I stand in the Pasadena Convention Center stifling an inner trembling lower lip. Smiling Luke Skywalker sculptures, surround me incongruously along with grinning Godzillas, jocular Jar Jars, smirking skeletons, leering Lando Calrissians, amused androids and beaming Boba Fetts—well, no probably not but I can only imagine the face behind the mask…
So commences my experience of this year’s 8th annual Designer Con and while my emotional brain isn’t really all that overwhelmed, my pragmatic mind wonders how I’m going to cram it all in. Oh, and okay so it’s not all Star Wars-centric but those are the characters with which I am most familiar; therefore I appeal to the broadest common denominator.
I am told I should walk around for a bit…and I do–but not before snapping a quick photo of Julius the Monkey creator Paul Frank standing in front of the Park La Fun booth. But like a stumbled-upon Sarlacc’s splintered lair on an asteroidal anthropology excavation, after awhile, there is nothing to do but dig in.
The first booth I plunge into would be that of “DeeTen”. The most arresting feature here; stuffed pillowey kitty cats as far as the eye can see. They wear a patch over one eye, yet the other eye looks as though it’s none the better for wear. All are clad in purple with a ruffle at the neck a la Prince or Shirley Jones in nearly every Partridge Family concert she ever gave. “They are Steampunk inspired,” says the creator. I’m somewhat familiar with Steampunk, but even MORE familiar with DAFT Punk. Does that count? (Uuuh—NO!) He then goes on to explain that they are “Articats” brought back from 1886 via an expedition that began in the 1930s. The manner in which he makes this declaration, I am almost inclined to believe he is NOT just riffin’ on his imagination and has come from a parallel universe wherein he has procured these retro-novelties. www.facebook.com/arbydeeten
The next booth of interest houses “The Barber’s Son” and they, essentially uh…produce rotten produce, or what my friend Cheri will say, “Looks like GMO sh*&!” Like a reverse Mr. Potato Head, each head of fruit has a skeletal body that is consistent but the heads are interchangeable. Now mostly apples, “The Barber’s Son” will eventually move on to manufacture all other species of produce and I am lucky enough to see and shoot a picture of their latest prototypes. “So, what inspired the name, ‘The Barber’s Son’?” I query. “Well his (pointing to the tallest of the members) dad’s a barber so…” “And so was Charlie Brown’s father!” say I…out of nowhere. And while the company’s owner may not be bald, the fruit is so I find it somehow fitting. The.firstname.lastname@example.org.
I move on, past the Dia De Los Muertos-themed Darth Vader, the Robots, UFOs, Japanese Anime-Style renderings and anti-Hummel figurines (some with bodaciously bare breasts) the likes of which your grandmother would NEVER bequeath and a guy dressed like a giant ice cream cone…
…Until I stumble upon a booth sporting prints of nearly every Internet meme known to woman, the most noted, the Internet (mouse) hand reaching out to touch the Michelangelo-inspired hand from “The Creation of Adam”. “All prints are the intellectual property of the artists but we also hand make original prints for resale,” say Daniel Rolnik and Ryan McIntosh the masterminds behind “Intellectual Property Prints”. www.intellectualpropertyprints.com.
Rolnik “A bearded cool guy,” according to his miniature bio on the back of his business card and McIntosh “a lion tamer…(who) backpacked through Iceland for 3 months & survived off of rainwater & mustard packets” are like two happy, peace-inducing gurus in geekery and I leave their booth in a most happily halcyon state…UNTIL—right in front of my path pops a most ferocious beast to be reckoned with—one of the largest inanimate creatures here so far in the form of a googley-eyed gargantuan Godzilla. A woman sits in front of the fiend as though feigning her awareness of his presence for the sake of suspense. An R2D2 about 1/3 his size stands nearby but plucky ol’ R2’s not afraid of anything! I inch closer only to realize that the brute that has rendered me so belligerent is a mere Wool Buddy. “Wool Buddy” specializes in Wool Sculpture. A vision of artist and animator, Jackie Huang, it was a vehicle in order to design animation sculptures that his daughter could actually play with. “When I worked in animation I made sculptures, but they were too breakable.” He saw a woman making a felt flower one day, and the rest, as they say, is history. He then proceeded to create his daughter’s very first plaything in the form of a roly-poly penguin. It is adorable… www.WoolBuddy.com
Human Tree Robot exhibits a series of most ethereally beautiful steel sculptures and paintings of what look like UFOs, forests and well…the Human Tree Robot. “He’s not so much an alien (more like) a being representing what our future has become and he may as well be alien,” explains the creator who merely introduces himself to me as Mark. Human Tree Robot is essentially about “humanity, technology and the human condition” he goes on to say. I’ve seen Mark’s work at various art festivals and street fairs before and I think it is positively haunting, ethereal, and lovely…and I tell him so… http://humantreerobot.com/
