When I started this discussion a few weeks back, you might remember that I mentioned one artist in particular who had a real affect on me and my wanting to get into commercial sculpture. That artist is the very talented and inspirational Tony Cipriano. I first saw Tony and his work in an episode of Heores, Villians and Artists. It was amazing to see Tony at work on such cool things. And hearing him talk about his process was very inspiring. Tony has worked for an impressive list of clients, creating fantastic works of art. Everything from stylized cartoons to over exaggerated proportions of Super Heros, from monsters to perfectly sculpted female beauties - Tony has sculpted it all, and with what seems like relative ease. These days, Tony continues to be hard at work making the sculptures that we all love to look at, and finding time to participate in blogs. You can currently read about Tony's process over at Tim Bruckner's blog (where Tony is doing some guest posting).
And now for the Interview.
AP: When you were a kid, did you already have a sense that you would be an artist some day? If so what were some early sources of inspiration for you? If not, what kind of things did inspire you?
TC:Well as for the first part of that question, I'd say that I knew fairly early on that I loved drawing. My brother and sister were much older, so I had to entertain myself a lot of the time. A drawing pad and a cheap set of markers or colored pencils were never far away. I knew I'd always do it in one form or another, but as far as making a living at it; you don't think like that as a small child. I ask my 8 year old son what he wants to be when he grows up, and he says, 'an artist'. I guess I did that too, but I really had no idea what it actually meant. I supposed I pictured a man in an apron and a beret, painting naked ladies all day. Ha ha! (that still sounds good to me..) As I got older, and saw the work of Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, and the guys that worked for MAD magazine, as well as comic book artists like John Buscema, Neal Adams and Curt Swan--and finally Frazetta--- I saw that it was actually possible to do what I loved to do as a 'grown up'.
Early sources of inspiration were certainly toys, comic books, and cartoons; the usual suspects. Old horror movies and monster magazines fueled my imagination. I remember drawing lots of haunted houses and werewolves. A red pen meant one thing to me: draw some bloody, drippy monster! The old Max Fleishcer POPEYE cartoons were a huge influence on my wanting to draw and later animate. They were gorgeous.
I can also remember being very small, and being fascinated by the details on the old Aurora plastic models I built. The Mummy's & Frankenstien's face were so detailed. I can remember turning them over and over in my hands studying them....pushing them into Silly Putty to make an impression (my first molds! lol) . I had no idea how they were made. No clue that, in fact, they were sculpted by a man sitting in his studio, much like I do today. Even my little green army men were amazing to me. I looked at them under a magnifying glass and was just amazed by them. Maybe I should have gotten out of the house more??
I think a lot of children love to draw. I'm not sure I believe that there is such a thing as 'natural talent'. I think that if you love to do something--I mean really get pleasure from it--- and are encouraged by the people around you, you stick with it. If you work at something long and hard enough, you're bound to improve. I think that a lot of my elementary school classmates and my father always made such a big fuss over my doodles & drawings, that it became a way for me to get attention & praise. It's sort of sad that kids lose interest and stop drawing an creating things as they get older. I never lost that desire; I still get a kick out of helping my kids do their art projects. LOL
AP: When did you discover sculpting? Who were some of your first "sculpting heroes"?
TC: Of course, Play Dough was a big toy for me as a child. Who had the 'FUZZY PUMPER BARBER SHOP"? Come on...you know you did...
But somewhere along the way, clay took a back seat to drawing. I didn't have access to good clay and there was just so much you can do with Play Dough. It was frustrating not to be able to sculpt things that looked like my monster models. I began to focus on cartooning & Illustration.... copying cool drawings form my magazines. I loved a newspaper cartoonist named Bruce Stark, and of course, Jack Davis and Mort Drucker. These guys were/are brilliant caricaturists. You might be familiar with Stark from the old TV Guide covers.
I got it into my head that this was what I wanted to do; humorous illustration. I practiced on my friends, drawing ridiculous pictures of them. I actually took it pretty far, having a gallery show in college. I received an award at graduation for illustration and was all set to make the rounds --portfolio under my arm-- at Mad, Time, Sports Illustrated, etc... but I never got that far. Disney offered me a job as an animation artist right after graduation. It was a hard thing to turn down. The uncertainty of freelance Illustration....or... a full-time animation gig, with health insurance and a paycheck every Friday. So my dream was going to have to wait. Maybe I'd even love animation...who knew?
But while I was there (not really enjoying the tedious animation process, by the way) I began to see sculptures around the studio done by Ruben Procopio and Kent Melton. They were small scale 'maquettes' or models of the characters used as reference by the animators. I was blown away. It was also around this time when the cottage industry called 'garage kits' was beginning to take root in the states (1991-ish). I began to see magazines with the work of William Paquet, Randy Bowen, Mark Newman, John Dennett and Tony McVey. And a lot of the subject matter was the old Universal Monsters I loved as a kid. It was like the Aurora models all over again, only more detailed and better sculpted. I was hooked. Ruben helped me early on...choosing materials and showing me how to make armatures, etc. But soon, it became an obsession. I LOVED clay. You know how in a cartoon, a light bulb appears over a character's head when he gets and idea? That's what it was like when I began sculpting. Unfortunately, even though I had gone to art school and had formal training in drawing and painting, I had never sculpted before, unless you count the Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. LOL. So all the techniques and tricks had to be learned by trial and error.
I spent a lot of nights, after drawing all day at Disney Studios, sculpting well into the night. Remember, these were the days before you could find so much info on the internet. I actually had to ask questions of REAL people, in person or on a telephone. Some were great...some not so helpful. Some secretive. I developed a small, amateurish portfolio, but, through contacts at Disney, I managed to snag a few small toy jobs here and there. My big break came when Disney began working on two feature films simultaneously and needed a maquette sculptor. That was my first real experience working closely with/for people, having my work critiqued and working against deadlines. Having those sculptures & film credit in my portfolio opened a lot of doors for me.
