LIKE TOYS, LOVE CLUTTER
AMANDA LOUISE SPAYD • SQUINK • MIKE STRICK • • ARCANE DIVINATION • • SIMONA CANDINI •
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LIKE TOYS, LOVE CLUTTER
40 AMANDA LOUISE SPAYD • SQUINK • MIKE STRICK • • ARCANE DIVINATION • • SIMONA CANDINI •
AMANDA LOUISE SPAYD 26 Dust Bunnies Galore Article by Barbara Pavone On The Cover “Moss Rock Gatherer” (green) and “Sunset Crystal Gatherer” (blue).
by Amanda Louise Spayd
J*RYU Curated Dunny Series Article by Nick Curtis
SQUINK Brain to Brush to Hand Article by Marc DeAngelis
Welcome to the world of... Article by Miranda O’Brien
Customs & Cockraoches Article by Brian Vanhooker
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TEAM Niktia Volchik Production Managaer
Miranda Oâ€™Brien Editor-in-Chief
Nick Carroll Art Director
Josh Kimberg Managing Editor
Jason Ryule Technical Coordinator
Brian Vanhooker Contributing Writer
Nick Curtis Associate Editor
Matt Dorcas Advertising Sales
Barbara Pavone Contributing Writer
Marc DeAngelis Website Editor
Brittany DiPeri Associate Producer
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ARCANE DIVINATION BY NICK CURTIS
For the last couple of years, collectors of Kidrobot’s Dunny design have been clamoring for a new multi-artist mini-series, and the company has listened. The first release in this format since 2014’s The Art of War series, Arcane Divination was announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con though information was scant. Over the next several issues, Clutter Magazine will be gazing into a crystal ball and summoning forth information on the series, including reveals of the designs that will be part of Arcane Divination. As the series is curated by artist and contributor J«RYU, having taken form through discussion between him and Kidrobot’s Creative Director, Frank Kozik, it seemed there was no better place to begin than with those two.
or those that weren’t at SDCC, can one of you please relate Kidrobot’s announcement again?
J«RYU: The reveal of Arcane Divination, a multi-artist 3” mini figure series based on their iconic Dunny platform was announced shortly before San Diego Comic-Con 2016. During the event, all of the artists involved were unveiled to the world. To commemorate this occasion, Kidrobot asked me to create a limited edition print inspired by the series where attendees could be the first to find out the actual participants of this project. How was this mini-series conceived? Did Kidrobot approach you with the idea, or you them, or did evolve more organically? 12 | Clutter 40
Frank Kozik: It was organic… I really love J«RYU for both his design aesthetic and his relationships within the “scene” and his positive energy so I thought it would be very interesting for Kidrobot to work with him both as an artist and a curator. J«RYU: Frank contacted me about a month after the release of my 8” It’s a FAD Dunny, I think it was February 2016, as we already had been discussing a few ideas of how Kidrobot and I could possibly work together again. I was pleased to hear that they were happy about how the FAD was received and they were ready to sit down and discuss any ideas I might have for the future. I had been wanting to do a thematic series that was a bit more mystical, occultish, and gothic romantic in both aesthetic and tone. The imagery associated with tarot is mysterious and dark, and if you add in the meanings behind the cards, it really is something that embodies the word “arcane.” Just because everyone seems to clamor for it: Why opt for themes rather than allowing a Dunny series to be freeform? Kozik: I think that telling stories, creating worlds, and “collecting” to a goal has rationality to it. I crave some cohesion across time, space, and collectability for the Kidrobot products, and [this] has been a focus of mine. I
want our Dunny series to have no filler or duds, and themes help tremendously with that. Who selected the theme for the series? And can we delve deeper into the reason behind focusing on the tarot as an overarching theme? Kozik: J«RYU selected the theme. I [just] asked that “the series needs to tell a story” and “be thematic.” J«RYU: Tarot had been an overarching concept that I wanted to explore further because of many interesting facets, from the design of the cards to the symbolism, and pairing it with the Dunny platform was a no-brainer. I mentioned it to Frank and he was immediately on board with the concept. The next morning after our call, he told me that the series had been greenlit and that we were off and running with me in charge of the project, from concept to completion with the backing and technical expertise of Kidrobot’s amazing production team. What specifically about the Major Arcana called to you to be the binding element behind this series? J«RYU: After deciding that we would use tarot as the overarching theme, I decided that the Major Arcana would probably be the most recognizable to the general public, who might only have a cursory knowledge of the concept. The other subsets are a bit more difficult to convey and with the Major Arcana having a relatively small amount of designs compared to others, it was an easy decision to make.
and designs in this series needed to be able to introduce new fans to the scene was something that was very important for me to try and implement, while at the same time respecting and honoring the collectors who have been there for the long haul. I think that this series accomplishes both.
J«RYU signing at Kidrobot’s Booth, San Diego ComicCon 2016
Concerning the artist selection, how much say did Kidrobot have and how much did J«RYU have?
J«RYU: I was given an inordinate amount of autonomy and oversight as to how the project would eventually turn out. Not only was I a participating artist, I was the acting Creative Director/Project Manager in charge.
Kozik: The symbology of Tarot is deep and ongoing and always has appeal, so it seemed a great fit both as an anchor and a realm where Jesse “taste” could really come into play. Do you likewise think the popularity and pre-existing cultural knowledge of the tarot is a benefit? J«RYU: It was absolutely a benefit - I would even go so far as to say that the theme is the most major benefit, especially when it comes to familiarizing non-collectors to the world of art collectibles. It is too often that art collectible releases are marketed to existing collectors who are already aware of the artist and company involved to produce the piece. But if you’re not familiar with either the artist or the company, having a strong theme can help to acclimate those who are unaware or may not care about those other things. Their engagement with the collectibles is based primarily on what they are already familiar with and only then, do they discover more about who designed or produced the work when that barrier to entry has been surmounted. Being prescient that the theme Clutter 40 | 13
different aesthetics, rather than fourteen, had I had gone with one artist per design. The list of artists that I wrote down in my notebook was fairly long but at the end of the day, they all had to fit some basic criteria that I was looking for in terms of their existing style as well as being able to physically finish the work by the time we needed it. Most importantly, they also had to have the interest in working with myself and Kidrobot. Lastly, I knew that there was a unique opportunity with this project to have some accomplished artists do their take on the Dunny platform for the very first time, an idea that I was really excited about. With all this in mind, I sent out some exploratory emails to inquire about availability and interest, and of the responses I received back, the following artists were chosen. Let’s just run through the artists quickly, with J«RYU letting me know why they were selected and what they brought to the series. Godmachine?
