It’s not everyday that an artist receives a request to create four large, realistic, flexible tentacles.
But for Long Beach State alumna Ashley Steeves and her newly founded business, Artsy Props, unusual requests are the bread and butter for prop makers.
Artsy Props is a custom prop and art rental business, a decision Steeves brought to fruition in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic offering her the time she needed to make the long-awaited idea into reality.
With Artsy Props, Steeves has designed and built a variety of art pieces for commercials, like a paper mache planet Earth actress Lily Collins used to peek her head through in the same Netflix promotion that featured the tentacles.
She built miniature sets, featured in a Pure Leaf commercial directed by Rashida Jones and starring Amy Poehler. Occasionally, her husband Ross Steeves gets involved, using his woodworking skills to fashion out shapes and designs as needed.
And as we spoke, Steeves was creating a cow leg that can hold a credit card.
As a child, Steeves’ interest in art was nurtured by her father, who was a talented artist himself, capable of detailed sketches to large art installations he would create for Burning Man festivals in Nevada.
“He was always working on them with groups of people in the backyard and so seeing all of that, definitely not your everyday sort of art, all different variations of what art is, for sure impacted me as a kid,” Steeves said.
When Steeves graduated from CSULB in 2009 with a bachelor’s in life-drawing and painting, owning a business like Artsy Props was unforeseeable.
While Steeves said that there are plenty of pathways to be an artist, for her, creating art and making money off of it was challenging. Steeves did live painting sessions at festivals and nightclubs, and through that community, she met a prop master working for the film industry.
It was then that Steeves began receiving opportunities to create props, custom pieces of work that bring life to ideas that cannot be assembled or purchased in a store or ordered through Amazon.
Like her father’s skillful ability to transition from different mediums of art, so did Steeves, sewing and painting and building her way through props. She worked full time assisting with set decoration, and while she said she enjoyed the job, it was grueling.
But it was because of that experience that Steeves first began to consider owning a prop-making business and saving what pieces of art she could in order to rent out for future jobs.
“A lot of people were really supportive and a lot of people were like, ‘It will be so hard, this town is so expensive and the cost of renting space is so much,’” Steeves said. “I could never figure out how to stop working in order to do this.”
Ross Steeves said he was confident in his wife’s ability to take on something like Artsy Props, which seemed more and more like the right fit for her.
“She has the gumption and the concern,” Ross Steeves said. “She’s not one to let something fall in between the cracks and not notice it, she checks all the boxes.”
When the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, the film industry was affected. So, Steeves took to her garage and began cranking out pieces of art.
As space inside the garage grew smaller and smaller, Steeves knew it was time for a studio, a studio that happens to be about 100 feet from her house.
But the time Steeves makes up for in commuting is put into her work, working on tight deadlines that are normal for the industry.
With one week on the clock, Steeves said she spent about 10 hours a day transforming ideas into workable pieces for the Netflix promotion. It’s a tedious process that requires Steeves, more often than not, to first figure out how to build a prop before she can even get working on it.
“There’s projects that we take on at the house and I will be stumped,” Ross Steeves said. “She’s just got a smart head on her shoulders for spatial awareness and how to figure out puzzles. She’s very intelligent.”
That cleverness and ability to problem-solve is key to the success of completing a prop, and key as Steeves takes on more projects that require her to learn new skills, like crocheting or styrofoam sculpting, while balancing her responsibilities to her two young children at home.
As Steeves takes on new jobs, her art featured in previous commercials continues to live on through each viewing.
“Everything that I’ve done in the last year, they kind of get cooler and cooler, especially now as I have the space to do them,” Steeves said. “I would have never been able to do that Netflix job if I hadn’t rented this space because I for sure wouldn’t have had the room, so just having this space has opened up a huge opportunity of what I’m capable of.”
This article was updated on Feb. 13 to include an updated link to the Artsy Props website.