May 4, 2020

The Chaos Within – A Healthy Mental Biome with Taylor Popek, The Jellyfish Lady

by joeyphoenix

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Accessibility Note: Scroll to the end of this post to find the audio transcript.

“There’s this constant feeling of comparing ourselves to other artists and being like ‘wow,’ they’re amazingly productive! I should be that productive. But what we can’t see is the mental facilities on their end, the mental health on their end, the responsibilities on their end, so these situations are incomparable.”

Taylor Popek

Taylor Popek, The Jellyfish Lady, joins Joey Phoenix on The Chaos Within to talk about deep-sea creatures, creativity in the everyday, and maintaining a healthy mental biome.

Taylor Popek is a Beverly-MA based crochet artist, illustrator, and an alum of Montserrat College of Art. Known as “The Jellyfish Lady, Taylor makes whimsical and adorable fabric creations inspired by the monsters of the deep ocean. Her primary focuses are invertebrates and cephalopods – so jellyfish, squid, octopodes, and creepy critters, but also the occasional angler fish.

But instead of depicting them as true-to-life slick and slimy, she chooses bright, near incandescent colors to make the oh-so-cuddly creatures irresistible. In addition to her fabric work, she’s also an illustrator, and her illustrations pull from all walks of the natural world of subject matter: from spiritual mineral forms, avian biology, and the deep ocean.

Mentioned in this Podcast

Montserrat College of Art
The New England Aquarium
Pacific Sea Nettle
Purple Sea Nettle
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Animal Crossing
Dungeons and Dragons

About The Chaos Within

Hosted by Joey Phoenix, The Chaos Within is a podcast celebrating the weird, the wild, and the creative – featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energy.

The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective and is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The Logo was designed by Anton Presents, the intro music is by Paul Senn ( using the Theta-U Creative Circuit System, and the outro music by Chris Wilson Sound using one of Joey’s maternal Grandmother’s haunted music boxes.

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Creative North Shore is produced, curated and managed by Creative Collective, we are trying really hard to make sure that we don’t have to put a paywall in place and could really use your support to keep afloat and make us able to keep a few of our staff employed and providing you with content and information. Please consider supporting us with any amount.

Audio Transcript

Joey Phoenix 0:05
The Chaos within is a podcast celebrating the weird, wild, and the creative, featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs. Exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energy. The intro music is by Paul Senn nd the outro music is by Chris Wilson Sound. In the beginning, there was chaos. I’m your host Joey Phoenix.

Joey Phoenix 0:31
Taylor PoPeck is a Beverly, Massachusetts based crochet artist, illustrator, and an alum of Montserrat College of Art. Known as The Jellyfish Lady, Taylor makes whimsical and adorable fabric creations inspired by the monsters of the deep ocean. Her primary focuses are invertebrates and cephalopods. So jellyfish, squid, octopodes, octop-uh-deez, and creepy critters but also the occasional angler fish. But instead of depicting them as true to life slick and slimy, she chooses bright near incandescent colors to make the oh-so-cuddly creatures irresistible.

In addition to her fabric work, she’s also an illustrator and her illustrations pull from all walks the natural world of subject matter from spiritual mineral forms, avian biology, and the deep ocean. She joins me on the podcast today to talk about the oceanic inspiration and what it’s like to be a market vendor in a world where markets have been canceled.

Welcome Taylor.

Taylor Popek 1:22
Thank you for the beautiful intro Joey.

Joey Phoenix 1:25
So you make beautiful things. Will you describe for some of our listeners some of the work that you do?

Taylor 1:33


So as you mentioned, I do both crochet cuddly work as well as illustrations. I think that I’m primarily known for my crochet work. I take these, these shapes and these forms from the deep and I try to make them as approachable and squishy and wonderful to all viewers. And I spend my time making these free form patterns. using the term pattern very loosely, I don’t work from a rigid pattern because just like the undersea life is very organic. So is my work. And as you mentioned I am I also do 2d work I’m trained as an illustrator and trying to create works that capture you just a fraction of how on spiring the world can be

Joey Phoenix 2:19
So beautiful. The first time I saw your vendor stand at a market, I did a double-take because the amount of color that existed in that space there was like, all sorts of weird creatures of all sizes from like key chain sizes to like massive squids, and like rainbows and blues and greens and like I never would expect to see that much color in a single stall. But there it was, and just like you cannot couldn’t walk by without stopping in and seeing what you’d come up with. is really beautiful. So you call yourself the jellyfish lady. And I feel like such a sense of wonder and that can you tell me how you got the name and what first drew you to the ocean as inspiration?

Taylor 3:02
Sure. So I’m going to take this in two parts. We’ll start with the name, the name, I don’t like to say I came up with it. Instead it was more of a gift from the local children. My first year vending, I presented myself as Taylor Popeck Illustration, and had a handful of these crochet works on the side just because there was something I was doing. And I wanted something in addition to my illustrated work, just to flesh out the booth, you know, your first your vending, you’re trying to do as much as possible. And I almost immediately sold out of all of these crocheted works. So what Okay, all right. Good to know.

