People, have been after me for ages to post a few photos of my studio, and it seems as though it’s always that “next thing” on my long list of tasks. Well, guess what? Today, finally, is “next thing” day!
Behold! We step behind the Lego gates that border the grounds at Wind-up Dreams Studios!
Okay, so I don’t really have a gate made of multicolored Lego bricks, but the studio is tucked away behind a stucco and red-roofed wall in the converted guest house in my back yard. Here’s a nice view from the back courtyard.
The studio holds all my vintage vinyl LPs, along with a stockpile of essential equipment for creating my art: toy figures, alphabet blocks, old books, and kewpie dolls. Oh yeah, I also have a bunch of photography equipment such as tripods, flood lights, and a light tent where all of my creations are constructed, staged, and shot. The studio is the place for shooting my photos, with all post production work taking place on an iMac inside my office in the main house.
Let’s go inside!
And there you go. Nothing too fancy. Just a single small desk, a chair, and a whole lotta “stuff.” My main work area is inside the light tent you see on the right. That’s where I build the three dimensional scenes that are the basis for my photographs and videos. Beyond the light tent is “toy land” where my crazy array of toys and trinkets are stored. Actually, that’s not completely true… Many of my extra special figures are on permanent display inside the main house, with small collections of interesting figures occupying almost ever room. When called upon, those figures magically come to life and wander out to the studio while I am a sleep. One day, I’ll be stuck on a particular composition, and the next morning I’ll awake to find that a clay devil pounding on a drum has somehow made his way from the main house out to the studio to stand in exactly the perfect place to complete the photo. Amazing!!
Please shield your vision away from the lacy white curtains and the horrid floral print on the window valances. Those are left over from the previous owners who had papered the entire room in a similar pattern. And covered the bed with the same floral print. And shaded the lamp with, yes, flowers. And upholstered the white wicker furniture in the same wicked print. And laid white carpet. It was a 1970’s Holly Hobbie nightmare. I’ll change out the window treatments, I swear.
The back corner of the room is for lighting and tripods, records are on the left, and alphabet blocks are just inside the door and out of sight.
The storage for my alphabet blocks doubles as a TV stand, which actually doesn’t do me a whole lot of good since cable doesn’t run out to the studio, and I’m only able to pickup a handful of digital broadcasts using rabbit ears—which is just as well, as I’d MUCH rather listen to music as I work. The little bookshelf speakers on top of the cabinet are hooked up to a wireless receiver so I can stream music from iTunes inside the main house out to the studio. Random shuffle is my best friend!
The purple cabinet was originally brown, and it was a fixture behind the counter at my parents’ drug store. There, the cabinet was used to display rolls of 35mm film.
Here’s a better look at the vinyl records I frequently use as background source material for my photos.
Record storage was becoming a huge problem in the main house until I discovered these LP-size milk crates at The Container Store. Each crate holds 50 or 60 record albums. They’re easy to move and flipping through the crates is a breeze while looking for a background to catch my eye. To the right are stacks of 45 RPM singles. Being an engineering bordering on OCD, I recently organized all of my 45’s by label color so I don’t have to go searching for a particular color to top a stack of records in a given composition. I’d formerly find myself taking apart whole constructions looking for a 45 of a particular color because I’d buried my one 7″ single on Sun Records somewhere deep within an elaborate stage set.
The box beneath the 45’s contains a veritable army of kewpie dolls, all acquired for the installation I had on display during my Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse show in 2010. I don’t let them out much. I’m afraid of what they may do.
You won’t find a lot of art on the walls of my studio. Not because I don’t want art on the walls; I do. Unfortunately, the walls are not particularly conducive to driving nails. While the main house is generous in its use of the finest construction methods of the day (remember, this is 1927), the studio—nay, guest house—nay, “servants quarters” (which was, in fact, the original function of the room)—the walls of the studio seem to be constructed of concrete blocks covered with plaster, which makes hanging art an exercise in frustration. To the right is one of my favorite pieces—an enlarged page from the Space Happy coloring book that’s been decoupaged on the surface of a kitchen cabinet and embellished with glitter.
Hanging opposite Space Happy is the awesome mixed media piece you see to the left. It’s a mosaic on a big ceramic tile created by one of the developmentally disabled adults at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center in El Cajon, California. St. Madeleine’s is a wonderful organization that has done immeasurable good tapping into the creative talents of students throughout San Diego County. My sister gave me this piece for Christmas several years ago and thought it was a perfect addition to my fun filled studio!