Kozik: The artists were entirely J«RYU’s call as curator. Were there any limitations imposed on the artist or the designs? Kozik: As far as the look, the art, no limits were imposed. J«RYU: I was given a few parameters to work within– Kozik: Just a few basic realities: couldn’t use real crystal, things like that… J«RYU: —had to be multi-artist, the number of designs was limited to fourteen, an approximate budget… From there, it was up to me to cultivate the look and feel that I envisioned for this series. So, Jesse, how were the artists selected? J«RYU: With the series’ gothic theme set in place, I began considering the long list of artists whose work would be best conveyed on the Dunny platform. I could choose as many artists that I wanted or just a handful. I considered both options and after researching past series and analyzing the cohesiveness of the end products, I determined that a series such as this needed to have an even more consistent feel overall and, thus, I chose to go with five total artists. This would allow the series to have multiple designs per artist, which would help to place the focus on five 14 | Clutter 40
J«RYU: Godmachine may be a new name to people who primarily focus on art collectibles but he is no stranger to the print and poster world. I personally enjoy all types of metal music and his art, basically, encompasses what metal would look like if visualized. He has a hyper-textured aesthetic to his work that helps to convey the types of demons and monsters that inhabit his imagination in a dark, yet nuanced way. Knowing that there were some ideal cards in the Major Arcana that he would translate beautifully, I was pumping my arm in the air with the metal horns when he agreed to the project. What Godmachine contributed can be summed up in a few words. Brutal. Metal. Classy. I’m predicting now that one of his designs will be an all-time favorite for many out there. Jon-Paul Kaiser? J«RYU: I’ve long been a fan of JPK’s work because he is able to distil light and shadow into amazing designs that capture the essence of his subject matter beautifully. He is also no stranger to working with Kidrobot (and others) and by now, is a veteran of many previous memorable designs. I thought that the combination of his talent, his experience, his work ethic, and his familiarity within the scene made him an excellent choice to do his take on the Dunnys. The resulting designs that he submitted are markedly his style, a great interpretation of the cards that he chose to translate, and without any bias, probably the best work he has done thus far on a production collectible. Tokyo Jesus? J«RYU: Quite candidly - getting Tokyo Jesus to
do his take on tarot was a personal mission of mine. As a fellow sculptor, I often stared at his works in awe, wanting to see more and hoping that somehow, someway we would be able to work together. The women that he sculpts, contorted yet delicate, oftentimes perched atop mountains and mountains of skulls or otherworldly beasts - trying to envision what he would do on the Dunny with his style made me very giddy with excitement. I nervously sent out the email inquiry and when I received it back, it turns out that one of his dreams had been to design a Dunny. He was immediately in and I couldn’t be happier to see what he would come up with, both as a colleague and as a fan. TJ’s designs are all just astounding in their use of sculpture as well as illustration — the concepts are wildly bizarre but still ingestible, in a good way! Much like what I said about Godmachine, one of Tokyo Jesus’s designs is just absolutely stunning - it’s dark, creepy and beautiful all at the same time. The following could apply to
many pieces in this series, but I believe that not many people will be ready when they finally get to see what he has come up with. Stunner. Camilla d’Errico?
J«RYU: Camilla’s work has been seen by millions around the world and she has such a multi-tiered approach to her work. From convention appearances to gallery shows, from graphic novels to collectibles, Camilla is able to apply her signature style in myriad ways that don’t compromise her vision. Despite the gorgeous and often-time colorful depictions of her signature characters, I’ve always sensed a bit of a dark undertone to her work. I was absolutely thrilled when she enthusiastically agreed to work on this project with me as I knew that she would be able to bring a bit of her world, into the world of Kidrobot and meld them together into something great. Camilla’s designs turned out beautifully, very Clutter 40 | 15
much in line with her existing body of work and showcasing a bit of the symbolism and insight that she imbues into her work. In a series that has many darker-toned pieces, she is undoubtedly the light. It’s a fantastic list of artists! What did you think of them, Frank?
Kozik: I love them all and am extremely happy they all worked together. I think the sensibilities work well together. They all seem very cohesive, aside from possibly Camille d’Errico. I know you say you saw “a dark undertone” to her work, Jesse, but — as a fan — I can’t say I would’ve ever thought of her for something in the gothic romantic vein. Can you expound on what you saw in her style that made you believe she’d fit the tone? J«RYU: As mentioned before, I had picked out the theme for the series before I approached artists that I felt were suitable. Thus, I was already familiar with the 22 different cards in the Major Arcana and knew that the concepts and symbolism ran the gamut in terms of themes and meanings. When I approached Camilla, I did so knowing that she had the ability to interpret some of those concepts in a unique way while adhering to those elements. When it came down to the point where I had the artists choose the cards they would most like to interpret, she pretty much chose the cards that she felt the most affinity to, which just so happened to be the ones that
I figured she would gravitate towards. I hope that when the collectors see the work, they will be able to appreciate the subtle nuances that she incorporated into the designs that go beyond just aesthetics. She was the only one to want to try and tackle some of the more esoteric and amorphous tarot concepts where conveying the card meanings may not be as straightforward as others. Thus, her experience as an accomplished artist really came through especially since we were all drawing from a finite pool of concepts and knew that they had to be done one way or another. The rest of us certainly would not have been comfortable or adept enough to properly translate those ideas as solidly as she was able to and that’s precisely why I think she was an excellent addition to the roster. Did each of the artists select which of the Major Arcana they would be interpreting or were they assigned them? J«RYU: I gave the artists a list of the 22 cards, along with their meanings and asked them to provide their top choices. For myself, I decided that I would pick my choices from the remaining available cards. I did already have some idea as to which cards they would gravitate towards. There was very little overlap in preference but when that did happen, I stepped in and decided how to divvy up the choices so that it made sense. There was one instance where Godmachine and Tokyo Jesus had a bit of an overlap so I had to make a
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step in and make a decision but I feel that I split their similar choices in a thoughtful, yet tactical way that would allow for new perspectives on those cards, and not just the obvious. Upon seeing their final designs, I come away impressed and appreciative of their ability to adapt and still create strong work. In total, there are fourteen unique designs, interpreting 15 out of the 22 cards in the Major Arcana set of tarot — one of the designs combines two of the tarot cards into one Dunny design. Will there be any chase designs and/or case exclusives? J«RYU: There will be two alternate chase colorways, as I am a firm proponent of *not* making a unique sculpt inordinately hard for a collector to obtain. This means that if one were to want to collect one of every single unique design, it is very doable. The chase colorways are definitely rarer, but if one isn’t able to find them, the set will still be complete. Each of the Dunny designs also comes with a mini tarot card with original artwork created by the artist, and in some cases, an accessory. Lastly, there will be a special gift to those who order an entire case that is not another Dunny design, but something else entirely that I hope you all will enjoy.
Once all the designs for the series were submitted, were you surprised to find any unintended, reoccurring elements throughout several or all of them? Kozik: Nope, it came out exactly as I had envisioned: artistic, thoughtful, dark. But not grotesque or stupidly violent. I think it’s very ‘mature.’ J«RYU: Perhaps it was the theme or maybe even the strength of each artist’s insight but there was a surprising amount of narrative, symbolism and conceptual ideas that were incorporated into the designs. I would say that almost all of the designs are not what you have typically seen in a previous Dunny series, where it has been traditionally character based. Just like the source material, these resulting designs delve a little deeper and it definitely shows. Oh, and there are skulls. Lots and lots of skulls. For more information, please visit: Kidrobot: kidrobot.com J«RYU: j-ryu.com Camilla d’Errico: camilladerrico.com Godmachine: godmachinedesigns.blogspot.com Jon-Paul Kaiser: jonpaulkaiser.com Tokyo Jesus: tokyojesus.net Clutter 40 | 17
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“Wolf and Red Riding Hood,” 2015
Simona Candini WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF
BY MIRANDA O’BRIEN
“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.” - Leonardo Da Vinci
Italian-born artist Simona Candini embraces the darkness. Merging her love of manga and the Japanese aesthetic with the Italian masters that influenced her so heavily growing up, the result creates a dream-like image with a sinister undertone. Bringing together fairy tale elements and childlike imaginings to her canvas, she has recently started to translate her style to platform toys with great success. We thought it was time we caught up with her, and learned more about how Simona Candini’s journey to becoming an artist.
