originally posted - Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Interview: With Kevin Gosselin
The first artist I’d like to introduce you to is Kevin Gosselin. I call him “The Warrior Sculptor,” after all, that’s what he does best. He is a great guy and gave a fantastic interview, so let’s have it…
How do you usually start? That is to say, do you come up with character ideas first before choosing your model? (i.e. Dunny or Munny), or do you let your canvas speak to you? How do your ideas come about?
My ideas, generally speaking, always come from looking at the platform in front of me and letting it speak to me. As you ask this question I stare at a Jouwe due next Tuesday and wonder what am I going to do with this? Lot’s of ideas pop in my head including, and most often pop culture references. But I try to ignore those. I am such a pop culture fan but to be honest, I’m a heavy critic of pop culture art. I’ve had long conversations with my brother about the topic and have come to an understanding with it. Essentially it breaks down to this… I used to hate pop art, cause I felt that it took no creativity to copy someone else’s contemporary ideas and spin art off them. BUT, here’s the thing, I have realized that although I generally don’t do pop art, I still spin all my art off of existing ideas. My art just from a different genre. Fantasy, sci-fi. So I have now accepted that it is very rare to find new ideas in art, to appreciate that all things have an influence somewhere in the annals of history and to stop being such a art snob. Cause I am SOOO an art snob. But where was I? I believe I derailed from your question. Where does it come from? I’m a big folklore, fairly-tale, D&D, sci-fi fantasy kinda nut. That’s where it comes from. So when I look at a platform, I try to let it tell me it’s story, so that I can imply that story in three dimensions and hope to send a viewer into a world of day-dreaming.
OK, the truth is I sometimes show my wife the platform and say “What do you think I should do?” I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to rob her of all her fresh ideas!
[Sam Spade Mini Munny]
Do you sketch your design first (either on paper and/or on the toy) or do you just go at it with no preparation?
Not usually. It’s funny that when I was young, I was the guy known for drawing doodles over everything I owned. My closet back in my mother’s home where I grew up may still have a spaceship dashboard drawn on the wall. I used to love drawing so much, but these days I find it’s not as fun any more. I want to skip over that step and create a tangible thing. But sometimes, I will do a real rough thumbnail sketch on paper to plan things out. I also like doing sculpt sketches especially since I’ve started using Magic Sculpt. Magic Sculpt air dries and has a good working life of maybe one hour so I really need to plan out my concepts before jumping in. But if I had my way, no sketches would be necessary. I hate planning things out. It takes the fun out of it. For me, there’s nothing more enjoyable than the first exploratory pushes of the clay. I really like to let the clay find itself and show me who the character is. I work very intuitively, never really knowing what I’ll get until I’m just about done. For instance, Bacon was a character that derived from me simply saying, I want to do another dunny eater piece but this guy will have TUSKS!! As the character develops I get to know them and I say, what’s their story? What do they need to flesh them out. Bacon needed a shied and a halberd. I will say though that reference is always an important step for me. When I start, I like to Google search images of everything related to what is is I’ve got in my mind. First I want to see if someone has done what I’ve done. And how they did it to be sure I don’t end up doing something too similar. I like to find textures that I can mimic, be it stone or wood. I like to find color schemes. I gather a folder of images to stare at while I work to be sure that I’m adhering to some sort of realism.
How do you prepare your canvas? i.e. Do you strip or prime or sand etc.? What materials/products do you usually use?
It all depends on the piece really. But for a vinyl toy, I generally like to rough up the vinyl with sand paper first to make sure the clay I’m using will adhere properly. Right now I’m still exploring materials but of lately I’ve been using Magic-Sculpt to sculpt my designs. It’s so adhesive on it’s own so I don’t feel the need to rough up the vinyl unless it’s super slick. I also like to anchor the clay in places that have lots of build up with screws. I’m overly paranoid about the durability and longevity of my pieces. People are paying good money for my work and I want to be sure I’m made a piece that won’t fall apart in years to come. I’m experimenting every day to be sure of this. I’d love to say that I know all the tricks to making the perfect piece but I’m still learning. For clays, I like Super Sculpey and Super Sculpey Firm over all other clays so far. I use this for pieces I plan on moulding and casting. I can get the best results with it but don’t need to worry about it breaking after I make the mould. For one offs that won’t have a cast made I like to use Magic Sculpt because it’s so durable and has a pretty awesome workability about it.
