In our Makers section we are introducing you to the awesome people behind innovative products. Our guest this week is Andrew Martin the owner of Monster Caesar.
Please tell us a little about your background and what you are doing.
My name is Andrew Martin. I am a sculptor and have been working traditionally for 12 years and I got into digital sculpture and 3d printing around 3 years ago.
Monstercaesar is my pseudonym and studio name I use for my personal work. At the time when I settled on the name the whole social media thing hadn’t quite taken off and the art communities online existed primarily in forums (conceptart.org, clubhouse, Shiflett Brothers, etc.). Monstercaesar was my handle and I have stuck with it since then. People assume the name is related to the Roman emperor Caesar, but it actually comes from the Caesar cocktail that is unique to the region of Southern Alberta where I grew up. I added the monster to it because…. why not? I think I just liked the way the words fit together. Plus, it’s damned hard these days to find a unique name that hasn’t been already taken, let alone an interesting one. Caesars, although not my favorite beverage (I am more of a rum guy these days) do hit the spot on occasion and are great for hangovers, I think it’s the clam juice…
I am currently freelancing fulltime and have been doing so around a year now. Prior to that I was a dental lab technician for about 3.5 years and freelanced on the side. And before that I was a chef for a few years and attempted (unsuccessfully) to freelance on the side. During the most of that time I have also been working on getting my BFA, of which I am currently in my last semester.
The type of work that I do varies quite a bit, I find it’s essential to be versatile when it comes to freelance work. Primarily I sculpt figurative work for the collectables industry but I also do board game miniatures, designer toys, garage kits, characters, costumes, and prop design for film, jewelry, 3d marketing displays, engineering and prepping models for 3d print, shadow sculpting for fine artists; whatever pays the bills to be honest.
I have always been artistically inclined. I was the type of kid who was always drawing monsters in the margins of my school work. I took art classes intermittently throughout school but I didn’t take it too seriously and never considered it a career path. Initially my plan was to go into marine biology (which in hindsight probably wouldn’t have worked out as I seem to be unable to swim) but it’s still a subject I have a great interest in, but I had some health complications my last year of high school and missed out on half a year. I went back the next year to finish things off and filled up the empty time with art classes. I discovered then that I had a passion for sculpting and making stuff and I haven’t stopped since.
I try to avoid using the world talent if I can. I find it’s often used as a dismissive term for the hard work and time artists put into their craft. I am an advocate of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory proposed in Outliers. To those not familiar, it is the idea that skills take around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master. The theory isn’t perfect but I think it gets the broad strokes
There are many situations, memories and people that inspired me to become an artist.
I don’t think any artist (or anyone for that matter) can be successful without the support of their family and friends. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful family and my parents and siblings have always been supportive of whatever I do. I also have the best partner/girlfriend in the world (sorry everyone else) and I couldn’t do what I do without her.
I also don’t think an artist can make it without the support of his/her fellow art community. I was going to compile a list of all the artists that have helped me out personally over the years but it would be a very long list and likely very boring to most, most of those artist know who they are anyway. I will say the old adage is true, we stand on the shoulders of giants and build off of those that came before us.
“I decided that I want to be working as a full-time artist when I realized that sculpting was something I could spend my life happily doing.”
My first sculptures where an Illithid and Jarlaxle from R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books, of which I was/am a big fan. I loved the characters and monster that inhabit that world in his books and felt the need to realize those characters for myself.
My first commission was for a friend of a friend; I think I had been sculpting for about 4 years at the time. It was a ¼ sculpture of the girl he was dating intended to be given as a Christmas gift. It was an awful sculpture and a nightmare of a project! The timeframe was very short, around 2 weeks I think (which seems like a luxury these days) and I made a ton of rookie mistakes. The likeness was completely off and I let the polymer clay (Super Sculpey) cool to quickly after baking which lead to the face cracked in half, I cut the armature wire too short in the arms and legs, and I neglected to shake the paint primer well enough and it left the sculpture with a tacky surface that needed to be stripped off and redone. A few years later I was informed that it had fallen off a shelf and smashed into a thousand pieces, which is somewhat cathartic, still, I was proud of it at the time.
What goes into developing new sculptures?
My creative process depends on the project. With miniature or collectables the client often wants me to interpret a provided 2d artwork into 3D. The quality of the drawing varies greatly; they can range from photorealistic orthographic renderings to rough napkin sketches. I usually then collect reference images that help clarify the design: costumes, weapons, accessories, faces, anatomy, pose etc.
Then I block out the basic shapes in very broad strokes. If I am working in clay this means building the armature and adding large volumes of clay using only my hand. If digitally in Zbrush, I work at a very low polygon resolution (you should easily be able to see the individual facets) and use only the move and clay brushes. Once all the basic shapes are in place I go into refining specific details. It is best to work on the overall sculpture and to keep all the parts at around the same level of detail. I am guilty though of refining the head and hands to a more finished level early on as they are often the most emotive parts of the sculpture.