Did you go to art school, were you formally trained? I graduated from Scientific High School and, after graduation, I worked a couple of different jobs, but I wasn’t happy so I decided to finally follow my passion: art. I enrolled to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy where I graduated with an arts degree. During those years, I kept working to support my studies and it wasn’t easy but it was worth it because I loved attending university classes, especially art history and anatomy. At university, the teachers took for granted that all of the students already knew how to draw and paint, 20 | Clutter 40
because most of them previously attended schools for art, so they suggested that I should take the “decoration” course instead of the “painting” course. Consequently, as far as painting techniques, I consider myself a self-taught artist. During this time I was very much into manga and illustration, so my drawings were influenced by Japanese styles. I remember getting into a disagreement with one of my teachers because he told me that nobody would ever be interested in an Italian artist creating art with a big-eyed manga style. I couldn’t disagree more, and lots of artists have since proven him wrong. Anyway, he was into other
forms of art, not into illustration in general, so I was coming back home from his class crying a lot because he wasn’t approving anything that I was doing. In the end, I had to work double and do what he liked in class, and what I really liked on the side, just to get good grades. I managed to graduate magna cum laude, but I honestly invested a lot of time doing things that I didn’t care that much about. Overall it was a good experience, four years that forged my character and opened my mind on a different level, but as far as painting techniques, probably a full immersion class with a great figurative oil painting teacher would have helped me achieve much more.
What is your favorite medium to work in? I’ve tried a lot of different media because I like to experiment. At the moment my favorite medium is oil on canvas, and I want to work more with this in the future. I’ve been studying the underpainting technique used by the flemish old masters and I’ve been adapting it to fit my process. I normally make a detailed pencil drawing on paper, then I transfer it onto the canvas, but only the outlines. Then I create a grisaille layer painted with black and white, I add also some cold or warm tones, depending on the subject. I normally do three layers to create good volumes and a balance between
light and shadows. When it’s all dry, I start glazing with transparent layers of colors to achieve the result that I want. Sometimes I add some medium in the paint that helps the layers to dry a little faster, but usually I do that only for the final ones because I prefer to just use oil and turpentine — the not smelly one — to blend my colors. When everything is dried I can finally varnish my painting and then frame it.
of watercolors, pencils, and acrylics. This process for me is a little faster than an oil painting, because the media dries fast so it happens that I start some of these artworks while I’m working on an oil one. I do usually work on several paintings at the same time. Using pencils and watercolors over a smooth paper surface also allows me to create smaller details, so, for me, this technique works best with smaller size art.
I like to keep my work varied and it’s nice for me to also create more illustrative works with a mixed technique. I usually stain the paper with coffee because I love the vintage look. I draw an underpainting with graphite, then I’ll color it with glazes
Your style is cute with a somber twist but in the style of a renaissance master. How would you describe yourself? I think that my art can find its collocation within the pop surreal
“The Musician,” 2016
genre, and for sure it represents different influences. When I was very young I was very much into manga and comics, and I think that this is something that influenced my overall vision. I create characters with cartoon-like proportions and big eyes that are cute, but they also have creepy and odd elements. My characters, mostly girls, represent typical pop icons of our day, attractive comforting images of beauty, capable of making us dream, but sometimes the beauty of these girls is wounded, broken, scarred, unveiling what is behind the surface and revealing that we are in front of a real being, with a past and a history and not just a soulless pretty face. I like to combine contrasting elements to stir different thoughts and emotions. Art must move something inside you, and that is what I try to do when I create a painting. Some of my characters recur in more than one artwork and I like to create a sort of a story that continues, involving the spectators and making them wonder about the missing tassels, what happened before and
what will happen after. Graduating at the Fine Art Academy here in Italy, also represented a huge influence in my art mostly in terms of how I conceive art and my vision of it. I had studied the history of art very deeply and I love the renaissance, the baroque, the neo-classic, and the Pre-Raphaelites. When I create artwork, even though it may represent a subject that is not classic, I still have those roots in my mind, in my aesthetic sense, a strong echo of the old masters, so this probably reflects onto my subjects.
What inspires you?
Who are your favorite artists?
It happens that I also listen to audiobooks while painting, both in Italian or English to help keep my English going... it’s easy to start to forget how to speak fluently!
I have a huge list of favorite artists and it’s very difficult to tell only a few. I love the masters of the Renaissance, the Flemish masters, the painters of the baroque era, the Pre-Raphaelites and the artists of the Vienna secession. As far as pop surrealist artists, my two favorites are of course Mark Ryden and Kukula, but I really have so many that I follow and love and some of them are also my friends.
"Bones & Poetry: Little Demons of
Mainly my experiences; my everyday life, people that I meet, other artists, nature, animals, storybooks, fairy tales, history, myth, other cultures, movies and especially music. I don’t know what I would do without music. When I paint I usually listen to my favorite bands, they keep me company during my lonely time in my studio. I also have my two little dogs and also my two family cats keeping me company while working so actually my studio is a little crowded.
Some of my artwork is more personal than others, but I put all my heart and feelings in each of them. I feel like ideas are sent to me from somewhere else, I don’t know how to explain it exactly. Anyway, I write down all the ideas in a notebook and when I want to start new artwork I look at it. Sometimes I’m so enthusiastic about a new subject I start it right away.
What is your favorite kind of music? I like all kind of music. I use it as a soundtrack for most of my activities. It depends on my mood and what I’m doing. For example I love to listen to music from different countries, from Japanese to Celtic, from classic to lounge, from rock to reggae, but the music that I normally listen to while painting or doing work related things – so basically most of my day – is metal because it makes me focus and it tunes deeply with my cells. I mostly like doom, progressive, gothic and industrial metal. The top four bands that I’ve been listening to from the past years to nowadays are Nightwish, Deathstars, Dream Theater, and Rammstein. I love to go see them live whenever I have the chance. Music is always a source of great inspiration for me and I’m so grateful for my favorite bands to keep doing their magic and keep creating the music I love. If you could do anything today, what would you do? I would love to just concentrate solely on my painting instead of updating my shops with new items because this 22 | Clutter 40
takes all of my day. I’m a full-time artist, and I don’t have a manager, so I have to take care of all the business things myself which include promoting my art, updating websites and social networks, listing items in my online shops, packaging prints, framing artworks and preparing them for shipment. Plus keeping records like accounting, keeping track of my inventory of materials, placing orders for inventory, answering e-mails, contacting galleries… all this takes away so much of my time and was
also a huge learning process. There is much more than just painting behind the life of an artist and often people are not aware of this. One of these days I hope to find a trusted person to work with me and manage these things for me so I can just paint. Do you collect anything? I love to collect things, even though my collections are not very big. I’ve moved a lot recently — four places in four years between Italy, Washington
State, and Florida — so I had to shrink some of my collections. I have a collection of toys from the ‘80s that I love because they remind me of my childhood, and keep alive the little child in me. Mostly are My Little Ponies G1, but I also have Pretty Little Kitties, Keypers, Fairy Tails, and Calico Critters, along with some of their doll houses and shops. Oh, and I also have a small collection of Ex Voto (Milagros) in the shape of sacred hearts that I really like and cherish. I’ve started to get some prints and a
"Things Untold," 2015
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“You Can Fly,” 2013
few originals from artists that I like and artists-friends, that I can’t wait to finally hang when I’ll move to my new place. Yes, another move this year! (Laughs) I have a big stock of frames, vintage and new, I don’t know if this can be considered a collection, but I’m obsessed with beautiful and peculiar frames. I normally buy them to frame my artwork, so they are not for myself, but I really love them. It happens frequently that I hand paint them, to match the artwork that I’m going to put inside, I like that a lot. Also, painting my frames is a nice thing to do in between artwork to relax and just enjoy something decorative. What are your thoughts on the art toy world? I love toys! Toys and art are two things that just go perfectly together and enhance one another, combining new horizons and possibilities. I’ve always loved custom toys and nowadays with the advent of the 3D printer it represents a huge revolution that is making the whole process easier on a higher level. I love to 24 | Clutter 40
see blank toys transformed into “canvases” for different artists to paint and see how the same figurine can turn out so different after each artist completed its personalization. I was so excited to be a part of the “Bedtime Bunny” show [at Clutter Gallery], and have a chance to paint the toy designed by Peter Kato. It’s a super sweet little character.
work. If you believe in something, invest in it, take some risks and persevere. Talent is nothing without dedication.
