Tag Archives: geeky

Loteria Number Twenty-Eight: El Bolidor

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Now, that was a hell of a thing.

This time of year is seldom merciful to me and mine, as the combination of Halloween (practically a religious undertaking in this household) and dia de los muertos makes for flaming pu-pu platter of creative breakdowns, headcolds, and a metric crap-ton of other grandiose, art-related suffering. This year didn’t disappoint, and was exacerbated in particularly masochistic fashion by my decision to—in the middle of the mess—pry up my roots and head on down to Los Angeles for observations, ofrendas, and some too-short quality time with friends and loved ones.

I’m planning some sort of “maybe this will work and not come off like a thumbheaded moron trying to make magic happen with his smartphone’s video function”-type recap that I’m hoping to have put together by the weekend, but—barring that—it seems almost mildly blasphemous to let this occasion pass without at least ONE bit of calaca-related bloggadoccio.

So, the subject of today’s overwrought ranting is: 28.

28 happens to be  the age that I decided to go back to college. It’s sometimes the number of days in February. It’s a multiple of seven, which I think everybody can agree is a pretty damn cool number. It also happens to be the number of years that I’ve known the recipient of today’s featured sculpture, which I’ve opted to overreachingly entitle “El Bolidor.”

 

BA BOOM BOOM VA-ROOM

The piece represents Capital D, who I’ve known since I was about six years old. CD’s somebody who I’ve been blessed to grow up and around with, who’s always been a bonafide, true-blooded bud in every sense of the word. We came up on a steady diet of weird movies, video games, bleary-eyed sleepovers and were hardcore car-culture mutts well before we even got anywhere near our learner’s permits, which was where the genesis of this particular piece came from.

 

A little of that, a little of this, a little from here…

Occasional visitors of this bloghole might recall “Sibling Revelry,” from a few months ago: it’s an essential homage to a consistent theme of weird, go-kart related fascination that probably started with Mario Kart and has carried itself steadily through the decades that followed. Initially, I thought it would be awesome to somehow incorporate Bolidor into that diorama, somehow—a concept that likely stemmed from those old die-cast Kenner Star Wars deals that locked together to form awesome little playscapes  of Bespin and Hoth—but the realization that this would require us somehow all converging on a predetermined meeting spot with our calacas in hand was…. somehow offensively sobering.  It also resulted in Bolidor’s kart getting bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER. And somewhere in the mix, turning from a simple road-beast into some bizarre smash-up of Big Daddy Roth and the 1955 Chevy that D and I used to burn rubber around Pasadena in, during our misspent youth.

 

bolidor, con (badaduhduhduhduhdubbaduhduh) base.

Sharp and nerdy eyes will probably note the fact that the fender detailing resembles a Bullet Bill, and—rather randomly—the engine (and the artist’s complete lack of insight into what the hell one actually looks like, aside from when he’s filling up his wiper fluid) has somehow wound up incorporating pieces of the Ghostbuster’s proto-packs.

 

fwoosh.

You KNOW something’s on point when your geekish tendencies are on autopilot. Fortunately, Bolidor survived the trip to California and was presented lovingly during an ofrenda celebration for a mutual and dearly departed pal of ours, which somehow split the clouds of a frantic weekend and put a dovetail on the stresses surrounding the holiday. There was also a lot to love at The Folk Tree’s magnificent celebracion’ (Adios, El Organillero and La Revolucionaria: you’ve sold, and I couldn’t wish you better in your new home!), as well as during our daytrip to Olvera Street, which I hope to spill some virtual ink on in a future post.

In the interim—and while I’m shrugging off this migraine—here’s some assorted ephemera from the building process for this piece. A couple of folks have asked (both at the show and via FB) how I put these things together, to which I reply: “CAREFULLY AND OFTEN INCORRECTLY.”

 

to the side, to the side.

 

the goggles: a good excuse to try and use the rest of my Testor’s window-building epoxy.

