Sculpting to his own creative beat...
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All so often in our hobby, we purchase what we think looks cool with little regard to who was responsible for sculpting it. That doesn't bother Tim Bruckner, a master sculptor who compares his job, and those like him, to being a rock n' roll drummer. He's the guy in that hit rock band responsible for the kickin' beat... minus the wild fanfare the lead vocalist receives.
Tim's metaphor is an excellent one, but with all the amazing work he's contributed to the toy industry over the years, we at Figures.com consider him more akin to a lead guitarist. While widely known for his work with DC Direct, including their visually stunning "Dynamics" series, Tim Bruckner's talent extends beyond superheroes. Most recently he has completed work for Gentle Giant, Sideshow and Dark Horse, as well as finding the time to concentrate more on his own unique creations. Last year, Tim Bruckner, together with Zach Oat and Ruben Procopio, even released a "how to" book called Pop Sculpture detailing the process of creating collectibles.
Busy as he may be, Tim Bruckner was kind enough to find time to take part in our interview. Read on to learn more about this industry legend - from how he got started sculpting out of wax candy tubes to his current status as hand-for-hire at The Art Farm...
FIGURES.COM: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become a sculptor. Did you always know you wanted to sculpt?
FIGS: Tell us a little about how you learned to sculpt. Are you formally trained or self-taught?
TIM BRUCKNER: I started sculpting when I was seven. In those days, eons ago, there were these candies, wax tubes filled with a liquid so sweet you could go into diabetic shock at the sheer sight of them. After I'd consume the sweet, I was left with these wax tubes. I remember sitting on my bed and using a straight pin, trying to sculpt them into the heads of the seven dwarves. I'm sure they looked more like erasers than the heads of anything, but to me, they were uncanny likenesses, and I've been doing a version of that same thing ever since.
I drew a lot at the time and really didn't see the distinction. It was all the same thing. I had no concept of what a sculptor was, let alone an artist. It wasn't like I chose to be a sculptor, it kind of chose me. There were some detours in my late twenties, early thirties when I thought I might set the world on fire with my music. But even as that dream shouldered out, I'd always sculpt. Turns out, it's the only thing I'm good at, and the only thing I really understand.
TB: Self taught. For better or worse. Self taught. I don't know how that played out, really. I think being formally trained might have helped me make fewer bungles. But then, each wrong step taught to step a little more sure-footedly. It is what it is. Ain't no turning back now.
FIGS: Technology has really come a long way in recent years. Do you find modern modeling programs such as ZBrush and Freeform replacing traditional sculpting methods? Is there a happy medium?
TB: The nature of the business has changed pretty dramatically. Product has to get done faster and cheaper. Manufacturing costs have been going up steadily. License fees aren't going anywhere but up. The price for doing business, with all the auxiliary costs, aren't going to go down. Something had to give.
When Digital Modeling became a reliable tool, it seemed to help offset and to streamline the most time consuming and critical stages of the process - sculpting. Digital Modeling does some things brilliantly. With movies so reliant on CGI, using those files to create product is a natural. You know what you're going to get from the outset. No guess work. In the hands of a talented Modeler, it can produce quality work. I find that Modelers who sculpt traditionally produce an overall better product. So, as I meander toward an answer - yes, Digital Modeling is replacing traditional sculpture whenever it can. Or, whenever a company thinks it can.
But there's something that happens when you work in a fully real physical space - forming the material, watching it develop - that I don't think is possible using Digital Modeling, at least where the technology is now. When you work in clay or wax, or whatever, you're in a collaboration. You're working it, but it works on you as well. You drag your thumb across a pinch of clay and the way it forms, the shapes it takes, tells, you what to do next. I've worked pieces where the clay was a lot smarter and more perceptive than I was. It's pretty humbling to be outsmarted by a lump of clay.
There's also the advantage of being able to see the piece, physically, in a physical environment. You get to see how it works in space, on a table, next to a window. You get to see what various kinds of light does to it. How its character changes as the light changes. And, I think there's a real advantage to being able to compose in true 3D over virtual 3D. My good friend and brilliant sculptor, Tony Cipriano has been posting pix of some of his clay work on his Facebook page. They're rough, almost impressionistic and full of life. I have yet to see any Digital Modeling come anywhere remotely close to what Tony can do with clay. Not to put too fine a point on it (although it may be too late for that), what Tony does it art. I don't think at this stage of the game that Digital Modeling is up to it.
FIGS: Please tell us a little about your sculpting studio, The Art Farm (great name!)
TB: When we first moved here (Wisconsin), almost twenty-six years ago, we were going to call the place Screaming Oaks. But they don't really scream. They kind of whisper. We live on what used to be a working farm, and as I was in the business of making art, it just seemed like a natural.
The Art Farm studio is a converted calf barn. When we first moved here, my studio was in, what later became, our daughter's bedroom. It was desperate. I had a travel path that was defined by it being the only place not stacked with crap. Crap on top of crap. So we decided to convert one of the out buildings. It was one big room. Skylights. A bank of East facing windows. I'd never worked in a place that roomy. The first few weeks I was in the place, it kind of freaked me out. In my little cave of a studio, I was kind of in my Temple Gandin space. All nice and cozy and wrapped in swaddling clothes. In the vast open spaces of my new studio, I felt a little too exposed.
A few years later, we expanded into another part of the barn. Studio B, which was designated as the mold making casting and resin cleaning space. A few years after that, we expanded into an upstairs section of the barn, Studio C, which became the painting and photographing, computer room. There's nothing like having dedicated areas in which to make a monumental mess. Studio A is all about sculpting and a general catch all. The mess can make a hoarder weep. Studio B is where I store a good many molds, resins, various and sundry sanders and grinders, buckets of RTV. The place looks like an industrial disaster. Studio C is the only respite from the chaos. It's clean, semi-organized and designed to be calming. Painting does not go well amid the rambunctiousness of clutter.
