Words from Shawn Smith AKA Shawnimals

So tell us a little about Shawnimals.. such as what is the story behind the name?

What I do creatively and what Shawnimals is as a company has evolved a lot over the years, but we’re fundamentally the same: A character design studio that makes products with an emphasis on design, character, and story. As for the name, the short version is my brother Scott nicknamed me Shawnimal when I was a kid. Don’t know why, maybe because of the Muppets. But I pretty much forgot about that nickname until a friend, years later after I started making these odd stuffed animals, suggested I call them Shawnimals and it clicked.

Do you come up with all the story lines and such for all the characters?

Most but certainly not all. Shawnimals is myself, my wife Jen, Monte and Eric. We all contribute now, and, in fact, some of the best stuff comes from those brainstorming sessions. In addition, we collaborated with a friend and writer Robbie Q. Telfer on our Professor Fliggins epic, which was an all-new way to approach something for us, and, I think, pretty unique overall.

Do you have a favorite character?

It’s ever-changing. Certain characters for certain reasons. The Wee Ninja, of course, because it’s so simple and yet has provided us so much in so many ways. It continues to allow so much creativity. We have a pretty diverse world outside of Ninjatown, but lately I’ve been into the Kicky. He’s in a perpetual kick when he’s not relaxed. Maybe that’s a testament to my mood lately.

If you could have a super power what would it be and why?

Timeshifter. It would be nice to catch up a little more…

What does a typical Monday look like for you?

We roll in between 9am – 10am, I get to emails, we have a weekly staff meeting to catch up on what’s going on with production, design, projects, etc. Ninja of the Month has been keeping us quite busy, and we have at least 5 projects going at any one time, so it’s managing those, catching up on illustrations (computer-based) and general brainstorming for various project components. At some point, I like to sit down and do a little drawing. Not necessarily for a reason, but just to keep up on it. Doesn’t always work out, but I try to get it in there. We always try to leave by 6pm. Early for some, but having regular hours provides us structure and a decent balance between work and life.

When we come out to Chicago where are you going to take us for dinner and drinks?

There are SO many solid options out here, but seems only right to go the encased meat route and keep it in my general hood. Here’s the plan: Hot Doug’s for lunch, beers at the Map Room, dinner at Lula Cafe, and cocktails at the Whistler.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

Kermit the Frog plush with Velcro on the hands and feet. Hilarity ensues. GI Joe is a close second.

Would you like to tell us about any new stuff you’re going to be doing?

We’re excited about our upcoming Shawnimals mini plush serious with Squibbles Ink + Rotofugi due out this Fall which includes some classic Shawnimals characters. We’re also self-producing our Wee Devil plush, so the Wee Ninja will finally have his proper arch enemy. Outside of that, we hope to have some more fun stuff on the way with Kidrobot. More on that later.

Do you have any pets, if so what are they and what are their names?

Our dog Remmy is bad ass. We adopted her from PAWS and she’s a Dutch Shepherd. Hence the name Remmy, short for Rembrandt.

What are your favorite mediums to work with?

I graduated with a BFA in painting, so you’d think I’d love that, but as it turns out whenever I paint I’m just using the brush like a pen. I realized I love working with color and the textures paint provides, but at the end of the day I love drawing. Pencil, ink, marker… it’s all good. Of course, I love sculpture, too, since it’s a physical thing when you’re done. I find that very satisfying.

Who would you rather play with in the water piranha or tiger sharks?

Tiger Sharks. At least you know where you stand. Piranhas seem like assholes.

What tunes are you blasting while you work?

We’re all over the place thanks to iTunes shuffle. Could be classic country one song, Beastie Boys the next, Grandaddy, Fugazi, John Coltrane, classical… eclectic for sure, but it makes sense when you’re working on this fun, weird stuff.

Sandwich orĀ Burrito?

It’s all about what’s inside. I’ll meet you in the middle and choose Torta.

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Interview by Adam