Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself (i.e. where your general base of operation is, when you started designing, and how you first started out)?
Valleydweller: The answer to all 3 aspects of that question is “SF Bay Area”. Apparently this is a huge hotbed for designer toys. Who knew? I certainly didn’t when I lived here nearly a decade ago. It took me leaving the area for six years and coming back to realize it, and I fell into it hard.
UVD: Would you mind telling us about some of the designs that you came up with when you were first starting out and how designs have progressed over the years?
ValleyDweller: I’m going to call “first starting out” 2010. Like most of the scene, I’m stealing elements, objects, and themes from things I love. The techniques I’m using grew from years of building and painting models for tabletop wargaming (notably Warhammer 40,000). Right now it’s a lot of Machines and Monsters. I’m trying to kitbash less and design and sculpt more. A micro view of kicking myself in the pants to try and do something unique can be seen in my Munny World Megacontest entries. The first 3 are either bootlegged and kitbashed out of, or thematically influenced by Warhammer. I realized this, and wanted to do something different, stopped by Urban Outfitters on my way home and had 24 hrs to do some additional pieces. The first I did was derivative of a piece I did for the Almighty Dunny Show last year, and then completed my favorite sculpt, the King Gloknar piece. I could point at six different things that it reminds me of now that it’s done, but it was nice trying to do something original.
UVD: What are some things that influence you and your work? Is there any artist’s work that inspired you and your style early on in your career? Are there any artists on your radar currently that have amazed you with the product they are putting out?
Valleydweller: Starting up the Way Back machine, Commander Mark (and the Secret City) taught me how do draw in 3D! I was in junior high and this show was on PBS, and this curly-haired mustachioed guy would draw while this other guy had dragon gloves on messed around behind the easel. At the end of every show he’d put a little more work into a mural on the wall. It was actually really inspiring. I drew a lot of spaceships that had his Jetson-styled exhaust for years (video).
I was also soaking up Alex Toth reruns on TV (Space Ghost, Herculoids) and studying Ernie Chan and Bill Sienkiewicz in print with Conan and Warlock from the New Mutants respectively.
For the Toy Scene, there’s so many great designs and designers. But I’ll answer this with what’s in the Detolf behind me, which is filled with things as much for the beauty of the piece as the influence, wisdom, and kindness of the artist. In quantity of pieces/square feet: Jesse Hernandez has his own shelf as of May 8th. Dok A was someone I immediately gravitated toward, and I have a few pieces of his. Motorbot, Cris Rose, Leecifer, and DrilOne have been so patient with me on Twitter regarding technique and production methods. And from a small knot of really friendly Bay Area toy fam, there’s a monochrome Poison Sweet from Yosiell Lorenzo. I also picked up one of Okkle’s resin squirrels for my wife for Mother’s Day, and on the other wall hangs the Black Rabbit piece that Scribe did for the Inle show recently. These last two have a really great warm and friendly animated style. That’s the big stuff. If I had a lot more money, I’d own a bunch of Joe Ledbetter, Brandt Peters, and Muttpop.
UVD: Considering the Tea Tour is currently making its rounds across Europe and the States, would you mind telling us how you were approached and joined forces for being in the show?
Valleydweller: I really liked Lunartik’s Tea design, and had ended up making him a contact so I could see the stuff he was sharing. When I saw that Mini-Teas were dropping, I got really excited, and picked up five blind boxes from Neon Monster in SF as Christmas stocking stuffers for the family. Me being me (and hey, we had five!), I couldn’t resist customizing one. One day out of the blue I got this mail on Flickr that JOnes wanted me to take down this image I had posted of my WIP custom. “Oh, I sez…” as I stopped getting huffy and finished reading the letter “…it’s because he wants it to be in the show!”.
So that was really neat, as it was the first time that the piece itself, rather than my hustling, was what got it included in a show. Adding thrill to honor, it’s made the 12-block of images on the flyer promoting the show in Vienna, as well as making the cut on some blog posts, etc.
It’ll also be neat to be in another show at Dragatomi when the show comes to Sacramento in July.
(Editor’s note: It was indicated to us that this arm of the show is be cancelled due to excessive damage to the pieces if shipped to the store.)
-found on Hellovinyl
UVD: Seeing as you had a very successful piece in our show, “They Came from the Streets”, would you mind walking us through a little of what went on when doing from initial idea to finished product?
Valleydweller: I drove my family down to LA for the weekend for Designer CON, and since we all like toys, I figured I’d spring for two of the swag bags. When I got the invite, and thought about the theme, my brain immediately jumped synaptic tangents from “… Streets” to “MANHOLE COVER EYES!” This being due to the fact that between the aforementioned bags, and a winning number at the Spanky Stokes booth, we got a couple copies of Alex Rodrigue’s Pocket Zombie dog, Wondoo. One of my children had just turned three, which led to one dog being broken off of his manhole cover base. It wasn’t much of a leap to pop the other one off to complete the set.
