Eclectic Artist Drew Mazer Finds Silver Linings in COVID-19

From the moment you meet Drew Mazer, it is crystal clear that he has an extremely creative and artistic mind and heart that translates to his many passions – which include creating music, performing body modifications, and as of late, creating unique small-batch indie toys.

The New Jersey native currently resides in Austin, Texas with his adorable four-year-old daughter. To say the least, Mazer has clearly never taken the conventional road, and this is what makes him so fascinating.

In third grade, Mazer became intrigued with body modification after begging for and receiving his first ear piercing at the Piercing Pagoda in the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Mall. Years later, he and his teen girlfriend had their ears stretched out and were popular among their friends who admired their body piercing talent.

After a formal apprenticeship at the age of 18 and becoming certified through the APP (the Association of Professional Piercers) he has been successfully pursuing this craft for over 10 years, only taking a hiatus during the forced COVID-19 lockdown.

Mazer “found gold” with his current shop, Platinum Ink, the number one rated tattoo shop in Texas, where he still works to this day. Prior to piercing, Mazer became an accomplished musician with Divide the Sky, his globally-recognized and retired band. Also, and first and foremost in his eyes, during the pandemic isolation, he went from being an avid toy collector to an artistic toymaker.

Over the past few years, Mazer has honed in on making his own line of resin-cast art toy figures under the name Plagued Earth Productions. 

Since then, his art has been featured in art toy stores and galleries in Austin Texas, Chicago, and Philadelphia, as well as online galleries such as Galerie F and Stormy Vault, alongside some of his biggest influences such as KAWS, Quiccs, Suck Lord, Ron English and many more. 

Some of his figures have deep-seated meanings, sometimes stemming back to his childhood, some reflecting his beliefs, some just for fun, and some quite literally inspired by a modern-day “plagued earth.”
Needless to say, all of his figures reflect a balance of humor and darkness. Most importantly to him, they reflect his views, his truths, and his powerful message. 

After all of your years in the business, why do you think that young people want tattoos and body piercings? What do you think is the psychology behind this?

I’ve come to learn over the years that it is very multifaceted. When I got into this business, I looked at a body piercing/modification as something very sacred; an artistic expression, freedom, dedication, things of that nature. I have definitely seen it all.

As a 10-year veteran in this industry, I’ve learned that some do it because they’ve experienced recent trauma and say that they “just need to feel some pain.” Some people do it for sexual gain or abstinence gain. Some do it as motivation to lose weight, some do it to use as an accessory for what could be something as simple as attending a party. Some do it to mark milestones in their life, some do it just because I am running a special and thought ‘Hey why the hell not, I have three piercings on my left ear and two on my right, may as well take the opportunity to balance it out with something.’

There are some of the motives behind piercing that I never considered. I work with such a large volume of people, it still leaves room 10 years later for reasons I have never considered, but as long as it is safe and ethical, I’m in!

Are the piercings you do artistic?
I would consider this craft more so procedural than artistic. And by no means is this the case for every piercer or body modification artist, it’s just the way I see it personally. I have definitely done arrays of piercings that I consider artistic, but I typically leave it up to the client to create this vision, I consider my job to perfectly execute it. It’s more so about me helping other people express themselves with what they would consider their own art on their body. I want to make sure that I am doing everything ethically and safely and to the best of my ability.

How do you do that?

For starters, I use a really calm voice. I don’t really do this on purpose, but I am often complimented on my soothing voice which is humorous to me in some ways, being that it was never really my intention, but I do value that aspect of my work. I pride myself on how I conduct myself. I believe that my empathy has brought me a lot of positive attention and good reviews. After a long time in this industry, it is not unusual for a tattoo artist or a body piercer to become somewhat jaded. You get asked a lot of the same questions over and over again during the day, over the years. I think one aspect of working in the tattoo industry that a lot of professionals fail to observe is that a lot of these “dumb” questions asked by clients are not dumb at all. 

