STEVE “SKETCHBOT” TALKOWSKI
Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself?
Steve Talkowski: We recently located to Los Angeles, CA from Brooklyn, NY. My day job is in the motion graphics/character animation realm and I started way back in 1988. In college, I worked in the art department creating video graphics for the local PBS affiliate while pursuing my fine arts degree in drawing. Figurative work was my area of specialty, and exploring the human form in motion is what led me to computer animation. In 1994 I moved to NY and got hired by Blue Sky Studios and honed my skills as a character animator for 7 years. I then went on to direct animation for commercial spots and eventually launched Sketchbot Studios in 2008 as a means to begin showcasing my original work and to undertake the development of my first foray into the designer toy scene – Sketchbot.
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?
ST: My first designs were essentially coming up with ideas for all the custom shows I was invited to participate in. I think I did like eight shows my first year, and, not having any particular house style, would wrack my brain coming up with unique ideas for each piece. I’ve been winding down a bit with the customs, as (for me) they take considerable amounts of time to plan and execute. That being said, I still owe you guys a piece since I was unable to participate in the last show due to our big move across the country.
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?
ST: I’m influenced by almost too much at times. I’ve always been a huge fan of animation and sci-fi, and constantly listen to music as I work. I get inspired by industrial environments and heavy construction vehicles. There’s a slew of figurative artists that I heavily obsessed over during my college years – Euan Uglow, Jerome Witkin, Lucian Freud, those incredible George Bridgman anatomy books – basically immersed myself with as many different styles of figurative work that had been done up until recent times. If we’re talking about the current crop of artists in the “designer toy/graf/illustrator” movement, again, there are way too many to single out for me. Especially with the ubiquity of the Internet, I’m learning about new artists on a daily basis, which can be overkill. Often times, I need to tune out in order to focus on my own work, but then it’s hard to stay away from what’s out there so I eventually end up failing miserably in an attempt to maintain a balance and then stay up way to late catching up on it all!
UVD: Would you mind telling us about how you came up with the design for your sketchbot figure and possibly any iterations it went through to reach the stage it is at right now?
ST: The character itself came into existence as I was trying to figure out a name for my blog. I had used the screen name “sketchguy” back in the AOL days, and wanted to continue using the word “sketch” in some way. I thought about combining my love of drawing (sketch) with my infatuation with robots (bot) and Sketchbot was born – that’s pretty much it.
While designing Sketchbot, I referred to sketches I had done 10 years prior of a cycloptic, barrel-shaped robot. I’ve always had this fascination with retro-style ‘bots, and also being a huge fan of Gigantor/Tetsujin-28, I appropriated his dead-set eye and minimal rivets to my design. The first pass at Sketchbot was designed as a hand sculpted maquette. This was to see how the forms would hold up volumetrically. I then improved on this design with version 2, using the computer to model a precise version in 3d that would later be used to print out the actual prototype pieces I would send off to the factory to use for tooling up the master molds.
UVD: When partnering with MPH & Munky King for the V1 & V2 custom shows, how did those relationships form?
ST: I would frequent MPH, attending their art openings and eventually was invited to participate in my first-ever custom show, kaNO‘s MoneyGrip event from early 2008. MPH have been wonderfully supportive friends over the years, and it was a no-brainer to approach them to do the first Sketchbot custom show. After the success of that show, along with making more contacts with artists and greater exposure for the character, I was able to approach Munky King at San Diego Comic Con and present the idea of doing a 2nd show that would coincide with Designer Con weekend in 2010. I believe if people see that you’re serious about your brand and you do the appropriate hustle, forming these type of relationships become easier and you meet even more people to collaborate and work with in the future.
UVD: Seeing as you have a submission in Lunartik’s Tea Tour, how did you two meet and get the ball rolling in order for you to join/be invited to contribute?
