That's right, you read the heading correctly. This week I bring you an awesome interview with the one and only Randy Bowen. Randy talks about the past, present and future of Bowen Designs, digital sculpting, and shares some honest advice for those of us still trying to get into this industry. Pull up a chair (although I can't imagine you're reading this standing up), grab a snack and enjoy this read. I think you'll want to read it twice!! Oh, and in case you don't know who Randy Bowen is (although if you're reading this blog I'm sure you're quite familiar), take a look to the left... That's right!! The Superman you see in all the Seinfeld episodes is one of Randy's. So I guess it's safe to say that most of the world has seen Randy's work, whether they know it or not.
AP: I recently saw, in the current issue of Amazing Figure Modeler, some pieces that were credited to you. I imagine that, like many of us, you started as a garage kit guy or a freelance guy. How long ago did you start sculpting collectibles and what was your first official gig?
RB: Well, I began really sculpting in high school, about 32 years ago. My first experience was in a shop class where I was lucky enough to have a bronze sculpture program. I had always done drawing and painting, but sculpting was something that I always seemed to gravitate towards.
I'm not sure what year it was, maybe around 1987? I began experimenting with Super Sculpey as a sculpture medium. A friend of mine in special effects suggested I give it a try. I was also becoming aware of the first resin kits coming out of Japan. Dental students from Japan who were adept at creating molds and casting their own creations were just starting to create sculpture based on movie monsters etc.
It was soon after, that I began making my own creatures, as well as making molds in my garage. It was a short time later, that I became aware of a few other guys doing the same thing in the United States: Thomas Kuntz, Jack Dennett, and Jeff Yaeger were a few of the other guys doing this type of stuff. My first piece (that I was actually paid for) was from a company called Lunar Models. It was the Morlock, from the George Pal film: The Time Machine.
AP: Did you always have an interest in art? Can you remember the first time you tried sculpting something?
RB: Yes of course! I think most kids love to draw and color etc. I was really good at coloring books, and that led to experimentation in drawing and painting. I was also fortunate enough to have a grandmother who kept a large box of plasticene clay in the toy box. I used to spend endless hours sculpting dinosaurs inspired by movies like One Million BC.
AP: What were some of your early inspirations and interests? Are they still the same today?
RB: I was really big into Ray Harryhausen movies, Japanese monster movies, comic books, Hanna Barbera cartoons, Universal Monsters etc. etc.
And yes- I still love all of the aforementioned influences. That's why I love the work that I do.
AP: Starting your own business has to be one of the scariest and exciting things a person can do. How did Bowen Designs get its start?
RB: Believe it or not Bowen Designs has existed since I was in High School (est. in 1978!). I used to make my “date money” by drawing designs for a local t-shirt company, painting signs, designing logos, doing comics strips for advertisements etc. (Bowen Designs) That's always been my business name. I've always been somewhat of an entrepreneur. I was the kid who sold lemonade on the street corner. I also made watchbands, and bracelets that I attempted to sell out of my dad's saddle and boot shop.
Bowen Designs as it exists today, was an outgrowth of the garage kits I was creating in the late 1980's. I was working for the top 3 comics companies creating collectible products (Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse Comics- where I worked on staff as their product development director).
I decided that because I had all the elements in place for my own company that it was time to strike forth on my own (around 1990).
AP: There have been quite a number of people (many of them in this blog) who credit their success in this industry to you, and the fact that you were willing to give them a try. Clearly you have a good eye for talent as most of these guys have gone on to be some of the top names in this industry. Is it a source of pride to have helped start these guys' careers?
RB: Oh Sure. I'm just glad that there now exists an industry to support these talented folks. It’s an honor to have worked with the best. I look forward to meeting and working with new artists in the future as well.
AP: You're a really good sculptor and clearly you don't need to bring in more people to do work for you, but what is it about you that is willing to take a chance on new guys when so many other companies don't even try?
RB: Thanks but this is where you're a bit off base, in that: I do need other people to work for me. There's no way that I would be able to meet my licensing commitments unless I hire more people. It's a delicate balance. If I were a really smart business person, I would do nothing but hire everyone to do the work.
But I am in this because I like to sculpt. I get a kick out of taking a box of clay and giving it a life unto itself, and share it with people who like the same sorts of things that I do.
When I see a sculptor who is coming up in the world of collectibles, I see a little bit of myself.
AP: What kind of advice would you give to new guys trying to get their break in this industry?
RB: Hmm…There's many things- (In no particular order)
If you ask for someone's opinion on your work, don't expect to get your ego stroked. Being sensitive about your work will only weaken you as an artist.
Don't expect to become a superstar overnight. Improvement takes time. Don't listen to your buddies who tell you “you're awesome”. Listen to the people who can make you better.
Realize that there's always something new to learn. I learn something new every time I do a sculpture. I am still a struggling student of sculpture myself. The moment you start to think you're great- you've already lost the battle.
Observe nature. This is more important than copying someone else's style.
Always do your best work! And only show a few of your best pieces in your portfolio. No need to show every little thing you've done since kindergarten.
AP: Bowen Designs is known for it's amazing Marvel busts, but have you considered going after other licenses? It would be cool to see a DC line of figures coming from BD. Especially all the great (yet obscure) characters.
RB: Yes- I have considered doing other licenses. But the Marvel stuff keeps me very busy as it is. To commit to another license would mean that I would have even less time to sculpt for myself. We've done things other than Marvel over the years; in fact I got my first comics sculpting gigs through DC. I think the first five DC statues were ones that I did long ago.
For now, the Marvel items are what pay the bills, and I'm satisfied with that.
AP: One of my recent blog discussions was on the digital revolution happening in this industry. You've welcomed the new technology, with several artists creating work digitally. What are your thoughts on the future of this industry and digital sculpting?
Avinash Hegde (digital sculpture)RB: Digital sculpting IS sculpting. I art direct digital artists in the exact same way that I work with traditional sculptors. I will say that I think that traditional sculptors have an advantage over strictly digital artists.- in that they know how to make things look correct from all angles, and don't rely simply on digital tricks to make the figure work. Joe Menna is a good example of this.
Digital sculpting is already the future of sculpting. It's the tool that all the major toy companies are moving towards. I intend on learning it my self one day. I can't wait to give it a try. Or I should say; ANOTHER try. Nike allowed me to play around with the technology when it was in its infancy. They had one of the first working CG facilities doing this type of work. This was over ten years ago.
AP: Does being a boss and art director come easily for you, or has it been a challenge to switch between artist and boss?
RB: No it doesn't come easily. And it's something that I don't enjoy doing (being a boss/art director). I would rather sit in a room and get lost in sculptural details.
AP: With the complexities that come with running your own business, do you still enjoy the work?
RB: Of course! As I said- the sculpture is the FUN part! It's all the other stuff that sucks- big time.
AP: With so many pieces under the BD belt, is there enough material in the Marvel line of characters to keep BD going indefinitely? What does the future of BD look like?
Sculpted by: Keith KopinskiRB: Marvel has (at this point) probably over 7000 individual characters(?). The problem is not in having enough characters.
Bowen Designs will continue to produce sculpture in one form or another until it no longer makes financial sense to do so, or if I get tired of doing it. My daughter is growing up fast, and I wouldn't mind taking some time off to spend as much time as I can with her, before she grows up.
AP: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions; I hope it's been fun. Do you have any final thoughts for your fans out there?
RB: No not really (laughs). Thanks for the insightful questions! Cheers-