Dr. Fantastique recently sat down with Jessi Arntz, better known as Sonya Tyburn to us Steampunks,the owner and artist behind JAFantasyArt, a studio that works in leather craft, costuming, props, mixed media illustration,and jewelry. Jessi has been a long time member of our culture, as well as the Mandolorian Mercs, and her background in fantasy role playing games and the Star Wars fandom leaves an indelible mark on her Steampunk art.
Please introduce yourself to our readers:
JA: My name is Jessi Arntz, I'm owner and creator of JAFantasyArt. Most people in the steampunk community know me as Sonya Tyburn.
How did you get started as an artist and maker?
JA: Well, I've always been an artist. I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil in my hand and studied illustration and studio art in college. But what really turned the tides for me was when I was in high school, my best friends dad, a professional prop and costume builder, took me to my first con. It was a small sci-fi/ horror con in KY called Wonderfest. I continued going every year until I moved out of state. But my second year in college I looked into it and thought "I can do this" So I spent six months on my own, not knowing anyone in the local community, making my first set of Mandalorian armor. I showed up to a local event in it and met the other local Mandos and started trooping regularly with them at charity events and cons. At one con in particular (AFW6) I met Airship Isabella and got inspired to start doing Steampunk. I realized it was something I liked before I knew what it was. And designed an outfit.
Why Steampunk, as opposed to staying in high fantasy or science fiction?
JA: Well Steampunk IS science fiction. If we want to get literal. [laughs] But I still do both. Since I've been doing Steampunk, I've also made two more Mandos, a Sith, and several video game costumes. But I'd have to say SP is definitely my favorite and most used because you can get the most creative with it. Add things here, mix and match there...and no one can judge you for it or criticize you about being accurate. (even though some still do. [grumpy face] )
What brought you to leather craft and scale mail?
JA: I know what I'm capable of and what I'm not capable of. And I knew that with practice, I could get good at it. Not long after meeting the Airship Isabella, I had a yearly photo shoot scheduled with a friend in Oklahoma. He said "Oh and bring out that steampunk thing you told me about. It sounds interesting". I told him I hadn't even started on it, but being the over achiever that I am, I wanted to have it done. So I bought a bag of scrap leather from Hobby Lobby and a snap setting kit and with the help of good old gorilla glue, I put together the crappiest holster. I still have it. [laughs] Reminds me of how far I've come. But I didn't do any more leather after that until about a year later when I moved to Oklahoma and got a Tandy Leather starter kit.
Oh scale mail. My husband actually started learning basic chain mail from a friend of ours, Lyle, who owns The-Armorer.com, I asked him to make a piece for me and eventually just started learning it on my own.
Tell us about your illustration work:
JA: Well, it really used to be my focus, but with my leather working taking off, it's kinda been pushed to the back burner. I've always focused on fantasy, hence my business name. When I started getting into SP, I started using elements of that genre in my work. I've also evolved my style as I've become more skillful. Mostly I work with ink and markers now (something that used to terrify me when I was in school because it's so unforgiving)
What has been your favorite project so far?
JA: Hmm...that's a toughy. But I suppose the one that is my favorite, that speaks the most about me is my steampunk dragon armor. It was over a year in the making and most of it got done within a month of a scheduled photo shoot. But I think it's the most unique, personal thing I've made.
I definitely wasn't going to let you get out of this without talking to us about your Dragon Armor. Tell us about the Dragon Armor project:
JA: Okay, it started as a couple of pieces I did for my SP persona, Sonya. She was becoming more of a dragon hunter character, so I wanted to reflect that in her outfit. I always hoped to make it into a full suit of armor, but it never seemed like it would happen. I got a lot of inspiration for it from the game Monster Hunter. The first three pieces I did were a gauntlet, shoulder piece, and greaves. I didn't start on any other pieces for almost eight months after that. I colored it to make it look like the hide was from a patina copper dragon, so it would fit with the steampunk theme.
What's in the future of JAFantasyArt?
JA: I honestly don't know for sure. Right now I'm doing a lot of Star-lord costume pieces. And I'm strongly contemplating taking on an apprentice. But I can tell you that my latest personal project is the costume of Lady Igraine from the Order 1886.
What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
JA: Well, I'm going to be realistic here. Not everyone can make it. And I know there are so many kids and crafters that go to cons and think this is the life. I want to sell at cons for a living. I'm not going to lie. It's really hard work. And the market is difficult. Any show can just be the wrong show for what you're selling. And cons are never the same from the other side of the table. Cons become work instead of fun. And even though having my own schedule, working from home, is nice, when I'm piled up on orders and have to get things out, I have to work weekends and really push myself to not be lazy. There's a lot of discipline involved. BUT...if you believe in yourself, and really keep it up, constantly working to become more skilled at your craft, you can do anything you set your mind to. It's all about setting the right goals, doing the right research, and managing your time wisely. It all starts with an idea. And every possibility begins with the courage to imagine.
Do you have advice specific to up and coming vendors?
JA: Know your audience. Have a variety of product at different prices. And think about what kind of people will be at each event and what they are likely to purchase. Also, do research on who your competition is, and what they are selling. Always try to be different. And, also research on what other events are going on DURING a con and consider if it is even worth it for you to vend at that show, instead of another show.
How do we get in touch with you for more information, order a commission, or to buy your work?