The next year, the children from the year before who had bought some of these crocheted pieces, came running back up to the tent going the jellyfish ladies back the jellyfish lady is back! And I may have stolen that for myself because it was an absolutely wonderful moment.

To elaborate further on. sort of how I started working, thoroughly inspired by the ocean and where those those thoughts come from. I was definitely that kid who would watch you know, Discovery Channel reruns of blue planet and see the the shows of people swimming with dolphins and you know any sort of like tourist video of Australia and the great reefs and consume as much of that content as possible going one day I’m going to swim with dolphins. And at first I thought I direct myself towards marine biology.

And as I grew older, instead of focusing directly on the sciences and gearing myself in that direction, I found myself going to art school instead. And studying marine biology sort of as a hobby. And I still do have a whole bookshelf full of different books on jellyfish, different you know, natural history books, all sorts of field journals and whatnot. Sort of pulling, you know as much information as possible related to marine biology.

In college, I sustained a knee injury, which then led to me crocheting to past-time, I started experimenting with different shapes didn’t really have any patterns because I didn’t have a computer at the time, I was just taking what my grandma taught me as a kid and pulling it into all sorts of different shapes, eventually settling on my first octopus, which is a which is relatively the same as the ones that are produced today. And at the time, I was still going to school. Occasionally I would visit the New England Aquarium. I would visit on Mondays, the staff got to know me, I sit there, hang out, and paint and to this day, that’s some of the illustrations that I have available at my booth. The ones of the Pacific sea nettle, the ones the lion’s mane jellies and the Parana were all done on location at the New England Aquarium.

Joey 5:53
It’s really incredible. And what am I my meditations recently has been tuning into the Monterey Bay livestream and watching the jellyfish cam. And there’s something so mesmerizing about watching these creatures just like float peacefully across the screen. And I’m sure like seeing that in person is probably inspirational. I’ve only been the aquarium a couple times and not had enough time to sit and watch today. I imagine it’s really mesmerizing experience for sure.

Taylor 6:22
Yes. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium was one of my goals to get out there and see those tanks because I’m very familiar with those webcams, and many, many a background to a nap.

Joey 6:36
So you said that like you kind of pick this up more when you sustained a knee injury. And so it kind of sounds like it became a source of medicine for you to like, focus your energy on something that you had some control over in a way and to make something beautiful out of time. And I feel like right now we all have, well, it feels like we have a lot of time but in fact the same amount of time, just different distribution of it. So how how are you currently spending your days you don’t want me asking.

Taylor 7:03
I hadn’t connected the [inaudible] time now to back when I was having a sustaining knee injury. But now that you mentioned it, I think that I’m coping in very similar ways. I’ll be it with a bit more mobility. My day usually starts off with me waking up, I get up, turn on the lights in my fish tank. I have a freshwater aquarium I’ve got going at this time. So get up, feed the fish, make a pot of coffee, take a shower, and then start the rest of my day.

Admittedly, it’s been including a lot of Animal Crossing, a bit of Minecraft and a lot of DND it’s been what I’ve been calling less productive, but I think it’s a lot of me just keeping as busy as possible. Interacting as much as possible with with people that bring me Joy and you know, sort of cultivating a healthy mental biome during this time.

Do you feel like there’s a pressure to be productive right now?

100% there’s, it’s starting to ebb a little bit as people are understanding the gravity of the situation and the toll it’s taking on artists. But I definitely feel that there’s immense pressure both put on ourselves and sort of propagated through social media at this time because a lot of people are keeping their their negative thoughts to themselves, which means all we’re seeing is majority positive work out of out of many artists. So, you know, there’s there’s this constant feeling of comparing ourselves to other artists and being like, wow, they’re being amazingly productive. I should be that productive. But what we can’t see is the you know, the mental facilities on there and the mental health on there and the responsibilities on their end and it’s incomparable.

Joey 9:01
It’s such a burden to like see this window into others lives, and we all feel like we have to put our best selves forward and I feel like that does much more harm than good the moment and like the artists I feel like we’re having this conversation like hey, I’m not okay but I’m trying to create through that and like knowing that you don’t have to but if you want to, you can it’s been a really important thing to for me to learn especially.

Taylor 9:30
Exactly. I felt meant I was struggling a lot with I should be making inventory. But why am I making inventory the markets are canceled? I would normally be stockpiling at this time for inventory, but why and why bother? and struggling with those feelings. I eventually turned inward and I’ve started doing portraits for my d&d characters and you know, my my group’s characters. I’ve started making huge monuments in my mind. craft, because in an interactive manner, I’m thriving through other bringing smiles to other people without bothering to focus on income related to art.

