Covering The Toy and Art World One Post at a Time

GREG “CRAOLA” SIMKINS

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Urban Vinyl Daily: Would you mind telling us a little background about yourself, and some of the designs that you came up with when you were first starting out and how designs have progressed over the years?

Greg “Craola” Simkins: I am based in the South Bay in California in the city of Torrance which is about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles. I’ve lived in this area my whole life and any ideas I have ever had of moving have been pushed aside by a quick drive or walk to the beach which I would have a hard time leaving.

 I guess I have been “designing” since I was a kid. I would come up with my own G.I. Joe characters and mail them off to Hasbro in hopes they would make them. In reality my design work started off when In high school when I would design T-shirt graphics and once I graduated I forced myself to learn how to use photoshop and illustrator in order to make “slap tags” to put up for my graffiti crews. It was a creative and fun way to learn how to use the computer. Once I had an in-house illustration job after college though, the real learning began as I had great art directors to guide me in the ways of using a computer and making my ideas come to life. It became an extension of my sketchbook and I am grateful to be able to pull from a large toolbox of mediums to this day.  So I guess to loosely answer your question, I’ve been designing T-shirts, Band merch, fliers, toys, and licensing products since about 1993.

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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?

Craola: Gosh, that’s a big question that could go in so many directions. I don’t stick to one thing as I am interested in different compartments in my art career. There is the Cartoony graphic side which is influenced by old Disney, Tex Avery, Don Bluth, Old black and white cartoons. The Graffiti side which is influenced by 80’s- 90’s and leading up to today’s wall icons but all starting with Subway Art and Seen who was a big influence to me starting off in 92-93. The CBS and WAI crew members from the early 90’s are who I still hold in the highest regards as pushing me the hardest with my work. Friends from my early crews DYX, SCI, and HDJK as well, but things kicked into hyper mode when I met Plek, Natoe, Axis, Casl, Kofie, Vox, Alex Pardee and Epik and the rest of the guys in the crews I am still affiliated with. There is the tattoo influenced side which I am obsessed with all aspects and movements within. There are so many great tattooers out there and I am always energized by seeing what is going on those worlds. My main push is always my fine art work which is in the “Pop- Surreal” movement. It kind of encompasses everything from all the genre’s that interest me but for sure start with children’s books and novels, mix in nature programs, add Renaissance paintings  and sprinkle in American illustrators like Rockwell and Leyendecker then kick in some Salvador Dali and it gets at the heart of some interests that might have fueled where I am at these days. I can’t really nail it down, it might have been looking at too many comics and heavy metal magazines while hanging out at my grandparents house full of antiques and creepy porcelain dolls that skewed my brain to paint the things I do.

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UVD: If you were asked to put your finger on it, what event would you say caused you to “catch your break” that has led to the success that you experience today?

Craola: Definitely getting my first art free lance gig when i was 18. I was making pogs for a single project that took me 3 weeks of sleeping on a friends couch away from home and drawing illustrations for about 14 hours a day for him to take to work and make the ‘Pog” designs. I was a pre-veterinary student at the time and was able to convince my parents that jobs like this are in my future and maybe I should change my major to art. I was able to focus my full attention on it ever since. I still enjoy animals but now just focus on drawing and painting them as opposed to doctoring them.

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UVD: Seeing as your portfolio is predominantly 2D art, what sort of challenges have you experienced when taking several of your characters to the 3D realm. As the creator, do these characters resonate with you more in their 2D or 3D form?

Craola: I definitely prefer the 2D world because for some reason they exist more 3 dimensionally. It doesn’t make sense to say, but I look at my paintings as snap shots into another world. These images I try to painstakingly make look real so that these things could actually exist. Once taken to the task of making a toy out of it however, all the technical problems occur. They aren’t actually real anymore, there aren’t bones and muscular structures supporting their weird shapes. Instead they need to be self supporting in vinyl. All the off kilter weights now need to be simplified. The dynamic poses have to be standardized to a simple stance and the once living creature is now a shell of what it once was. I love having a 3D version of my characters, don’t get me wrong. My Walrus for upper Playground and Captain RotnClaw Pirate crab are two of my favorites, but they don’t have the life in them that a 2D painting can give them. They are great partners to come along after a painting is done though. I am finally very pleased with where some of my designs can be used with toys with my latest Vinyl Figure “Ralf” from the upcoming Stop Motion animated short “Im Scared the movie” that my team and I are working on. My good friend and old studio mate Kevin Pasko sculpted it and did a fantastic job capturing emotion in the face that he really has a special knack for as well as sculpting anything on the planet. The dude is a beast! 3D Retro did a fantastic job producing the toy and I am very pleased with the different color ways being released. These color ways especially the Main white one, are references to previous painting version of my White Knight Character. Each color ways pairs with a painting such as the blue one with “Azul”, the upcoming red way with “Crimson” and a couple paintings haven’t been revealed yet featuring some of the forthcoming colorways of Ralf. It gave each version a little more dimension I think.

 

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UVD: I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least talk about a big project that you are involved with at the moment: the “I’m Scared” movie. Would you mind giving a little background on the premise of the movie for those who may not be familiar with the project? How does it feel to have your work as a motion picture?