How do you apply your design? Do use markers, brushes, frisket, painters tape, acrylics, polymer clay, plumbers putty, etc.? What products and how do you use them – mold, bake, spray, etc.?
As I said before, I try to be sure my clay adheres to the platform by either roughing it up or screws. Sometimes I’ll do a very basic pencil sketch on the vinyl to be sure of placement. Then I place the clay on using one of the aforementioned clays and work it until my finished sculpt is done. With Sculpey products I like to use a heat gun to lock things in place and then periodically bake it in my oven. I keep the temp down low, 225 F for 20 minutes and then put the oven to warm and do another 30 minutes. To help I might use an armature made of various wires, plumbers putty, tin foil and floral wrap. The floral wrap is great for keeping tin foil in place. Once done I generally prime the sculpt with Dulpi-Color Sandable Primer. This is an auto primer that can be found at auto parts or department stores. Then I use acrylic paints that I hand brush. I’ve always thought having a air brush would be so cool but I’m now leaning toward sticking with the brush. I think I just like to push both clay and paint around. I think an airbrush would just be too slick for me. For now at least.
[Sketching, Screwing and Sculpting]
How do you finish a piece? Signature and clear coat? Do you have any rituals?
I make a homemade pizza. Yes. I’m a pizza nut too. I think every guy in the states has completely killed a woman’s taste for pizza because we would seriously eat it every night if we could. So I try to limit how often I have pizza and it’s my reward for finishing a piece. OH! Finishing? Oh, OK, I use Golden Acrylics Gloss and Matte polymer varnish. I put a layer of gloss on everything and then re-coat with matte on everything except areas that I want to look wet, like eyes. As for my signature, I seriously have to remind myself to add it. It’s not something I’m in the habit of putting. I don’t think that highly of myself to want to splash my name across everything like I’m some kinda brand. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT to be a brand, I just don’t want it to look like I want it. Actually, in almost all my pieces, I put small personal hidden details. The one that has essentially become my signature, is a scar next to the right eye of my character. I add this to essentially make the character me. When I was 14 I got a serious cut along my face from where my GIGANTIC bottle thick glasses shattered and dug straight into my skull. You can see on the stone golem I really made a huge scar and even gave it the marks created by the 12 stitches.
[Stone Golem for Milk Money Exhibition]
ABOUT THE ARTIST
What is your background? Where do you work and play?
I grew up in a tiny New Hampshire town and basically did nothing but fish and hike until I left at 18 for art school. It was pretty wholesome. Art school was in Florida. Ringling School of Art and Design. I majored in Illustration. After school I eventually moved out west to CA and then ended up in Seattle. I like it here but there a very good chance of me becoming a Canadian some day soon as my wife is from Toronto and hopes to move back. I work from home and have done so for the last six years. It awesome on so many levels and horrible on just as many. My work day is as such. Get up and care for our baby Alexandria until 4pm and then work until I can’t stand it anymore, which is around 2-4 am. My wife also works from home and we share a very cluttered home office. It’s very much family nowadays. As for play, it’s with the baby, making silly sounds and holding toys trying desperately to provoke a giggle.
How did you get started customizing toys?
By now most people who have heard of me know that I kinda just appeared out of nowhere when I entered and won the Kidrobot Munnyworld contest one year ago. Yup, been a year. It just so happened that I had decided one week prior to quit my job as a web/graphic designer to pursue fine art. I had no direction what-so-ever I just knew that if I applied myself for a couple years I would be able to find myself and develop into something in which I could earn a living. My wife and I had decided to have a baby and when the news that we were successful had arrived it really hit home who I wanted to be in life. And it was not a graphic designer. So I was told about the contest, won and it gave me a direction. But the truth is, and not too many people know this, that the direction was there all the time. About 13 years ago, my best friend has introduced me to Sculpey and I became hooked. I had always enjoyed sculpting and now I had a way to do it without a ton of mess. I would occasionally create a piece here and there for girlfriends and just for recreation. Then I got my job with a props shop and eventually worked in the sculpting dept. Wow. It was such an awesome job and I learned from the most brilliant man I think I have ever met, Ivan Saxby. You won’t find any info about him anywhere except a Sci-Fi novel he wrote, but this guy is amazing. When I left that job after a couple years to make money doing design, I always manage to squeeze in a sculpt here and there as a hobby. Below are a couple pictures of a cast and REALLY poorly painted sculpt I did for my nephew Zinn of Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”. Falling into making toys seems like a complete obvious choice for me now, but it really just happened by accident.
