2017 - The challenge of my ever changing world

I know it's been far too long since I've updated this blog. I got a lot of very nice personal messages from my last posts about Perspective, Insignificance and Gratitude, which has been very humbling and heart warming to know it's made a difference. In the last two years, so much has changed and I've really been trying to live according to my own principles. But the tests of life can be difficult and deeply affect who you are at the core. I don't want to get into everything that has happened, but it has been a tragedy on the grandest of scales for myself and my family. Still, we persevere and look to the future. In the last two years, I've been officially hired on at Sideshow as full time, in house sculptor. I've also relocated to Thousand Oaks to be closer to work and be able to spend more time with my family (I was driving 4-5 hours a day before). I've worked on some pretty cool projects at work that will see the light of day soon. I'll be sharing what I can when I can.

Overall, life has been pretty good to me. But in looking at the challenges that we all face in our lives, I wanted to continue to share my philosophies with you, in the hopes that it helps you live a more content and fulfilled life. I know I can get busy and I haven't been the best blog poster as of late, so I won't make any promises as to how often I'll be posting. But I will definitely be adding posts about Happiness and a discussion on the Power of Words (two separate subjects).

I can imagine what you might be thinking... "I thought this was a sculpting web site?" Well, it is. And I've done plenty of posts about that and you can go through the archives and read all those posts. They're great. But these days, I really feel like sharing more than just my thoughts on sculpting and toys and the industry at large. If you don't feel like reading the stuff I'll be posting, that's okay, I get it. It's not for everybody. But if you're looking to maybe change the way you look at life and maybe take back some control, then I say give them a try. And if you like them, send me a message telling me so. Hell, if you don't like them, send me a message telling me so. Let's have a conversation about it. And if you really enjoy it, then maybe you'll share it with some people in your life. But more importantly, if you really enjoy, put it into practice.

I'll write again soon(ish). Til then.... Cheers!!

Alfred

Perspective, Insignificance & Gratitude - Part 3

For the last two posts, I've been talking about perspective and insignificance. In this post I'll be wrapping it up with the payoff - Gratitude. Before we get into gratitude, I want to go back to the beginning so that we can see how the whole thing comes together.

 When I talked about my moment of perspective (the big picture universe stuff), I said how it all led me to a moment of picturing the sun exploding and how in the grand scheme of the universe it would pretty much be an insignificant event. And in that moment, I was left with a sense of "Why am I worrying about anything?" In the big picture, the small stuff doesn't matter much and because of that you are in a fortunate position and that leads to a sense of gratitude. And that's what's it's all about.

 So why is Gratitude important? The way I see it, it's gratitude that leads to a more content life. When you can look at your life and have a sense of gratitude about where you are, then you are naturally going to be happier. It doesn't take lots of money and a big house to feel good about where you are in life. You don't need a great job either. I am lucky enough to have a great job now, but it doesn't mean that the job doesn't have its difficulties. There are times when the job is tedious and tiring. There are days when my brain hurts from problem solving certain issues. I have a two hour commute (each way!!), in L.A. traffic and that's enough to break any spirit. But here's the thing, at the end of the day, I love my job. My perspective for this is the fact that I used to work in construction and I wasn't very happy doing that job and it was physically grueling on my body. So no matter what difficulties my new job may throw at me, it's all better than the type of work I was doing before (for me). For many of you, it's probably going to be a little difficult to be grateful about your jobs, but remember that even having a job is an extremely fortunate position to be in. Perspective is the key to start this process.

So let's bring gratitude away from work and money and let's talk about the other stuff in our lives. I'll keep using myself as an example as it's the simplest way for me to explain this stuff and it shows that I'm not just saying this stuff, but also practicing this stuff. Last year, my father passed away after a very difficult end. If that wasn't enough, he died 6 days before my birthday and we buried him exactly a year after one of my greatest artistic accomplishments (the unveiling of the Lucky Baldwin monument). Financially it was difficult because my father didn't exactly prepare well and there were a lot of things that needed to be covered in a short period of time. As usual, I put my feelings aside in order to keep everything straight and handle what I needed to for the rest of my family. Probably not the best way to go through life but I'm a very pragmatic person and crying about my dad at that moment wasn't going to get things accomplished. After a few days had passed, I started to spend time thinking about all that had passed. The difficult moments and the difficult calls that I had to make. I looked around at the world and on a drive to pick up some food (hmmm... Apparently I have a lot of these epiphanies in the car), I noticed how all the people around me were just carrying on with their lives. Even I was on my way to pick up food. Such a mundane task, but there I was, moving on with my life. It was the genesis of my views on perspective. When I saw how my father's passing was pretty insignificant to the world as a whole, I was oddly comforted. Life moved on. Sadness went away. I, and the rest of my family, were still here to marvel at the world around us. To enjoy the beauty of this life. I knew that my dad wanted us to move on with our lives after his passing, as quickly as possible and not dwell on the fact that he wasn't around anymore. Feeling all this left me with a great sense of gratitude for life itself. Being alive, at this moment, is the most fortunate thing we can experience. I know that it all sounds really hippie and feel good-y, but it's true. And when you take the time to delve into the idea of perspective, insignificance and gratitude, I believe you'll start to feel the same way.

 The last thing I want to leave you with is along the same lines of all this, but it's something I've used in my life for almost twenty years. It's a simple phrase, but it's as true as anything I have ever known. "Happiness is a choice". We choose to be angry at things. We choose to be upset by what people say and do. We choose the meaning that we give to events in our lives. And so, we can also choose to be happy. It's a simple thing, that's very difficult to do. It takes work and practice. But that simple phrase can change your life. When you find yourself feeling mad or sad or depressed, remember that the way we feel is up to us, and if it's up to us, then why would we choose to be angry or sad? Choose Happiness!!

