Claire Chambers and her husband shared a commute to the city from their Northern California countryside home in 2007. Chambers worked a temp-job for an insurance agency three days a week where she sent emails and made copies, among other administrative assistant tasks.
On their hour-long drives, they listened to The Shins and Arcade Fire, among other music from the 1990s and early 2000s. Usually, the two got to talking and eventually they started playing with words by making up silly, new words.
“Chickenpants,” they brainstormed.
As soon as the new, made-up word “chickenpants” was uttered, Chambers began to visualize what a chickenpants would look like.
“I’ve got to make this thing,” Chambers thought.
As Chambers worked that day, she drew her vision of Chickenpants in her sketchbook. She was eager to get home and start making a plush figure of the creature.
Chickenpants — half chicken, half pants — became the inspiration for her art business. Chambers created these plush figures often designed with intricate fabric and embroidery.
With this new niche, Chambers began her work as a self-taught artist. She even commuted to Los Angeles for arts and craft shows, where people came specifically to see her work.
Chambers staged elaborate photos of her Chickenpants plush toys and sold them as monthly limited edition prints.
Seven years later, Chambers and her husband once again drove through Northern California, listening to music on a sunny day.
“I’ve made almost 700 of these [Chickenpants] things,” Chambers said to her husband. “I am done. I don’t have any more energy for this.”
The Chickenpants Studio brand began evolving as Chambers started to draw and paint other animals, specifically brachycephalic dogs with broad, short skulls. Her first family dog was a pug, so the breed was her “default dog,” Chambers said.
Chambers posted her art journey on the Chickenpants Instagram, where she has almost 8,000 followers.
“I got the best reactions out of my pugs. I just started leaning in that direction more and more,” Chambers said.
Chambers used to attend art shows and pug conventions where she drew pug portraits, but most conventions had been postponed due to COVID-19. Chickenpants now has a Patreon membership, which allows fans and supporters to receive Chambers’ art through a monthly subscription fee.
Chambers has been based out of Tucson since 2016, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Chambers’ pug, Frida, and French Bulldog, Josie, hang out in her art studio while Chambers paints brachycephalic dogs in all colors and sizes.
“Lean into your niche if it’s true to you. Embrace it, but don’t force it,” Chambers said.
While chickens were once the inspiration for Chambers’ plush figures, the one animal that Chambers’ family never had growing up was chickens.
Chambers grew up in Northern California in the 80s, and her family always had household pets. There was a pug, cats, fish, guinea pigs and even a rabbit and Australian Shepherd dog for a short period of time.
“Oh man, I’ve always wanted to have chickens. I’ve never been in a place where we could have chickens,” Chambers said. “But I do love chickens. They’re entertaining to watch, and they come in so many different varieties.”
Chambers was given her first pug, Topanga, by her parents. Chambers formed a bond with the dog, taking it on daily walks throughout its years.
When Topanga passed away in 2012, Chambers was devastated.
“She was my muse for years. She’s really what got me started drawing the pugs,” Chambers said.
By late 2015, Chambers' art business, Chickenpants Studio, was re-envisioned.
Chambers draws pugs in mixed media and gouache, a paint similar to watercolor but more opaque. In her pug paintings, Chambers draws from themes of identity, aging and emotional expression.
“Pug people are just wonderful people to create things for; they’re a special breed,” Chambers said. “I feel lucky to be [in the pug community]. These people tend to be really generous and kind and quirky in the best way possible.”
Melissa Langer, a pug artist and part of the pug-loving community, has been following Chambers’ Chickenpants account on Instagram since 2018.
“Both her whimsical art and passion for her craft come from the heart just like mine and it shines through her work,” Langer said via email, noting the time-lapse videos that allow viewers to be inspired by the process.
Bonnie Morgon, Chambers’ cousin and friend, remembered being giddy as her mom buckled her in to drive to Chambers’ childhood house. The family’s house was full of art supplies, easels, paints, art projects and markers everywhere.
“She was always who I wanted to be in terms of her creativeness,” Morgon said. She emphasized Chambers’ quirkiness and fun. “She just came out of the womb bursting with flair."
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The young cousins were always working on “some creative project or another,” Morgon said. The two dressed up their younger siblings and wrote books with them as characters. They wrote books featuring animals as characters. They hosted their own radio show with a cassette tape and a boom box. They turned their backyard playhouse into a café and tried to charge their parents for food that was taken from the cabinets inside.
“All those were, you know, her ideas,” Morgon said.
As preteens, Chambers had an art supply stand in her room with carts of markers, brushes and paint colors.
“Even before she had an actual studio, her room was her studio,” Morgon said.
Chambers grew up as a teen in the 90s, with a little bit of that grunge culture and a lot of hair dye. Her first job as a teenager was at a mom-and-pop video rental shop, where she spent her shifts rewinding VHS tapes.
Chambers recalled a series of teenage phases. “That was fun stuff,” Chambers said. “I went through a comics phase, an anime phase, a Star Wars phase — my goodness that one lasted a long time.”
Calling herself a “multiple-time college drop-out,” Chambers was originally in school for fashion merchandising.
“I was really into fashion at the time. You'd never know it now,” Chambers said, wearing a green button down with black and white pugs printed across the shirt. Her necklace displayed on the collar of the shirt had all the colors in the spectrum.
"[Chambers] wears beautiful vibrant colors and crazy patterns because I think it makes her happy,” said Alex DuBois, Chambers' younger brother of seven years.
Chambers agreed with her brother’s statement. “Color is exciting to me. I love to surround myself with as much as possible because it just makes me feel good. Just an overwhelming, high vibration kind of feeling,” Chambers said.
In an art supply store, Chambers said she can run into spending trouble, looking excitedly at the tubes of paints ranging in different colors and eager to bring more home.
“Any house she’s had as an adult — the whole home was a very creative and artistic place to be,” Morgon said, noting one bright lime-green wall and customized photo collages. “Of course, always a lot of art supplies in her studio and plenty of animals to draw from life.”
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