Paul Schiola of ‘Sputnik Supplies’ is an American artist, sculptor and designer toy maker currently bringing innovation to the scene through his DIY Made In USA designer toys.
Paul’s approach to art and life is simple stating that he would most like to be remembered for:
“Being a nice person and for making some cool fun toys.“
(Picture below of Paul hard at work making his toys)
With many figures already behind him, and a growing online presence, now is the perfect time to get to know Paul and his creations, by reading the ‘Art Talk’ below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Paul James Schiola
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Denver, Colorado USA
City, State n Country you’re from?
Same as above
Describe a memory from three stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together your pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING man!
* age 5 – beginnings:
My father really liked movies and hipped me to a bunch of cool stuff when I was young. He turned me onto the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Hitchcock, and Universal Monsters.
Our family was 5 kids plus Mom and Dad with 3 older brothers and a younger sister. So on Sunday mornings the paper would get divvied up. The sports page would go to Dad, Mom would get her pick then the rest was given to us.
By the time it got down to me and my sister there was not much of interest left. So I would grab the TV guide. I studied the darn thing every week circling every horror or sci-fi movie I could find. Then I would plan on when and what I could watch.
Lucky for me in my young formative years they showed the Creature Feature syndicated series of movies in Denver as well as something named Sci Fi Flix which would show mainly sci-fi movies as opposed to Creature features which showed mostly horror.
One aired on Friday night the other on Saturday night.
This viewing built a solid foundation for my ravenous interest in movies going forward.
(Picture below of Paul age 7)
* age 10 – continuations:
One spring afternoon on a Friday my oldest brother Frank came home from high school and had found some copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland under his desk at his last class for the day. He knew whose they were and planned on returning them to the owner on Monday. I was fascinated with them, this being my first exposure to the magazine.
Frank said I could look through them as long as I did not mess them up. So carefully I read through all the copies over the weekend several times and realized I had found my home. I started tracking down shops that sold the magazine and would haunt them until the latest FM hit the shelves.
A monster kid was born and baptized in pulp paper and ink.
During this same time period my father who was a rather talented artist decided to get back into painting and recognizing my interest in drawing and sculpting decided to have me join him for an oil painting class.
This was my first exposure to fine art painting and I really enjoyed it.
This planted the seed in me that I wanted to be an artist.
* age 15 – getting serious:
Having the time to experiment with different art materials I was always drawn to sculpting.
I discovered ceramics in junior high art class and dove in head first making dragons and monster vessels and came up with an incense burner that was a dragon with his mouth open and vents through the nostrils for the smoke. These proved to be popular at art sales we had annually.
At home when not working at our family business and going to school I made clay aliens and creatures and made stop motion super 8 mm movies with them.
I was to have parental support for my interests because during the transition from junior high to high school I found out sophomores could not enroll in art classes.
Luckily the 2 art teachers for the high school also recognized my talent and gave the permission for me to take classes in my first years. Then I knew it was part of me for life. It provided me with an additional year of art classes to explore mediums and push limits.
I was watching everything horror and monster related I could get my hands on. There was a cheap theatre that would run or rather re-run movies from the 70’s. They usually had double features and 2 different theatres. So pay your 75 cents and hide in the bathroom until the other side started and sneak in.
* age 20 – young adult:
College was a good thing for me at the time.
I had recently lost my father and being an adolescent without male guidance can be troubling. It gave me a focus.
I was working 40 hours a week and taking 12 to 15 credit hours a semester. At about this age I changed the emphasis of my degree from fine arts drawing to sculpture where I learned to weld, use the full complement of wood working tools, make molds and cast various materials as well as a full ceramic studio where once (and being a total gore hound-horror fanatic punk rocker) I acquired a dead cat (I love ALL ANIMALS and did not harm this cat in any way) and wrapped the poor creature in strips of fiberglass cloth dipped in ceramic glaze. Then I placed him on a bisque fired hand rolled ceramic slab and released his soul in a firing process called Sagar firing. My friend David who walked in on me wrapping the cat still loves to mention it at parties.
Video was everywhere so the obscure horror and sci-fi videos where everywhere. What little spare time I had was spent going to movies or renting stacks of videos and binging on them.
Denver also had a few cool art theatres that showed different stuff so I could always see Eraser Head, or Pink Flamingos, or Night of the Living Dead.
