Eric Nocella Diaz has been sculpting toys for about 15 years. Though he may not be a household name, chances are you have something he’s sculpted in your household. Eric worked with Kidrobot on several projects in the mid-2000s. This relationship lead to him sculpting Huck Gee’s Skullhead (which eventually graced the windows of Barney’s New York) in 2005. Eric continues to work (a lot) in comics and toys, though his current focus is on limited edition artist-driven pieces through his Argonaut Resins imprint. He lives with his wife in New Jersey. Don’t live in the tri-state area? Follow him on Twitter.
What/when was your first sculpting gig?
I think it was around the mid-1990s. I did a statue of The Dark, the flagship character for Continuum Comics, an independent comic book company run by Joseph Naftali. There was a lot of guessing and a ton of learning. At the time, my day job was Xerox, so this project was done after work when I was dead tired. Funny story: After finishing The Dark sculpture, I fell asleep, and my wife painted it for me! When I woke up in the morning, it was all done, She did such a good job with the paint that I was more amazed at that than the actual sculpt. I guess I was doing something right as it led to another sculpt job for Continuum Comics…
What are the essential tools of your trade?
I use all sorts of things these days for my sculpt projects. I started out using Super Sculpey, a polymer clay you can bake in the oven or cure with a heat gun. Later, I learned to use a brittle special mix toy wax as I got into doing toy prototypes on the professional level. I also use all types of metal tools, loop tools and Exacto knives. The longer you sculpt the less tools you actually end up really using though: I have a few in a cup holder now, and I look at them like “Why the hell did I buy that?”
What’s an average day in the life of END like?
I get up, make coffee for the wife and myself, see her off to work and then check emails. My morning is all computer work, going over the new pictures of the latest sculpt project, checking in with all the artists I’m working with, promoting on the blog and a few other social sites. If there’s a new toy release, I have to prep those images for the store, write out all the descriptions, set pricing and open the online store at the announced release time. Then it’s a block away, off to the studio for some sculpting, painting, casting and molding. I’ll do that until about lunch time, then head back home to eat and check emails and updates from my social sites. Then back I go to the studio til about 5ish when I begin whipping up some dinner. If I have a big project or a crazy deadline, I’m back at the shop for all hours of the night. Some days are ship days when I drag all the sold items in assorted boxes to the post office, and other days are supply run days when I hop on the train to the City to get all sorts of items needed to complete my projects. Then the next week I start the cycle all over again.
Besides Snoop and Vin Diesel (above), ha, who are some people you admire?
At this moment I’d have to say Clayborn Moore, Thomas Blackshear, Dave Cortes and Erick Scarecrow. Those guys make their own products and are incredibly good at it. Clay is a tremendous talent in the pre-paint statue world, and I truly value his tips and techniques on sculpture. I met Thomas years ago when I was just starting out, and he was launching his Ebony Visions pre-paint ethnic statue lines at a Hallmark card store in New York City. Getting to chat with him and watch him launch his new statues made a huge impression on me and where I would end up in the future. Dave is my old school ToyBiz/McFarlane labelmate. Both our studios were doing work for those toy companies around the same time. Dave is probably one of the best toy sculptors out there and has done some of the best stuff in the biz for all the major players. He’s now producing his own line of designer vinyl toys. One of my favorite toys is a big Hulk movie vinyl figure he did for Toybiz from back in the day. I worked with Erick on a bunch of different projects and that kid throws down and get’s the job done. He’s one to watch for sure in the designer toy world. His ideas are cool, fun and refreshing.
Talk to me about comics.
I do indie publishing with Xmoor Studios whose brain child is writer/creator Robert Garrett. Not only do I co-publish all the titles with Rob, but I’m the art director, editor and product manager for everything we make now. I had a such a great experience putting together a graphic novel of the flagship series, Galtow, that contained over 100 pages and collects the first four books we released. I always wanted to be involved with comic books in some shape or form since I was a child. It’s such a great medium to tell stories with. I still have most of my comic book collection packed up in a few boxes at my studio.