AP: Who or what are some your favorite sources of inspiration today?
TC: Since I'm working almost exclusively with comic book licenses lately, I'm sculpting superhero anatomy constantly. I haunt bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble as well as the comic shops looking for good books and magazines showing the human body in motion. I LOVE the Bud Plant catalogue. Victoria Secret catalogues (I swear...it's for reference! lol) and bodybuilder mags are great. But when I need a jolt of inspiration, I look to the same guys that inspired me as a kid. I have at least 10 Frazetta books that are a bottomless pit of dynamic poses, great anatomy, and imaginative subject matter.
But there is nothing like looking at actual sculpture for real inspiration. I am fortunate to know quite a few incredible sculptors and keep castings of their work as a source of reference and a standard to reach for. I'm also lucky to be an hour from Manhattan. So the great masters are a stone's throw away. If you ever begin to feel competent and secure in your own work, spend an afternoon in the Metropolitan Museum. It will humble you FAST.
AP: How does it feel to have hardcore fans of your work?
TC: It's nice to have feedback. Freelance sculpting is a very solitary existence, so hearing from collectors is always nice. I have to say that most of the people in this business--on the production side and on the collecting side-- are cool. The people I have met in person on the rare occasion I go to a show are very nice, polite and laid back. My kind of people. I'll admit it; I'm a fan boy too. I used to check in on some of those statue message boards and interact with these guys....show WIPs, try to show my process, offer & ask advice. The aspiring sculptors and the pros were ALWAYS cool. Very respectful and it was a pleasure to interact with them. And so many of the collectors were just really damned nice. It was amazing. It was really a nice feeling to hear people comment and tell you that you inspired them to pick up sculpting. I remembered what it was like when I was starting out and I know how frustrating it can be to get basic questions answered. But lately, I've just been keeping my nose to the grindstone and focusing on the work itself. I have a small group of friends I keep in touch with, but for the most part, I'm out of the loop.
It's great to have people appreciate your work, of course. It's amazing to see how passionate some of these guys are about this hobby/industry. To be totally honest, I think that only a very few sculptors in this industry have achieved that 'rock star' status... meaning that people will actually seek out their work and collect it because it is done by them. I honestly feel that most collectors do not know who sculpted what, nor do they care. I think I fall into that category...a pair of hands. If it's Spiderman, it sells. If it's Batman or Hulk...it will sell out no matter who or what sculpted it. Sure there are hardcore collectors who really are interested in who the sculptor is, but I think the majority doesn't care. I hope I'm wrong, though. The people who know my work are usually other professional or aspiring sculptors. So long as the art directors know who I am, I'm fine...lol
AP: Do you still feel that you're a fan of this type of work? If so, do you ever find yourself getting excited to meet another sculptor?
TC: Oh hell yeah! I love superheroes...I love human anatomy. It's my favorite thing to sculpt. So what better projects can I do but sculpting characters from the Marvel Universe all the time? They're basically nudes with capes! I'm completely useless with inorganic shapes. I can fabricate things to a small degree, but unless it is a person or an animal/creature, something that breathes...I'm not the right guy for the job. I consider myself extremely lucky -- I couldn't have better hand picked the assignments I've been offered lately. I've worked for a lot of different companies on a lot of different styles of sculpture. I think I've finally settled in with a great bunch of people. In recent years I've been handed dream jobs. ReelArt has given me chance to sculpt Frazetta pieces, a Doc Savage bronze---Dark Horse has assigned Betty Page, Conan and Uncle Creepy...and lately Sideshow has given me a crack at 1/4 scale Marvel characters... with some more cool projects looming on the horizon. I couldn't be happier and more in 'fan-boy heaven’. Not only are these folks giving me characters close to my own heart to sculpt, but they are allowing me some input into the designs and are producing them at 1/5th and 1/4 scale! I love working that large. So much freedom.
Every time I'm asked about other sculptors, I end up in hot water. Yes. There is a mile-long list of other sculptors out there that inspire me, and I'd love to meet and hang out with, talking shop. But I inevitably leave out a name or two and I don't want to hurt feelings. So yes...there are a LOT of guys out there I'd love to shake hands with...have a drink with. Share good stories and horror stories. However, I will say that I have had dinner or hung out with a few fellow sculptors in recent years and I truly value them as more than just colleagues. They know who they are. There are some very good people out there... not all people in the arts are crazy. : )
AP: How important do you feel it is to seek out inspiration? What are some things you do when it feels like inspiration is running low?
TC: Oh it's VERY important. A lot of the time, when you get busy, you are just running on autopilot. It's extremely important to re-charge your batteries every so often. Working alone, it's also incredibly easy to fall back on a comfortable formula... to stop growing and pushing. If I find myself burning out, I usually get some oil based or water based clay... clay that will not hold fine detail... and just sculpt something big. Usually a nude or a bust. I also will go to the book store and get some art books. And of course, there are my Frazetta books. Dave Stevens, Frank Cho, John Buscema, Neal Adams... and Bettie Page books are also an instant source of incredible inspiration to me. And of course, you need to get up, wash your a$$, comb your hair and get out of the studio once in a while. LOL. As I said, a museum is a place to get the creative juices flowing FAST, but sometimes all it takes is to call another sculptor....read his blog....or surf the net. There's no shortage of inspiration. As my grandfather, Tim Bruckner says, " Steal from good dead guys..." lol
I want to Thank Tony again for being so generous with his time and agreeing to do this interview for a guy he just met on-line. I hope those of you reading this, enjoyed it as much as I did. So go check out Tony's work, stop by Tim's blog and see Tony's process. Be Inspired!!