Have you ever worked more sculpturally? Yes in my school days. I learned to model clay, but after that I preferred to concentrate more on painting because I think that it’s what I’m made to do. I would love one day to collaborate with a sculptor to create OOAK dolls. That is one of my dreams for the future. What advice would you give to an aspiring artist? I would say to focus on what is important to you. Learn to accept critique and be humble, know that you’ll never stop learning and if you become successful, always remember your beginning and be grateful for each single person who loves your
For more information on Simona Candini, please visit: simonacandini.com
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Dust Bunnies Galore BY BARBARA PAVONE
(Left to right) “Potted Pipsqueak (Brown #1),” “Potted Pipsqueak (Green),” “Potted Pipsqueak (Brown #2),” and “Potted Pumpernickel,” all 2014
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Starting her design career at a greeting card company, traveling through a startup soap and perfume business and embracing her deep-rooted love of all things antique along the way, Ohio-based artist Amanda Louise Spayd landed in the heart of the designer toy world. Using mixed media, which oftentimes includes vintage porcelain teeth, Spayd crafts fabric creatures that she describes as being both “endearing and unsettling”. Made to look perfectly pre-loved, her creations always reflect her appreciation of the past and knack for dreaming up beautifully (and meticulously!) crafted nostalgia. We recently hunted down Spayd to learn more about the birth of her Dust Bunnies, check out the curiosities in her Ohio studio and chat about all the magical things it gives life to. Top: Market-fresh Pipsqueaks, 2015 Bottom: The artist with her Bumble (Dead Honey Edition), circa 2014
ou worked as a commercial artist for eight years before founding your very own soap and perfume brand, which you ran for nine years. You then threw caution to the wind and turned your focus to crafting Dust Bunnies. What was that whole journey like?
I started working for American Greetings in 2002, right after getting my BFA in Graphic Design. I worked there full-time for over eight years and in that time held positions in a variety of departments, including gift wrap and gift bag design, three-dimensional gift items, Christmas ornaments and greeting cards. Honestly, it was challenging for me to work within such a corporate structure, but I’m very grateful for many of the things I learned while I was there. I now start every project and body of work by putting together a unifying color Clutter 40 | 29
palette, which was a practice I learned during my time as a line designer for greeting cards. I am so caught up in color that I almost can’t do anything else until my palette is right — it’s super important to me! Working there was also my introduction to working with overseas factories for production of items I’d designed. I got a decent amount of experience dealing with the review and approval process with factories and also learned about balancing the desired retail price with available cost of goods. None of that sounds terribly creative, but it was incredibly valuable experience, which I am now using in my chosen career as an artist and toy designer. During the time I was working there, I was also on “self-sustaining hobby” status with my soap and perfume company, Squeaky Queen. I’d started Squeaky Queen as a senior design project for school, but since I still had all the supplies, I just kept designing packaging, tinkering with my website and developing new products. It was just for fun, but once I found that people were interested in buying what I was making, the hobby grew and grew and I found myself able to afford to buy more ingredients and equipment and the whole thing sort of erupted pretty organically. Because I can’t leave any design-oriented 30 | Clutter 40
project alone, I kept reimagining the theming and packaging and got really, really into it. I vended at big regional shows, had a dedicated website and online store, sold wholesale to boutiques and had a registered trademark. I moved thousands upon thousands of bars of soap annually for the last few years of its existence and I was doing this while I had a full-time position at American Greetings. In Squeaky Queen I had the artistic freedom that I was missing at my job, so I was able to take risks and be more creative. Was there a specific catalyst that inspired you to hang up both of those projects in order to pursue your own art full-time?
I actually left American Greetings for the purpose of pursuing Squeaky Queen full-time. I did pretty well and got a decent amount of wholesale accounts and, especially around the holidays, sold a very respectable amount of product via my Etsy store. I eventually reached this crossroads I wasn’t sure how to move from. I had outgrown my basement soap studio and was running out of room to store supplies, equipment and product. I was also running into serious burnout issues and starting to feel like there was no way I could do it unless I was willing to get a small business loan, lease some space for manufacturing and hire help. I was pretty starstruck about the idea, but in
Above: Hand-painted Pipsqueaks (sans nest & eggshell displays), 2016
Opposite: Various unique “Dustbunnies” from Monsters & Misfits IV, 2016
reality knew that it wasn’t something I could reasonably handle. Luckily, it was around this time that I had started making art seriously and showing in galleries. My art was actually selling, which was amazing, and I started to slowly transition out of the world of soap and into the world of art. I officially halted the sale of my soaps and toiletries in early 2012 to focus entirely on my artwork. It wasn’t an easy decision — I still have pangs of sadness about it. Once you took the jump and became your own boss, did you ever secondguess your decision?
I have absolutely second-guessed my decision! In fact, I sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for this at all! My biggest obstacle is myself or, rather, my own cocktail of shortcomings that makes for a challenging situation. Historically, I haven’t always been the best at necessary skills, like time management and prioritization, so I have to work diligently to stay on top of things. Self-employment is not a forgiving vocation, so if you can’t keep yourself going at a certain pace, it’s not going to work out. In the end, it’s very rewarding in a lot of ways, but it can be seriously difficult. How were the Dust Bunnies born? Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted them to look like from the getgo?
I can say with certainty that I had no plans and no vision — they just sort of evolved. When I first started sewing, I was making very simple shapes out of felt and hand stitching the entire thing with a needle and embroidery floss. I’d stuff them and glue glass eyes on them and stain them to make them look old. I’ve always been kind of fanatical about antiques and things with an aged appearance, so it was natural for me to apply that aesthetic to these new stuffed characters. From there they evolved into being made out of cotton, then they had hard clay faces, then they had teeth. The first generations were significantly more ghoulish, severe and scarier looking. The more of them I made, the cuter they became. I’ve often thought about the significance of that progression and what it might mean. I think that as I’ve gotten older and had more experiences in my life, I have gotten more protective of the things I bring into the world. I want them to be innocent and happy and cherished. Sure, they are still weird looking, but they’re a lot more whimsical than they used to be. It’s actually the reverse of what I always expected to happen with my work! You seem to have a love of mixed media Clutter 40 | 31
and sculpting that seriously outweighs all of the artistic avenues available in 2D. What is it about mixed media that inspires you so much?
I think I just have a more natural tendency toward construction and fabrication than I do rendering. There is something so immediately satisfying about putting disparate pieces together into a cohesive whole that I just don’t get with the more 2D disciplines. Being largely self-taught, there are still many things I’m learning, but I find it really empowering to continually find new ways to create. When you need an instant jolt of inspiration, where do you turn?
I love walking the aisles at big craft stores because I find a lot of materials-related inspiration there. Companies make so many great supplies for scrapbooking, sewing and home decor, I’m guaranteed to come across at least one good idea every time I visit. Even
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something as simple as ‘Look how that ribbon is attached to that card’ can launch a domino effect of ideas for me. I also really enjoy perusing antique stores where I come across a lot of inspiring ideas and objects. My work universally shares this sort of “dingy,” time-worn appearance and it’s by careful observation that I’ve learned how to artificially age things in a way that appears natural. In addition to crafting Dust Bunnies, you’ve also worked on quite a few collaborative projects. Which has been the most fun and rewarding to date?
