With Further Ado #059: Isaac Bidwell of Pickled Punks

One of the coolest Finger Lakes entrepreneurs I’ve gotten to know is Isaac Bidwell.  Sometimes he refers to himself as an artist, but he’s really so much more. He’s created a company, Pickled Punks, that evokes a bygone era of Halloween and spookiness, all with a charm and panache that forces you to exclaim, “More, please!”

The official listing for Pickled Punks talks about how this innovative company creates artwork, plush toys, coloring books and apparel based on Cryptozoology, Sideshow, Spook Show and Halloween. They sell online, but also travel around the county doing various events from craft shows to horror festivals, committed to educating people (young and old alike) to the wonders, mysteries and folklore of the past. 

I caught up with this busy guy and had a lot of questions for him! 

ED CATTO: Pickled Punks looks like a cool company. Can you tell me exactly what you do?  What’s your origin story?

ISAAC BIDWELL:  Thanks Ed. Pickled Punks started about the time I was getting aggravated with my art career. I checked off all the dream clients I wanted, showed at the best pop culture galleries in the country…and wanted out. When I first started making any kind of money from my art, I illustrated various fan art illustrations. After doing this for a few years, I realized it was a dead-end road. Going viral with some images, being shown in some cool galleries, working with huge companies didn’t real pay-off the way I wanted. 

I was at a Horror event with mostly my fan art and a few newer Sideshow inspired works. Luckily for me, the crowd responded well and Pickled Punks was born. About a year and a half after that, I stopped all freelance, commission, and fan art and gallery work (with a very few exceptions). I now do only the drawings I decide to make and answer to really no one but my Pickled Punkers (collectors and fans)

EC: You certainly have a lot of passions. How do you align them with your professional life?

IB: As my career has grown, my taste and passions have as well. Even though I’m a big collector of comics, Spook Show ephemera, and now vintage newspaper horror clippings, I really try to stay laser focused on my business. There’s a million things I’d like to do, but really only do a few, regularly. This stemmed from me early in my career realizing patterns of successful artists. As cheesy as it is, don’t major in minor things or Jack-of-All-Trades, master of none. This is something I super, super stress to artists that are trying to turn pro.

EC: I love the name Pickled Punks, where does that come from?

IB: Originally, I started selling my plushies in Mason Jars and calling them my Pickled Punk Plush. (Pickled Punks are weird jarred specimens that you could see at the sideshow). Once I knew I was going to push the sideshow element with my artwork, I knew I wanted to use that as my company name. 

EC: It seems like you are getting really good at exhibiting. What the secret?

IB: Ha ha. There’s no real secret. Lots of hustling and getting it. Trial and error. I now book around 35-40 events around the country. Every year I like to get rid of the weaker ones and try new ones. Moving forward into next year (fingers crossed), I have a way to do 60 plus shows a year. 

EC: I know you go to a lot of comic cons and festivals. What are some of the more fun, or more unusual ones you’ve been to?

IB: Here’s some of my favorite in no particular order….

  • Bewitching Peddlers of Halloween in Michigan. This show is the superbowl of Halloween art. It literally has the most talented sculptors I’ve ever seen. Hands down the best booth displays of any show I’ve been to. I somehow tricked the promoter into having me and am in awe of the talent there. If you are a Halloween collector, this show has to be at the top of your list before any conventions or festival. That said….
  • Salem in October. This year I’ll be set up for 3 weekends in Salem on Essex street. This is the spot for Halloween lovers. The town embraces the holiday and the show is amazing. It’s one of the reasons I’ll never do New York Comic Con again. 
  • Mothman Fest in West Virginia. Do I even need to say anything? A show in Point Pleasant (home of the Mothman sightings) has a festival?! It is so much fun! People come from all over the world for a weekend of Entertainment, Mothman Wares…and Monsters!
  • Also some other events of note are Horror Hound and Monster Mania. Two really, really great horror conventions.

EC: What’s it like to be a trailblazing entrepreneur? Is this what you always envisioned for yourself, Isaac?

IB: It’s weird. It is and it isn’t. I’m super fortunate to do what I love. My original goal as a kid was to draw comics and then it became simply to be a working artist that does a bit of everything (freelance and such).Eventually I went to school for Business because I didn’t think I could do art fulltime, and I really liked reading various magazines like Success and Entrepreneur.  I was in real trouble when I graduated college in December of 08. The Recession threw my carefully planned strategy right out the window. Instead of getting into Advertising, I stayed at my college job for like another 5 or 6 years. 

At some point I realized it was on me and something clicked. With my “textbook” business knowledge and my artistic talent, I finally made a go of everything. Leaving my job and creating my own art business was the decision I’ve made.  

EC: What goes through your mind when, in the course of an ordinary day, you see someone wearing your merchandise?

IB: I get very, very excited. Over the years I’ve sold thousands of prints…but the effect isn’t really seen. I get tagged in photos of walls covered with my work and it’s awesome, but it’s not right there in front of me. Seeing one of my shirts in the wild is very, very cool. The only other thing that tops it are people getting my creators tattooed on them! 

To see more of Pickled Punks Creepy/Cute artwork, visit pickledpunksplush.com . Or just visit Isaac in person at one of those conventions. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of his booth.