Add in the ubiquitous resin Seeker Module as proboscis and some plastic Starship Troopers model bits for mandibles and claws, and we get “flies come from the streets (but mostly in dumpsters)!” This then leads to refuse and upright fly-monsters, which in turn tangentially spins around to “things that are discarded in cities… and grow into giant monsters… which duh… Alligators.”
And that’s pretty much what we’ve got after adding scales and a tail. A display base with tiny cheap toy cops for scale rounds it out and lends the piece a slightly twisted theme of “It Came from UNDER the Streets!”
Also, much thanks to Scott Tolleson who recommended me for the show (after I met him at Designer Con! (coming to Pasadena in late 2011)).
UVD: Speaking of customs you have done, I noticed that you also had a Sketchbot custom that was part of the Munky King show. Piece looks great. How did you being in the show come about?
Valleydweller: I’ve known Steve Talkowski for over a decade indirectly via the animation industry. Watched him develop the toy and share his experience over the internet. This was while I was still in Virginia and completely disconnected (aside from vicariously through Steve) from the Designer Toy scene. A bunch of stuff happened between me moving back to the Bay Area and SDCC that saw me go from completely ignorant of the scene to fairly aware between Feb and July. I hung out with Steve a bit in San Diego and he hinted that he was going to drop a DIY Sketchbot. I hinted back as hard as I could that I’d love to do one, and he was gracious enough to put me in the show. That was my first official show roster.
UVD: (I realize that all these questions are about shows you have been in) But I see you contributed a Qeesassin model 242 to Dragatomi’s 15 year DIY show. How do you rise to the occasion for these different custom shows and deliver pieces that fit the show while juggling the other shows you are working on?
Valleydweller: I’m not sure how well I’ve “fit the show” in general, but this particular story involves me buying vinyl out of Joanne from Dragatomi’s trunk at 11:30pm in an alley behind Gallery 1988 in SF. Task One was doing more killer Lite Brite stuff, so she’d brought him some Mad*L. In conversation I found out about the upcoming show, what the platform was (8” Qee), and decided I was going to gamble and do two customs over a couple weeks and see if I could get one or both in the show. Fortunately they liked one of them, took a chance on me, and thus began my run of “…And More!” for 2010. So the juggling there was a prioritization thing. I kept working on commissions I had, and rather than finishing Starcraft II or whatnot, I spent the extra time working on additional customs.
I also tend to have a number of pieces on deck at any given time, and many are at some stage of completion, so I can get a headstart here and there.
UVD: If you could choose a super power, what would it be? And why?
Valleydweller: Solar-powered. I’ve got lights on anyway when I’m working, right? So there’s power even at night. Very little of what I do requires a lot of physical energy, so I wouldn’t need a lot of juice. Wouldn’t need to eat/drink/sleep for fuel (or y’know, dispose of fuel when done), and would be able to keep working without all of those other time sink hassles.
UVD: Are there any video games of note that you would like to name drop that you had your hand in designing/developing?
Valleydweller: The Neverhood Chronicles was a tremendous experience. Working with a beefy percentage of the creative force behind Earthworm Jim was amazing. Looney Tunes Racing was fun to do because I wanted to translate as much Maurice Noble into 3D as possible. And being Lead Animator for Warhammer Online was a great career milestone with being able to shape a large portion of a AAA MMORPG. And on top of that, I’ve been a huge Games Workshop fanboy for years, so it was another dream gig working with them, and being able to go behind the scenes at the global HQ in Nottingham.
UVD: Are there any future projects that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?
Valleydweller: I’ve got a pile of tin, Baby Qees, and accessories sitting off to my left here, taunting me, waiting for this tide of commissions to ebb so I can begin the full-on production on my QeeSassin in a Can blind box set, based in the same universe as the Model 242 you mentioned earlier.
UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?
Valleydweller: Do work, and lots of it. Only show your best (do as I say, not as I do). You can’t be afraid to fail. I bought cases of Dunnys and Fatcaps to use as custom bait because I was still a noob and didn’t have a trade network. Use Ebay, use Forums. SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS. Work on cheap stuff and don’t be intimidated. If you screw it up, soak it in acetone and do it again. Or sell it anyway. Or give it to your mom, she’ll love it. Put your good stuff on Flickr and Facebook. Share your work with blogs like this one. If they’re not posting your stuff, ask them why, they’re human beings, they might just give you some great advice.