 I hope that this whole journey was good for you guys. If you got anything from it or if you have any questions or comments about all this stuff, please leave a comment or send me an email. Next month, I'll be back to art posts, so thanks for coming along.

 -Alfred

 

Perspective, INsignificance & Gratitude - Part 2

In the last post I talked about perspective and how it seems to be a catalyst for positive change in our lives. This week, the conversation is all about Insignificance. However, before we go any further, I want to clear up some definitions. I think a lot of people hear “meaningless” when they hear insignificant, but there is a very clear distinction between the two. In order to talk about meaningless, we need to talk about meaning. Meaning is something we apply to an event or action in our lives. It’s completely subjective. It’s different for all of us. Whereas insignificance is really more of a pragmatic or even mathematical look at things. When we talk about insignificance, we are talking about the measurable level of importance a thing has on our lives, and specifically what little effect that thing really has.

So let us now talk about insignificance in relation to my last post. The big moment of Perspective for me came in the view of the universe as a whole. I’ll use this example as it can be very clear to see, but perspective will come in many different ways for all of us, and at different times, different forms of perspective are needed. I gave the example of our sun exploding and that moment having little significance to the universe as a whole. There are so many greater things happening in the universe at this very moment that we can’t even really comprehend most of it. Black holes, colliding galaxies, supernovas… it’s enough to warp our brain. And yet, all the things we know and have ever experienced are here on this tiny planet, third from our sun, in a distant arm of the Milky Way. On this planet we have seen destruction on a massive scale. Extinctions. Ice ages. War. All of these things, that in the grand picture of space and time, have only taken a tiny fraction to occur. But for those of us experiencing these things, it’s all that matters. And there in lies the difficulty. How do we use insignificance to have a better outlook on life and our troubles, when our troubles seem to be the biggest thing that’s ever happened? This is where perspective comes into play. Seeing the big picture of what’s happening in our lives and measuring the level of importance of the thing that’s happening now.

You must see that I like using examples, so here’s another. This probably happens to most of you (and if you live here in Southern California, this happens to all of you). You’re getting onto the freeway and it’s jammed. You know you’re in for a long drive at a snail’s pace. You’ve been here before, no big deal, right? Well, it would all work well if it wasn’t for the person in front of you who is leaving a football field’s length between him and the next car. You keep seeing other cars merging into the large gap. You start to get upset at the person, inching closer to their bumper. Sensing your presence, they slow down even more (as if such a thing was even possible). Well now you’re mad. You lay on the horn, flash your lights and scream from inside your car. Eventually, the car merges over or you find an opening to pass them and at most, you’ve lost 10 or 12 spaces in a slow crawling convoy of commuters. In a moment like this, perspective and insignificance can save you from some very unnecessary anger. The perspective comes in assessing your situation. You’re sitting in a car (which you own), heading to a job (whether you like it or not, it’s a rare thing across the world), to earn money, to buy food, to put into the refrigerator that is in your house or apartment (where you have clean water and a roof over your head). You, my friend, are a very lucky person at this moment. Instead of being angry, this is a moment to be whistling on your way to work. Life is good.

Insignificance. We can apply this to the problems we’re having or the things that are making us angry. It just requires a little perspective first. But let’s not fool ourselves. There are moments that are significant. Even if worlds and galaxies are colliding in other parts of the universe, at those times, those moments are the most significant things in our lives. And I’m not talking about the good stuff. We all love the good stuff. I’m talking about the bad stuff. The stuff we’d like to not have to think about. The things that happen in life that can crush our spirits and break our hearts. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have. Anger isn’t a bad thing; it’s necessary at times. Sadness and sorrow are not bad things; they help us get through difficult times. But it’s allowing these feelings to take over us, where we are no longer in control, where things can go wrong. Go ahead and be angry at the guy on the freeway; but only for a second. Then take a breath and seek some perspective and you’ll see there’s no reason to be upset. But it’s good to get it out. Don’t bottle up your feelings or push them down into some dark recess of your mind. Feel them. Let them do their thing. But only for as long as it’s serving you in a positive way. Then after that, let it go, and realize it’s Insignificant.

Next time you find yourself upset over some thing. Seek out some perspective (feel free to use my grand picture of the universe, or that clip from Contact). In that moment of perspective, ask yourself, on a level from 1-10, how important is the thing you’re upset about, in comparison to the perspective you have just found? I’ll bet you you never get above a 5. I’d say most of the time, you’ll come in at a 3 and under. No reason to be upset over a 3. From there, it’s a simple hop over to “Gratitude”, and the next part of our discussion.

Cheers for now.

-A

Perspective, Gratitude & Insignificance - Part 1

Perspective. What do I mean by that? Well, I believe perspective is a necessary part of any kind of positive change. Being able to see the bigger picture allows us to asses any situation and make changes for the better.

Let’s start with a couple examples. When someone is lost in the wilderness, they seek higher ground to get a better perspective on where they are in relation to their surroundings. Being able to see the bigger picture helps to create a plan of action and remain calm.

Here’s another example. When a person is struggling with addiction issues, many times it’s the moment of rock bottom that finally gives them the perspective they need. When they can see what they’ve done to themselves and to the people around them, it creates a moment for positive change.