Craola: This is very much an exciting labor of love for me. The idea sprouted from an email introduction with my friend Robyn Yannoukas who is an oscar award winning stop motion creator and the art director on our project. She brought possibly working on a project together sometime. Add to the mix my friend/ producer Dan Levy who had similar ideas and who introduced or great director Pete Levin to mix and we had a recipe for a project. Everything sort of fell in place .The kickstarter went through to fund the project and we are now in full animation after about a year of an amazing assembled team of creatives from the stop motion world have created puppets, props and sets to get us to this point. The movie is a short so I will keep it brief to not give anything away. It is based on my own boys and called “I’m Scared”, “Bad advice from Big Brothers to little brothers.” It is funny the stuff that kids are afraid of and how it influences their younger siblings. This is true with my boys as well. I had been adding to a children’s poem for years with my older boy which simply began like this “I’m Scared of the monster who climbs up the stairs, I’m scared of the gelatinous goop in eclairs…” I would go throw out one stanza, and he would try to rhyme it. It had to be heavily edited for film by Pete, Dan and I, but It is still the same story. I can’t believe we are finally at the stage we are at it and cant wait to share it with everybody. This is the kind of project where I believe the toys that could come out of it would be highly suitable and make great sense.

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UVD: Almost all of your art pieces seem to push the boundaries of imagination for most. Would you mind telling us a little about your process that allows you to unleash the amazing images from concept to their final product?

Craola: I just keep sketch books of every idea from sketch to notes, no matter how kooky it is, I put it in the book. These thumbnail drawings get enlarged, pieced together and redrawn into the paintings. I sometimes just keep the notes and begin free painting or charcoal drawing as well and let the painting tell me where it wanted to go. There is no “one” way that I go about creating a piece. It all starts with an idea that pops in my head and I don’t have a prescription for it or how to do that part of the process. I can tell you how to prepare a surface or how to glaze and underpainting, but I have no idea how to tell you where the ideas come from. They have always just been there, since I was a kid. I would actually get in trouble from a young age at some of the “violent” drawings I would create that my teachers just misunderstood and weren’t even remotely violent. It’s always been how I entertained myself. Drawing was my number 1 go to and still is.




UVD:  With graffiti/murals as part of your portfolio and passion, would you mind sharing your thoughts on the concept that some can be despised for their graffiti while others can be revered for the similar act? Is it a matter of community/individual acceptance or is there something bigger as to what makes one “bad” and one “good”?

Craola: There is a larger history behind what goes on the walls in the city and who should be allowed to go over it. I think you are hinting at larger definition between street art and graffiti and I tend to stay out of that debate except for one part and that is the disrespect that some street artist have shown legendary graffiti artist who paved the way for them by going over their art. Most people don’t understand why we write letters on walls and to me that is fine. It is a conversation for a small community talking to each other through the styles in these letters. It’s not meant for the masses. I like all kinds of art and good art is good art, no matter where it is. I love graffiti though, and the abstract shapes an artist puts into his letters speaks to me and seeing a story of the history of a writer turned fine artist through just exploring imagination and technique derived from a dangerous activity such as illegal graffiti is more interesting to me than a kid coming out of art school and getting permission walls to do what graffiti artist were doing under more difficult circumstances with no pay off or even a idea that it would take them anywhere with there art. Early graffiti artists just created these works because they had to.

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UVD: With your work having presented itself through many media over the course of your career, have there been any opportunities that your work has yet to unlock for you that you haven’t done yet?

Craola: I’d really like to see where this stop motion projects takes us. I love keeping logs of the story line and ideas behind my paintings. I hope to flesh those out more and have not only visible documentation of this world, but to also have it in writing for others to enjoy in the future.

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UVD: If given a “re-do” button or a time machine, are there pieces in your portfolio that you might do differently or spend more time in retrospect, or have all past projects helped shape where you are today?

Craola: I think everything we do shapes us and builds skills necessary to go onto the next works. There are piece that are hard for me to look at now, but I know I learned through making it.

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UVD: As an artist, are there other artists’ works that you collect?

Craola: I actually don’t collect artwork.  My mind is on overdrive and I like to keep the walls in the house pretty sparse. I like to collect tattoos, but barely have time for that these days. I think the internet has enabled my collective habits to be neat and clean and I daily scour and collect animal photos and keep folders of them from land to sea. That’s where I get obsessive. I love creatures and finding good photos of them with the lighting just right and in a great pose is my daily hunt.

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UVD: Are there any future projects that you wish to discuss for the reader to keep their eyes open for in the upcoming future?

Craola: I have another solo show that I am working on, some book projects and a couple things I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully they will interest those watching.

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UVD: What would your encouragements/suggestions be for artists/designers that are either just starting out or who are trying to get themselves noticed?

Craola: Stick to being “you”. Don’t look at what other artists are doing and think you have to bend your work to be like them.It was a lesson I had to learn and be scolded by my friends, but paint and design so that it reflects you and not another artist who you admire and want to emulate. You’ll only be a knock off if you do that. Sure there are times work looks similar having grown up in the same spheres of influence, but attempt to make your work mean something to you and you will have a greater chance of being authentic. Also work hard, and treat others with respect.

    Thank you again for your time. It is greatly appreciated.

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