STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Keri Sheheen, 31, grew up in a well-known Staten Island bakery learning the craft of cake decorating.
“Mother Mousse provided me with a unique behind-the-scenes look at how a small business is run and the sheer amount of hard work and dedication it takes to be successful,” said the Ward Hill resident.
Her mother, Joan Sheheen, and her business partner, Teri Rutigliano, “built Mother Mousse from the ground up.” And before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Sheheen was preparing to buy into Mother Mousse.
“My mom and Teri were looking to retire, and we were just waiting on lawyers. When the pandemic hit, it gave me a moment to actually consider what I was getting into,” she said.
Sheheen said this is when she recognized her passion was in creating art — most of which is inspired by skeleton, superstition and supernatural-like imagery — and not baking.
“Deep down, I didn’t think [baking] was the right fit. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but ultimately I decided to close my eyes and jump into creating my own business,” said the artist, who is a fan of “everything Halloween.”
During 2021, she officially launched Parlor Trick Prints LLC — turning her hobby as an artist into a career.
“Parlor Trick Prints is an art brand. I create unique wall art and apparel, all with original designs. I also provide illustration and graphic design services, as well as custom printed apparel and laser services,” she added, noting that Mother Mousse was taken over by a former employee, Andrea Lasaponara, and Melissa DePalma.
INSPIRED BY HER PARENTS
While Sheheen was inspired by her mother’s “keen business sense” and “unyielding ambition to create unique, quality products,” another role model in her life was her father, Dennis Sheheen, an illustrator and graphic designer who died in 2020.
“[My father] was completely self-taught and always encouraged my creative side as a kid. Growing up with two self-employed parents, with entirely different business models, was definitely influential in the way I viewed career possibilities,” Sheheen recalled.
She said this made her strive to create a business of her own.
“My mom has the business sense and my dad the creativity, so I feel like I’m split between the two. My father’s own illustration work and paintings are forever an inspiration to me, even after his passing,” said Sheheen.
‘CREEPY BUT CUTE’ DESIGNS
As to how she comes up with her designs, Sheheen said she grew up in a “modern Addams Family” home.
“My dad was an avid collector of oddities and weird relics. … Our house was filled to the brim with vintage posters, unique illustrations, skeletons, taxidermy and an entire library of odd information. Growing up in a modern Addams Family home definitely paved the way for my morbid imagination,” said Sheheen.
“I’ve heard people call my work ‘creepy but cute,’ ‘weird but whimsical’ and ‘macabre.’ Personally, I describe it as ‘art for the strange and unusual,’” she added.
She said these unconventional designs are often inspired by items she comes across in her daily routine.
“Sometimes I’ll read a tidbit of interesting or weird history or lore. A lot of my work is inspired by vintage pulp art illustrations and magician and sideshow posters. I love the juxtaposition between vibrant, graphic colors accompanied with mysterious or otherwise unsettling imagery. Nautical imagery/superstitions are a favorite, too,” said Sheheen.
Her artwork and apparel are sold via Etsy, at craft fairs and at stores across the Tristate area.
Whether it was a drawing or sculpting, Sheheen was always creating something when she was growing up.
That penchant for art led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, specializing in printmaking, with a minor in film studies from SUNY New Paltz in 2013.
“After graduating and no longer having access to studio equipment, I slowly started to build my own screen print studio in my parents’ basement/various apartments while I worked full-time at Mother Mousse as their specialty cake decorator. The path from ‘fine artist’ to ‘cake artist’ wasn’t as difficult as one might think — the only difference is the material you are working with can be eaten,” she said.
Whatever free time she had after work at the bakery would be dedicated to expanding her art practice and slowly building up her studio.
“I made screen prints on paper, wood and clothing. I also created ‘wood transfers’ of my illustrations, which are digital prints transferred by hand onto wood. I was constantly looking for different ways to mass-produce my work, but still keep my hand in the process at the same time,” said Sheheen, noting she would sell her work at pop-up markets and festivals on Staten Island, in Brooklyn and in New Jersey, even before she officially launched Parlor Trick Prints.
Today, Sheheen has a full-color T-shirt printer and a C02 laser cutter that allows her to print designs on everything from apparel to wood.
FREE EXCHANGE PROGRAM
After receiving two grants last year from Staten Island Arts, Sheheen created The Parlor Trick Print Exchange — a free program for printmakers to share and receive work from other printmakers across the United States.
“The second grant is for a stop-motion animation project in collaboration with my partner, Carl Gallagher. Carl wrote the music and I created the animation. We have a premiere slated for June at Makerspace in Stapleton,” she said.
PARLOR TRICK PRINTS AT A GLANCE
New Businesses in Focus is a weekly column that relates the stories of new Staten Island business owners. If you have a new business on Staten Island, e-mail [email protected].
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