And finally, one last example (this is more of a visualization exercise). Imagine you’ve dropped something on the floor of a dark room. You have a flashlight. You wouldn’t hold the flashlight a few inches above the ground and search the whole room, would you? No. I imagine you would raise the flashlight higher in order to see more of the room. This is also a perspective that we tend to apply to our lives. We focus so closely on things, that it seems as though our “flashlight” is just an inch or two off the ground. I want to help raise that light.

So perspective comes in many forms and the form that causes us to create positive change will be different for most of us. But let me tell you how I arrived at my moment of perspective in relation to this discussion.

As I was driving in my car (I have a very long commute), I decided to turn off the radio and drive in silence for a while. I let my mind wander. Soon I found myself picturing the outside of my truck, moving down the highway. Then I moved higher and was able to see the city and hills around me. This outward travel continued and got faster and faster and soon I was looking at the Earth in it’s totality and continuing to travel farther out. Have you seen the opening sequence to the movie “Contact”? If you haven’t, here’s a clip (sorry, I couldn't find one without an add).

It was a lot like that, just without the sound. And as I got to the end of my travels, I saw that all the galaxies were part of a super structure that made up our universe. In that moment, this thought popped into my head. “What if our sun exploded right now? Would it even register in the larger picture of the universe?” My answer came back as “No.” And I snapped back into my truck, driving down the road. In an instant, I had been changed. I started talking out loud to myself, working out what had just happened. If the Earth and everything we have ever known got swallowed up by the sun, and it made no significant difference to the universe, then why was I concerned about sitting in traffic, or having a very long commute? Why on earth are people fighting all over the globe? Why? That’s what I kept coming back to. And it dawned on me that a lack of perspective is what’s really going on here. I think I’ve known this since I was a child, but it had never become so clear as it did in that moment. The questions and discussion continued in my truck and I found myself thinking about the extraordinary odds it takes for any of us to be here, at this moment. We are such an anomaly, when you get down to the actual math of things, that it’s an unbelievable fact that we are here at this moment in time. Imagine if you could see far back into the past. If only one of your many grandparents chose to do something different one day, you would not exist. The chain of events that has transpired in order for us (you and I specifically), is so long and so delicate that a single change would result in a different person reading this right now (if there was even someone to write it). There are cave men and women who we owe our lives to. Isn’t that strange? Yet another glance at the bigger picture and all I can see is wonder.

Do you have any idea how lucky we are, not only to be able to think and be aware, but to know our place in time and space. That kind of perspective is mind boggling!! And we are lucky enough to experience that on a daily basis. So why do we worry so much? Why is it that we can’t pull ourselves away from our problems or petty grievances, or our “first world problems”? Perspective is a big part of it, but with it comes the idea of Insignificance. In the greater picture, our worries and issues are insignificant. We’ll discuss that more in the next part, but it’s important to touch on it a little here, so that we know where we’re headed. Because ultimately, insignificance leads to gratitude, and that is our ultimate destination. That is where we want to be in order to live a more content life.

But back to perspective for one last bit. I know that picturing the universe and stars exploding isn’t going to work for all of you. Some of you may not care that at this moment, stars are exploding and galaxies are colliding and yet here we sit in front of our computers or our phones and we worry about the things in our lives. So let’s get something straight. Perspective doesn’t wipe away our issues. Perspective doesn’t pay our bills or drive us to work. Life, no matter what we’ve made it here on Earth, still has problems and most likely, always will. So don’t think I’m talking about forgetting our responsibilities. Quite the opposite in fact. Perspective can help to deal with the mundane. Perspective will keep you calm as you face the problems and issues of your day. Perspective is a tool that is at our disposal and we can use it to great advantage in dealing with our lives. So yes, you’ll still have issues. Yes, I have to get dressed and get on the road soon. Yes, people are dying (too many of them needlessly) at this very moment. But if we can gain a little perspective, then perhaps we can be of better service to ourselves and to the world. Perhaps we can turn a tragedy into a triumph. Maybe we can turn a frown upside-down.

Next week I’ll talk about insignificance and define some terms for us. And we’ll move one step closer to gratitude and the end of our discussion.

 Cheers for now. Go seek some perspective and bring that with you next week.

 Alfred

2015 and things to come

Hello out there, it's me again. I know it's been a couple of months. I'm going to work on posting more often, starting with new blog posts each month this year (minus January which has already passed... But starting now, it's on!!).

So there's actually something really big I'd like to share with all of you, I just don't know the best format to share it. It's not about any special project I'm working on or recent creaturey stuff, or my new job at Sideshow (which is going really well). It's about the way we look at life. It's about changing the way we think and behave. It's about happiness. The only thing is that to discuss it fully I either have to make a VERY long post, or I have to share it one post at a time. But it's kind of important to get the whole picture. I don't want to leave you with just the first part and then wait a month before you get the next part. So I'm kind of in a pickle about the way to share this with you. Perhaps I'll have to up my game and write a new post each week just for this month. (if you haven't noticed, I'm just typing stream of conscience here...) Okay, so maybe I'll try that. One post each week. I'll start with a new post this Sunday night (Monday for most of you).

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about, I'll tell you the three main parts of this discussion and you can feel free to tune in or tune out for the month. Or you can wait until the end of the month and read the whole thing in one sitting.

"Perspective, Insignificance & Gratitude" Three keys to a more content life.

I'll work on breaking down the three parts into separate discussions (although they are really part of a singular discussion and tend to weave back and forth). There is a little something you can do before the first post. Think on those three words. Think about what each word means to you. Open your mind and be willing to come along for this journey. Finally, you can also leave a comment and let me know if you're interested in even having this discussion.