 

also, a fine case in point: the first sculpt of this guy’s head somehow made him look like a tiki mask, once the goggles and hat were in place. I have NO idea how the hell I messed this up so poorly, but I’m also embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even notice until the arms and primer were on.
“Wait a second…”

 

q: what do colonel sanders and comrade have in common?
a: we’re both working on an eighteen-piece bucket.
(ohhhhwuh)

 

 

 

 

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Loteria Number Two: La Mascara (The Mask)

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As the dia de los destinos continues to get closer and closer—and I get my bags packed for my impending California foray—my thoughts have naturally been cranking into a winter-wise direction, particularly in terms of contemplating what the heck I’m going to do after November 1st in terms of calaca-related creations. The September-October window is really the bone harvest for anybody in this line of work, as the macabre trappings and pagany celebrations of the Halloween season give way to the warmth of Christmas in a truly rapid-fire fashion. One day, an ofrenda seems like a profound reminder of those we’ve lost, and a beautiful expression of chthonic artistic traditions: the following morning, that same altar suddenly looks jarringly creepy, back-dropped against cornucopia cut-outs and daisy-chains of colored lights.

Winter just isn’t kind to skeletons, be they crafted from clay or otherwise. It’s likely that mortality—even festive, joyous recognition of the fact that we’re all giving up the minutes until we become dust—is just too heavy to labor on when the entire natural world is becoming threadbare and covered in snow, which means that I usually wind up hanging up my tools until the thaw. To date, I have yet to sell a SINGLE calaca between the months of December and April: it’s a soft market for the online casual buyer to begin with, but things get real thin around this time of year.

Fortunately, there’s at least some silver scrim on the off-season, this time around: I recently had the opportunity to touch base with an old buddy from my four-year foray into independent game design—Mr. Dave Wish—and amidst the topics we wound up hashing on was the possibility of creating branded lucha calacas for the impending release of his long-gestating PC pro wrestling opus, Pro Wrestling X. The offer was a timely one, since I’d just wrapped up the finishing touches on this fine fellow:

 

UNA CHIASO!

Next to dia de los muertos and spaghetti western serapes, lucha libre is probably the most single, immediately-identifiable iconic symbol in Mexican culture. Even a person who doesn’t know Santo from Hurican Ramirez can immediately tell you what a luchadore mask looks like, and the fact that you’re bound to find at least a ripoff of a Rey Mysterio Jr. cowl at anywhere from your local temp-class Halloween costume shop to the booths at the Puyallup State Fair (Pravda!) says a lot about the degree to which that symbol has stretched itself across the American cultural landscape. The fact that your average wrestling fan only has a passing appreciation for what “la mascara” actually means to its native culture is an interesting proxy when it comes to calaveras: on a skin-deep level, there isn’t much difference between the workaday appreciation of, say, Psicosis’ old 90’s-era WCW mask and what most people think of a sugar skull. It’s exotic, it’s interesting, and it looks badass on a t-shirt… but to stop there doesn’t really give just how truly profound that aesthetic and cultural “coolness” really is.

Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of virtual ink spilled on the tradition of the lucha mask, so I’ll spare the sharing of my own watered-down Cliff’s Notes version of that summary: instead, I’ll just use this opportunity to comment on how the pursuit of authenticity is problematic when it comes to actually selling a piece like this, since—to the lay person, anyway—it comes off as being really damn confusing.

 

Uno… dos… tres… PALMADAS!

For a lucha aficionado, the  basic premise is fairly self-evident: with the mask of a conquered foe firmly in fist, El Payaso Gigante, here, enjoys a moment of violent victory. For some reason, I remember seeing tons of images in this vein when I was a kid, taken from such venerable Mexican wrestling venues as Arena Naucalpan (on postcards, even!): a pair of bloodied, barely-conscious man-hulks trying to rip the eyeholes out of each other’s sacred mascaras, with both fans and officials staring on in bloodthirsty amusement. In the traditional trenches of lucha libre, few things are more serious than a wrestler putting his mask up against another wrestler’s (The variations of this stipulation—hair versus hair, belt versus mask, and so forth—have similar gravitas, but nothing’s quite as potentially ruinous for a combatant’s career than the loss of their cowl, and the identity that it provides), and so—bingo, bango, bongo—we have the basis of the second in the loteria series.

 

Sustantivos, sustantivos, sustantivos.

La Mascara. Not a mask. The mask.

But, as noted above, something gets lost in translation, in terms of the depiction. People wonder why the guy’s got two masks; they don’t get why he’s missing a piece of his own. The iterative of “mascara” leads to assumptions that there’s eye makeup involved, which really shoots the works. Compared to the relative simplicity of this piece…

 

El Capitan.