* age 25 – adult mode:
Reality sets in.
There was no way I was going to spend money on a graduate degree and be in debt the rest of my life. It made no sense. Teaching jobs are rare and gaining experience pre-internet was more difficult than most realize.
I truly wanted to get into special effects but back then there were no schools as there are now.
So worked 40 hours a week and made art on the weekends and tried to hunt down shows.
This is when I discovered garage model kits and started to sculpt and make my own kits. It is also when I went ape making latex masks and puppets.
It was a good time artistically.
(Picture below of Paul back in 1989)
* age 30 – fully formed:
I continued to sculpt in various materials and was making metal sculpture sort of a neo-primitive style using found metal signs and creating rusting techniques to get specific patterns and making masks and large metal deities.
Apocalyptic in essence and we opened my gallery with my one man show. It was a lot of fun and actually sold some pieces. That helped and I was invited to put pieces in different shows and was actually asked to be in an invitational show at Denver University.
(Picture below of some early sculptural work by Paul)
“I’m only one man.”
Being an old school (1970-80) punk rocker I love the old punk stuff, but was raised on Jazz.
I love anything from the Stax catalog and for that matter R&B and Soul from the 50’s -70’s.
We are lucky in Colorado to have a 24 hour jazz radio station that I listen to most of the time.
Soundtracks from my favorite Japanese TV shows, and other movies are also a staple for me.
Favorite TV show(s)?
Ultraman, Twilight Zone, Prisoner, Monty Pythons Flying Circus, The Young Ones, Zone Fighter, All Star Wrestling, and Dobie Gillis.
Man, do you have a year?
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
Not much of a sports fan.
I like traditional boxing, World Cup Soccer, martial arts in general. Not so much the mixed grappling as I get older.
On man…..maybe I should attach our DVD list which would be the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say I love old movies.
I can turn on TCM and watch whatever is on.
I do have a low threshold for musicals though.
Favorite books and comics?
I dearly love to read and read all manner of fiction, horror, sci-fi, westerns, detective and PI stuff especially pulp style.
Anything about movies and movie directors.
My favorite magazines, which I have been reading since the inception, are Video Watchdog, Filmfax, and some comics , mainly horror stuff from the 50’s and 60’s.
Super heroes never really did it for me. I also loved the true crime comics and the war comics from EC.
Trashier the better!
Why the name ‘Sputnik Supplies’?
I was told once by a garage kit producer that “The reason I hate you is you are so fucking innovative”. Which I took as a huge compliment.
I have a knack for making neglected or extremely obscure subject matter.
As the Sputnik satellite was so ground breaking to the U.S. in the 50’s and changed the way we saw the world. I am trying to do the same in the toy world if possible. Change the way we see toys and art and bring true collectability to toys.
Favorite other artist(s)?
Izumi Takabe, Brent Armstrong, Jamie D. MacFarlane, Robert Williams, Michelangelo, H.M.Bosch, and Dali.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Dealing with galleries and small minded people.
Ignorant attitudes as to what is considered fine art and what is not.
People making up rules to control what they feel should be called art.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Not having to deal with any of it now.
I call the shots. Make what I like and as many as I like.
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
If people call it art fine, if not that is fine also.
I feel what I do is make fine art toys.
Most of what I make or produce is rather obscure, which reflects my tastes in many things. If the source is easily accessible and everywhere I will not be involved, but if it is the off-beat and/or lesser known that is where I dwell.
In how I am working now I see it like a fine art print maker. I make small runs (10-50 tops) of toys, all hand cast and painted by me, including variants such as glow in the dark and one of a kind paint jobs.
(Pictures below of an article in ‘Model Art Australia‘ about Paul’s work from 2013)
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
From my earliest recollection I have always enjoyed working with my hands.
My father had given me a pocket knife at a pretty young age and I would whittle all manner of stuff, but mostly animals.
I started drawing when I was 4 or 5.
What did you draw as a pre-teen child?
I usually drew monsters, after watching kaiju on TV I would try to draw what I saw in the movie or any other monster movie I happen to see. Often times using Famous Monsters of Filmland or Monster Times, or even Castle Frankenstein as reference material.
What did you draw as a teen?
Monsters either I would see on TV or in the movies or original ideas for monsters (usually giant monsters). Spaceships and outer space vistas too.
