We had the good fortune of connecting with Claudia C. Rodriguez and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Claudia, why did you pursue a creative career?

I’ve been involved in the arts since elementary school. My first artistic pursuit was writing long winded essays. In third grade our assignment would be to write a story based on a prompt. For example, “Trapped.” Instead of scribbling a couple of paragraphs in my lined-page spiral notebook, I would come up with a five-page story that required my Dad to edit my ‘manuscript’ with a red pen. I would then rewrite every page based on his edits. My stories would drift and meander and most would end with a cliffhanger only because I couldn’t decide how to end the story in less than 12 pages. During my middle and high school years I pursued Journalism and worked as an Editor on our school’s newspaper. Writing non-fiction has always been my passion, but as I got older, I realized I wasn’t disciplined enough to pursue it as a career. Also, being a little too obsessive doesn’t lend itself to finishing stories with stringent deadlines. Writing can be a very solitary pursuit. When I’m working creatively, I definitely prefer collaborating and input from others. Plus, I’m a master delegator so it’s nice to have help from others when pursuing my artistic endeavors. At ASU I completed a degree in Interdisciplinary Arts. I was part of the Theater department and got to direct a couple of college level plays, got to write a couple of one-act plays, worked on set design, and starred as an Extra in a couple of pilots for local independent films (haha). College was fun, but I knew I had to figure out what I wanted to pursue as my day job. Having a unique perspective and a wild imagination lends itself to being a working artist, but a bigger part of me needs stability. It’s a duality that I struggle with, but one that’s helped to literally keep a roof over my head. Having a small business seemed like the inevitable trajectory. I like every day to be a little different. I’m a fan of change and could never be tied down to a desk. My family had small businesses, restaurants from the age of 8. I was used to being on the rollercoaster that is being a small business owner. After college, a friend and I took over a successful screen printing shop. Just a few years in, the Great Recession of 2008 hit, and we lost all our corporate accounts. It was a difficult time but forced me to reimagine the business. That’s when I started experimenting with creating my own t-shirt line. My friend was no longer involved in the business. I tried about four different concepts before creating one that resonated with customers while also creating income. Win, win. I still pursue my writing on the side. Having a small business allows me to do this. I’ve published a nonfiction piece called “Heartbeat” in the online journal, PitHead Chapel. Around the Valley I share my work at spoken word events. I’m most proud of my reading at Bar Flies in downtown Phoenix.  

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

We sell our apparel in our Etsy shop and at a handful of locations around the Valley with our retail partners. All of our artwork is original. I think that sets us apart from many t-shirt makers because a lot of makers use licensed art for their designs. We are also screen printing. I think there’s becoming less and less screen printing out there because it’s so labor intensive and there are limitations with the process. The look and life of the screen print is superior to other processes, in my opinion. I come up with the design ideas, then I pass them over to my husband Mike. Mike sketches the art on an I-Pad using a Stylus pen. We deliberate, sometimes we argue about a design or idea or how it’s executed. Most of the time though I pass over the idea and Mike is able to magically read my mind and come up with a final product that we both agree on. A lot of our designs are little scenes or tell a story. We’ve sold the shirts at many festivals and markets (pre-pandemic) and it’s nice to watch people pick up the shirt and laugh or grab their friend to show off our work. We get asked a lot, “How did you come up with this?” I tell them “Possibly wine was involved,” in making some of our more eccentric designs.  

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?

I’m pretty much an old lady so a good time for me is eating delicious food, window shopping at the antique mall or hanging out at the lake fishing poorly. I’m quite partial to the Melrose Historic District because I live nearby. There’s lots of stores on the 7th Avenue strip to shop antique or upcycled or handmade items. One our favorite locally owned places to munch is Short Leash Hotdogs. Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant in my hood is the best Mexican food I’ve had in Arizona. I’m not visiting them as frequently lately because I’m trying to lose the Covid-15. Another favorite spot is Sushi Vibe in Uptown Plaza. I can’t get enough of their sashimi. George Yang’s Chinese Cuisine in Uptown Phoenix is delicious. Now I’m hungry. Antique Armadillo in West Phoenix is one of my favorite places to browse. I go there during the week when it’s pretty quiet and just walk to the store. Something about the antiques and the vintage stuff and the way different dealers set up their booths is inspiring and helps me clear my head. Maybe visual clutter has the opposite effect on my brain. I don’t know what it is, but I like it. The Grande Project Shop in Old Town Peoria is also fun to browse handmade and vintage goods. When we go fishing locally Bartlett Lake or Papago Park during the week are good places to take a walk, chill in the sun and enjoy beautiful scenery. 

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?

My mom and dad get most of the blame and credit for helping me to become the workaholic I am today. They never once asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They never tried to persuade me to go in one direction or another. They didn’t care what I pursued in college. They were just proud I was the first in my family to receive a higher education degree. My mom and dad showed in action that hard work is a part of life. I’m also grateful for their example of giving back to others and their community. Growing up, I watched them work so hard, they struggled a lot. That didn’t stop them from providing jobs to many lower income laborers. It took being older and more mature to realize how much they supported other people. They never even acknowledged it or spoke about it. They just gave to others, providing food, rides, odd jobs, money, furniture, or anything they had. I don’t remember them ever speaking about helping other people, or expecting acknowledgment, they just helped. Being given was in their hearts, maybe it was subconscious or accidental, but still impactful to the community of our hometown, San Antonio, Texas. I’m grateful I had that example. I try to do as much as I can for others, supporting local food shelters, animal rescues and those less fortunate. I can’t leave my husband, Mike DeCicco off the short list of people who get credit for helping me with my business. While I’m the bookkeeper, salesperson, creative director, spokesperson, Mike is the artist behind all of our t-shirt designs. He has the technical drawing skills I lack. I bring him an idea for a product, sketch it out on paper, it usually looks like it was drawn by a sleepy toddler, then he takes the idea and interprets it and turns it into wearable art. Mike works in corporate America and splits his time helping me with my business, while working on his own creative project, domesticatedrobot.com as a content creator of original music and animation. I always tell Mike I’m grateful he “has a real job” because it allows me to pursue my small business and get through all the ups and downs that come with it. 

Website: https://www.etsy.com/shop/thetinyfarmer
Instagram: @thetinyfarmer
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thetinyfarmertshirts
Other: https://www.amazon.com/handmade/The-Tiny-Farmer We recently got approved to sell on Amazon handmade, we’ve not finished setting up that store yet.

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.