You had/have a long career in “traditional” action figures before your name gained deserved recognition in the designer vinyl hemisphere. What are some of the differences between the two scenes?
The action figure industry is very complex when you’re working with the major toy companies; there’s tons of layering with management and a long approval process. The bigger the license, like X-men or Spiderman, the crazier the studios get with changes, adjustments and the overall approval process to make the prototypes for their toy lines. You’re just a cog in their process machine. The vinyl toy scene is way more creative particularly when you work directly with the artists, which has a raw excitement about it as you translate their concepts to 3D. You’re going right to the source of the creation, and that just sparks it for me, especially when you nail the project. Having worked across the toy industry spectrum has given me tremendous insight to do what I do now with my company. Plus, the designer community will always have new concepts from new artists to hopefully keep things fresh. That’s one of the main reasons I hang around it: I’m a huge fan of new concepts.
We live in a world where people want credit for their work, yet you put 3 dimensions to iconic and highly collectible figures by Huck Gee, kaNO, etc. and many people still don’t know that.
Early on when I started doing the action figure work, there was a big movement to get the sculptor name credit on the packaging for their work. You’d have to sign all sorts of paperwork to keep everything under the table so nothing was exposed as the lines were being developed. But if an artist can’t show his work, how can he get work? That was the frustrating part for some. I actually took down my older professional works from my main website for a while so I could build up my new works and have it gain popularity (or not) on its own merits. Sometimes people forget that sculptors are artists too, not just another tool to help them produce their concepts in a different medium. We have artistic ideas too…
Tell us what Argonaut Resins is all about…
Argonaut Resins was a crazy idea I had to just make limited run designer resin art toys with some talented artists. There are tons of talented artists out there who want to make their own toys and don’t want to pay a zillion dollars, make thousands of pieces and wait years to do it. I just made it affordable and shortened all the other parts trying to keep it as simple as possible. Argonaut Resins is a way for artists to have designer toy freedom. It evolves with each artist on every new project we work on. Having the artists actually touch their toys made right here in the States (and showing the behind the scenes on the blog) is appealing to our buyers.
How important is it to you to work independently, you know “be your own boss”?
It’s very important. I’ve been my own boss since 1995 when I resigned from Xerox. They thought I was crazy in my exit interview when I told them I was going to pursue my art to make a living. Just chucked a good paying job with full health benefits and took the leap of faith–right off the cliff. No plans, no strategy, no college degree and no parachute….if I had to do it again, I would do it sooner from a higher cliff. One of my favorite phrases is “passion builds you bridges for nowhere to somewhere.”
You knew without asking that I was going to be an immediate fan of Tuttz. Tell the rest of our readers what the Tuttz project is all about and what/when we can hope to see more.
Phase two for Argonaut Resins is to produce product that the mainstream can enjoy too. I want some of my work to be able to sit in someone’s house: on their tables, mantles and shelves and not just in their toy collections. I’m heading towards a broader base with my personal releases and not just the designer art crowd. Tuttz was the perfect platform for this, as I wanted to combine old world concepts with new world designs. What would King Tut’s favorite cat look like if he had one??? What if there was a funky artist sculptor who made cool looking cat sculptures back in King Tut’s day? Would the king go for it or lop off his head? Makes you wonder right? I’m well into production and a few online site/stores will be carrying variants in limited runs for the designer crowd. I also plan to take Tuttz around to some boutiques, stores and see if I can get them to pick some up from me.
What keeps you motivated?
Going after all the things I dream about doing. I don’t hang pictures on my refrigerator and hope. I get after it full blast, win or lose. If something handcuffs me and interferes with with what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll change gears and directions in order to get where I’m going. I’ve had a lot of failures over the past years but more successes, so taking the bad with the good has just strengthened my passion and ambition to keep going. I love what I do and would do it for free if I didn’t need the money. I take a lot of chances, win or lose, so in the end when its all over I’ll never say things to myself with the words “would have, could have and should have” in them…just fuckin’ do it.