How do you know you've made it? For Ringling College grad Syd Weiler, it may have been when people in Thailand started dressing up as her head-banging Trash Dove, a small animated purple pigeon that belongs to an iPhone sticker pack she created on a whim. Now an Adobe Creative Resident, Weiler has witnessed the exponential popularity of her art across the world, especially in Thailand, where the sticker first gained fame (and notoriety) in January of this year. We got the chance to talk with Weiler about her art, Sarasota and the floppy purple pigeon that's taken over the internet.
What inspired you to create the trash doves?
Back in September, I was in Minneapolis for a gallery opening. I was in a park up there and there were just a bunch of birds around. I had never thought about pigeons before but they’re really funny, and they’re kind of pretty. Their feathers are shiny and almost iridescent, and they just kind of bob around. I went back to my hotel and drew some, threw the drawing up on Twitter, didn’t think anyone would think much of it, and it ended up being one of my most popular tweets. So a couple months later my friend was making iPhone stickers and she said, “You should make some based on those pigeon drawings that everybody likes so much." And then I made them all in a weekend.
Did you expect this much success?
Never. Before the initial boom of Facebook in Thailand and this quickly getting out to the rest of the world, I had success with the stickers; people on Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr liked them. I was planning on making pins, stickers and other merchandise for them. But no, I did not expect this amount of widespread internet fame, pretty much overnight.
What has it been like seeing interesting international recognition for your work?
It’s been as much bad as it’s been good. The best part has been seeing all the fan art, seeing all the messages from people who are like, “I love the bird, it just makes me laugh, it’s all over this conversation that I’m having with my mom, or my boyfriend, or my sister.” And then I get screenshots of these conversations that are entirely the stickers that I drew; that’s what I made them for, that’s what I wanted them to do for people. I wanted them to make people smile.
But when things like this go viral, eventually ownership becomes lost. A lot of the specific issues I’m having are related to copyright infringement or art theft, people attempting to sell my work or make derivative work from mine for their own profit. I’m an independent artist, I’m not a company, and sales from my stickers aren’t paying my board member salaries; they’re paying my rent and my grocery bills. Seeing people do this has been disheartening, but I’ve also been learning a lot about intellectual property law and trademark and copyright law, and how I can defend my rights as an artist. I spend hours every night filing copyright claims on T-shirt sites and stickers and apps and games that people have made with my work on them. But I’ve also received a lot of help from my community, pointing me in the right direction, telling me what to read about and what forms to fill out, and it’s totally working.
Are you a native of Sarasota?
I’m actually from northern West Virginia. I came down here to go to Ringling and I graduated in May. I’m planning to move within the next year.
How did your time at Ringling influence your work?
I started out at Ringling in computer animation, failed out of that, switched over to illustration, and started combining what I learned in 2D animation in the computer animation department with my work, so a lot of the stickers are animated. Ringling taught me that I should be making work that makes me happy, thinking of things that are satisfying and fulfilling for me, then finding applications for it out in the world after the initial happiness is satisfied.
Has living in Sarasota impacted you and your art?
Absolutely. My illustration that’s outside of the sticker work is more based on visual development and concept art for animation and games—that’s what my professional background is. I’m inspired by nature and foliage and plants, and Sarasota is very, very beautiful. I learned to paint by going outside and painting every day for two years, and that was all done locally.
Can we expect any future projects?
I’m currently an Adobe Creative resident. I’ve been with Adobe since last April. I am getting ready to release a series that the program was meant to fund: It’s called "Before & After," and it’s an extension of my Ringling thesis. I am also a full-time creative streamer. I stream online at Twitch.TV almost every day. I sit down every morning and go live. I have a face camera and people can see me and hear me talk, and then they can see my Photoshop program open on my computer and watch me paint. I’m currently working on building up my stream community so that can support me financially and I can continue to share with people and create an environment for them to come and work alongside me. I’m also working on another sticker pack. It’s called Trash Bandits and they’re raccoons. That’s it—they’re raccoons and they love trash.