests.
They didn't blink an eye, for example, when artist XVALA came to Pretty in Plastic seeking to mold and cast, from chocolate, an actual hot dog bun and real banana in its peel "that were from Justin Bieber's trash can. It was so crazy," says Julie B., pausing. "You'd have to ask him. We also painted the hot dog with white chocolate, actual chocolate, that had been dyed to make it look like it was moldy. Totally random," she laughs.
Early on in the company's life in 2007, the artist Buff Monster commissioned a 9-foot-tall squirting boob fountain based on one of his paintings, which was installed at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City for his Happy Squirter show. It was fully cast in 3-D plastic, and, she giggles, "it actually worked, with water spurting out — though he'd wanted milk."
"Our focus right now is often on fine art fabrication, because we really excel at attention to detail and working with artists directly in a creative environment — we really put a lot of heart into that." Using many of the technologies employed in toy prototyping, including 3-D printing, digital sculpting and modeling, and CNC (computer numerical control) milling, the team wields everything from power tools to delicate air brushes for hand work.
"Rooster is one of our star artists, and an amazing illustrator and sculptor," she says, for example, but her small shop is filled with multitalents, so Rooster also "handles all of our art handling and crating, to get it to the gallery or the museum for our artist client."
Pretty in Plastic, which she founded nearly 10 years ago in a space behind Meltdown Comics on Hollywood Boulevard "by working my ass off — I never took out a single loan," is growing. Julie B. surmises that beyond attention to detail, and insistence upon having fun, "there is something about people that makes them want to encase everything in resin."
The shop will also cover anything you like in flock, which is actually made up of miniature fiber particles. She can't count the things they have covered in flock. "You use an electrostatic gun to charge one wetted surface negatively, and you charge the flock positively so it stands up on end — then it rushes over to the negatively charged surface. I flocked my thumb once," she laughs.
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There might not be much call for this sort of thing in, say, Boise or Mobile, but "you should see our production list" at Pretty in Plastic.
When she founded it nearly 10 years ago, she and her mentor, Los Angeles artist Nathan Cabrera, got a commission to create a "carnivorous giraffe" for artist Amanda Visel. Cabrera was her entry into the art world, she says. Another of the firm's earliest commissions was to develop "a ginormous purple tree that houses different Cheshire Cats created by Span of Sunset, that became an installation for Gallery1988 on Melrose Avenue."
Julie B. doesn't use her last name, which shows her artsy side. She told her parents, the science teachers, that she was being featured in a newspaper for her business, complete with a video, and got an email from her mom "super late' the other night.
"My mom goes, 'That looks like someone who really enjoys her work.'"