[Max from Where the Wild Things Are]
Is toy customizing a hobby or is it full-time job? Do you have another job? What (else) pays the bills for you?
It’s a full time job although since my baby was born it seems more like a part-time gig now. For now I’m working as hard as I can to figure out exactly what kind of art I want to do and build a solid portfolio at the same time. One year has passed and I think I’ve done as good as a job as I could have ever hoped for when I set out on this experiment. I’ve got one more year in me to make it work financially. If it doesn’t work out then I’ll go get a job, but I’ll be proud of what I accomplished and know that at least I tried. But I do know, regardless of the outcome, I’ve found what I truly enjoy and I’ll always do toys whether I have a day job or not. So don’t expect me to go anywhere.
Do you have any plans to create your own toy designs? (Custom mold/shape, etc.)
YES. I have plans to make everything imaginable. It’s just a matter of time. But realistically, lots of them won’t happen. I’m starting to lighten my load to free up time now in anticipation for next year. I have a couple small group shows where I’d like very much to have my own small run resin pieces. I do prefer customs though. Ideally I’d like to make very small limited runs much like the big guy Huck Gee. Yeah. YEAH. And sell them for big $$ like Huck.
What are you working on now?
Oh Jeesh. I’m very happy to say that I’m out of my mind busy. Got a lot of stuff happening but for the most part it’s shows and commissions. The Jouwe for the TAG show in LA is due real soon, then it’s a qee for another show, then I have a lot of very patient clients who I owe commissioned customs.
Who or what inspires your art? How has your work changed since you started designing toys?
Everything inspires me. There is not enough time in the day to look at the infinite amount of awesome artwork out there. My fellow customizers inspire me. I believe I may have mentioned in the past that I really don’t get inspiration from other artists other than to drive me to be better. But I’ve come to realize that’s just not true. Recently the artist known as JRYU came out with a piece that blew my mind. It so clearly told a story and made me feel like a kid again. It had that “Where the Wild Things Are” quality about it and I can honestly say that my reaction to that piece has been a defining moment in my career that I’m sure to remember when I’m older. What I learned from that piece is that the single most important thing an artist must do is to tell a story. Get the viewer daydreaming. I thought I was doing that before by making lots of accessories for my characters but realize now I was missing the mark. That’s why my latest piece I did for the Milk Munny Exhibition has so much more going on with it than any other pieces I’ve done. As for my work changing since I started designing toys, can’t say that it has until this last piece, other than skill level. I’ve learned a lot and things have got better and more ambitious I think. What I have really learned though is what direction I’d like to take. Expect for things to really change up over the next year. What I’ve discovered is that I want to do much less customizing of others platforms and more original work. Don’t get me wrong, I love customizing, but I have so many ideas and they can’t be told on a someone else’s platform.
Do you collect toys as well as customize them? If yes, do you have a favorite and why?
No. Here’s the thang. I can either make em or buy em. Ifen I make em, then chances ar Imma gonna be too po to collect em. And if I collect em, Imma gonna need a real job that pays.
But seriously, when I make money again, oh, I have a huge list of artists I’ve become friends with and admire that I’ll be wanting to collect.
As far as my favorite toy, Gai King FTW.
Though you have done other designs, your trademark style is sculpture and a theme of “The Warrior.” How did this come to be? What treatments/techniques have you experimented with, etc.?
I guess it is isn’t it? I guess I just have some inner rage that needs to be expressed in a way on cute vinyl can do. I think it’s just a coincidence, but probably not, I’ve read too many comic books, played too much role playing for it not to be.
BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite ice cream?
Cookies and Cream
. . .
Thank you Kevin. This has been an amazing interview. Cheers.
For more of Kevin Gosselin’s work, check out his Blog | Flickr | Shop