Joey 10:15
It’s really important I think to know that like right now, because I creating from empty is not a good place to create from. And I feel like we’re all in a time where we kind of need to go into our like, deep oceanic selves and like be introspective and be like, Alright, what do I need, what sort of inputs are gonna be the most beneficial and to recognize that it can be a breath in right now as opposed to a breath out? And I like hearing you say that you are working on projects that make you happy, and not worrying so much about the projects that would have sustained you in a different year.

Taylor 10:49
Thank you.

Joey 10:50
So I guess what’s what’s inspiring you right now what are the things that have brought you joy Park Animal Crossing, obviously

Taylor 10:58
For weeks, as I mentioned, I think a large part of it is sort of working on these Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. My partner is a dungeon master. And so I will be, you know, sort of generating images based on the worlds that they’re writing. I’ll be generating portraits of other characters based on, you know, our friends interactions. My fish tank is a new acquisition. And so that’s been a huge inspiration to just be like, Hey, I think today I’m going to try and sketch the guppies. I think today I’m going to try and sketch the octopus. They’re not octopus, I forget the exact name of them, but they’re the algae eaters that hang it on the side of the tanks. Today, let’s get to the Malli and, you know, sort of allowing myself these small moments. Something that keeps my day to day different is trying to come up with, you know, new tasty recipes out of what’s in the past. Growing up as a poor kid has definitely helped sort of bolster that that creativity as far as like, what do we have in the pantry right now? What can I make for dinner today?

Joey 12:12
That’s like, yeah, is there any ways to be creative in non traditional ways, like, artists are so resourceful, we always like are able to use our creativity for things that people wouldn’t think we would use for. And that seems really nourishing in a way to be like, Oh, I made this meal and that required that is creativity and like, Oh, I did this for d&d, and that requires this and it’s like, people always want I guess, put us in boxes. This is what you have to do and be artists like no, I am an artist because I am.

Taylor 12:45
Thank you for bringing up up that point? Because the idea of I am an artist so I am creative. I like to think inversely of that I’m sure you’ve heard this conversation hundreds of times have you know, people walk up and be like, wow, I wish I can do that. You’re such an artist. Throughout my experience as an artist, I’m realizing that creativity is just taking your knowledge and sort of from different fields and putting it together. You know, people do this all the time. I think that artists is a term given to people that are visibly producing but I think a lot more people in this world are artists and they just don’t give themselves enough credit.

Joey 13:24
Yeah, that’s so true. I am trying to absorb that because I feel like again, there’s such an urge to like make the things and like put yourself out there and put your best self and it’s like no you don’t have to do any of that made that rule what are some of the ways people can support you right now are you taking Commission’s like…

Taylor 13:46
I am certainly taking commissions I’ve had a couple people reach out for portraiture, I’ve had a couple people reach out for children’s toys. You know, I’m working with someone to make a couple of small crochet pieces. I also have domain donations available through Venmo and PayPal, just sort of trying to keep, you know, the gates open and available. Despite not stockpiling inventory, I’m still producing where there’s requests and need.

Unknown Speaker 14:15
It’s wonderful. So even more question I have to ask, er, two more questions. What is your favorite sea creature? And secondly, what is your favorite piece that you’ve ever created?

Taylor 14:25
Hmm, those are both excellent questions. My favorite sea creature fluctuates between a Pacific sea nettle and a purple sea nettle. The Pacific sea nettle is the standard What do you think jellyfish shaped that’s the Pacific sea nettle. They’ve got the bright orange cap. The the yellow with the slight dark orange rim, the long red tentacles and the the white frilly body and that’s that’s sort of like, people think jellyfish. That’s That’s the key. And purple sea nettle is a variant on that with a beautiful purple spotted bell.

Joey 15:00
Sounds fancy.

Taylor 15:02
My favorite piece I’ve ever created, I think to this day is probably my large squid named Wuh-becca. She was traveling around with me for a lot of the different circuits. She was eventually donated to Montserrat’s Artrageous as a fundraiser both as part of you know, contributing her to helping artists move forward, as well as sort of allowing myself to move forward with creating large squids because you only have so much room in a studio for so many large squids from from tip of the mantle to tip of the Tentacle, she was between eight and 10 feet.

Well, thank you so much Taylor, for sharing your truth and your time with us. Yeah, it’s really been nice to deep dive into your creativity with you. And if you could just say where people could find out more about you, that would be great.

Certainly, you can visit my website at and you can find me on Facebook as The Jellyfish Lady.

Joey Phoenix 16:06
Great. Thank you so much.

Thank you.

Joey 16:11
The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective. Creative Collective connects creativity, community, and commerce across the North Shore as a collection of creative professionals, small businesses, organizations, and individuals. They coordinate a series of events, traditional and non-traditional marketing initiatives, resources and best practices to define why creativity matters and all aspects of life. In the beginning, there was chaos. Then you make it yours.

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