Working at a tattoo shop for the most part is a very relaxed job. You have a lot more freedom than you would have while working at a bank. I think it is very important to take everyone’s inquiry seriously, and beyond that, I think it is very important to put your best foot forward every day and create a welcoming, safe, informative, and sometimes fun environment for all of your clients, all of the time.

Why should a college freshman know everything that I needed to know to obtain my blood-borne pathogen certificate? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t, but by the time they leave my procedure room, I hope they leave with a smile on their face and everything that they need to know in regards to their piercing and how to keep it out of harm’s way. 

[Drew Mazer and his four-year-old daughter playing around[

As the devoted father of a young daughter, what life lessons do you want to teach her as she grows older?

This is one of the big important reasons that I do what I do with my art and toys and work and life in general. I have never been truly successful when it came to pursuing something that I wasn’t extremely passionate about. I have managed to create a very comfortable, fulfilling life by pursuing things that I am passionate about, very specifically and strictly what I am passionate about. As a single father with a stage 3 lung disease, I do a lot of thinking about my mortality, and what I want to leave my daughter with when I am not around, whether that be sooner or later. 

What I want to teach my daughter most is that life can be a really beautiful thing if you genuinely pursue what you love.  Everything I have has been obtained and built upon going full force in regards to what I really want out of life, and what I really love about life. I feel like I am part of a very small percentage of people, people who wake up every day with a handful of responsibilities that they are incredibly grateful to have, people that love what they do and do what they love.

Please tell me more.

When I’m not working the job that I love working, I am creating pieces of art. When I’m not creating pieces of art, I am observing it, whether it be at a gallery or an online auction. When I’m not doing that, I might be relaxing and watching a movie or playing with my phone as we all do, but the very sad and unfortunate part about a lot of people’s lives is that lying on the couch and watching a movie is the most comfortable, happy part of their day or night. I am grateful that laying on the couch and watching a movie is really my last resort when it comes to feeling good, because the rest of my life, whether it has to do with making money, putting food on the table, or making sure the bills are paid, All stem from things that make me so much happier than laying around. My work and my play are one and the same, and it has paid off dramatically to live this way.  Whatever she does with her life, just as long as she is passionate about it, I will support her endlessly. Any great idea I’ve ever had has been met with some criticism. I feel like this is only normal and natural, especially from the people who love and care about you.

They don’t want you to fail or take a hard road. Anything I have done with my life – has been met with hardcore criticism or even laughter. ‘Are you kidding me, Drew? How do you expect to have your own house and drive a nice car or any car at all doing piercings?’ ‘What in the world is a grown man doing making silly toys?’ Making this art and going to work allows me to lead by example. Listening to my bands’ albums with my daughter that still stream on all platforms allows me to lead by example.  I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do with my life. 

I got the opportunity to tour the country and record music at some pretty prestigious studios at a very young age, I was a professional in the tattoo and piercing industry at a very young age. By the time my early 20s rolled around, I was a completely self-sufficient individual living a pretty comfortable and fulfilling life, purely and simply by doing what I loved.

My daughter loves building, painting, and singing. I want her to grow up with the confidence to do what she wants. She has my genes and my example to lead by. Being passionate for myself and nurturing my own inner child is essential to me, but it’s also giving my daughter a blueprint of what life can and should look like, in my opinion. 

Right now, she wants to be a firefighter. Of course, I will warn her of the risks, but if she grew up and genuinely wanted to do that, I would be so, so proud of her for doing what she really wanted to do. I doubt it will stay that way, in regards to firefighting at least, But I know one day she will know what she wants and I will be there to support her and guide her every step of the way so long as I’m here to do it.

[One of the unique toys Drew Mazer has created]

After talking with you for a while, it is clear that you are not a typical guy.