If I am designing the character as well, say for a film, I am usually provided with a script or written description of what they are looking for, occasionally there is some mood or style photos provided as well. From there I assemble a reference folder with ideas that inspire the design. This is a fun stage for me as I get to craft and imagine the backstory and world behind the character and how they function within it. I then do some quick 2d thumbnail sketches to explore shapes and design using that reference as a guide. There is a lot of trial and error at this point and I do a lot of iterations until I settle on something that feels right. Although I prefer to work in 3D nothing beats the speed and flexibility of drawing at this stage. That being said, I do sometimes jump right into 3d. I usually jump back and forth between sketching and sculpting to figure out design problems as I go. Again, it’s starting with the basic block out of shapes and slowly refining as I move along.
For my personal work, I start with a ball of clay or sphere of pixels and push, pull, add, and substract until I come up with something I don’t hate.
The time to create a new art piece too depends on the project, the biggest factor though is the level of detail and refinement. For stylized characters or miniatures it’s a couple days’ worth of work, maybe 10-14 hours, but for large detailed statues with a lot of accessories it can easily take 80+ hours.
Details, details, details are the most time consuming parts of sculpting. That’s the aspect I love/hate about sculpture; every aspect of the design has to be worked out. There is no hiding the design in shadow or conveniently cropped out of frame, everything has to be realized.
For freelance in general it’s all the small non-art related things that add up; social media, emailing clients, bookkeeping, ordering materials, shipping orders, dealing with the post office when they lose said orders….
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
I didn’t consider how many hats you have to wear as a freelance artist, sculpting in particular. It’s not enough just to learn how to sculpt, you need to learn molding/casting (which is an art form unto itself), photography, painting, web design, bookkeeping, package design, writing, the ins and out of shipping, self promotion, social media, etc. And now with digital sculpture the list gets longer: the various modeling programs, texturing and mapping, rendering, topology, and 3d printing (if you want to bring you work into the physical world). I am also now currently getting into fabric simulation so add clothing and pattern design to the list. The learning never ends!
A good decision I made was going to Cons and meeting fellow artists and peers. Bad Decision – letting work come before personal health. Take care of yourself, you only have one body (although there looks to be some amazing advances in science and technological in that regard on the horizon. Here is hoping!)!
I definitely learned from the many mistakes I made.
“I am a big advocate of making mistakes! It’s the only true way to learn.”
You have to be willing to try new things and fail if you are to grow as an artist. If you aren’t failing, you are not trying hard enough!
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
hmmmm, I did some creature/costume designs for Luc Beson’s Valarian. I am a huge The 5th Element fan so contributing to that was pretty cool. Also, I did a character for Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which at the time of writing this hasn’t hit theatres, I am not even sure if anything I did made it into the film. I recently finished some other exciting projects I am quite proud of but unfortunately they are still under NDA and I can’t talk about those though.
I had to overcome some self doubt. I think everyone needs a healthy amount of that though. I find it’s best to be your own worst critic.
What are your goals for the future?
I have a big bucket list of projects I would love to do, just need to find time to do them!
Working along side with the amazing artists at Weta workshop has been a goal of mine for as long as I have been sculpting, so that’s up there. My lovely lady also wants to live in Japan for awhile so it would be fun to do that and get involved with the Japanese toy and garage kit scene. I spent a month there on an exchange program and it would be great to go back!
What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started with their own project?
Making a living with art is difficult. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years to get to a level where you can support yourself.
I find inspiration in books, stories, and the nature world.
One mistake I see often others doing is focusing on social media and trying to make the art they think other people want. Make the art you want and try to excel at it. If you have an interest in something chances are other people do as well. Do good work and your audience will find you.
Never work for free (unless it’s for charity or a cause you support. If for family and friends, do it at your own peril!), not only do you hurt yourself, but your fellow artists as well. If a client isn’t willing to pay for your time and expertise they don’t respect you and always have a written agreement, preferable a contract if possible.
Always get a down payment from new clients. You need something to life off of while you work.
Which resources, tools, insights have been the most helpful to you?
Zbrush (this is currently a must if you want to get into digital sculpting)
- Pop Sculpture
- Figure Drawing: Design and Invention
- Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (James Gurney Art)
- Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist
- Animal Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form
- The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles
- The Imagineering Way
If you are doing things on the cheap there are some great resources to be found on Youtube but it can be a hassle finding quality ones. There is also a growing community of sculptors on Twitch that live stream their work. It is a great place to ask questions and get help. I have a channel as well and try to stream regularly.
Some great communities:
Shiflett Brothers’ Sculpting Forum on Facebook
Ten thousand hours group on Facebook
What’s the most favorite sculpture you’ve ever created and why?
The correct answer is the next one. My honest answer is my Innsmouth Look bust. It was my first sculpture to get any real recognition. I still get emails asking if I still have any casts available despite it being sold out for over 7 years.
What’s the most difficult sculpture you’ve ever created and why?
Again, the next one. I always need to keep challenging myself.