Internal organs such as one’s heart, stomach, liver and colon are not precisely what most individual would deem to be “cute” yet making these essential body parts appealing—even adorable—is precisely what artist, designer and plush toy maker Wendy Bryan Lazar has dedicated a good part of her life to doing. Wendy is the owner of I Heart Guts, a company that promotes characters she created based on body parts—specifically, guts—via a series of stickers, apparel and stuffed toys. Recently, Wendy discussed her experiences as an artist, toy designer and small business owner:
Wendy Bryan Lazar (WBL): I’ve been hooked on drawing ever since I could fit my hand around a crayon. If you look at my class notes from high school they were always super colorful, dripping with drawings in the margins. I am a compulsive doodler.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you make your way into the works of cartoon illustration?
WBL: When I was ten years old, someone’s mom bought a drawing I did for a Chocolate Moose for $5 — I was pretty excited. During middle school, I took cartooning and illustration classes, I was lucky enough to go to a school with an appreciation for the arts as well as sciences. I did my first real illustration work drawing super-cute fruits and vegetables, breakfast foods and sushi back in 1999 for a t-shirt company called Yum Pop.
MM: Growing up, which artists/types of art interested you?
WBL: I got a Hello Kitty pencil set when I was maybe five and was entranced. I loved checking out the aisles of Japanese stationery and kawaii stickers in Little Tokyo. Seeing cute little faces on everyday objects from tomatoes to washing machines really blew my mind. I loved the simplicity and cleanliness of the design and drawings. When I visited Japan as an adult, I couldn’t sleep, I was so excited. I was also a huge fan of Edward Gorey adorably weird gothic drawings.
WBL: I Heart Guts makes happy internal organ plush toys. It’s a collection of body buddies that I started as a joke/conceptual art project as a side to my freelance graphic design work. I made a handful of buttons and stickers, built a website and then, much to my shock, started getting orders and requests for more body parts. It grew and grew until we started making plush toys and then it took over my life, kind of like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
MM: How many characters are in the “I Heart Guts” series? Do you have a favorite?
WBL: There are 52 different body parts, 28 of those have been made into plush toys. Asking me to pick my favorite is like asking me to name my favorite child. But if you must know, it’s the heart, since it was the first one I drew and that organ really gave birth to the rest of the series. Or maybe the uterus is my favorite. Don’t tell the other organs I said that.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your artwork and/or being an artist?
WBL: I love the way my customers make my organs a part of their life in a very personal way. If you’re having trouble with one of your guts — let’s say you have diabetes — then you are more connected with, and aware of, your pancreas than the average person who just eats a cookie and forgets about it. For someone with colitis, having a plush smiling colon can help get through the tough times. I’m super happy to be part, in a very small way, of someone’s dealing with tough times.
WBL: I hope still alive and kicking, but with even more guts!
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?
WBL: Follow your heart. And try to have as many ideas as possible. One of my former art teachers asked us to have 100 ideas a week. It seemed impossible, but it made the point that not all your ideas are going to be brilliant, so you better come up with a lot of them and hope one of them is half-decent.
MM: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
WBL: I’m working specs for several new plushes, including the vagina and penis, but genitals are complicated, so it’s taking me a while. I don’t want to rush it.