Tim Bruckner, one of the pioneers of the comics/fantasy toy field has worked for companies such as Kenner, Gentle Giant and DC Direct, as well as companies such as Maxx Factor, Hallmark, American Greeting, and The Franklin Mint. You can check him out here.
When did you start sculpting? How did you come to choose this art form?
It’s an old story. I started sculpting when I was about seven. In the old days… and I mean before color TV, even – there was this odd candy treat. A wax tube, maybe five inches long, that contained a super-sweet flavored syrup that could take you to the edge of insulin shock in just a swallow or two. One afternoon, after consuming several sugar coma sticks, I balled up a tube and started sculpting it, using a straight pin, into the head of one of the Seven Dwarves. To my eye, it was so good, I half-expected it to speak. In reality, it probably looked more like a diseased thumb. But that’s when I contracted sculptingitise. And I’m still infected. As far as having a choice? I’ll tell you the same thing anyone in the arts, any of them, will tell you. You don’t choose it, it chooses you. You can try. But sooner or later, it makes you out for the fool you are.
How does one become a master sculptor? What was your training like and who did you work with?
No one in their right mind sets out to become a master sculptor. The job description alone should be enough to discourage anyone with half a brain. You accept the fact that, for many years, you’re going to suck. And the best you can hope for, as time goes on, is, you suck less. If you’re lucky enough and work hard enough, you get to the point where you achieve some kind of consistency. You’ll produce more good pieces than not-so-good pieces. You can be relied on to do good work, maintain a good professional attitude and try and stay out of your own way. Even then, you’re going to screw up. The only thing you have going for you is an irrational desire to someday make real the intangibles swimming around in your imagination. But, a Master Sculptor, you’re not. That’s something decided, not by you, but by someone else, anyone else, long after you’re in an urn or a pine box somewhere.
I had no formal training. I used to think that put me at a disadvantage. But I’m not so sure, anymore. Haydn (and I am in no way comparing myself to him) said that, his originality stemmed from working, for the most part, in isolation. If I have a style or a spark of originality, it’s due to having to find it on my own. I’ve also been extraordinarily lucky to have crossed paths with some amazingly creative and generous people. This is where I shamelessly name-drop. I’ve been lucky to have worked with people whose names are drop-worthy. But I won’t. I hate that crap. If a recollection can’t hold up without a weighty name, its not much of a story.
Funny, I got more from people not in the plastic arts. The musicians I’ve known taught me how to be more flexible creatively. One of the most profound insights into my creative process I got from the guy that used to clean the studio I used to work at.
And what made you decide to work in wax?
My first job, as a professional, was working in a jewelry store on the wrong side of Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills. If you worked in the jewelry trade, you worked in wax. It was just lucky that I’d already done a little wax work when I was a kid. Then I found Cellini’s treatise on goldsmithing, and that was it. I bastardized his wax formula and bought my own wax pen. Having tried a bunch of different sculpting materials, I haven’t found anything that is as accommodating as wax. There ain’t nothing it can’t do, and nothing you can’t do with it. As a hands-for-hire sculptor, its also the most efficient. You can make revisions easily and quickly.
Can you tell us about the first project you completed?
I’ve been at this a long time. At this point, anything longer ago than two weeks ago, and I’m guessing. If we’re talking just me finishing stuff, I did that all the time. But, professionally? It was probably a lion head belt buckle I did when I was eighteen. I still have a wax casting of it. And, in hindsight, it ain’t bad. It was kind of like the lions outside the New York Public Library. Anyway, it was heroic. It wasn’t the portrait of a lion, it was a portrait of heroism using a lion as a vehicle. But at eighteen, I didn’t have a clue. Some of this stuff happens and its only a good deal of time later, do you understand what you did. Kind of like lyrics to a song.
Do you have a dedicated studio for your work? What’s it like?
Yep. For a few years, I worked out of what became our daughter’s bedroom. I had travel paths. It was kind of like a maze. A tiny maze in a very small room. Then we converted one of the out buildings into my out-of-the-house studio. Being used to working in a very small and cramped space, suddenly working in a space with four times the lateral room and double the vertical room, it freaked me out little. But I got over it. That was Studio A. A couple of years later, we pushed out in that same building to make Studio B. A few years after that, we pushed up and made Studio C. Studio A is sculpting and designing, and has the best sound system. Studio B is mold making, resin casting and cleaning. Studio C is painting, photography and computer stuff. I spend a LOT of time in that building, so there are some small concessions to comfort. And, I get to wear slippers to work.
What is your favorite project of all time?
Its all bits and pieces. I like bits and pieces. I like the Karloff in Belle et la Bete. I like the look in A Little Mischief’s eyes. There are bits and pieces in a lot of my stuff that I like. Because I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately, the studio is crammed with stuff. Consequently, I’m confronted with more of my work on a daily basis than I would be ordinarily. That constant contact has allowed me to be a little more forgiving and less judgmental. Or maybe its just be getting old. But, there’s nothing, either personally or professionally, that I like entirely.
Your own personal works range from cheeky cute to totally bizarre, from familiar faces to far-out creations. What inspires you?
Not to get all Star Trek, but the unknown gets me off. And is there anything more mysterious and confounding than the human condition? How to tell a story with a single frame. Each sculpture should try, at least, to include what happened before, what’s happening now, and what will happen. It’s not always possible, but one should be aware. I like anomaly. I feel more comfortable in the skin that doesn’t fit quite right. I know what that is. I’ve know it my whole life.
Sculpting isn’t your only passion. What are some of your other interests?
Music. I’ve played it. Written it. Produced it. Recorded it. I listen to it all day long. Everyday. Music is as close to alchemy as you can get. I love the written word. I write, albeit, poorly. But because I do it not very well, I appreciate those that do it masterfully. I’m not very deep. I have the overall depth of a wading pool. Nonetheless, I love Dickens, Doyle, Chandler, Hammet. I like the natural sciences. I’m a huge movie fan. The older, the better. Bride of Frankenstein is one of my all time faves. I enjoy religion and politics like some people enjoy tennis and football. I enjoy minutia. I love funny. And the perverse, in the abstract.
If you didn’t sculpt awesome figures for a living, what would you want to do?
If, one day, I could wake up, sit at the piano and play Chopin, I’d never pick up another sculpting tool in my life. I can’t imagine what that’d be like. I suppose it would be similar to suddenly being able to sculpt like, Michelangelo or Cellini, or Bernini, or St. Gaudens. But you’d still be left with your own merger mind. You’d have the skill, but not the invention. Playing Chopin, you’d have both.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Follow a passion. Knowing it will change. Don’t be afraid to fail. Make friends with Failure. Invite him in. Let him pull up a chair. Offer him a beverage. With Failure as a friend, he’s a whole lot less intimidating. Success is who you need to be wary of. She’s such a flirt. But she won’t go home with you. And, above all else, listen to the dead. Everybody breathing is stealing from a bunch of other mouth breathers. You want some real insight? Steal from some really good dead guys (non gender specific). It’s a lot harder to trace theft after a couple of hundred years.