I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the Monsters and Misfits shows in Japan. Brandt Peters and Kathie Olivas gathered artists each year or so and many of us got to travel and be a part of the show, from set-up to opening night, interacting with patrons and experiencing new things together.
“Potted Pipsqueak (Brown #1),” “Potted Pipsqueak (Green),” and “Potted Pipsqueak (Brown #2),” all 2014
Hand-painted Belfries, 2015
I also really enjoyed working on Thimblestump Hollow with Chris Ryniak. We collaborate all the time and find that it feels very easy and natural to do so. We don’t always agree, of course, and we live together, so that makes some aspects of collaboration better and some aspects worse, but overall it’s a pretty successful situation. Working with Chris is really good for me because although we have very different methodology, we help each other with the parts that we’re not so good with. I know he helps me get over a lot of my own hurdles! You live and work near Cleveland — what are some of your favorite spots in the city?
Most of my favorite spots are actually far, far away from the city. We are lucky to have some really fantastic state parks and forests less than an hour’s drive away, which I visit whenever I can. If you’re not familiar with the state, Ohio probably seems like the most boring place to be, but geographically speaking, we have a lot of really great places — cliffs, forests, waterfalls, gorges, huge rock formations, slatebottomed rivers — and a lot of wildlife, too. Cleveland itself has a lot to offer, though. We’ve got a really diverse and active food scene, as well as some interesting
neighborhoods that have a lot of character. There’s a public food market called the West Side Market that was built in the early 1900s and it’s in a really fabulous building. In fact, there is a lot of really notable architecture in the city. Cleveland isn’t huge, but it really is unique and a lot more interesting than people may realize. So Ohio makes for a good home base for artists?
I was born here and have spent my whole life in northeastern Ohio. It definitely has its challenges — one of the biggest being the long winters — but it will always be home. Something I really like about living here is how removed you can be from the bustle of the city. I need to be close enough to open spaces that I can get out of the suburbs at least once a week. I think if I lived somewhere very populated I would go nuts! Looking around at your personal art collection, what are some of the pieces that jump out at you immediately? And who are some of your favorite peers?
This may be strange, but I’m actually not an avid art collector! Most of the pieces hung on my walls are shadowboxed curios, crates and shelves that hold antique toys and supplies or Clutter 40 | 33
a few framed turn-of-the-century postcards. I do follow what my peers are doing, though, and there are so many I admire! My friend Linda Le [Vampy Bit Me] is a professional cosplayer and designer/fabricator. She is very inspiring to me because of her tireless work ethic, quality workmanship and total sincerity about who she is. Lana Crooks is a fellow textile artist with a fastidious attention to detail and this incredible technical knowledge of how to make things out of fabric. Her brain works in a way that mine never will and it’s really impressive to me. I do have a modest toy collection and some of my favorite pieces are by TwelveDot, T9G, InstincToy, Chima [Group] and Konatsu. I’ve limited my toy collecting to only include white, grey, pink and light blue in an attempt to keep it under control! How about your antique collection? What are some of the strangest, most fascinating pieces you’ve managed to track down over the years?
Oh boy, that’s going to be tough to narrow down! I have a Civil War era prosthetic leg, which, even though it is currently sort of unceremoniously leaned against a wall, is one
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of my favorite pieces. It was made for someone whose right leg terminated at the knee and is made of plaster, leather, metal and wood. As evidenced by the wear and tear on the leather foot, it was most definitely used. A lot of my collection is medical/dental in nature. I have about eight porcelain false tooth displays, most of which are pre-1940s. They’re these wax-covered boards that have rows of porcelain teeth stuck into them with small metal pins, displaying a company’s range of tooth sizes and shapes, so dentists could choose the most natural-fitting false teeth when making dentures and partials for their patients. I think they just look amazing and can’t stop buying them when I see them. My goal is to fill a whole wall with them! In the non-medical category, I have an evergrowing collection of membership and award ribbons. For membership ribbons, I usually look for pre-1950 examples of fraternal organizations. My award ribbon collection is limited to third place and lower — I absolutely love low ranking prizes — and are mostly for domestic, hobby and agricultural pursuits. I have a collection of Ohio State Fair cattle ribbons that goes all the way down to fifteenth place. I don’t even know if that’s better or
Below: “Aqua Glitter Pipsqueak”, 2014 Right: “Crystal”, 2014
worse than the seemingly passive-aggressive participant ribbon! One of the reasons I collect them is the brilliant and beautiful typography on them. The designer in me just can’t get enough of the gorgeous typefaces and printed celluloid badges on them. Is it true that some fans are actually getting your works tattooed on them?!
I have seen a few and the ones I have seen have been incredibly well done! I am absolutely honored that someone would want a permanent image of mine on their body because they could choose anything. I’ve actually been tossing around the idea of creating my own tattoo flash sheets for anyone who wanted a more simple 2D representation of the Dust Bunnies. I was reading your blog and noticed mention of folks blatantly copying and selling your work. How do you react to such artistic infringement, and is there anything you can do about it?
The short answer is that there’s not much I can do about it. The crazy thing is, most people have no idea how widespread it is. I only really bring it up when asked about it because I don’t like to draw attention to it (or really expend too much energy dwelling on it), but there are so, so many people doing this. I have literally hundreds of screenshots on my computer of copycat items up for sale. And those hundreds are just the ones that I’ve personally seen — I’m sure there are more. My reaction is largely anger and disappointment, but in terms of something productive, honestly, I’m kind of powerless to stop it. You can copyright individual pieces of art, but you can’t copyright a style, so I just have to watch it happen. I just sort of keep tabs on them, document everything and hope they run out of steam and start doing something else. Intellectual property theft is a topic that I have a lot to say about, but I’ll just say this: The owner/creator of that property, whether it be a character or series of characters, a painting, a sculpture, a resin or vinyl figure has the right to decide how and where that property is used. They alone have that right. Personally, I love seeing fan creations like tattoos, drawings, homemade Dust Bunnies and even customization of vinyl toys. I think it’s really great that something I do can inspire creativity in others and I love that they share it with me and the world. Where I draw the line is when it stops being personal use and gets into commercial use territory. That’s no longer fan art and it’s not flattering, it’s not an homage and it doesn’t make me feel good. 36 | Clutter 40
It’s counterfeiting and it’s not fair to me or to collectors. I’m very protective of the Dust Bunnies because they are a real extension of me, as a person. 2017 is creeping up faster than it should! Do you have any big plans in the works for the new year?
There are so many things! Another show with Chris Ryniak in 2017 and more editioned Dust Bunnies. I definitely would love to do another vinyl blind box series. I’m also trying to take some different angles and maybe manifest my work in some unexpected ways — we’ll see! I have more ideas than I have energy, so time will tell. Finish this sentence for me, please: Amanda Louise Spayd is…
...really verbose. Thanks for letting me write a novel!
