This Week from Lisa Congdon: Berkley Illustration


Posted by Lisa Congdon

I've been smitten with the illustrations of Ryan Berkley of Portland, Oregon since I discovered them a few years ago, but I am even more smitten with the husband and wife team who make up Berkley Illustration since we became real, live, in-the-flesh friends this past year. Ryan draws adorable animals wearing suits that have won the hearts of folks the world over. The husband and wife team of Ryan and Lucy Berkley have turned Berkley Illustration into a household name among indie artists, crafters and collectors the world over.

There are several husband and wife (and husband and husband, girlfriend and girlfriend, girlfriend and boyfriend, etc. etc.) work partnerships out there in the art, craft and design world, and Berkley Illustration is one of the most successful. Ryan is the illustrator and Lucy handles everything else about running their business, though they insist that they are really collaborative about ideas, concepts and projects. They have an extremely successful Etsy shop , travel to several craft fairs to sell their wares throughout the year, and sell wholesale to several shops.

The Berkleys are two of the nicest people I know. I asked them recently to tell us about Ryan's artwork, a little bit about how they work together and how they like living in Portland.


Lisa: Ryan, tell us a little bit about how you began drawing? How old were you? Did you go to art school? How did you get to where you are now?
Ryan: I began drawing at a very early age. I remember my mom keeping a little scrapbook of my superhero drawings (that I wish I still had). She was very encouraging and helped my keep an interest in drawing throughout my life. My grandfather was also an accomplished artist, so it may be genetic. I took art classes in high school, and a painting class in college. I got to where I am now with a lot of patience, hard work, the help of my wife, Lucy, and knowing a few awesome connections here in Portland.


Lisa: I am so impressed that you are mostly self-taught! How did you begin drawing animals in suits?
Ryan: I started drawing animals in suits a few years ago after I did a series of ancestor style old-timey portraits. Then I tried a few with some animal heads. People really responded well to them, and the Etsy shop took off, and here we are basically making it a full time business.


Lisa: I love hearing those stories! Amazing. What do you like best about being an artist?
Ryan: I love creating color and texture in my art. I love my medium. I love listening to music while I draw. Most of all, I love making people happy with my art. Every time they come over to my booth and smile or laugh, or send me an email telling me how much they like my stuff, it gives me an amazing feeling. And one day when I’m gone, I'll have perhaps made a small, positive difference in some peoples lives. That means a lot to me.


Lisa: Lucy, what do you like best about working with Ryan and running your joint business?
Lucy: I think the best thing can also be a bad thing sometimes. It's really nice that running your own business often doesn't feel like real "work," but then sometimes we also forget that, yes, it is real work and we're allowed to take breaks. 


Lisa: You two live in Portland. How long have you been there? How did you end up there?

Ryan: Lucy has been here since 1994 - she moved here originally because her family moved here.  Together we've been in Portland since 2000. We met while working in an art supply store together in Eugene in 1999. After Lucy graduated, she convinced me to move to the big city.


Lisa: What's it like living there? What do you like best about it?

Ryan: It’s the best. I don’t know if I ever want to leave Portland. I love the people here, all the amazing things to do (when I am able to get out of the house), the vegan food, the Blazers, and the art community. Oh, and the lack of sales tax.
Lucy: I like the small-town/big city nature of Portland and the liberalness of the city.  It's cozy.


Lisa: In your wildest dreams, where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
Ryan: In five years, Id like to have two brats running around, a dog, and maybe a few illustrated children’s books on my resume. In a nicer, neater house, working on illustration full time.

Lucy:  Ryan's answer sounds good to me as long as we're traveling somewhere a few times a year too. Actually...this is wildest dreams?  I'd like to be traveling the world all the time, with Ryan, the brats, the dog, and the children's books and I'd like to be working on my own photographic book. Traveling by teleportation is preferred and we'll have a lot of dinner parties with Tom Waits and his family.


Lisa: What advice do you have for other romantically partnered people who want to be in business together?
Ryan and Lucy:  Mostly you have to remember to separate your work from your personal life. We are very horrible about taking this advice, but we know it's the best thing to do so you don't run yourself into the ground. You also have to realize that one or the other is going to burn out, freak out, stress out, and understand that it has nothing to do with the personal side of things. We usually find a really good balance where if one of us panics, the other seems to pull through on the levelheaded side of things.

Thank you Ryan and Lucy for giving us a glimpse into your world!

Jan Halvarson


Elizabet said...

Thanks for this "behind the scenes" post. My boyfriend and I stumbled upon the Berkleys' Etsy shop this month while perusing art for our new home. We fell in love with these whimsical creatures (and their very serious attire).

sarah said...

lovely interview. love the illustrations. love these two!

sara girlscantell said...

i couldn't agree more with lucy's observation "It's really nice that running your own business often doesn't feel like real "work," but then sometimes we also forget that, yes, it is real work and we're allowed to take breaks. "
it's so easy for a business you love to become life consuming.
i love their work and send many happy wishes!