… the efforts to really capture an essential aspect of something that I’ve loved the stuffing out of since I was a wee geek really works against it’s commercial appeal. The piece above, which was entitled Capitan Chiapas is—in hindsight, anyway—a less detailed and sophisticated piece of work (I had a hell of a time figuring out how to model a set of relatively anatomically-correct ribs, and getting them to stay put), with as generic a base as I’ve ever committed to a piece, but it sold—literally—within an hour of being put up on Etsy.

Ol’ EPG, on the other hand, has been sitting patiently at The Folk Tree for two weeks now, and was collecting dust on that same Etsy tip for at least a month and a half prior. It’s a classic case of how even the most seemingly infinitesimal differences in a basic premise can have a blunt-ended impact on a piece’s commercial prospects… but it also reminds me just how important it is to do what you want in this artistic arena, rather than trying to figure out what the heck people are actually going to be falling all over themselves to buy.

As the great Joel Hodgson once put it: “(We) never ask ourselves who’s going to get it… we always tell ourselves that the right people will get it.”

Words to live by; words to craft by.

Loteria Number Nineteen: La Pirata (The Pirate)

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(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following post starts out with one of those weird-ass tangents about something that may or may not speak to the whole bonesmithing process, specifically the importance of numbers. As someone who hates math with a kerosene-burning passion, I won’t be all creaky or weepy if you just bump down to where the rest of the pictures are. Seriously, now.)

One of the biggest design-related pratfalls that I’ve had to contend with during my shift into making “commercial-caliber calacas” was coming up with some sort of uniform concept for the bases. I use the same standard three-by-five, off-the-shelf craft plaques that artists like Jerry Vigil and Clay Lindo do, but I’ve also bumped up against fundamental design issues when figuring out what the heck to do with them: is it enough to have a character standing on a street? Does it screw up the basic aesthetic (or hedge on offensiveness) if I use a flag motif? Should I try to incorporate some basic impression of a setting (i.e. floorboards, a carpet, a hopscotch game) or just try to separate it from the design of the figure, itself?

As I touched on during my meandering write-up about the La Revolucionaria piece, a lot of this was alleviated the moment that I came up with the loteria concept. This didn’t just give me a solid, brand-style “go-to” in terms of differentiating my work from that of my talented contemporaries (Much like Jerry’s preference for using a striking cobalt blue on his calaveras, there’s no mistaking a “Tamra Kohl skull” or a Nee “micro-sculpt.” In a medium where you’re basically all playing with the same half-dozen bones, having something that separates you from being just another person messing around with another culture’s tradition is pretty damn important, all said), but provided for another unexpected benefit: raw, unalloyed inspiration.

I can’t claim to know much about numerology, but I do know that numbers are sewn right into the fabric of who we are. The whirligig of life only stops occasionally for birthdays, anniversaries, death-dates and other points of interest, the majority of which are stapled firmly into our consciousness through the indelible presence of a number: I may not remember what color my shirt was on the night of my first kiss with the woman who would eventually become my wife, but I can tell you that it happened thirteen years ago, on November the 16th. Memories slip, feelings fade, but numbers—once committed—do not slide.

That being the case, the use of a number—simple as it seems—has become something to strike sparks off of. For example, this piece: originally intended to just be a “lady pirate” (Inspired from the Anne Bonney frescos that were once in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride queue at Disneyland) it instead turned itself into a gift for a longtime friend, based on little more than the question of what its designated numero would be.

“A dolly? The surprise is a dolly?”

Sequentially, it would have been number five, in the series. But in terms of impressing a specific point—that being the fact that I had known the person in question for nearly twenty years—it suddenly seemed more appropriate to brand it as number nineteen. At this point, I’m still clinging to the silly vanity that I’ll be able to make it to the century mark with these suckers, someday: as such, each number should only wind up being used, once.

19.

Nineteen won’t get a better or more-deserving shake, which sealed it: as a result, I completely changed the character’s design and shifted gears from it being a generic conversation piece to a tailor-made token of my appreciation for a nearly life-long friendship. As a new mom, “Captain TEC” wound up cameo-ing her lovely baby daughter, along with another earmark of our mutual, geeky interest: a copy of the same Guybrush Threepwood voodoo doll that Ghost Pirate LeChuck is brandishing on the cover of the original Monkey Island 2 game box. The simple inclination of changing a number breathed an entirely new degree of life into what would have been just another skeleton in search of someone to love it, which—as I’ve rambled on about before—is one of those things that keeps you going, as an artist. Ebb or flow, you can at least count on the gratitude of the people you care about to keep your levels of inspiration on the up-and-up.

