Julie Beezy, better known as Julie B., is pointing out the objects in the small, office/gallery at the front of her 6,000 square foot North Hollywood fabrication shop. The bear with the target on its stomach was designed by artist Luke Chueh. On the top shelf is a large, sculpted wave with bunnies falling from the froth. It's based on Uprisings, the Giant Robot Magazine cover image that brought duo kozyndan to the attention of many.
The keys and mezuzah are from Gary Baseman's Skirball Center exhibition, “The Door Is Always Open.” There are dozens of pieces like these on the shelves, sculpted works made for artists and galleries, designer toy brands and corporations. All were crafted by her company, Pretty in Plastic. Julie B. is the artist for artist.
Pretty in Plastic has molded a niche in the art world. They've collaborated with pop surrealists and graffiti artists, providing a service that's needed in a scene where bold installations can draw major attention and merchandise is part of the business plan. “We're the hands for them,” says Beezy.
Originally from New York, Beezy studied photography, but landed in the toy world. She picked up prototyping skills while in Brooklyn. After moving to L.A., she took on an apprenticeship and started making toys in the back of Sunset Boulevard comic book shop Meltdown. Everything Beezy knows about sculpting and toy production she learned on the job. It turned out, she was well-suited for the business.
“I have a little bit of OCD and a little bit of perfectionism, which actually works to my advantage in this industry,” says Beezy.
It's a highly technical approach to art. The goal is to create something that looks like it belongs to the artist, not Pretty in Plastic. Beezy, essentially, has to keep her own style hidden as she adopts that of someone else. The challenge is in translating a 2D image, often one that is already popular with fans, into a 3D object.
“Sometimes, I would almost call myself more of a machine than a sculptor,” says Beezy.
However, she's a sculpting machine with a keen attention for the details. “I do have that artistic eye that can see the poetry in the piece,” she says.
Sometimes, there's research involved. For Uprisings, she spent time at the beach, watching the waves to try and recreate the sense of movement. Often, like with her work for Luke Chueh, there's an aspect of collaboration, with the artists checking in on the progress.
Pretty in Plastic has been around for eight years and, for a good chunk of that time, Beezy worked on her own. Now, she has a handful of full-time and part-time employees who do everything from prototyping to limited edition production runs to one-off pieces. Pretty in Plastic recently produced a run of 500 figures for L.A.-based DKE Toys. They're the folks who did the seven-foot Slimer statue that was part of Gallery1988's traveling Ghostbusters exhibition. It was a complicated piece with a welded skeleton covered in foam normally used for costumes. They had to construct the piece to make shipping and assembly easier.
“It's a creative-scientific approach,” says Beezy of the work. Research and development happens inside the shop, with team members experimenting on new, even proprietary, approaches. Beezy herself comes from a scientifically-minded family— she brings in her engineer brother to consult on projects— so learning about new materials and adapting to new technologies is something she finds exciting. Pretty in Plastic handles 3D printing jobs as well as traditional ones.
The sounds of machines roar in the background as we walk through the large space. There are areas for casting, painting and screen-printing. Everyone is busy working on something, mostly projects that they can't discuss yet. The staff members are artists outside of the shop as well. One is a body-painter. Beezy says that came in handy when they made a “life-sized sex doll.” Another specializes in metalsmith work. One more is a sculptor and photographer. Some weeks, they only spend four days working on assignments, using the fifth to do their own thing inside the shop. Pretty in Plastic artists have shown off their personal projects at the company's convention appearances as well.
Next year, Beezy will debut some of her own art at Chinatown gallery Jai & Jai. Details are slim so far, but she knows she's working with another toy artist on it. For eight years, Beezy has been focusing on bringing other people's ideas to fruition. Soon, she'll be showing off what visions are in her own head.
Right now, though, there's a lot of fabricating to be done.
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