FIGS: Do you do certain sculpting jobs or techniques better than the other? What are some examples?
FIGS: What is your favorite subject to sculpt and why?
TB: Yes. And to my credit, I know what I suck at and try to avoid sucking. I can do architecture as it needs to be done, but it's a lot of work. Weapons? Anything mechanical, I'll avoid like the plague, if I have a choice. I'm not a big fan of matching right and left. Overall, I'm not a big fan or symmetry. Hence, not a big fan of Neo-Classical. I bridle at effusive detail for details sake. To me, it just seems like showboating, or grandstanding. Or a lack of restraint. Detail serves a purpose. But its a supporting player. It ain't the star.
Aside from that, I'm all in. I like anomaly. I like the stress and pull of organic shapes in conflict. I enjoy sculpting characters with character. Women. I love sculpting women. I don't think there's anything more difficult. Sculpting kids and babies, maybe. But dames? It ain't easy. Sculpting men is like sculpting a building. You line up all the bricks and windows and you're done. Sculpting women, especially with a little flesh on their bones, and it's like sculpting shadows. And the weird. I truly delight in sculpting the weird. Weird with something in it. Karloff as the Monster. Weird with an underlying humanity. That stuff ain't easy either.
TB: I think a covered a lot of this in the answer to the question above. The "why" is pretty consistent. I enjoy sculpting stuff where the outcome if kind of up in the air. I like not knowing. It could work. It could suck. It could end up being somewhere in between. I get a much bigger return on stuff that doesn't work than stuff that does. You're left with that, why did that turn to crap?
All the (DC Direct) Dynamics pieces were high wire acts. Some worked better than others. I went into all of them with the same commitment, but some didn't hit the mark I was after. Or some got close and I missed. The Batman Dynamics was designed with eight bats that moved through and around the piece. When they dumped the bats, the piece lost its intent. That's happened a few times. You design a piece to do one thing, and when that element on which the piece hangs is gone, the whole thing falls apart. The public doesn't know that. All they know is, it doesn't work. But that's the business, ain't it?
FIGS: Tell us a little about the process you use to sculpt. About how long does it take you to complete a sculpt? What materials do you use or work in when you sculpt?
We covered a lot of my process in our book, Pop Sculpture
(read our review HERE
). The short version is, ninety percent of the time, I start with a rough clay, make a set of waste molds, pour waxes, do the detail and finish work in the wax, make a set of master molds, cast a set of resins, clean for either Tool Parts or prep for Paint masters, or both.
The how long depends on so many factors. How large is the piece... how complicated. Will there be extra effects like with the Dynamics pieces, where six of the eight have a sculpted inner core that works directionally opposite of the external direction to increase the overall movement of the piece. The effect is most evident with Aquaman (pictured below
). So, a piece could take a couple of weeks to a month. And then you have to factor in the deadline.
FIGS: Who are some other sculptors you really admire or like and why?
FIGS: Given the opportunity to sculpt anything you wanted, what would you do and why?
You don't have enough room for me to list all the sculptors I admire. We could start with Michelangelo and burn through four centuries and not get close to covering them all. Go to my Facebook page
and many of my friends are sculptors whose work I respect and admire. I'm a big fan of sculptors. I'm not dodging. If I name anyone, then I'm leaving out a dozen for that one name.
I like sculptors. We're on an odd breed. We're like the drummers of the art world. The same rap that gets applied to rock and roll drummers fits us pretty well. We think differently. We see things differently. We're all, to one extent or another, socially stunted in the same way. Art is a lonely and isolating endeavor. Sculpture is about as anti-social a pursuit and you can do and not get arrested while doing it.
TB: I've got designs for pieces that go back thirty years. Stuff I will never get to. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get to my Octopus Chandelier any time soon. What I'd love to do is create a massive scene of dozens of characters interacting. Time condenses or stretches. The same chardcter could appear many times depending on where you caught them as the story unfolded. That way, I could explore how a character develops and what physical changes take place as it does. But, I have about a much chance as doing it as I have becoming weightless. So these days I aim smaller. In a couple of years, I'll retire from hand-for-hire. And if I'm not some doddering old gasbag by then, check back with me. I still might have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.
FIGS: What amazing sculptures and projects are in the near future for Tim Bruckner and The Art Farm?
TB: I'm really enjoying doing kits. I've got a dozen ideas I'm hot to get started on. I really like the idea of someone else bringing their vision to something I've done. I finish them one way, based on how I see the piece. But someone, not living in my head, will bring something else entirely different to it. So in essence we are collaborators. I think that's pretty cool. And kits let me really go outside and explore anything I want. If it works, I'll sell a couple. If I don't, I've still had the chance to try some stuff out.
And limited edition pieces are something I very much enjoy. It's one thing for someone to buy a piece I've done where it's one of a thousand. And my direct contribution ends as soon as it hits China. But to have someone buy a piece that I've designed, sculpted, cast and painted has a deeper connection for me. To be part of someone's life, occupy a little space in their homes or offices, something that is directly from me, to them, with no one in between, that's kind of a profound thing. Or as profound a thing as I'm able to do with the talent I have.
A huge "THANKS!" to Tim Bruckner for taking part in this interview. For more on Tim Bruckner, be sure and visit his website at TimBruckner.com as well as the Tim Bruckner Shop.
- Interview by Jeff Saylor
- Images Courtesy of Tim Bruckner