Muriel Fahrion, the artist behind the iconic Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears, on creating from home, how she comes up with ideas for new characters, and her love for social media
- Muriel Fahrion today is the owner of Outta Thin Air Studio, but early in her career she helped develop the iconic kids characters Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears.
- Fahrion resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she's been riding out the pandemic by focusing on her artwork and creating characters relevant for the current climate — such as characters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and staying home.
- "I knew we needed to get the message across that we needed to stay home," she told Insider. "I thought other people can influence in other ways, and I figured I can influence with my art."
- She's also capitalized on social media to drive sales of her artwork and spends a lot of her time connecting with followers, sharing ideas, and posting fun videos of herself dancing around.
Muriel Fahrion, owner of Outta Thin Air Studio, was working at greeting cards company American Greetings in Cleveland more than 40 years ago when she developed Strawberry Shortcake, after an art director requested she come up with a new character developed around a rag doll. Strawberry Shortcake would go on to become a household name and appear on merchandise, toys, and television. Later in her career, Fahrion was part of the original team behind Care Bears, creating the first six characters before returning to Strawberry Shortcake.
Fahrion told Insider she'd wanted to be an artist since she was four years old, following in the steps of her mother and sister."I got a scholarship and attended Cooper School of Art, which was a three-year course," she said. "At the end, they took the top graduating students and they were offered a position at American Greetings, one of the biggest employers in Cleveland."
Today, ideas come from all around her - many, she said, just pop into her head. One, for instance, the character Hello, Cupcake, came from a pick-up line that someone once tried to use on her."I did little sketches and people asked to buy the sketches and I sold them, but then I built a theme and held a 'Hello Cupcake' event before Valentine's Day," she said.
Plenty of ideas are put aside, she said, but they often re-emerge. Now that she can market directly to the public via social media instead of selling to a publisher, she's able to focus more on what she wants and the public wants. Many of her ideas had been turned down in the past, she said, because they weren't mainstream enough.Strawberry Shortcake was initially called Strawberry Patches, but renamed when it was discovered that title was already taken. The brand, after having relaunched in 2003, achieved more than $2 billion in worldwide retail sales from 2003 to 2007.Fahrion, who now resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has spent the pandemic holed up in her home that doubles as her studio. Though she suffered a stroke at one point, she's never stopped being creative.
Adept at marketing through social media, Fahrion has a relatively large following on Facebook and Instagram (over 12,000 followers on the latter platform), where she can be seen showing off her works of art.
From her home studio, she's created new characters that fit into this past year quite well: a character that stays at home, for example.
"I knew we needed to get the message across that we needed to stay home," she said. "I thought other people can influence in other ways, and I figured I can influence with my art."
Then the Black Lives Matter movement took hold.
"I wanted so much to be out there marching with the people, but I am a senior citizen," she said. Instead, she created a Care Bear character showing solidarity to the movement.Because Fahrion's not the copyright holder of Care Bears, she was eventually told she had to stop promoting and taking donations from the creation. She's since donated the works to the OK Pop Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2022 and will feature pop culture artifacts and exhibitions around Oklahoma. She also donated $2,500 in money raised from the character artwork to the local nonprofit Reed Community Foundation.
Fahrion said social media has tremendously helped her build her business of creating and selling art. Occasionally, in addition to her artwork, she'll post videos on Instagram of herself dancing in her kitchen, which she said is therapeutic."Facebook, however, is still my strongest following," she added. "Facebook is where I do my selling. Facebook is where people are interested in the big picture."
Fahrion and her husband moved to Tulsa a few years ago to be closer to their daughter. Her husband was struggling with cancer, and she acted as caretaker until he passed away. Shortly thereafter, a friend convinced her to begin attending figure-drawing classes. After that, she started getting out in the community more."I knew I had to get out there in the community, so I would just get my Uber and go to galleries and go to show openings," she said. "Someone said once you know one artist, you'll know more. It's a very generous city and has a great spirit. It's not competitive necessarily."
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