Cheers for now,

Alfred

New things at the end of another year

Well, I don't know if anybody is still reading this blog or if I'm typing away just for my own amusement. Either way, I do have some news to share, so maybe if there's still a few of you out there, you might enjoy what I've got to say.

For the last 3 months I've been working in house over at Sideshow Collectibles. It's been a great opportunity and I'm feeling pretty at home there. Everybody has been very nice to me and I seem to be doing well. So this might work out to be quite a long gig. I'm not officially an employee over there, but from what I hear, that's where this is heading. I've already been encouraged to decorate my space if I want to. That's got to be a good sign. Seeing as working at Sideshow was the big goal from when I first left construction, it feels really good to have reached it (even if it did take 5 years). I know that being there will only make me a better artist, so I look forward to seeing how my abilities and design sense grow over the next few... however long I'm there.

The next bit of news is that I'm definitely not going to stop making my own stuff. I already have a really cool looking door knocker that will go up for sale soon. And I have some new things in store for Monsterpalooza 2015. The new job definitely takes up a lot of time, and I don't have much free time to work on my stuff, but I've made a promise to myself that I'm not going to let that fall away just because I have a regular job now.

So I hope that some of you still read this and that your excited to see the new stuff that'll will be coming very soon. If you have suggestions for what you'd like to see me make, drop me a line or leave a comment. If you want me to know that you're still out there, leave a comment below.

Cheers for now, and thanks to whoever is reading this.

Alfred

Tim Bruckner Workshop

Hello fine people of the interwebs. I know it's been a while since I've written an all new blog post, but here's a good reason for me to write something. A chance to learn form one of the best, Tim Bruckner!! Check out the workshop. Like and Share the post to help get the word out. Tim is a great sculptor and has forgotten more about sculpture than most of us will learn in a lifetime. This is a great opportunity for amateur and professionals alike.

http://www.tlcworkshops.com/p/expressive-sculpture-and-maquettes-with.html

Cheers!!

 

Alfred

ps. I promise I will have more to share from my own work and some cool news about recent happenings. So come back and check out the blog from time to time.

Breaking into the Industry - Part 3 with Walter O'Neal

I know that I normally post new stuff on Mondays, but seeing as I'm leaving for a week to go compete in the Young Sculptors Competition, I figured I'd post a few days early rather than a week late. Enjoy!!

My final guest blogger for this topic is a man I've actually had the pleasure of meeting face to face. A man with a great deal of talent in a great number of disciplines. A man whose drive and determination for success is only matched by his desire to see others, who dream to make art, also succeed. A man who has shared of great deal of advice with me and who pointed me towards the right people at DC Direct, where I quickly shoved my foot in a door. A man who I'm proud to call my friend, Mr Walter O'Neal.

Of course, before I let you get on reading this fantastic post, let me give you a little advice. Go make some pop corn, grab a drink and find a comfy chair, because Walter has really come through for you guys, and you're gonna love this read. And now... Mr. Walter O'Neal

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First off, many thanks to Alfred for asking me to chime in and contribute to this discussion about breaking into the industry. While being far from a seasoned veteran, I did manage to get my foot in the door fairly recently, and am still very much in the process of working my way up the pro sculpting ladder. Hopefully I can paint a clear picture of what it was like for me to get that first break and also give a couple of tips on what worked and how I would go about doing it again now a few years later.

Speaking of painting, that’s where I was initially headed with my big hopes for an illustration career after getting out of art school back in ’97. Though, after a series of strange events, I ended up as a production accountant doing payroll on TV shows. Not quite where I envisioned my life going but it was a decent gig that paid big money. Now while the money was great, in the back of my head I still held onto the belief that one day I was going to really make a stab at having a professional art career. So in May of 2005, two months after my 30th birthday, I quit my accounting gig and set out to develop a fresh portfolio of new work and break into the comics industry as a cover painter. I worked for about a year making new art and living off the big wad of cash I saved up from working in TV. 

So, Industry Tip #1 – The sooner you decide to break in the better. One of the major reasons I was able to quit my job and give a professional art career a try was that I had no major obligations. No car payments, No mortgage, no children to support, nothing. Even more so I had a very supportive and loving wife who had a good job so the fact that I wasn’t bringing in any money for well over a year wasn’t an issue. I could focus 100% on making art and getting better. The younger you are the less likely you are to have any permanent demands on your time and attention or a specific lifestyle that needs to be supported financially. If you’re 18 years old making $8,000 a year in your budding art career - no big deal. If you’re a 30 year old who used to make $75,000 a year who is now making $8,000 a year in your budding art career – it’s a much tougher pill to swallow.

After I made my portfolio of new art, I went to the San Diego Comic-Con and, in hugely delusional fashion, thought I would immediately get snatched up by Marvel or DC as a cover painter. Didn’t happen and still hasn’t happened. But while at the con I met Mark Brooks (super talented comic book artist) and he told me that I should join deviantArt and start posting my work there and just about any other place else I could. That way I’d start gathering a following for my work and start meeting other folks out there with the same goals both as amateurs and professionals.