For more information on Amanda Louise Spayd, please visit: MandiLouise.blogspot.com
BRAIN TO HAND TO BRUSH 10 YEARS OF SQUINK BY MARC DEANGELIS
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It seems like it’s every week that commentators and even artists are bemoaning the death of the designer toy scene, despite the arrival of new artists and fresh ideas. It’s easy to be pessimistic. And enough pessimism will kill the industry. What we need just as much as talented designers are optimists. And you’ll find both a skilled artist and a loyal devotee in Squink. Not only is the Leeds-based artist an unwavering supporter of customizers, designers, and brands, he’s also one of the most skilled and versatile artists around. Going from a Dunny with lines so perfect that it looks like it came off the production line, to a grungy and weathered Thimblestump Hollow customization, to an original sculpt at the drop of a hat, his work may be varied but the quality is consistently top notch. Clutter Magazine catches up with Squink, recounting his ten years in the industry, his influences, and the hustle it takes to be a full-time, self-employed toy customizer. Opposite: The Dreamer 2.0, Series 1 custom Dunnys, 2016
This page: “Waiting On Enceladus (The Escape),” 2015
ou’ve been customizing for ten years now. How has the scene changed since then? What are some of the biggest improvements you’ve made to your skill set?
Wow, has it really been that long? I can remember the first time I decided to have a go at creating my first piece on a C.I.Boy, actually the only piece of ‘designer vinyl’ I was able to get a hold of at the time! It’s certainly much easier than it used to be to pick up something to work on — or collect. Perhaps that’s one of the major differences I’ve noticed. When I first started out, I only knew of a handful of collectors in the UK, let alone customizers. I don’t even remember exactly who was active at the time, but one thing I have noticed is that the few people I do remember customizing back at the very start are still doing it now. I’m sure there’s a message in there somewhere. There has been huge growth since then. Even now, when some would say — to quote from an article I read around a year ago — “the vinyl
scene is dead.” It’s not. I’m hearing about a new artist/customizer every week. Though a lot of these aren’t genuine, like people who have heard they can make a quick buck, there are more and more artists appearing who totally blow me away. This actually gives me a lot of hope for the future. I know some would say that there is a certain amount of overcrowding right now; I’m not so sure. You can immediately see who is genuine and passionate about their work and who is just paint pushing, and the other guys just don’t stick around. It’s so easy for someone new to come along, release a badly painted Boba Fett Dunny, get no sales and start going on about how it’s so over for ‘urban vinyl.’ Admittedly, when I first started out, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, my influences were all over the place, and I was guilty of some questionable line work. But I stuck at it, painted those damn lines until they were as clean as possible, and worked on symmetry, the final aim always being the ability to create something as close to a factory produced piece as possible. That is until Clutter 40 | 39
Kidrobot actually produced one of my designs. Something strange happens when you have a production piece out there. My frame of mind changed and I started to think, “Oh, well, people have that now, so how do I continue but build on this?” The answer for me was to switch things a little, to create work that had more of a human touch. Now I want the work I produce to be unquestionably hand-painted, but still keeping the same level of quality I always aimed for. Adding a wash to a cleanly painted custom immediately brings it to life, gives it a pulse. I would love to have another piece produced, but I just can’t get my head around the idea of a factory trying to reproduce my current style, knowing it’d be missing that crucial element, and also knowing I wouldn’t be responsible for quality control, which is very important to me. I’m looking for ways to compromise right now, though, so we’ll see where this goes. You’ve been collecting for a long time too, starting with Toy2R’s Qees. What are you into these days?
That’s right. The first piece I actually bought to keep was a little black bear Qee. I still have him! Toy2R were the main guys back then. Quality control was the absolute best, so it was sad seeing them slowly disappear over the years, but Kidrobot had already grown by then and were putting out some awesome stuff! I used to have a pretty big collection a few years ago, but sadly when I was trying to switch over to the artwork full time, sacrifices had to be made and a lot of my treasured pieces had to go off to new homes. I was really into the work of Tim Biskup back then — Helper, Pollard, etc. They sat alongside a full collection of the Gary Baseman Hump Qee eggs in all the colors. What I have right now is very much on the 3A side of things; factory produced, I know, but they hold a lot of the qualities I enjoy. They’re dirty, grimy, and stinky — but that’s not to say I enjoy these qualities in all their forms. I still find myself grabbing the occasional Dunny. The Mcbess designs were really nice and totally appealed to the graphic designer in me. That guy would do a great series. I still keep a few Baseman toys on the bookcase alongside the Bubi Au Yeung Bearycalm. I don’t attach any kind of collection lifespan to what I buy, though, so I’m a lot more selective. What I buy, I keep. A lot of them are designed by friends or have a story behind them, so they’re here to stay! Is it true that you don’t work from sketches? In my own experience, everything goes sideways as soon as I 40 | Clutter 40
try to improvise, so I’d love to hear more about your process.
It’s true; I have worked from sketches a couple of times, but it’s not my preferred method. Experience has taught me that if I sketch an idea out on paper first, then when it comes to creating the design for real, you’re often just trying to replicate that original. Sometimes the real magic happens that first time when the ideas are fresh and flowing. For the most part, that is what I want people to see, not an overly refined version of something that was once new. When I’m trying to paint something with a sketch by my side, checking the original, painting a line knowing that it’s ‘supposed’ to go in a specific place, it makes me completely screw up what could have worked if I’d just done it there in the first place. I’m well aware that it’s not the ‘normal’ way of working, but whatever you get the most success from is best, surely. With the odd exception, I always know where I’m going with a piece in my mind, but what you actually get is always brain to hand to brush. There’s also a lot to be said for the challenge that comes from improvisation. If you’re working on a piece and something goes wrong, you can work with it, and then suddenly it becomes something
“Squink X Skullhead Bust,” 2014
different entirely, often even better than what you had in mind! You’ve described toy design and customization as the flip side of the constraining rules of graphic design, which is what you were trained in. But I’ve always seen customization as a subset within graphic design. What are some of the biggest differences in your eyes?
I don’t feel this way about all customization, it depends entirely on the style of the work in question. If we talk about the pieces like Ken the Tiger, and my recent monochrome retro cartoon style pieces, they’re very graphical. I think the main difference is being able to sometimes allow things to happen without 100% control, something you’d be very unlikely to get away with when working with a corporate manual by your side. For example, if I put a wash over a piece, the drips will form how they want to. Though it’s possible to refine these, take them off with alcohol, etc., there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with knowing that those drippy marks were totally natural, a moment frozen in time, not refined or stenciled.
My Final Breath: Surfacing regular and chase versions, 2015
You work with a bigger variety of platforms than most customizers. Is this a form of challenging yourself?
A lot of the time it’s just to satisfy my curiosity, I’m always wondering how I can change things
stylistically. Though I still paint more Dunnys than anything else, it’s always fun to work on something for the first time. Usually, it’s only restricted by the cost of the original piece. Working on an expensive release can be a little scary but it makes the end product something special. There was a bit of a scare when Kidrobot published their stance on bootlegging and using Dunnys as positives during the resin casting process. You don’t seem to have had any trouble, though.
Though before this Kidrobot hadn’t publicly talked about bootlegging, I’d noticed it happening more and more. I think the main thing to remember is that Kidrobot is a business, and they need to make money or they’ll disappear completely. If you’re buying a single Dunny, casting it, and then producing your own, you’re essentially stealing a sale from Kidrobot with every single cast. Even if you’re only buying a Dunny with customization in mind, that purchase helps to fund future releases and is so important. What I’ve always done, and insist on, is that I always buy a Dunny and use the parts for every one of my releases using that platform. Though I’m making my own custom head sculpt, each one has an original vinyl body. There isn’t really an excuse for casting a whole Dunny, the only exception being when it’s one such as the work of Scott Wilkowski, who uses clear resin to house a skeleton inside the form, something
Clutter 40 | 41
which couldn’t be done without casting in this way. I assume this has been cleared with Kidrobot. Huck Gee commissioned you to apply your own style to some of his Skullhead toys. That must’ve felt pretty awesome.
