For many, Halloween is a one-night deal spent in costume, mingling under store-bought cotton-spun spider webs and sipping “eyeball” punch in someone’s living-room-turned-ghoul-den.
For Brandi McKenna, it’s a rent check, gas for her car and shoes for the kids.
McKenna, 41, a Concord artist who works at Gibson Village’s ClearWater Artist Studios, has made a living out of people’s obsession with Halloween, creating the decorations they drape around their homes to set the season’s spooky mood.
Like most Halloween stories, hers started with a full moon, too: an orange moon lantern with a mischievous face that she sculpted out of papier-mache, then sold on eBay for $100.
It seemed to rouse in people a craving for moons, like a zombie awakening from its grave to satisfy a midnight craving for flesh.
“All of a sudden, everybody had to have a moon,” said McKenna. “So for seven years I’ve been making moons.”
She estimates she sells around 100 each year. Inside her studio, the thin, white, dusty powder of papier-mache blankets nearly everything on the shelves and floor. Bowls of soupy paste with ripped shreds of old cereal boxes on the side could pass for a mummy’s lunch of murky broth and crackers.
Dozens of moons in all sizes and states of construction are scattered around the room. Some have contorted grimaces, others have creepy smirks. A few – just blank white goops still drying on their large bouncy-ball frames – wait expressionless for McKenna to sculpt their personalities.
“People love faces,” she said. “They identify with them.”
McKenna never intended to make Halloween art her full-time gig. For years she crafted high-end decor pieces and paintings for homes. The commissions were good, but each piece took a long time.
“I really enjoy doing finer art things, too, but the kitschy, cartoony stuff just sells,” said McKenna, who can crank out a dozen moons in one session. “I always want to paint more, but I can’t quit having to make money with Halloween. It’s my bread and butter.”
From moons, she branched out to other creepy creations. Hissing black cats and sinister red devils glare from all corners of the studio.
McKenna, who has spent hours with each one, introduced them like old friends.
“She was a little Old Navy mannequin with braids, and I sculpted her wings and horns,” she said, pointing to her latest work, a devilish child with an evil stare. “She didn’t look anything like that. It was a regular little girl. I don’t know where it comes from.”
McKenna offers that disclaimer often when describing her other pieces.
“I have some weird stuff coming out of me. I don’t know where it comes from,” she said again, as she flicked on a lamp she made to look like a fiery devil. “It’s something about growing up in the 1970s, or watching horror movies in the ’80s.”
Whatever the reason, it’s turned out well for the artist, who owes her living to Halloween creations.
“I was very fortunate that I fell into some weird little niche that’s not really well known about, but that people are always buying,” said McKenna.