So, Industry Tip #2 – Get your work out there and seen! Although I haven’t updated my page in forever, joining online forums and specifically deviantArt has been one of the biggest boosts for me in breaking into the comics and collectible industry. Over the years I’ve met a ton of pro sculptors and comic book artists and those relationships have been invaluable in not only helping me get better as an artist, but also with building a support structure of professional friends who can answer technical or business questions and also throw your name into the mix when companies are looking for new talent. In addition to that plenty of art directors for various companies browse thru deviantArt looking for new talent and I‘ve found that a few art directors I met at conventions were already familiar with my art before I ever handed them my portfolio. While having your own website is always an asset, you’ll probably never get the kind of traffic and visibility as a new artist that you’ll get by posting good work to a community site like deviantArt. It’s a slow burn in the beginning but the time and energy you invest there will pay off in spades not only in building a following and opening doors, but also meeting and building friendships with wonderfully talented people with many different skill sets.

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Initially deviantArt led me to befriending some very talented amateur sculptors which then led me to the Shiflett Brothers sculpting forum which led me to becoming friends with Brandon and Jarrod Shiflett. I was blown away by the intensity of their work and while I had sculpted one or two crude pieces on my own for fun ages ago, they encouraged me to give sculpting another go and post more stuff on their forums. So with a kick in the butt from them and a wealth of new information from their online tutorials, I started sculpting new pieces and building a sculpture portfolio. A year later I had a new sculpture portfolio with about 6 decent pieces and a some fresh castings of a pair of Batman Beyond busts I designed and sculpted  and I was off to the San Diego Comic-con again. 

Industry Tip #3 – Keep going to the same conventions every year! If you live far away from any of the major conventions this is going to be a major hit to your pocket book but it’s the repeat visits to the same art directors at the same companies that will inevitably lead to them eventually giving you a job. Art directors meet dozens upon dozens of artists looking for work each year and making yourself stand out among them is difficult, even if your work is top notch. But if you show up again next year with more great work (have small packets of sample photos to give away also), they will remember you and eventually they’ll ask themselves why they haven’t given you some work and seek to remedy that. 

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So I made the comic-con rounds again with my Batman Beyond busts in hand billing myself as a 2D painter and a sculptor. The Batman busts were a big hit and got me much more attention than my 2D portfolio ever did by itself. In fact it was the double whammy of having both a 2D portfolio and sculpture portfolio that really seamed to get people excited about my work. The people who hire 2D artists loved my sculpture work and the people who hire sculptors were really impressed with my 2D work. Go figure? ;) But this convention experience leads to my next 2 discoveries…

Industry Tip #4 – If you’re trying to get work as a sculptor always have some castings of your work on hand in addition to your portfolio. It’s one thing to see photos of sculptures but those pictures will never sell your strengths as a sculptor like seeing examples of your work first hand.

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Industry Tip #5 – Don’t be discouraged when an art director says they love your work and then doesn’t offer you a job. They aren’t just blowing smoke up your ass if they tell you that you do good work. If they don’t like your work more often then not they’ll find a nice way of telling you as much. But don’t think that when someone gushes over your work and hands you a business card that it’s a done deal either. Many times while that art director absolutely loves the work you do, they may not have a project available to hand out that suits your particular strengths. But it’s the repeat visits to conventions to meet that same art director that will remind him to continue to keep an eye out for that perfect fit project for you.

So while my trip to comic-con didn’t lead to any direct work this time, I was able to plant the seeds that would eventually lead to work with those people I met about 6-8 months later.

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Those Batman Beyond busts did get me some attention from Randy Bowen of Bowen Designs, after a good friend of mine sent some photos his way. I met Randy and he believed in me enough to give me my first 3 official assignments in the industry sculpting busts of Marvel characters, Cloak & Dagger, Firelord, and Batroc the Leaper. Working with Randy was such a great experience (I learned so much!) and I was following in the footsteps of many pro sculptors who were able to get their first assignments in the industry working for Bowen Designs, if for no other reason than Randy is the head honcho of that company and if he wants to give you a shot that all it takes. There’s not a meeting room full of people that all have to be convinced that giving you, an untested sculptor, his first assignment isn’t a big mistake.

Now I don’t mean for everyone to rush out and send tons of photos to Randy begging him for work, because that leads me to my next tip…

Industry Tip #6 - Don’t go looking for work if you’re not ready. Be brutally honest with yourself and your abilities and how the work you produce compares to the work that your target company releases. Put yourself in the shoes of Randy or anyone else that might hire you and think about whether or not giving you an assignment is going to yield work that is just as good if not better than handing that assignment to an established sculptor who has already successfully delivered countless times in the past. How does your work stack up against that of Ray Villafane? What about Andy Bergholtz? Tim Miller? Mark Newman? William Paquet? Erick Sosa? Etc. Because if your work can’t stand on it’s own right on a shelf next to the beautiful pieces that those guys produce then don’t waste Randy’s or any other potential employer’s time looking at your work until it can. Now that may sound overly harsh but everyone’s time is valuable and in an industry where people spend hundreds of hours working on a single piece, even ten minutes spent looking at and replying to sub-par work could be ten extra minutes spent playing with kids, helping with homework, conversing with spouses, catching up on much needed sleep, or anything else infinitely more productive in their eyes. So do yourself and all your potential employers a favor and don’t attempt to throw your hat in the ring until you are truly ready to put your best foot forward.

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Once I had those Bowen Designs pieces under my belt, I immediately became a much more attractive hire because just like in any other industry, someone with proven job experience is always more attractive than someone with no job experience. So while I got a few small painting jobs from various companies my next big break came when I got my first concept art gig from DC Direct. Now here‘s where some of those seeds planted at conventions start paying off. DC was looking for some concept art for an upcoming statue and the comic book artist who was initially slated to design the piece wasn’t able to do it. My name was brought up and since I had already met with art directors at DC a couple years before, they decided to give me a shot. That job then lead to me providing concept art for 3 more statues and doing some drawing and painting work for DC Licensing. Sweet!