I would agree.  I put myself in a position where I am doing things that I thought were impossible. Working in Austin’s top-rated shop, parenting by myself (which I absolutely love), the toys that I am making, my new lakefront home, I never saw anything like this for myself. The only reason I have it, instead of thinking of ways to obtain things – it was all about “what do I love and what do I really want to do?” And I guess what naturally happened is that I combined what I love and what I wanted to do.  
I have done the whole “safe road“thing when I was younger. Crash and burn every time. End up feeling worse for myself. It’s a very polarizing cycle. Trying to fit into society, failing, and feeling even less competent.  I couldn’t really tell you when or why there was a turning point, I feel like I just naturally gravitated towards things I loved and it just very slowly and steadily continued to pay off for me. For example; the only reason I obtained a formal apprenticeship at a tattoo shop is that a buddy of mine worked in one knew that I had a reputation for doing piercings even when I shouldn’t have been. 

What are you most grateful for?

I have the luxury of living where I want and doing what I love. I’m really lucky, but I definitely created my own luck through persistence. I wake up every day and my entire world is about what I love. Aside from some pretty daunting health issues, I wake up excited to meet the day every day. I have obligations to my daughter, to my work, my toy business, creator, artist; it’s just the way I want it and I want my daughter to have that, too, (minus the health problems). I don’t feel like it “might” work for her. I know that it will work for her if she lets it. Allowing her inner child to speak and act Is critical. And there is certainly a time where that becomes a very gray area. Especially in the teenage years.

That lockdown and that isolation gave me time to do the research and put in some elbow grease, make connections and make my love of art toys into something much more than a collection. I had a vision and I took off running with it. By the time the lockdown ended, I was holding the ideas in my head in the palms of my hands in the form of a packaged toy.  And that was so, so freaking awesome to me.  I really don’t think I’ve felt so accomplished since I was recording my second album at Chango gridlock studio in Florida. And this must’ve been around 2008 or so.

What do you hope for the future of your unique toys?

It’s hard to say. What I would like is a bigger audience and more sales.
As an artist, I am trying to create an ambiance.  Everything I have done with my life has kind of been about my face in a way. My bosses always joke around about keeping me around because “the girls love Drew Baby”. Aside from being a fairly talented bass player, I pride myself on being a performer when I was making and performing music. I was a wild man on stage, the rest of the band would have to make room for me because of the way I would throw my face around and go crazy on stage. Our fans valued that, my bandmates valued that, we grew a reputation off of how crazy we were on stage. For the first time in my life, I am very excited about pushing my own face out of the picture, pushing my first and last name out of the picture as well. I am excited for people to recognize my art before they recognize me.

I am excited for people to recognize the words “Plagued Earth Productions” before they recognize the name “Drew Baby”. I would love for my name, and when I say my name, I mean Plaguedearthprod. to become a staple in the indie resin toy business. But I know that becoming a famous toymaker is like winning the lottery or making it big in show business.

Such as?

A good example would be the fly on Vice President Mike Pence’s head during the recent debate. There was a toymaker that took advantage of that hilarious moment. Before the night ended, he made a cardboard action figure packaging of Pence with the fly on its head as the art on the card backside, and inside of the blister pack where an action figure would normally sit, there was a tiny little fly, it looked like one of those little flies that you would buy at a gag gift store next to the fake throw up and fart bombs if you know what I mean. and it was one of the most viral toys in recent history. It sold out many times over and in this bootlegging culture, something that simple could put someone on the map.

I bootlegged a character from the popular ’90s cartoon Ren & Stimpy, powdered toast man. I basically just took a little licensed toy of him that already existed, created a mold, took the original toy out of the mold, and filled the mold with clear yellow resin. I repackaged him in a urinalysis cup that I must’ve stolen from the hospital during my appendectomy. They had me all loopy on pain medication so I guess I got bored and took one of these cups with me. Anyway, powdered toast man looked like he was made of piss, so I stuck him in the cup and called him powdered piss man.  I would say this has been my most successful toy thus far, despite the minimal effort that I put into it.  It ended up in a handful of toy stores and galleries very quickly.

Your dream as an indie toy creator is …?