Huck has been around from the very beginning, so it was amazing to have been chosen to work on his resin busts! I’d already painted up his Skullhead Dunny a few months prior, so these were a fitting continuation of that style. Being invited to take part in the Skullhead show at Clutter Gallery finished it off nicely! You clearly are influenced by nature and animals. What other themes or media have influenced your signature style?
When I first started out, I was all about bright colors and cute faces! Back then I was living in a tiny little town with an apple tree in the garden. Since then I’ve moved into the city. It’s dirty and polluted, and this has definitely impacted my work. Most of what I produce now is influenced by the way in which man is taking a toll on the environment. Though not so much my signature style, my clean monochrome work is hugely influenced by older cartoons, back to the Ub Iwerks days. They’re fun but there’s also something a little bit unsettling about those characters. Al Columbia did a great job of building on that creepy edge too. I love that stuff. Waiting on Enceladus is a really unique take on an astronaut. How did you develop this design and what references did you draw from to create the cool retro-futuristic look?
I had a long look around the Internet at images mostly from the 1950s of space helmets, ray-guns, and kids’ space toy packaging from that decade. It’s some of my absolute favorite imagery, so it made complete sense to try to create something that was creatively linked to that era. The designs they came up with back then, based on what they imagined it’d be like in the future, are so much better than the reality. My Final Breath, which depicts a man’s head being submerged underwater, is a really unique piece. I’d even hesitate to call it a toy due to its structure. What’s the story behind it?
This design stemmed from the feeling you get when you struggle to keep your head above water when things are getting on top of you and it’s almost too much. I originally included some little sketches with the resin pieces, but my other half gave me a telling off as they were too depressing. MFB holds a special place in my 42 | Clutter 40
heart; it’s definitely something I want to revisit, maybe a female version or something, I don’t know. I still get people asking for it, but I cut up the mold to keep release numbers low. It’s also a pretty clear depiction of anxiety and depression. And your Surfacing piece seems like a counterpoint to that. Were you intentionally evoking and reversing these feelings?
Surfacing was supposed to be a counterpoint for sure, and is actually part of the story: The spirit rising to the surface of the water after the original head finally gives into the waves. He’s smiling now, though, because that weight has been lifted. I know a few people have them displayed alongside the original, but they are still asking for the next part of the story. You’ve customized a few pieces that look like your resin sculptures but actually use polymer clay appliances on top of Dunnys. Is this technique for oneoff customs?
I think my resin sculptures mostly stemmed from the design of one-off custom sculpts. When It Rains, It Pours, for example, existed originally as a custom Dunny, with polymer clay on top. I refined this for the resin head multiples. Sometimes a design just feels like it works, and I hate having to choose a color treatment, knowing that once it’s done, I’ll never know what it might have looked like in a different color, with more weathering or other details. Along with your sad, starry eyes, one of your other signature looks is a weathered paint job. How do you use this technique and integrate it into your character designs?
I’m fascinated by those old pictures you see around of kids toys and playgrounds that have been damaged by war, or the ones that were going around of abandoned theme parks left untouched for years. Because of this, they tell their own story. I want my work to look and feel like it has seen things. Why is part of it dirty and rusted? What happened in the environment to cause the wear and tear? I feel things like this really add to the emotions a piece can evoke. I love the feeling that something isn’t quite right, in a way the complete opposite of what a toy should be, traditionally, which is why so many of my characters crying. Your stone and moss technique is really unique, too. There must be a ton of sculpting involved. What do you have to keep in mind in order to make the texture so realistic?
There is a fair bit of sculpting, but also a lot of carving. You always know when I’m working on a stone texture because the studio floor is covered with plastic shards. Removing a few parts helps create a little more realism, creating that worn and damaged stone effect. The sculpting compliments that and allows me to create cracks in the surface too, which adds a little age. I’m always looking up old statues and castles for reference. For my stone 3A Bertie, I was also looking at the moss growth on the robots from the fantastic animation Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
Opposite: (Top to bottom) “Regal Ken,” 2016 My Final Breath, Series 3: Pearl Turquoise, 2014 “1957 Mega Man,” 2016
This page: untitled, 2016
Your web store is completely sold out and physical Patreon rewards are all claimed. Are you customizing toys day and night at this point?
Right now I’m lucky enough to be able to cover my costs with just my artwork. It’s taken years to reach this point and has taken a lot of dedication and days with nothing but beans on toast. It’s amazing to see so much support for my work, though, and so many of the names I see on Patreon are people I remember from years ago. Collectors are loyal and great! Clutter 40 | 43
When did you decide to use Patreon? Does it help making ends meet as an independent artist? Would you recommend it to other customizers?
I actually had a customer email me and ask if I’d ever considered it. Before this, I’d heard of it but hadn’t really looked any further into it than the signup process. It’s played a huge part in allowing me to go full time, and it’s actually really amazing to see how much people are willing to give to support my work! I had no idea I’d get so much interest on there, and it’s always got me trying to think of new rewards. The main problem is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day! I’d love to add more reward places too, but unless I cut sleep out of my life completely, I just don’t know how I could manage it. I already treat bedtime like a huge inconvenience, but I’m told it’s a necessary one. I’d certainly recommend it; I’ve seen people have great success with the platform. It’s still fairly new too so I’m sure there will be more great features to come! Your wife Laura (aka Haus of Boz) is also a super skilled customizer. Do you guys bounce ideas off one another and share techniques?
It does happen from time to time. We work in very different ways and styles, though. Laura’s work is the sunshine next to my gloom. She uses colors I haven’t touched in years! Most of the time, the main influence she has on me is the motivation. I think this can work both ways too. If one of us is working, then chances are we’ll both be working into the early hours. Guilt is the ultimate motivator, and if you’re sitting playing The Witcher 3, and suddenly notice your other half has disappeared upstairs to create something, the game doesn’t seem quite so appealing anymore. What would you say to fans and 44 | Clutter 40
customizers who are afraid that the scene is dying out?
It’s changing for sure, but as long as we move with it, things will be just fine. The only way it can die is if everyone quits, and I’ve seen so much passion for toys in the past few weeks that it seems unlikely to happen any time soon. I suppose it’s easy to think it’s dying out because we’ve seen such changing styles, stores disappearing, and a real lack of launch shows recently, in the UK at least. But at the same time, since then, we’ve seen ToyCon UK come out of nowhere to become a hugely successful event, and DesignerCon seems to grow every year! This completely contradicts the negativity. What’s next for Squink?
I’ll be doing a new release of When It Rains, It Pours in a month or so, and then it’s probably time for a brand new original sculpt! Then it’s time to look at moving to a much needed bigger house and new studio! It never stops, and I wouldn’t change that for the world!
For more information on Squink, please visit: squinky.co.uk
Left: “A New Adventure,” 2014 Right: “The Trophy,” 2016
CUSTOMS & COCKROACHES BY BRIAN VANHOOKER
Blattodea [Bla∙TOE∙de∙a] - the taxonomic order for over 4500 species of insects, including cockroaches Photo credit above: Dean McBryde
The story of Victor Blattodea takes place in the Frankenstein laboratory. A hyper-intelligent cockroach, Victor, watches Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments and quickly outpaces his role model, utilizing a unique talent to bring a horrifying invention to life, in the form of the Manual Over-ride machine, a walking hand with a cockpit. Much like his creation, Mike Strick is an observant student who later put his owns unique talents to work. Growing up watching monster movies, having a father who lectured on science fiction and being family friends with special effects legend Ray Harryhausen would later inspire his unique brand of highly detailed, and often disturbing custom toys. We decided to reach out to one of the most impressive customizers in the designer toy scene to see what creations he may have crawling around in his laboratory.
an you tell me a bit about your background artistically?