I would also work on small clay figures that I would make crude stop motion movies of with my father’s super 8mm camera.
Not having any practical experience with stop motion and using hot lights to light the set my figures would start to droop and I would have to shut everything down and wait for it to cool and start over again. Nonetheless, it made a long process even longer. But it was always fun to see the results and share them with a few friends.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
I was very lucky that both my parents recognized an interest and talent in me.
My father drew and painted very well, but had stopped most likely due to time constraints. He had to work 2 jobs and my folks had 5 kids to raise so time was always an issue. When he got older he returned to painting and it really fueled the fire in me.
Unfortunately, we lost our father way too young (he died at 50).
So yes my parents where pivotal for me. They took us to see art shows at the Denver Art Museum and gave me emotional support to head down a less beaten path.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I went to state college and graduated with a BFA emphasis in sculpture. Then I was set loose upon the world.
I worked full time and at that time I lived in the heart of Denver in an ancient Victorian house, fondly referred to by friends as the haunted house due to is looking like the Munsters’ house. So I struck out to try to get into shows.
The atmosphere in Denver in the mid to late 80’s was odd. Most of the small galleries were co-ops. So you needed to be a member, or a close friend of a member, or buy beer for the head of the gallery…..just pathetic behavior from so-called adults. This really pissed me off. There was no distinction if you had any talent or could carry a show by yourself – it was just a big “clubhouse”. Either you were a member and got shows or you picked up the crumbs on that once-a-year open show and hoped to hell the cliché that ran the gallery would vote to have your piece shown. Horseshit was my reaction.
Next to the house I rented was an old garage that had just become available. A friend of mine and I decided to rent it and start our own non co-op gallery named Cutthroat Art Space.
We ran it for about 3 years and had some wonderful shows. In most cases we would decide on an artist by chatting with them and then we would hand over the keys and tell them you have 2 weeks to set it up and then the opening.
We handled all the advertising, flyers, and basic promotion. We ran the gamut from grad students to offbeat New York filmmakers, to the infamous “I Hate X-mas” party.
(Picture below of Paul’s old house and associated gallery space)
You are self-described as coming from a “Fine Arts background”… care to elaborate further on this?
I started as a drawing major in college and focused mainly on drawing and painting. Then in my second year the drawing instructor pushed us toward collage for a particular assignment. Something clicked in my head and I just loved making collage work. I would use various types of colored and textured paper and work into it with pencil, color pencil and inks and was getting great results.
One day chatting with a friend over beer he jokingly said, “With you bent on 3D your next stop is sculpture.” Little did he know, he was right. I switched to a sculpture major and never looked back.
I have worked in found metal, plaster, wood, welded metal, bronze, and ceramic sculpture.
Describe the process of producing a self-designed “vinyl like” toy in America? – from original sculpt, molding, production, to finally holding that sweet sweet vinyl in your hands? (dot point all o.k.)
I have arrived at a point in my life where I want to make toys that I want and hopefully others do also.
So picking an idea to start with comes from my eclectic back ground of interests. Japanese television shows and movies, Lucha Libre, Mexican wrestler movies and Mexican Horror movies, European Horror and Sci-Fi Movies, English Television shows and movies and of course a solid grounding in American movies and Television.
So once a design is culled from these sources I then sculpt the prototype and design the parts break down.
Once completed, I then proceed in molding the prototype parts.
All the while I am sorting out what will work for a painting scheme.
Once molds are complete I do 1 initial casting to see how the molds will cast.
Once this initial casting is cured then I trim and clean it up and assemble the parts. Checking to be sure that any articulation moves smoothly and identify anything that may need to be modified in the mold.
Once I am satisfied I start casting like a mad man filling empty milk crates with parts. Depending on the item I usually try to get 20 good castings done before I proceed to clean up.
Clean up consists of me hand trimming the flashing and then grinding any seam lines down. Then I hand sand each part using a variety of grits of sanding pads. Then I shake the dust off myself and give all the cleaned up parts a bath in hot water and let them dry.
Once dry I inspect all the parts for defects, pits, voids, looking for anything not up to snuff.
Then all parts get a primer coat and possibly a quick sanding with 000 steel wool and another bath.
Then final painting. All the parts are painted then assembled. This way I can ensure good paint coverage to all areas. Then a protective clear coat and off to assembly.