I’d like to make more connections and do more collaborations. I am honored to have had the chance to work with and become friends with some of these artists that I once and still look up to. I want to be one of those people who makes something that everyone who’s into this kind of thing gets a chance to see and potentially own.

What else do you wish for?

My aim is to create a toy and releasing it on a certain day and selling out, to make enough money to forecast future projects. To maximize my business and further branch out. I want to flourish in this and have a wide range of people look at these toys, and want them and enjoy them. Just like I do.  I’m not just in this for the money by any means. At the moment, I’m just grateful that I have enough money to support these projects by working my day job that I am passionate about and fortunate enough to have.  It would just be nice to have that same devoted audience that some of my favorite artists do. It would be so cool and so exciting to make a couple of hundred units of my latest toy and have a 99.9% guarantee that they will all sell virtually immediately. Not so much because I’m trying to get rich off of this stuff, but if I could turn my latest and greatest passion into something that sustains itself, there really would be no bounds to what I could do next.

But at the very least,  I would be able to produce At a higher volume. I’ve learned the hard way that you don’t want to make 50 units of something that you’re not definitely going to sell out of. And when I say that, I don’t mean to say it in such a manner that makes me seem like I feel like I failed. I could sell not one of these toys and still feel so accomplished and fulfilled that I did it at all. That my idea in my head is now something I’m holding in my hands. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that It’s just not cheap to make 50 toys let alone 10.  I could have invested some of that money into some of the other ideas floating around in my head. Every extra penny I have goes towards these projects, and whether they end up In galleries across the country, homes across the globe, or sitting in what I call my “creation station” at home collecting dust, I’m glad that I did it, I’m glad that I made it and I am totally going to keep doing it.

This sounds like quite a joy for you.

Yes, it is. Sometimes I see something I want for my collection, I rush to put it in my shopping cart and I get it. And I sure do get a rush from getting it. I want people to have that same feeling about my stuff. It’s Not about the arrogance of being famous, it’s about fitting into this particular niche of making this art that’s exclusive and hard to get. There is a special feeling when you get something that is a limited batch. Sometimes I will be sitting at home looking at my own collection and feel almost honored when I look at certain pieces in my collection.

I feel honored to have something that not a lot of people will ever get to touch or even see. I want people to be just as excited about my work, and it is such a cool feeling when I pick up my phone and click on Instagram and I have a notification, open it up and it’s a post that I’m tagged in of my own toy in someone else’s home. Nothing is cooler than seeing someone post “GOT IT!!! HAHAAA it’s mine!” About a limited piece I made.  It’s just an awesome feeling knowing that I am touching people in the way that I intended when I began this toymaking journey.  It’s definitely validating to know that I am creating a sense of urgency around my art, it’s more so validating and fulfilling to know that people are genuinely enjoying it.

Tell me more about the world of indie art toys.

We put a lot of time into molding and sculpting – there is so much that goes into it. Real independent art toymakers are buying the supplies, sculpting, rendering the concept, and putting time and money to put in the packing. It’s a special thing. It goes from the concept in your head to holding a package or seeing it on a shelf in a store.  What a lot of people fail to recognize is that when you go to Target and buy an action figure, you’re just buying something that came right off of an assembly line for the most part. Some companies had an idea, they had a designer work it up, and that idea went to a factory. 

Indie toy makers. I guess the term is somewhat self-explanatory. For the very most part if not completely, we are doing this all on our own. We are supplying our ideas, our time, our materials, our trials and errors, and executions… I could really go on and on about every little thing that an indie toymaker does, but I guess the point that I am trying to illustrate here is that an indie toy was made by an artist, not produced in a factory, but if you were to put the two toys next to each other, You might not notice a difference in quality. In fact, sometimes the indie toy might even look a lot nicer. 

Sometimes they don’t, but the people that are into this world of Indie toys truly appreciate collecting this stuff because they know that they got something special. They know that they get to hold and add to their collection a real piece of art touched by the artist, Not just conceptualized and made in a factory in China. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I have a handful of cool vintage Godzilla toys Made in Chinese factories, but my favorite pieces are the ones that my inspirations made with their hands.