Another bonus: making these for friends means that they probably won’t send them back. On some days, that’s a cause worth fighting for.

Sibling Revelry (2011)

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If there’s one lesson that I’ve really taken to the chin in the last two years, it’s that the actual process of creation is only one minor, finite aspect of the whole artistic identity. That isn’t to imply deep and profound realizations on the soul of expression or even some sense of newly-minted creative confidence, but—in giving myself at least a spoonful of credit—I have to say that I’ve become more at peace with the ups and downs that this craft brings with it in recent months than I have… hell, maybe ever. A lot of that has to do with being blessed by great support from the usual suspects, but a lot of it also has to do with the ongoing process of making these things for loved ones.

There’s a decided similarity between struggling towards consistent, artistic credibility and having your creative Id repeatedly donkey-punched, as I’ve found. One month, you can’t do anything wrong: you make the right pieces, you sell the lights out, and you make those deeply-rooted connections with your local community that only a really resonant art show can bring.

Then, two weeks later, you find yourself with cluttered shelves and a serious case of doubt in not only your abilities, but also your judgment. You glare warily at the crap you’ve put together, and wonder what the hell compelled you to believe that anybody in their right mind would ever cough up a nickel for something like that. You hem and haw and swear that you’re done with trying to impress your imaginary constituency (Much like Homer Simpson shaking his fist at “the people who don’t live there!”), and then—like clockwork—you trip over your principles and find yourself furiously winding the whole thing up again, slashing up clay and twisting wires at 3AM on some Tuesday morning.

But it’s those bounce-back times that always wind up being a good excuse to knock out a personal piece. The unsolicited, unexpected expression of appreciation for a friend or family member; that shot in the eyeballs that one needs to get out of the muck, and back onto the ol’ bone-horse.

In the case of today’s throwback—from about a year ago—the means really did dress the ends nicely. Exhausted from work, finding absolutely no joy in the usual creative outlets, I wound up finally cashing in on that one calaca that I’d been saving for a rainy day: the inevitable diorama that I’d been promising my sister for months.

… gloriously goofy as it may be.

As probably goes without saying, this piece went from being a relatively manageable calaca-built-for-one to the monster wall-hanging seen here. The base is about 10”x7” with a custom (and badly) scrolled piece of pine serving as the backdrop; additional to that was the insidiously detailed assembly required for each “kart.” As you can likely guess, each piece was inspired by those long and forever-lost hours of hitting each other with SNES controllers while playing endless Mario Kart tourneys among friends.

Kart One: The “Silverfire 6000.” Front view.

Kart One: The “Silverfire 6000.” Rear-view.

Kart Two: The “Cannibal Twin-8.” Front View.

Kart Two: The “Cannibal Twin-8.” Rear view.

It should also confirm that despite that being twenty years ago, my sister and I are apparently the same self-referential, ridiculous knobs that we’ve always been. For a relationship that’s defined the better part of my life, nothing short of total excess would do, and—looking back—the resulting creative high that came with actually succeeding at building this thing was enough to fuel my absurdist pursuits for another full year. Even divided by miles and decades, making somebody you care about happy is one of the most potent weapons at a person’s disposal… whether it’s the art of expression, or just the ol’ art of being alive and kicking.

If you gotta say it, say it with a mush-slap and a Bob-omb.

From the Working Table: Dobre den!

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It’s with much ado about nothing in particular that this blog officially goes live; for those of you who have happened upon this dusty little tchotchke shop, it’s going to serve as something of a “storefront” for my recreational artistic activities. I specialize in making Mexican “dia de los muertos” figurines and statuettes–fondly referred to as “calaveras” or “calacas” in the appropriate circles–and have been selling my wares through various channels for the last two years.

I’m hoping to establish a bit of a one-sided rapport in regards to the methods and madness behind the art form, both as a means to archive the ongoing development of my craft, as well as a way to hold myself accountable in maintaining a steady work schedule. I’ve noticed that the implication of having an audience (Even if one doesn’t really exist; or it just happens to be a collective of friends, well-wishers and family members) is a great source of motivation, when it comes to knuckling down and getting pieces done.

Comments, questions and whatever else are more than welcome. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

-cc.