Friday, April 2, 2010


Translating a piece of 2D art into 3D is a challenge every hands-for-hire sculptor faces throughout their career. The nature of the art, and how stylized or impressionistic it is, often determines how successful the translation, but to translate a piece of 2D art into 3D and perfectly maintain its 2D character is damn near impossible. Jon Matthews achieved the impossible in sculpting Mike Mignola’s Batman for DC Direct’s Batman Black and White series. When I first saw the solicitation picture, I thought, like most everyone else, that I was looking at a Mignola illustration. Maybe Jon didn’t have time to finish the piece and so they used Mignola’s art in the interim. When I learned that I was looking at the actual statue, I was gobsmacked, as the English say. It's a brilliant piece of sculpture. I’d never seen anything like it. His solutions to a variety of difficult problems were elegant and inspired. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, it is my pleasure to introduce Jonathan Matthews, Master Sculptor. - Tim Bruckner

Greetings all...

When I was asked to contribute to the upcoming Pop Sculpture book, I was both flattered and a little daunted. I've never spent a lot of energy trying to put into words what I do as a professional collectible sculptor. I've always been the kind of guy who'd rather show someone how to do something than explain it. Not my talent. That said, I've got the utmost respect for anyone who can describe in detail a process that most folks have no point of reference for and no experience in. I would have killed for a "how to" book back when I was starting out. I've been asked countless times how to get started in this biz and don't ever have a good answer.

I started in this job on a whim, really. I had a couple friends that designed toys right out of college at a collectibles company. At the time, I was working as a grunt in an ad agency. I'd just gotten to where I was using some of my illustration talents -- which I had spent my college years honing -- when these guys I know told me they had a position as a sculptor opening at their company.

I was on the fence about joining them, initially. I was an illustrator, after all -- what business did I have showing up and interviewing for a job sculpting? My portfolio had a piece or two of figurative sculpture I'd done as parts of projects for school, but enough to show up and interview at a toy company? I didn't think so. Turns out these few pieces were exactly why my pals had called me. They remembered me doing some sculptural stuff in school and thought I'd be a good fit. The designers at the toy company looked over my portfolio and gave me a project that same day. It was a trial project, one for which they'd padded the due date, in case it had to be redone, but a paying project all the same.
I worked on the project in the evenings while working my ad agency job. They hired me, but only lasted another year or so before having to close shop. I only worked there a year, but I gained the experience and contacts I would need to continue on as a successful freelance collectibles sculptor.

To this day, I work with some of my co-workers from that first sculpting gig. When the company went out of business, my fellow sculptors, prototypers and designers all ended up in different places and took my name with them in their Rolodex. I ended up working for Palisades, Wiz Kids, Diamond, Plan B, Graphitti and DC Direct, where I'm currently on exclusive contract.

I've met a group of talented and generous people since signing on with DC. I've learned a lot about how my colleagues work and gotten tips and tricks from some sculptors who've been doing this job way longer than myself. I've always felt that if you've got confidence in what you're doing, you should welcome the opportunity to share your craft... particularly with someone just starting out.
When I was first starting out, I had met several sculptors and guys who ran sculpting houses and always found the meetings uncomfortable and even adversarial. Any questions I asked about process or materials were met with blank expressions and the old "That's a trade secret!" wink-and-nudge routine. In my early experience, it was like pulling teeth to get any kind of information from another sculptor about how he/she got their results… very frustrating for a young guy starting out. I vowed to myself never to be like that. If someone wants to know how I achieve a certain result, or about my process from start to finish, I'll tell them without a second thought.

Based on this early experience, I was surprised at how welcoming and willing to share knowledge the other contract sculptors at DC Direct were. Tim Bruckner, in particular, was willing to share techniques and often opened discussions to that effect. It was so refreshing to find a whole group of professionals who were not only willing, but eager to talk about and share all their tricks, tips, and everything in between. A great group of talent to hang out with.

There are so many different ways to do a job for the collectibles market. I think it's safe to say that all us old horses use multiple materials throughout our portfolio of works, but most of us have a favorite. The beauty of having such a choice of materials to sculpt with is that there's something out there for everyone who has the inclination to start down this path. I've tried both soft and hard wax, but I've put in the time with Castilene and am most comfortable using it. Sure, I'll substitute different waxes if I can't make Castilene work, but I know I'm an old dog now. No new tricks for me!

 So... how do you get started in the collectible sculpting business? Now I can tell people to check out the textbook. No teeth or punches pulled. Kudos to Tim, Zach and RubĂ©n.

Pre-orders, everyone! Enjoy.


Jonathan Matthews

Check back next week for another posting by Matthews, in which he talks about his experiences translating the 2-D art of Jack Kirby, Darwyn Cooke and Mike Mignola.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, did he put in a good word for you :)

    I'm looking through Jon's website and he has so many pics of his work there, was he involved with the God of War III action figures (since he's working for DC Direct).

    I will be interested to read about his Kirby Batman sculpture. You're still doing that?