So now, while I had started doing some 2D work for DC Direct, I hadn’t had a chance to do any sculpting for them yet. So I took some time to develop a  project on my own and put together a pitch for a line of collectibles using some of DC characters. I designed the line and made concept art for it. I sculpted, molded & casted, and painted a prototype for it, and sent all that stuff to DC in the hopes that maybe they would produce it, but more so just to impress them with my sculpting ability and to encourage them to throw some sculpting work my way.

In the meantime another one of the comic-con seeds paid off in that DC picked up the Batman head from those Batman Beyond busts I previously brought to comic-con. The head was used for a Batman Beyond figure for their 1:6 scale action figure line. Now this happened well over a year after I showed that piece to the art director who picked it up, and it illustrates the importance of making those relationships and continually showing up year after year to reintroduce yourself and say hi.

Industry Tip #7 – Take the initiative and come up with your own projects. Why wait for someone to offer you a job, when you can give them a job to offer you? Come up with your own ideas and make projects that you think could be the start of a whole new line. Maybe come up with a treatment for a line of characters that just hasn’t been sculpted yet. Or possibly come up with a new direction or reinterpretation of well known characters showing them in a different light. What would the kids from the Marvel comic “Power Pack” look like as 30 year olds? What would the A-Team be like if set in the Old West circa 1870? You have to fill out your portfolio with projects anyway, so might as well aim high and think big. Worse case scenario you end up with a solid cohesive portfolio that demonstrates your ability to think creatively and design pieces as well as sculpt them. Best case scenario, a company sees what you’ve done and wants to run with your concept. Plus, working with established characters is an immediate way for people to connect with your work and give it a basis for validation. Everyone knows what Harry Potter looks like, so it immediately shows what you added to the equation when you break out your future geriatric version of him in his eighties. This is exactly what I did with my Batman Beyond busts by taking something that only existed in animated form and making a real-world live-action versions of the main characters.

Industry Tip #8 - It takes money to make money. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of cash either molding and casting your own stuff or paying someone else to do it for you. Silicone and resin aren’t cheap (about $225 combined for a gallon of each), but working with them is a necessary evil if you want to have a career as a commercial sculptor. You need to prove to potential employers, not only that you can sculpt but also that you know how to engineer your sculptures in such a way that they can easily be broken down into separate components and reproduced. What better way to do that then showing reproductions of your actual sculptures to art directors at conventions?

Now that Batman Beyond head, combined with the product pitch I made to DC, ended up getting me plenty of work sculpting more heads for DC’s 1:6 scale action figure line. I’ve been lucky enough to work on quite a few of those figures doing heads and various accessories over the last year and I feel very fortunate to have met and worked with some really great people over at DC Direct.

Earlier this year I did another bust for Bowen Designs, and right now I’m well underway with my first project for the fine folks at Sideshow Collectibles. So while I’m far from being a fixture in the industry, I have crossed that initial threshold and I continue to get steady work. While I don’t think anyone ever breaks into the industry the same way twice, since we all have different strengths, and assets to offer, hopefully there are enough general hints here to make getting that first foot wedged into the door easier.

Also if I was hitting the convention circuit hardcore for the first time now, what I would do in addition to everything mentioned previously is make key chains. Key chains? Yes, key chains. I would sculpt a 1:6 scale head of someone, anyone, Batman, Superman, a well known actor, even your own head, render the hell out of it and mold and cast copies of them. Once I had a few dozen copies I would go to the Oriental trading company’s site and order a few dozen of their cheapest key chains of any type. Once they arrived, I’d strip the keychain hardware from whatever random crap they came with and attach them to my 1:6 scale heads. I’d print out my contact info on adhesive stickers and mount those stickers to a sheet of thin styrene. I’d cut up the styrene with my stickers on it and drill or hole-punch the corners of them. I’d loop my newly made plastic contact info sheets onto the key chains and viola!

Viola?! What the hell did I just make?! Well let me break it down…

Heads and hands are the two hardest things to get right when sculpting, so if you show that you can nail either one of those it’s definitely a feather in your cap. So you’ve proven that not only can you sculpt a killer portrait of a recognizable character (even if you sculpted yourself, the art director will see that it looks like you when you hand it to him/her), but you can also mold it and cast it. Plus you’ve made a small example of your work that you can freely give away that will require very little silicone or resin to produce and very little clean-up to get ready to hand out – all in the form of a nifty little trinket that art directors would be hard pressed to throw away (nobody throws away well done sculpture) or lose because they can attach it to their keys, convention lanyards, or belt loops if they don’t have any pockets.

A 1:6 scale head keychain with your contact info attached - It’s a perfect project that covers all the bases without breaking the bank. ;) 

Okay well I hope that helps anyone and everyone trying to break in. Good luck, work hard, and have fun!

I want to thank Walter again for being so generous with his very limited time. I owe you buddy. I hope you guys enjoyed that read as much as I did. I'm sure we'll see Walter in here again sometime talking with us about yet another topic. But before I leave you, let me just take this opportunity to put this out to you handful of readers... Is there something that you would like to see covered in this blog? Is there an interview or a series of interviews you'd like to read? Send me an e-mail with your suggestions and help make this blog "The place to be" for great interviews and discussions on the world of sculpture. Thanks, and I'll see you later.