Then bagging and staple on a header card.
From here into your sweaty, shaking hands to give you hours of playtime pleasure!
(Pictures below of Paul’s figures during assembly)
How are your self-made toys diffferent to your statues, material and production wise?
The statues I was producing were all made from polystone (polyester resin) and produced in China. Which is great if you have a large customer base for your items. You can have many produced with varying degrees of quality. This mass production started to get very expensive what with shipping, and customs charges. It all added up making it a losing bet for me.
Since I am doing more obscure figures now I feel it is better for me to make small runs (30 to 50 tops) making my toys a true art collectable toy instead of a mass produced item numbering from 1000 to 100000 or more.
Each one of my figures vary slightly to make it unique.
Care to explain exactly what “vinyl like” material(s) you use?
At this juncture I will hold my tongue about the material I am using if you do not mind.
Why did you decide to produce your toys in America… as opposed to the traditional home of sofubi – Japan?
One thing I have a difficult time with is letting someone else handle aspects of my production. Letting go of control I imagine is really the crux of it.
Additionally traditional sofubi production requires expensive metal tooling which puts it out of reach for my small run concept. Not that I would not entertain it if a Japanese company contacted me.
That being said my office is full of traditionally made sofubi that I dearly love.
Each one is an education in toy making for me, plus hours of playing enjoyment!
What are the back narratives / tales to some of your kaiju toy creations such as:
* Ro Boy?
He is a concept gathered from 2 different worlds. The most obvious one is Roman from the movie Robot Monster. This B movie has haunted my memory for years and is a true guilty pleasure of mine.
One day I was looking at the few Big Boy vinyl banks and figures my wife has bought me through the years and thought of the beauty of American diner food coupled with B movies. Sort of a look back into time when drive-in movies and diners were the staple of the American culture and viola – Ro-Boy. The cross between diner food and B movies.
The tag line for Ro-Boy is “conquering the universe one planet at a time”.
Fries with that sir?
(Pictures below of the Ro Boy figure from ‘Sputnik Supplies’)
* the Three Eyed Goomer?
Being a huge fan of the movie Angry Red Planet and already many years ago getting a shot at sculpting a large model kit of the Rat Bat Spider form this movie, I had always wanted to make something else from that movie.
So re-watching it one day it dawned on me that no one has really given much time to the almost unseen narrator from Mars who I nicknamed the 3-Eyed Goomer. So upon doing research on the critter I discovered that first off one of the little people who played a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz was tasked to wear the costume. And secondly, only the top half of the costume was ever made.
So I spent some time imagining what his lower portion would look like and came to the hula skirt concept that I used on my Goomer.
Really I wanted one for myself to mess with!
(Pictures below of some colour-ways of the Three Eyed Goomer figure from ‘Sputnik Supplies’)
* the Creatures of Terror?
These creatures are from another odd film that I had seen once as a child and it really wigged me out. The English movie, “Island of Terror.” It seems either you have seen it or it’s not your kind of film. It starred Peter Cushing.
These creatures Silicates are the least represented creature in film history. I started with a 3 creature set with magnets in them I produced about 10 years ago. As the years went on I decided I wanted to make a larger one that I could produce myself and again I wanted one to play with.
These were fun and I did a bunch of variant paint schemes for these. Black and silver, metallic flake and silver, burnt orange and lime green as well as many that are the color of the movie critter.
(Pictures below of the Creature of Terror figure from ‘Sputnik Supplies’)
Tag was an extension of my interest in Mexican movies. With prodding from my friend Keith Rainville (of Parts Unknown magazine) I wanted to make Mexican monsters to go along with the wonderful Mexican vinyl wrestler toys that have been made over the years.
So I picked one of the wildest Mexican movies with pound for pound more monsters in it than most and went to “Ship of Monsters” (aka La Nave de los Monstruos 1960) which is truly a sci-fi comedy. In a nutshell Venus has run out of men and 2 Venusian women are sent to Earth with a load of crazy monsters to secure more breeding stock. I will let your imagination take it from there.
Tagual is the first in the series.
I will also make the Cyclops and at least one other monster from this movie and will be making many more Mexican monsters from all manner of Mexican horror and sci-fi movies.
(Picture below of the Tagual figure from ‘Sputnik Supplies’)
Resin Vs. Vinyl toys – who wins and why?
