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These Artists Found a New Audience: Kids

This Otto and Victoria print has been frequently purchased for nurseries.
This Otto and Victoria print has been frequently purchased for nurseries.
Brian Kesinger

Ana Bagayan is an artist whose work has hung on the walls of galleries like Thinkspace in Culver City and FB69 in Munster, Germany. Her pieces also hang on the walls of children's bedrooms. Once, a man told her that he had been buying her drawings of extraterrestrial characters for his daughter's nursery. Recently, a woman commissioned her to draw her teenage daughter posed with an alien.

Bagayan's work often deals with extraterrestrial or supernatural themes. Kids, and parents, seem to dig it. There's one work that she knows is hanging in a child's bedroom. It features a girl with psychedelic eyes tugging on the fabric of her dress to reveal a baby swathed in the light of a UFO. Another piece that made a kid's wall features a girl holding a planet-like orb. The bright circle in the middle of her forehead matches the sun behind her.

Bagayan is one of a number of artists who is reaching a much younger generation of art collectors. She says that 12 percent of her Facebook followers are between the ages of 13 and 17. On Instagram, she has even younger fans clicking the like icon on her images. 

It all started when Bagayan began exploring UFOs and extraterrestrial phenomenon. She began "collecting" the images she found online, mostly things spotted on Tumblr shared by teen users of the social blogging platform. "As my work progressed, I noticed more and more kids starting to follow me on Facebook and Instagram," she says in a Facebook message. Discovering the youth audience has made an impact on Bagayan's work. "I have been making some of my work smaller and affordable for them because I love being able to reach kids with my artwork."

Misha, who just goes by one name, has shown a lot at Gallery 1988. She also has prints for sale at Monkey Pants, a children's clothing boutique in Little Tokyo. Her work became an unexpected hit with tween and teenage girls. Mychaela Hardy, who owns Monkey Pants, believes that these older girls relate to the "rebellion" in Misha's work. Her primarily female characters look different. They are a little spooky, but dress in fashion-forward designs.

"You see that these characters and these paintings are a little offbeat, creative and very unique," Hardy says. "We all know that teenagers want to be unique. That's their whole thing in life is finding out who they are and finding what is special about them."

Try and Touch My Heart by Misha got the attention of a new generation of fans at a recent convention.
Try and Touch My Heart by Misha got the attention of a new generation of fans at a recent convention.
Misha

Misha's young clientele isn't limited to one store, though. Last year, when she had a booth at Comikaze, she noticed that the girls who weren't quite teenagers yet were coming to her booth. What the artist found interesting is that her work isn't typically "kid" art. Her girls are frequently depicted as monsters and other sorts of supernatural creatures. They might have teeth lining their eye sockets or faces that are half exposed skull.

In particular, these new fans were drawn to a piece called Try and Touch My Heart. In it, a girl is holding a bloody heart. The hole in her chest appears like a heart-shaped mouth, complete with teeth and a tongue. "I had at least three little girls come up to my booth and say, 'That's cool!" she recalls. Still more girls dug her Day of the Dead ladies. Another girl bought two necklaces, featuring tiny versions of the artist's images, for her and her sister. Misha wasn't expecting this kind of following, but it's been a pleasant surprise.

"It's interesting because I wasn't scared as a little girl either," she says, "so I don't know why I thought they would be frightened of it."

Misha's work touches on a lot of themes that are particularly relevant for the middle and high school crowds. Her characters are often awkward, almost uncomfortable, with their appearance. "My girls are at least a reflection of my own anxiety as a girl," she says. That's a fairly wide spread human experience. "It's a really rough time," Misha says of the teen years. "I feel like that age group connects with that kind of feeling coming from my art in the first place, that awkwardness."

For some shops and artists, art for kids is a specialty. Leanna Lin's Wonderland is a family-friendly boutique in Eagle Rock that sells a variety of items. It also hosts frequent art shows some of which, like the recent exhibition Supahcute Science Fair, are focused on engaging the little ones. The big sellers here, though, are the prints that owner Leanna Lin Fong regularly keeps in stock.

When Fong opened the store, she intended to offer items that would cater to the elementary school audience. However, she was thinking more along the lines of handmade jewelry rather than art. "I knew that there were families and kids here, but I didn't realize how many of them actually shopped," says Fong. "A lot of moms are friends with each other, their kids go to school together. This is one of their favorite places to get birthday gifts for each other."  

Artist Ana Bagayan notes that this piece was purchased for a child's bedroom.
Artist Ana Bagayan notes that this piece was purchased for a child's bedroom.
Ana Bagayan

Prints can make good gifts. There are educational ones, like Cuddlefish Press prints made by artist Erica Sirotich, which encourage reading and give factual info about the state of California. Those are popular here. There are empowering prints, like one from artist Genevieve Santos that features a young girl in a Star Trek outfit surrounded by pop culture items usually associated with boys. It's called Growing Up Geek. Joey Chou, who has illustrated Disney books, has a variety of whimsical works that are really popular here. His work sells out frequently. Fong is consistently ordering more prints from him. Eagle Rock-based Crowded Teeth is popular here too, particularly for her work featuring pandas and llamas.

Still, sometimes the popular kids' room items come from unexpected places. At Clockwork Couture, Donna Ricci-Watts sells steampunk and neo-Victorian apparel. She also sells work from Brian Kesinger, a Disney storyboard artist whose personal work is quite popular in the steampunk scene. Kesinger's big hit is a series revolving around the characters Otto and Victoria. The former is an octopus. The latter is a green-haired Victorian girl. "This is a girl and her best friend," says Ricci-Watts. "It's just adorable, the way they interact and look out for each other."

Ricci-Watts' young daughter is a fan. The store owner says that people frequently buy Otto and Victoria pieces for children. One of the more popular prints at her shop features the two characters on a carousel. Otto is holding ice cream cones in his tentacles. "Because of the soft color palette, people gravitate towards that one and they usually buy it for their kids' nurseries," says Ricci-Watts.

Kesinger, himself the father of two children, says that he's sometimes commissioned to make new works specifically for nurseries. One such commission came from a woman who was pregnant and whose husband was serving in the military overseas. "It was important for them to have their own piece for the nursery, for their baby," says Kesinger, "I got goosebumps when I thought about my working touching them in that way."

His work is popular with older kids too. Kesinger's illustrations are frequently featured on t-shirts from L.A. brand We Love Fine and he makes convention appearances. His work has also been widely shared online. Sometimes, co-workers will say to Kesinger, "My daughter discovered you on [the website] deviantArt. She's a really big fan." The popular artist gets a kick out of that.

Certainly, Kesinger has had cross-generational success. Adults send photos of their Otto and Victoria tattoos. They also buy the prints for their own kids. Recently, Kesinger announced his forthcoming project, an Otto and Victoria coloring book. One common response, he says, is, "I have to buy one for me and one for my kid."


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