Elsewhere in the studio I have posters of work by Keith Haring and Jackson Pollock, as well as an instructional cool poster outlining bad behavior in India. In a couple of the photos above you’ve probably noticed a large lobby poster from Forbidden Planet that had been on the wall in the big empty space above the record crates. Curse you, concrete walls, curse you!
Way over on the other side of the studio is where you’ll find most of the objects I cram into my photos. At the center is the Cabinet of Pop Culture Curiosities, which we’ll explore in all its candy-colored glory in a few moments. Above the cabinet is an assembly of shells, stones, and other interesting things first created by my artist friend, Anthia Linou. Over time the installation has changed a little, with new pieces added and older pieces moved or removed as occasions have arisen to use elements of the installation in my photos.
To the left and in front you see a jigsaw of boxes and containers, each containing a wide array of recently acquired figures or toys that overflow beyond the red wooden walls of the cabinet. I have a general idea of what is hidden where, but I’m frequently surprised by what I find as I open boxes and hunt through bags searching for a specific object to to be positioned within my latest three dimensional diorama.
Right of the cabinet is a bookshelf of oddly collected books, many of which have made appearances in past work, and almost all of which at one time or another has been used out of sight as supporting structure for my gravity defying stage constructions. Beyond what you see in my finished photos is a calamitous construction of records, blocks, Legos, and books, as I often need to build platforms and scaffolds as a base for objects and figures to be “level” with my chosen background imagery.
As we teased earlier, the real stars of my photos are the vintage toys and figures that perform as “actors” in the scenes I create. I’ve been collecting toy figures for years and years, and before committing my work to a studio these figures once-upon-a-time occupied playful space in my office from my days as a software engineer. There, they were scattered all across my desk, danced precariously atop my computer monitor, and mingled with manuals on the bookshelves. It was a fast paced, high tech life to be sure, but my toys are much happier living life together in my studio!
With a little close inspection you’ll notice that the shelves are more or less organized into zones of common purpose—sort of like the sections in an encyclopedia. There’s the presidential section, the cowboys & Indians section. The kewpies all stand together, rubbing their cute little pink, green and yellow shoulders with Buddahs and nuns. There’s a musician section. An animal section. An army section and a skeleton section. Then, we have the geography section, the bumper car section, the rubber food section and the Egyptian section. Outer space is on the top shelf, and the realm of Monster Women is down below. It all sort of makes sense and provides me with the palette from which I add character to my images.
Want a closer look? Let’s go!! (Click on any image to get a nice close-up view!)
Doesn’t that make you want to run off to a toy store and buy a bunch of toys? I do feel bad, though, that accommodations are so crowded, and—worse!—so many great figures and toys are still locked away in the darkness of their shipping containers. One day I hope to devise a better way to store and display my cast of willing characters so all will have equal chance to catch my eye and find a spot in upcoming photographs.
We’ll wrap up this studio tour with a quick look at some of the equipment I use when capturing my photos.
Above you see the setup for a typical photo session, with a 30″ EZCube light tent sitting on a table top, and floodlights surrounding the cube. The gauzy fabric allows light to bounce throughout the inside of the tent which cuts down on harsh shadows and other lighting troubles. The lights in the back are simple low wattage desktop lamps that are used to illuminate the inside of the tent while I’m working without sucking up huge amounts of electricity and otherwise acting like a personal tanning salon. The floodlights in the front are each 500 watts, which blaze with heat and illumination to pretty much simulate the sun inside the tent. In front of the tent and hidden just inside the fabric flap is my camera—a Canon XTi with a really nice L-series lens that allows me choose from a variety of apertures and zoom as necessary for a given stage construction.
About a year ago I decided that simulating the light of the sun was not good enough—I wanted to simulate the light of many suns! So a third floodlight was added that could be positioned above the tent for even more control over light sources. The current setup is shown at the right with the staging for Despite her parents’ righteous determination, Baby Haley dreamed to follow her own path contained within.
And there you have it!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short trip into Wind-up Dreams Studios, and if you come across any interesting and unusual figures that would like a home amongst the devils, nuns, kewpies, and presidents… Please! By all means send your recommendations my way!
Thanks for visiting!