Breaking into the Industry - Part 2 with Troy McDevitt

I've been thinking about how to introduce my next guest for a couple of days now, and I can't seem to get it right in my head, so I'm just going to wing it here on the keyboard. Troy McDevitt (Troyboy for all you forum goers) has been on my radar for some time now. I first saw his work when I was lurking around on the ConceptArt forum. Eventually, I joined the Clubhouse forum and I finally had a chance to chat with him online. Troy is not only very talented, but he is very generous with his time and honest critique. Over the last year or so, Troy and I have built an online friendship that consists mostly of sharing work online and both of us complementing the other on a job well done (ahhh, the perfect friendship). But more than that, Troy has been a great source of inspiration, information and just plain 'ol coolness. Although we haven't met face to face (Troy, you still owe me that talent sharing handshake - lol), I'm glad to say that Troy is my friend. And now, for a real treat, Troy is going to share with us his adventures in "Breaking into the industry".

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I just want to start off by thanking Alfred for the opportunity to contribute to this great blog he started and express how honored I am to be included with these titans of the collectible sculpting community. It just reinforces the fact that i must be doing something right.

Alfred basically told me to ramble on about anything that I thought could be helpful or mildly interesting, so I'll do my best to keep things on point and hopefully keep from boring you, the reader, to death.

I don't think there's one single path to being successful as a sculptor in this field, so I'm just going to relate how I came into it, what my experiences have been and how I've managed to stay busy and self-employed.

My background is graphic design, which I made my living at from about 1990-2003. I had played around with clay and Super Sculpey for a few years prior to that, but nothing that would lead me to believe I had any special talent for it. It wasn't until 2003, when I decided that I'd had enough of graphic design that I considered sculpting as something other than just an occasional hobby. I rented a booth at a large bridal show in Baltimore, MD, printed up a banner and a few flyers from Kinko's, and took the wedding cake topper I made for my own wedding, in the hopes that it might generate some interest. 

Well, needless to say, the interest was beyond my wildest expectations and from that point on, I basically did nothing but custom wedding cake toppers (which looked like the bride and groom) from late 2003 until late 2007. In that time, I made over 120 toppers that shipped all over the world and I didn't miss a single deadline. That time period was some of the most valuable of my life, and my career, as I truly learned how to be fast, interact with customers, and always hit the deadline.

Now this is as good a time as any to mention that I've always been a comic book, sci-fi and fantasy geek and while I enjoyed the actual sculpting I was doing, after four years, the subject matter began to get really stale and the siren call of my nerdy passions were singing out to me. While browsing online, I stumbled upon The Clubhouse, and it was all over from that point on. A new world opened up to me that I had no idea even existed, despite the fact that I was well aware, and in awe, of the misc. statues in my LCS (local comic shop). Soon I was ordering Amazing Figure Modeler, KitBuilder's Magazine, visiting other forums, and most importantly, communicating with like-minded individuals and professionals who were helpful, insanely talented, and above all super, super nice people.

I stopped taking cake top orders and began focusing on building up my own portfolio with the type of subject matter that I loved and grew up on. Early on, I had little else besides some average sculpting abilities and an absolute determination to succeed.

It began very slowly, but gradually, I began to improve and the work soon followed. I knew, from my previous cake topper experience, that I would initially have to charge very little in order to build up my portfolio as quickly as possible. It's much easier to get work when you can actually show real-life examples. Talk is cheap and results speak for themselves. An online portfolio of finished work should be your number one priority!

The one way that I knew I had an advantage though, was in the fact that I knew how to be professional and hit my deadlines. A major part of "being professional" meant, keeping in contact with your clients and always returning their e-mails or phone calls in a timely manner, making sure all the details of a sculpt are defined in the beginning to avoid any misunderstandings, and never letting your ego get in the way, which essentially means being able to take criticism or make changes, even when you don't agree with it.

In the short time I've been involved in this community, I can't begin to tell you how many stories I've heard of incredibly talented sculptors doing serious harm to their reputation by not being able to follow some, or all, of those simple guidelines. Talent doesn't mean a thing if, at the end of the day, the client isn't happy. Along the way, you may come up against a customer that cannot be pleased, no matter what, but as long as you handle yourself in a professional manner, and stick to your agreements, you should be able to keep your public image intact, and in my opinion, there's nothing more crucial in this business than a good reputation.

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Most of my work up to this point has been garage kits, or one-of-a-kind pieces for small kit producers, or individual collectors, but over time, my skill-level has improved and larger opportunities have begun to present themselves. If there was one individual that I needed to thank for helping me get to the point that I currently am, it would have to be Randy Bowen

Back in Feb./March of 2008, I sent Randy an e-mail, out of the blue, introducing myself and submitting rough busts of two pretty obscure villains (Ringmaster and Man-Ape). Randy decided to take a chance on me, and I officially became part of the Bowen Designs sculptor club! Since then I've done several more busts for Randy, and a good many assignments involving modifications of some sort. The ability to show potential clients the work that I have done for a company such as Bowen Designs has been absolutely invaluable to me and I don't think I'll ever be able to thank Randy enough!

In addition to Randy, I've also made some real, solid friendships with many of my fellow sculptors on the forums, and several of my clients, which has been one of the most enjoyable and satisfying end results of this particular career path. A happy client can keep you busy for years to come, and a good friend will offer you a trusted, second pair of eyes and honest critiques, which we all need from time to time.

