Sara Barrett says without hesitation. “I have a deer as one, and an eagle as the other. Which makes sense, because a deer is relaxed and passive, while an eagle is crazy and aggressive.”
Barrett’s deer-ish aesthetic combined with her eagle-like work ethic have made the Braintree-based business, Bark Decor, that she runs with her sister Shauna, a wild (har har) success in just a few years. Barrett began selling prints on Etsy in January 2009, and the shop has since expanded to include clothing, accessories, and home decorations. Shauna makes all of the jewelry while Sara does all of the illustrations, screen printing, and sewing. Everything from “Wild Cat-a-lope” t-shirts to pillows to screen prints of a “wolf totem” fill their online shop.
Barrett’s designs are all original, but she draws inspiration from Native American patterns, African textiles, and Egyptian artwork and hieroglyphs, besides the obvious muse—Mother Nature—that pervades her work.
“I’ve been moving into a lot of patterns lately,” Barrett says, though she’s always been partial to parallelograms. “When I was little, I always played with Tangrams. I would make a horse with trapezoids.”
“I still have that tendency to use shapes. A lot of the designs I’m doing are made up of basic, simple shapes.”
Simple though her designs may be, the process of creating them is, in Barrett’s words, an “adrenaline rush.” She uses eco-friendly practices to make her products, which, among utilizing water-based inks and recycled packaging, includes exposing her screens to the sun instead of using an exposure unit that relies on toxic chemicals.
“You’re like, ‘Now, the sun is out now!’ And you run out and expose it, and you have to know exactly how many seconds you’re out there otherwise it might not work,” she said.
This process, which is much quicker (20 to 30 seconds, as opposed to spending 40 to 45 minutes in an exposure unit) and more sustainable, was actually born out of necessity. Barrett, like so many artists, started out completely broke, and realized that the sun was a cheap alternative to buying an expensive UV exposure unit.
“When I first started, I was using a wooden cutting board to press my shirts,” Barrett recalled. “I printed my shirts like that for eight months before I saved up enough to buy a press.”
But despite Bark Decor’s humble beginnings, the business has gained major notoriety. Last year, Barrett was contacted by an ABC sitcom, Better With You, to see if they could use a couple of Barrett’s prints for the permanent set.
“We had to sign a contract with Warner Bros. It was really awesome.”
The biggest honor, though, was being interviewed by Etsy for the coveted Featured Seller spot. The website put Bark Decor‘s shop up on their front page, the ultimate goal of any Etsy vendor.
“Afterwards it was like, what do we do now? We need a new goal!” With the bar set even higher, Bark Decor started doing wholesale and expanding their product line.
“The next goal will be to keep doing what we’re doing, but to do it better and do more of it, do more shows, travel, and be happy.”
Her advice for aspiring artists is to figure out what you love, and then to pull up those neon-colored bootstraps and get to work. “If you don’t have enough money to do something, just figure it out until you do,” she says. Spoken like a true American.