ST: Matt has been one of my Flickr contacts for a few years. We’ve never met in person, however, through the power of the internet and social networking, it’s allowed me to follow his work and coordinate his involvement with the 2nd Sketchbot custom show. He then invited me to do a Lunartik piece and I jumped at the chance to do one.
UVD: With the V2 custom show and various artists doing freelance customs on the Sketchbot platform, which customs have happened to catch your radar and wow you?
ST: I was amazed by all the different takes on the Sketchbot form that artists have applied to it, so it’s really hard to single out a few. Some of those that truly blew me away were done by Chauskoskis, Dacosta Bayley (aka ChocolateSoop), 64 Colors, Lou Pimentel, Kelly deNato, Andrew Bell, Nemo, Patrick Francisco, Chris Raab, Map-Map, Betso, Michael Gulen, J*RYU, Drilone, Rsin, Jeremy Dale (aka ValleyDweller), Motorbot, ToysREvil and Mr. Munk. Plus, there’s a slew of artists that I’d like to try and get for yet a third show. Maybe next year.
UVD: If you could have a “dream” collaboration with another artists, who would it be and why?
ST: Another tough question to answer – there are quite a few artists whose style I love, but I see a collab more as me interpreting their designs into 3d, animated forms, rather than me adding to an already existing piece. For instance, I would love to bring to life the work of Ragnar, Jeff Soto, MAD, Scribe, or even Ashley Woods ThreeA ‘bots. Dacosta Bayley’s character designs just scream to exist in animated form, and we’ve got some irons in the fire that hope to come to fruition some day soon.
UVD: What are your thoughts/critiques on the vinyl scene currently and the prevalence of the secondary market with figures?
ST: Seeing as how I’m still a relative new-comer to this particular scene, I think I got into it as its “still fresh” stage was winding down. I decided to self-finance my piece because I wanted to contribute to this genre and create something that was truly original. I also didn’t want to just slap on a different in-vogue shade and call it a “colourway”, so I built into the design a way to change up the expression of the character AND offer a unique accessory, thus creating six individual characters in the process. One thing that saddens me is seeing those that have already made their mark now simply repeating themselves. On the other hand, there is a ton of new talent out there that’s finding ways of presenting their work w/o going strictly vinyl, i.e., DIY resin castings, plush, wood, etc. The scene has been ever more veering into mainstream, and we now have an over abundance of custom shows with less-than-stellar talent occurring on a fairly regular basis. That being said, there’s now more opportunity than ever before for new talent to get noticed and rise to the top. As long as the quality is there, the secondary market will thrive just fine.
UVD: I realize that I have asked specifically about some of your designs, are there some that I did not ask about that you wish to take a moment to talk about?
ST: I’ve been helping a few artists realize their character designs into actual, 3d pieces. Some have been documented on my Behance portfolio, others are still in the confidential stage. I enjoy taking on this work when it becomes available because I’m particularly adept at visualizing and interpreting a 2d design into 3d. This is where I best fit in for collaborative work.
UVD: Are there any future projects that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?
ST: I’m busy fleshing out the world of Sketchbot so that I can bring it into the realm of 3d animation. I also have ideas for a book project that could find its way onto the iPad as in interactive piece. Regarding future toys – I have quite a few different art ‘bots in the Sketchbot world that I’d like to see realized in vinyl. At this point, i’m waiting to see how the first production run goes before undertaking an entirely new series. This stuff is expensive to do on your own!
UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?
ST: Definitely take advantage of the myriad of social media tools available at your disposal: set up a Flickr account, put your portfolio up on Behance and Vimeo, promote the work via Facebook and Twitter. This is how I’ve made a majority of contacts, both for actual paying jobs and collaboration. Go to the art shows, the comic conventions, the Designer cons, ask questions and be a sponge. Then, go home and do the work.
UVD: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Are there any parting words you wish to say to the reader?
ST: Thanks for approaching me to be your featured artist for the month, I’m truly flattered. And thanks to all the fans of Sketchbot!