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I work seven days a week, approximately twelve hours a day, and I absolutely love it. I go to bed thinking about sculpts, and I wake up thinking about those same sculpts. It takes quite a bit of discipline to stay on target and not get distracted throughout the day, but if you're serious about making a living at this, you'll put aside everything, but friends and family, to stay focused and continue working every single day. I miss quite a few events because I have a deadline to hit, but that's the price you have to pay sometimes to make a name for yourself.

Don't be afraid to ask professionals for help, but don't become an annoyance, and don't ask silly questions. You'll improve by observing, studying and practicing. Don't ask an established artist, "How do you sculpt hands?". He (or she) sculpts them by practice over the course of many years. There isn't a magic "hand" tool.

If you don't get a response, don't be offended. Many professional sculptors receive a ton of e-mails or pms each and every week, and it's extremely difficult to respond to them all. Remember, nine times out of ten, they're under extremely tight deadlines, and unfortunately, questions from new, or up-and-coming, sculptors has to be delegated to "low priority". Follow up later with a reminder e-mail, but again, don't become an annoyance. Most pro sculptors I know will eventually try and get back with you.

Make sure you're open to criticism, but don't let it crush you. The point is to improve yourself, and, after working on a piece for days, or weeks, it's often easy to overlook minor and major flaws. Once again, a good group of respected friends in the same field is crutial. If you strongly disagree with someone's opinion of your work, especially someone you don't know, don't engage them in a ten-page online battle. It's ridiculous.

Well, if any of you have managed to work your way to the end of this "War and Peace"-length article, I apologize for that time in your life you can never get back. I hope, at least, you were able to take any of the info I've provided and use it to help advance your own career goals in this weird little underground hobby of ours. Thanks for all the support and encouragement so many of you have generously provided me with in the short time I've been doing this. I've got some big, exciting projects that will be unveiled over the course of the rest of the year, and I look forward to seeing more amazing work from you all for many, many years to come!

Well, I don't know about you, but I think that was a fantastic read. Thanks again Troy for doing this. For the rest of you guys, you're definitely going to want to come back for Part 3 of Breaking into the industry... Trust me, it's a great read as well. So come back next week (or most likely this Friday since I'm going to be gone for a week), for Part 3 with Walter O'Neal.

Breaking into the Industry - Part 1

I was going to bring you the last of the Inspiration Interviews with the fantastic Mr. Mark Newman, but Mark is very busy at the moment with some very cool projects, and unfortunately did not have time to get to the interview. However, we will try to share that with you at a future date. For now, we'll be starting a new discussion. Enjoy.

As like many of my sculptor friends, I get asked a lot of questions by young and aspiring sculptors. "How do you make that?", "What material do you use?", "What kind of tools do you use?" And while all of those questions are valid, it would be hard to talk about those in this blog. However, there is one question I think we can discuss. “How do I break into this industry?” The funny thing about that question is that (unlike the other questions) I don’t have an answer. I’ve only managed to have one legitimate job in this industry and that was sculpting 1:6 scale portraits of characters from the 1980’s T.V. show “Buck Rogers”, for a new toy company. Outside of that, I’ve been trying to “break into” this industry for a couple of years. (The middle head -Buck Rogers - is not the head I sculpted. At some point, the license holder must have decided they wanted a different look. Too bad, because I think my sculpt looked more like Gil Gerard. But that's the commercial industry for you).

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In that time, I’ve managed to make some good friends who happen to be both big names and new comers to the world of commercial sculpting. They’ve offered guidance and support, critique and constructive criticism. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years and I feel that I’ve grown as a sculptor. However, that goal of becoming a professional commercial sculptor continues to elude me. That being said, I still feel that I’ve learned a little something about this industry that might be helpful. So, what advice do I have to offer?

Well, I’m sure many young sculptors have heard the typical responses (I know I have) like: “Never give up”, “Keep practicing”, “Go to conventions and introduce yourself to art directors” etc, etc. Now, although these suggestions are typical (or cliché), it doesn’t make them any less helpful. I’ve used these suggestions time and time again. Some of these have actually led to getting a foot in the door at several places, so I know that they can lead to future jobs.

Other things I’ve learned along the way are more practical and basic. Anatomy, surface finish, clean and consistent work, speed, and the ability to take criticism are all very important. You can focus on any specific style (animated, comic book, realistic) that suits you – or you can practice at all of them and make yourself more versatile. The idea is that you want your work to be good enough that your clients see you as a commodity (something of strong value). These abilities come through repetition and practice. Build a portfolio of well-rounded figures (and I don’t mean a bunch of fat guys, although one or two wouldn’t hurt). Make some full figures and busts. Sculpt both male and female figures. Try sculpting at different scales. Make sure your pieces are finished and not WIP’s. Sculpt different materials and details (leather, spandex, boots, t-shirts, armor, short and long hair, utility belts, etc), in order to show some variety and versatility. The actual material you sculpt the pieces in (sculpey, wax, oil clay) doesn’t matter at this point. Just get the practice in and try out a whole bunch of materials. Don’t be afraid to experiment and combine different materials on the same piece (if one material might help render something better). You’ll eventually find the material that suits you.

This whole process can take some time, since most of you don’t have the luxury of being able to sculpt full time. Most of you guys have jobs and families, all of which require time. So be patient, work hard, practice and get as much critique and criticism as you can (yes I know those are the typical responses - but they do work). Join online forums where you can make like-minded friendships, and maybe even a connection or two that might get you a job.

Now for some more specific advice, and more importantly, advice from people in the industry, I’ve asked a couple of friends to write about their experiences in getting into this industry. So, tune in next week when I bring you part 2 of “Breaking into the Industry”.