Generally speaking, I guess I’ve been drawing and making things for as long as I can remember. It’s only been in relatively recent years that I have been able to do anything close to professional with it. Professionally, at the moment, I’m a programmer, although the art stuff is a hobby that occasionally pays for itself. A few years ago, I became aware of the vinyl toy scene and there were a couple of local competitions. So I tried my luck with those with some success and it escalated from there. How did you first become aware of the vinyl toy scene? Through a local shop actually, I’d always seen the vinyl toys around and, living just outside London, there are quite a few shops that carry vinyls, though not as many now as there used to be. So, I’d always had a vague interest, having collected toys for a very long time. I’d gotten back into them as an adult after seeing Skeleton Warriors and realizing that toys had
moved on a lot since I’d had them as a child. So I began collecting those and some Spawn and McFarlane figures. As for the vinyl scene, I was always peripherally aware of it, but it wasn’t until my local shop started to carry more and more figures, as well as a few customs, and that started to interest my more creative side. So you’ve always made things? Yeah, I was encouraged as a child to be creative. I guess they
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Above: “Victor Blattodea’s Manual Over-ride” 2015 Left: “One Ugly Crustacean,” 2015 Bottom: “Don’t Call Me Donkey,” 2016
discovered that a good way to shut me up was for me to spend hours gluing things together or sculpting things out of clay. I was fortunate because my father was in the film industry, and I met a lot of creative people through him, like Ray Harryhausen. Ray Harryhausen? That’s awesome. So was he a major influence? His attention to detail has always been an influence and inspiration. And certainly, seeing that someone that you know personally can produce things that would otherwise be unimaginable was very inspirational as a child. With that, there are no boundaries.
How do you mean? Well, normally, when you see something on a screen and it’s a finished product, and the idea that someone has made that is a bit hard to get your head around, but seeing that close-up early on definitely influenced me. And I suppose, when I think about it, the image of warrior skeletons has been a recurring image and something I’ve drawn a lot. So, I suppose Ray Harryhausen may have influenced me more than I was aware of in the early days. Do you have a set “process”? It’s very much project dependent. If it’s a custom job for a client, I always like to sit down with them and get a sense of what they’re going to enjoy, and what they see getting out of it. If it’s for an exhibition, normally they’ll be some sort of theme, and if the theme is being forced upon the figure, I usually will get an idea early on and I very rarely divert from that. Alternatively, if the theme is based on the original toy itself, I’ll spend quite a lot of time just playing around with the figure, seeing if it comes apart, or I’ll try to see it from a new angle and see if I can put it in a new light, like turn it upside down or something, and then see if there’s a shape in there that inspires me to do something different. Like you did with Invader? Invader is a great example of what happens when you just turn the figure upside down. I have to say, the T-Con is a lovely figure. It’s got Clutter 40 | 49
do anything else to it, but, that was the job. So, as soon as I turned him upside down, I saw this bulbous head looking back at me and from that I could see straight away what he needed to make him whole, which required me to make a quite a lot of extra figure, but by doing so, I was able to keep the whole of the basic body the same and stay true to the original figure while still taking it in a new direction. I love that you kept the T-Rex’s nostrils. Well, that was part of staying true to the original figure. Plus, there’s no reason not to have them there, he’s an alien, who knows where they have their nostrils. So what are you working on presently? Lately, I’ve specifically gone out to produce a line of figures that I can cast and then create a run of and fortunately they’ve been pretty popular. So lately I’ve been fulfilling orders for those, the most recent one being Victor. I wanted to ask you about Victor, what’s the story behind him? It was an image that just came to me. I immediately knew the background story in my head for him. It was the idea that the cockroach living in [Victor] Frankenstein’s laboratory immediately grasps the whole concept of what Frankenstein is working on, but can’t communicate it, so he sets out to do it himself. And Frankenstein, who’s already gone slightly mad, catches a glimpse of this severed hand being driven by a cockroach scuttling across his floor and it would drive him even more mad. Do your characters always have such a developed backstory? Well, with Victor, I wanted to explain his story because it’s such an unusual image. People responded really well. I got a lot of positive feedback from that. So with the other pieces, I produce in the same world, I’ll release more bits of story to explain it and expand that world… It’s a funny environment. I’m interested in cockroaches, insects, spiders and other unusual pets. I enjoy spending my time doing positive publicity or making heroes out of creatures that are often seen in a bad light, and I think cockroaches in particular… Well, very few people see them in a positive light. Like me. After living in Brooklyn, I don’t have a very high opinion of them. (Laughs) Yeah, not everyone’s a fan. Now, I won’t go into my full spiel about how cockroaches are a good thing, but to give you the loosest version: There’s tens of thousands of cockroach species and only two of which 50 | Clutter 40
are considered pests. They tend to get a bad reputation because they are found in places that are thought of as being dirty and we just associate the dirt with them, but in reality, they are basically just earthworms with legs, they take substances and break them down into earth material. So, in an ecosystem, they’re doing the essential job of cleanup. Can they really survive a nuke blast? (Laughs) Tough one to test. Some of them are actually a lot harder to keep alive than you’d think, actually, but there’s probably some that would. And where did the name Victor Blattodea come from? Victor is the name used in the movies for Frankenstein, and Blattodea is the scientific name for the order of cockroaches. Ah, of course. Actually, it was more complicated with the name of the device. Manual Over-ride was a silly play on words that I don’t think anybody actually got. ‘Manual’ referring to a hand and ‘Over-ride’ because he rides over it. So are classic monsters a major source of inspiration for you? Yeah, I think that goes back to my dad, who used to lecture on horror and science fiction. There’s always been a science fiction and movie influence going on, everything from Universal Monsters to current horror. It’s always an inspiration. Do you have a favorite monster?
Left: “Munny Shines,” 2015 Above Left: “Ray,” 2014
I was always very fond of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s not something I’ve ever done a sculpt of, but it’s definitely on my list to produce at some point. More recent ones… The Thing is a great one, American Werewolf in London had a great monster, and, to bring it full circle with the cockroaches, Mimic had fantastic monsters in it.
Above Right: “ToyCon UK Exclusive Ray,” 2015 Below: “Invader,” 2014
Can you tell me about Ray? Ray came about from a conversation with a friend about blind packed figures and the idea was to have a figure that the blind packing was in the figure itself. So that you don’t actually know what he looks like until you take the helmet off, and that idea evolved into Ray. I like figures that articulate; I like figures that open up and have something inside them. With toys, that’s always been a fun thing, so that idea really appealed to me, plus the excitement of blind packed figures, where you don’t know what you’re going to get. But with those, there’s always a risk of disappointment, so I knew that when I started on Ray that it wasn’t going to be a cheap thing for people to buy, and if I wanted people to make that investment with me, the packing itself had to be worthwhile too. So before you took the helmet off, it needed to be a complete figure, and when you take the helmet off, you almost get another one for your money. So, the set of random heads, that’s the blind assortment, but, even if you don’t like the head you’ve got, leave the helmet on, and hopefully you’ve still got something you like.
Any details? Um… The additions to Victor’s world will be variations on a theme, so they’ll be some other body parts. They’ll also be some other characters that will be from the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the laboratory… That really didn’t tell you much of anything, now did it? That’s okay. It can be mysterious. Well, it is mysterious, so sorry about that.
I love the robot head. Oh, thanks. The nice thing about that was that everyone ended up with a favorite. I think my favorite was the second release of heads, which was the squid head. So can you tell about any upcoming projects? Well, I do have some exciting things I’m working on in Victor’s world, which will be appearing in the next couple of months hopefully.
For more information on Mike Strick, please visit: sculpt.strick.co.uk
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