How did COVID-19 affect you and your business pursuits?

For me, everything changed. I would show up for work every week for seven years and then the shop was closed until further notice. When they put the two weeks lockdown in place in Texas, I just knew it was going to be a lot longer and it was scary. But I got really resourceful during COVID-19 – I was off from work for a staggering 77 days. I really enjoyed how much time I had with my daughter, but it was a tough time for me in a handful of ways. 

So, there was a downside?

Yes. I was very lonely on the days when I didn’t have my daughter. Ironically, I spent more time with her, but I would be alone for days after I dropped her off at her mother’s house. Typically, I would be working whenever I didn’t have my daughter, so the gaps in between visitation which is typically a 50-50 split between her mother and me felt so much longer, being that I wasn’t on my way to work after I dropped her off. That was a dark and sad time for me. After a little while of becoming resourceful, it paid off, to say the least.  I spawned a lot of great ideas during that alone time. 

What traits did you rely on?

A quality I have always valued in myself is that when I get pushed into a corner, I get really aggressively optimistic. So, when I fall to the bottom of my emotions, I get hyper-motivated. I start to think about all the things that I love to do. I became a big collector of art toys a few years ago, and during the pandemic, I started sculpting; looking closely at how toys are produced, and at different means and mediums.  I’ve always been the kind of person that really starts to dig deep when I hit my lowest of my lows.  And I certainly wouldn’t consider the lockdown anywhere near my lowest, to say the least.  Nonetheless, It was a fairly dark, unpredictable, gloomy time. And I definitely riffed off of that when it came to the birth of Plagued Earth Productions.  

Did you find Silver Linings during COVID-19?

The lockdown gave me the opportunity to do something that I always wanted to do; making my own art toys, plain and simple. Although I know it was a difficult time for so many families, and my heart goes out to those families that had it a lot harder than I did, I truly made the best of the situation and stayed calm and motivated, as I often strangely do in dark times. I am extremely grateful that I get to pursue this work. Before lockdown, I was collecting these items.

Now I have my own toys featured on shelves and in galleries.  I’ve always been an artist, but I’ve never been fulfilled by art quite like this.  I feel like, for the first time in my life, I am really letting my art do the talking. 

How do you think we will look back on 2020?

This is such a historic time. People are going to be talking about this for the rest of humanity. This is the plague of 2020, amongst other extremely dark aspects of this particular year. I wanted to connect my work to all of this — weird, cute, gross, and dark and the name fits everything I make. I make really nice packaging for my toys and I always give the toy a long biography on the back. When it comes to Resin toys, the packaging is often profoundly interesting and epic.

I have always loved to write stories. So, now I’m integrating my storytelling into my toys. It’s fun to create a figure and then create its backstory on the back of the packaging. Not many pieces do I leave to interpretation. I include the backstory, intentions, and the character’s past, present, and often it’s future.

I wanted to make a strange figure with robust packaging, and by the time someone was done reading the back of the package, they have no choice but to see the figure as I see it.  Each one has its own unique story, usually very epic while at the same time humorously anti-climactic. For example, PLAGUEDOCTOR 2020 Z-160.  He is an alien plague doctor.  He comes from a planet far, far away known to have intelligent beings with prolific healing powers. Our shadow government worked out a deal through a series of zoom chats with the beings of G-8816 and trade 9 tons of a precious earth material called palladium in trade for one prolific healer to come down to earth to solve the COVID crisis. 

Long story short, plague doctor Z-160 arrives on planet earth in April 2020 only to witness the crimes against humanity committed by humanity. He Fuels up his little jet pack and leaves in May 2020 When he concludes that COVID-19 can be solved but humanity is doomed by its own cruel hand regardless of his efforts.  Couldn’t start my own indie toy business during a plague without making a plague doctor toy. That one was fun. 
Check out Mazer and his specialized toys


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