My next stop of interest: Super Emo Buddies featuring the work of artist J Salvador. It features illustrations of distressed baby Wonder Women unable to find their invisible planes a disappointed Cat Woman lamenting, “He’s allergic to me.” But more prominent than anything are the Star Wars renderings: Luke Skywalker removing Anakin’s mask in their final touching non-ethereally worlded scene together as father and son, a disconsolate Boba Fett looking up at Han Solo in Carbonite namby pambily declaring, “I was just doing my job,” and a hanged Jar Jar Binks. Many of the characters look hilariously and adorably like Duplo People but with sad downturned eyes. I don’t chat with the artist long, for this is one of the most crowded booths I have seen thus far, but get a plethora of pictures that say a thousand words. Essentially, states Salvador, “In a moment of emotion, I wanted to combine Emo with superheroes. There was a demand for them and I kept making them,” each one more hilarious than the other. http://superemofriends.com/
“Manly Art” catches my eye, never mind the Testosteroneous nature of my assumption that it centers around all things masculine. Proprietor Jason Chalker embarked on his career as a pulp artist and the original name “just stuck, it also helped that the URL was available”. He hands me a business card that looks very much like a classic Star Wars bubblegum card and admits in the same feat that he is, himself, a sketch artist for Topps Collector Cards. He says he currently designs illustrated Star Wars cards based on the NPR radio drama series (a program I well remember). Of additional note, Chalker has also illustrated the “Mars Attacks” series. Each of his drawings encompassed “one piece of art per pack that only one person gets”—totally original. www.manlyart.com
Spencer Davis combines Art, Toysmithery and Erotica via the ever-so-feminine resin statues he produces in the name of “Booty Babe Art”. Toplessly voluptuous in nature, his figures range from streamlined, bootylicious pilots (via his “Booty Babe “Pilot Series”), busty Boba Fetts and all manner of divas and beach babes. He is currently launching a Kickstarter campaign to solicit people’s opinions in order to know what projects to produce in the future. www.BootyBabeArt.com
Valerie G is here all the way from Houston TX and owns Cultured Critter Collective, a series of pre-existing toys beautifully reworked via flawlessly patterned paints. Some toys of note? Ugly Dolls, Hello Kitty, Super 7—all made out of vinyl but some resemble ceramic, in particular due to G’s liberal use of resin. I pick one up, it feels like ceramic too! www.culturedcrittercollective.com
Anybody who knows me, knows I LOVE personified foodstuffs and I am just thinking of this as I pass the Mr. Toast booth. It is almost closing time so I ask the artist in residence what his concept for the Spray Art clocked-in –the-eye carrot, extraterrestrial toast and Darth Vaderish Bacon (which he will eventually disclose as Darth Bacon) is. He informs me he is the creator of Mr. Toast (a noted web comic) who would then go on to create more characters after foodstuffs via printed art, most notably Darth Bacon! http://www.theimaginaryworld.com/page3.html
One more display catches my eye, and then another. The second to last is “The Stranger Factory”. Hailing from Albuquerque New Mexico and featuring a collective of artists, stand-out characters include “Bubblegut”, a creature resembling a large-eyed (but cute) slug by artist Chris Ryniak, along with Sawdust Bear and various pink and feminine old time circus-looking creatures (though I’m not really sure why they look like they belong in the circus but they just do) by Kathie Olivas! http://strangerfactory.com/ http://www.circusposterus.com/
I almost forget to go to one last display (but not really)—booth 209, that of my newfound friend I have met upon entry, Jack Venturo in the guise of “Jackorama”—a veritable festival of dioramas. Though I have loved many displays, this one takes the cake and is the perfect cherry on the proverbial ice cream Sundae that has been today’s lunch, dinner and dessert all in one! Moreover, dioramas have always intrigued me since I was a little girl for their homemade dollhouse appeal and later as an actress for their miniature stage/set emulation. Jack Venturo is not present but his friend and writing partner John is. He informs me that while he and Jack write screenplays, Jack always loved making dioramas as a child. Eventually he started getting recognition for his work and now whenever he finds an action figure, he enjoys creating scenes from various movies surrounding it. My favorites would have to be the scenes featuring Han Solo encased in carbonite, Boba Fett waiting at a bus stop in front of a very active Sarlacc pit and the “Psycho” house mounted on an all-too-organic looking hill. http://www.jackorama.com/
So ends my experience of this year’s Designer Con. I am impressed, inspired and my lower lip no longer trembles as I smile in unison with all the fun, interesting and appealing characters, Star Wars themed or otherwise.
For more information on Designer Con, please visit: http://www.designercon.com/