If you’re a geek, then at some point you’ve probably fallen in love with an irresistibly cuddly plush version of a character from your favorite fandom. For me, that includes a baby Niffler, a furry Ewok that dates back to the opening of Disneyland’s Star Tours, and a stuffed sky bison named Appa.
If you haven’t yet found your fandom-themed plushie soulmate, Brandi Sampson could probably help you out.
Brandi is something I didn’t know existed until recently: a custom plush artist who takes inspiration from anime, Nintendo, and Kawaii culture and turns it into the kind of soft, adorable, fuzzy little companions you dreamed about owning as a child.
Brandi has been drawn to art and craftsmanship since childhood but didn’t discover her creative outlets until later when she learned to sew and build her own cosplays and started handmade plushie business BeeNerdish Crafts, after whipping up some videogame-based designs for her friends.
She’s known especially for her fun pumpkin and floral-themed Bulbasaurs of Pokemon fame, as well as her epic custom commissions. True story: One of her plushies was signed by none other than Michael Rooker, aka Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy.
A self-described “full-time nerd” who’s into X-Men, the MCU, J.R.R. Tolkein, Kingdom Hearts, Sailor Moon, Studio Ghibli, Hellboy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and old-school anime, Brandi’s artistic motivation is simple but profound.
“I just love to create cute things.”
You can enjoy more of her lovable plushies and cosplay on Instagram, @beenerdish.
You are a plush artist who specializes in adorable handmade, fandom-inspired plushie creations. You sell some of them in your Etsy shop, BeeNerdishCrafts. I had no idea handmade plushies were a thing! How and when did you first begin making these little cuties?
I first started making plushies in 2011. It wasn’t something I was aware of being a thing either until I started sifting through DeviantArt and seeing the My Little Pony fandom blow up.
You’ve been crafting all your life. What sparked that interest for you? How did you learn to sew and then, specifically, how to make plushies?
Watching educational shows as a kid; seeing people draw or create things with a lot of details has always been fascinating. I absolutely adored art but it wasn’t something I was really encouraged to pursue as an actual career in. In fact, I actually didn’t learn to seriously sew until my early 20s (cosplay and theater-related things), and I’m still learning new things every day.
The first few plushies I made were for friends who liked certain video games. It got addicting to see what else could be created. While the internet has a plethora of tutorials on ragdolls and simple shapes, there wasn’t a ton of reading material on making custom plush as we know it today. So, for the most part, I’m pretty self-taught.
What do you enjoy about creating plushies? Why did you decide to focus mainly on anime and fandom-inspired ones?
I just really love creating cute things. Growing up, plushies were always a thing of comfort and happiness for me, as they were for lots of other people. I wanted my things to stand out in a way that was familiar and noticeable to people, so doing concepts from beloved video games and shows really helped with that. Also, making things that may not have been seen before was always a bonus. My absolute favorite thing is seeing people smile or react to what I’ve made; it’s such a wonderful feeling knowing I was able to make someone happy with my art.
One of your specialties is making Bulbasaurs from Pokemon. Sometimes you create them with themes, like roses or pumpkins, and it is the cutest thing ever. Why do you love Bulbasaurs so much?
As it turns out … Bulbasaur isn’t my absolute favorite Pokemon! Growing up, I was Team Squirtle, so if you’d told me ten years ago I’d become familiar for making Bulbasaur fan art I’d have been pretty skeptical.
The themed ideas started around Halloween and I was looking for ways to join in on all the spooky artwork people started putting out. I figured I’d take a pattern I’d already used and applied Halloween colors. Those wip (works in progress) and final posts went nuclear … and to tell the truth, I’m still kind of floored by the response to them these past couple of years! After pumpkins I decided to look at other plants and colors to see if those could work. They’re very fun to customize and over time I’ve become very fond of them.
People may not realize handmade plushies require artistry. You don’t just crank them out. Tell me a little about what goes into the process of making one of these critters.
For commissions, I’ll spend a good bit breaking down the different shapes that make up the body and features of a plush, and then start building from there. There’s embroidery design and testing that out. Then there’s drafting patterns and testing each one to see what works. Sometimes you can spend all day working on a face or pair of wings and have it not turn out quite right. It can be incredibly frustrating at times but the final result is often so rewarding that it makes it all worth it.
What kind of equipment, materials, and techniques do you tend to use?
I own four machines: three for embroidery and one for sewing. For materials, I got started in fleece but right now I tend to work exclusively in Minky fabric, which is very soft, smooth, and can give a nice clean look to a finished plush. My techniques are a combination of self-taught methods, things I learned from tutorials, and good, old-fashioned winging it.