To be honest I use both materials in my toys when needed.
Small thin parts hold up better if made from resin so in my case antenna specifically need to be resin.
Both materials are great and have good and bad issues with them.
But because of where I came from I embrace any material that will make my toys better and last a long time.
Are art-toys for the kids?
Well according to my wife (Barb) I am the biggest kid on the planet so yes kids that are like me will love my toys!
Actually they are really for the adults who enjoy collecting odd toys, or the very mature youngsters who also collect.
I have a choking hazard warning on the packaging of each figure and recommend that the figures are for those 14 and over.
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
The climate seems to be ever-changing and mutating. Art has become more accessible due to technology and art toys are just another extension of the large house that is called art. This house art has many rooms for many different tastes.
The Nerds (who I count myself among them) are driving the art toy boat for sure and they seem to be open minded about it.
Too much time…….what is that exactly?
What does your family make of the whole perpetual adolescence/Peter Pan aspect of toy art + toy collecting?
They damn well better be used to it by now!
I am lucky and have a wonderful supportive wife who not only puts up with my toy collecting but actually nurtures it and backs me up. She attends shows with me and covers the table when I need to break away for a few minutes. Barb splits the driving with me when we drive to shows. She is my sounding board and more often than not will be hailed into my work shop with me putting the questions to her, “Does this look like I am on the right path?” or “Does this color look good?”
My Mom is also super supportive and always a good source of fuel when I get down.
My siblings may not understand, but they get a kick out of what I am doing and always express an interest.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
Like all kids I loved toys and model kits growing up.
I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s when all manner of cool toys were being made.
I feel lucky to have lived when I did when distractions were minimum and time was available to play and develop a strong imagination.
What drove you to become a toy collector?
Being raised in a family with 5 kids and my father not making much money made us happy with what we received.
But seeing all the cool toys and stuff I could not have fueled the fire for me to be a collector.
Primarily now I only collect Japanese vinyl toys.
As I have gotten older I have tightened my focus on what I really want to collect and for the past 15 years that is vinyl.
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in America?
Born and raised in the great state of Colorado has been fun. My family came here from Italy 3 generations ago and not many of us left.
As I stated earlier I was lucky to grow up when I did. I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation so pre video tapes and computers. I split my summers working with my father and playing outside with friends and having marathon model building sessions in someone’s back yard. Gathering around the kids to watch Godzilla movies in front of the TV, huge games of Risk that involved all the kids on the block. My folks piling us in the station wagon and going to the drive-in theater.
Lucky is the way I see it.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Here name was Lori Schumacher.
I was in the 3rd grade and had no clue as to what I was feeling. She was one cute girl and really stole my heart.
Does sex change everything?
No, it just expands your life experience and hopefully helps you understand how relationships work.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
Interestingly enough I am one of those folks who rarely remembers their dreams.
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
Yes. I found it very intense and for me on occasion very stimulating creatively.
But this is not always the case.
I have seen folks go off the deep end.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
Hopefully for being a nice person and for making some cool fun toys.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
This is a personal choice and a person has to really pin down whether or not to use them. Everyone is affected by drugs differently, whether it’s alcohol, pot, speed or what have you. Some drugs are too addicting and can ruin lives.
Hopefully a person will be educated enough to know what they are dealing with and steer clear of what does not work for them.
Careful experimentation if one chooses the drug or alcohol is ok and a choice.
Please describe what you think the American Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
Seriously concerning and sadly drastically polarized. I feel as a culture we flushed our “culture” down the toilet years ago and sustain ourselves with a diet of sports and horrible excuses for entertainers.
The din of the uneducated is near impossible to penetrate with any true logic or facts.
Simply put, it’s frightening.
It reminds of what I have read about in pre-World War II in Germany.
How, in your opinion, has Colorado changed since the legalization of marijuana?
I think it has kicked the guts out of illegal sales and has done wonders for our state from the sales taxes.
The thing is, people who used it before it was legal are now just getting it legally, thus eliminating a “crime.”
Now the quality is much better as well as the variety.
So in a nutshell it has been good.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I will be working with Jamie D. McFarlane again which always makes me happy.
Any major projects you want to hype?
There are a lot of new projects coming.
A 1:1 Tingler, a few really fun monsters from Jamie D. McFarlane, and the Cyclops form Ship of Monsters to mention a few.