Where do you get your inspiration/ideas for your latest creations?
Seasons, colors … sometimes it can be really arbitrary.
A lot of your plushies are inspired by Nintendo, anime, and Kawaii culture. How did you first become interested in these things?
Childhood favorites and interests that started from grade school and just kept evolving from there. I was that super quiet and shy kid in school who had binders of Pokemon cards and doodled Sailor Moon things all over my notebooks.
You’ve described yourself as a “full-time nerd.” What were some of your earliest nerd influences and experiences?
My dad loves comic books and movies, especially Batman. (He’s the biggest Batman nerd I know). Watching cartoons and shows with him as a kid was always a good bonding experience. He introduced me to X-Men, Sonic the Hedgehog and penny arcade games. To this day, we discuss a lot of the different things happening in comic book movies!
What are some of your favorite fandoms?
X-Men, some MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Tolkein, Kingdom Hearts, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Steven Universe, Studio Ghibli, Hellboy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and lots of old-school anime.
What are some of the favorite commission plushies you’ve made?
Nebby from Pokemon and Bob from Animal Crossing. They were super challenging and I’m a sucker for a good challenge when it comes to art. My commissions have slowed down due to shop orders but they’ll pick up again!
You’ve also sold your plushies at conventions. What has that experience been like?
It’s a lot of work but always a blast! There’s definitely learning experiences that go along with it all. It’s so much fun though, and I can’t believe it’s my actual means of making a living. It’s been such a blessing.
You’re an avid cosplayer who makes your own costumes. When and how did you discover cosplay?
In college! I went to my first anime convention with some friends and completely fell in love. It was something a lot of us decided to try together.
I really love your Lydia Deetz, Bee and PuppyCat, and Chuu Totoro cosplays. What are some of your favorite cosplays that you’ve done?
Definitely Luna Kaguya and Garnet. A handful of my cosplays get lots of really sweet reactions from people and that’s always fun!
What kind of work goes into designing and bringing your cosplays to life?
Pretty similar to building plushies: I’ll break down different elements like props, wig, undergarments, accessories and then build up a garment from there.
You recently participated in the multimedia project The Space Between: Celebrating Black Womxn in Geek Spaces. Tell me more about that.
It’s a collaborative event between the amazingly inspirational Talynn Kelly and Kecia Stoval. The project involves highlighting black women and femmes in geek subcultures and creating room for ourselves in spaces where we’d be normally marginalized and dismissed. I got the chance to work with some inordinately talented people and I can’t wait to see what else they come up with,
What’s your experience been like as a black woman in the geek and cosplay community? I understand it can be complicated.
That’s actually putting it lightly. Sometimes it means I’m invisible or having to raise my voice to be seen or heard as a human being. Putting on a costume doesn’t negate any discrimination I face for being black.
I’ve been flat out ignored for photos, casual or professional. I’ve received hate mail for “ruining” characters and been told that I should stick to the handful of canonically black characters. It used to get to me a lot and it was very discouraging. Sometimes it still can be. It’s gotten better these days, but there’s still so much work to be done.
What cosplays do you have planned for 2019?
Definitely more Pokemon and Sailor Moon, but a good bit are a surprise, so you’ll have to follow my IG for that.
I’m currently working on a gijinka design of Bellossom by Japhers, and later this year I want to finally tackle a Sakizo design. I’ve recently purchased a dress form so that’s pretty exciting since I’ll be able to make more streamlined work!
Do you have any plans, goals, or dreams for your Etsy shop or your plush making business?
One day, I’d like to develop my own plush patterns for people to use. I’d also like to travel more and do artist alleys at out of state cons. It’d also be a dream to design plush for indie game developers.
I heard that Michael Rooker once signed your Yondu plushie …
Best. Day. Ever. Lol. A very good friend was kind enough to take him to get signed, so I’ve yet to actually meet him. One day, though!
If readers wanted to support your art, what’s the best way they can do that?
A Ko-fi can go a long way. If someone enjoys what I do, then they can always donate to Ko-fi; every bit helps! Each goes toward new projects and keeping the lights on. If they’re able to adopt a plush, then that’s great too!
Do you have a large plushie collection at home?
Sort of! I have a very finite space for collectibles so if I get something it has to be very special. Most are limited edition and aren’t easily found anymore. My favorites are Sailor Pluto, Vash the Stampede, Hellboy, and Uwu the Narwhal from Tasty Peach.