The Art of El Maz
Take one look at El Maz’s custom designs or the stunning imagery on his first production piece for the Gwin toy series and it’s hard to imagine that this 27 year old Northern California native was raised knee deep in the graffiti game. His paintings, be they on vinyl or canvas, conjure emotions of desolate creatures and stark nature. His black trees look dead against color-soaked backdrop, his birds seem sad and lonely, almost soulless. The paintings, however, are not dreary. His use of colors (perhaps adapted from his graffiti past) embellish the work, making the viewer stop and ponder how such a tortured creature could live in such a magnificent world.
Maz has taken the same approach to his upcoming art exhibit. Aptly titled Yeast Infection, Maz distributed dozens of Pillsbury DoughBoy figures to the creme de la creme of toy customizers to manipulate the wholesome figure any which way they want. The results are amazing. Life In A Bungalo grabbed Maz to find out more about his art, yeast infections, and his custom ventures.
Could you tell me a little about your background, and how you got into art?
It’s all about Commander Mark and Secret City! I used to watch that dude every day when I was little, and I was drawing right along with him. “Draw, draw, draw!” and “Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!.” Those are words of wisdom.
As long as I can remember, I have been drawing or painting or making a general mess and calling it “art.” I have always had a very creative imagination, and the only way I could get these crazy characters or worlds out of my head is to draw them.
When it comes to formal (studio) art training, I have very little. I took a few art classes during the years of elementary school through high school. I two three junior college art classes to learn about color and design and other pretty basic things. The rest is either self-taught through trial-and-error or things that my friends and I either learned or taught each other.
Your style seems to fall into two worlds—graffiti and an almost creep nature style. How did you establish your style?
Graffiti is something I am proud to say has been a large part of my life for many years. I have been heavily influenced by the amazing things I have seen friends of mine do, and in turn I hope I have influenced them as well. A large group of my friends are all graffiti artists, and I am extremely happy to see them gaining success in other areas of art.
One of the main ways I have noticed that graffiti has helped shape my style is in my usage of outlining characters with a solid line (usually black) and using drop shadows to distinguish the characters from the background and really make them pop out. I tend to think of the figures I am customizing as a big 3-D canvas where I can create an interactive mural.
As for the creepy nature side, I am fascinated by nature and the weird oddities that exist. One of my favorite things is going to a zoo or an aquarium and just staring at the oddly beautiful creatures that are there. Then I go home and work out a new character using bits and pieces of animals or marine life I have seen. I am currently obsessed with a form of seahorse called the Leafy Sea Dragon. Google it, it will blow your mind!
There is no quick answer, or no way to know exactly how I arrived at my style. It is basically a result of years and years of sketching. Thousands of coffee shop hours. Trying out a new character or a different style of lettering, seeing how it is received, and then going back to the drawing board for new ideas.
How has you style evolved?
My style has evolved because I feel like I have a better sense of who I am and what my characters and pieces look like. I want it to one day be where you can see something I have done and know, based upon my own distinctive character style, that it is an El Maz piece.
I spent several years refusing to learn “fine art” painting with brushes. So a lot of my painting is experimentation as I gain more and more comfort with the materials. I feel like this is really adding new levels to my work (adding in background depth, textures, things of that nature).
These days, I am playing a lot with wash effects and the incorporation of backgrounds into the customs. Mutating existing figures. Creating stories within a piece. I feel like I am always evolving in this sense.
How did you get involved in the Gwin project?
I met the October Toys folks at SDCC 2005. I chatted with them, bought a few blank gwins, and picked up some blank templates. That night as I was resting my sore legs, I started working out ideas for the design and things went from there. I finished up the design and emailed it to them/posted it on their message board. They really liked it and were nice enough to put it in the second series of Gwins.
How does it feel to have your own platform toy, especially in such a niche community?
It’s awesome! It also is a bit surreal. It’s very strange to see your own artwork on a row of toys for the first time. When I first got the shipment of gwins, I just dumped out the box and sat there staring at this big pile of my artwork.
I am very happy because awhile back I set a goal to have a production toy. I managed to achieve that goal, and now I can set my sights on hopefully having more production pieces in the future.
This community truly is a small community, and the artists who have production pieces an even smaller circle. I am glad and honored to be a part of that small circle.
You took a figure that was basically a blank fowl and turned into a work of art. How difficult was it to adapt the creature to your arbor style.
When I first attempted to design the gwin, I worked solely from the template. I was attempting to draw out my design entirely on paper, but I felt like my designs were too flat and were lacking. I realized the best way I work is to take the figure and draw out my design directly onto it. Then I can use the drawn figure as a reference point while trying to complete the template.
It was a learning experience for me at every step of the process, because I knew nothing about Pantone colors, coated/uncoated, etc. My illustrator skills are quite minimal, so the finished template I provided to October Toys was hand drawn and hand inked/colored. They were really great to work with because they provided answers along the way, as did several of the artists on the Kidrobot message board.
Overall, the adaptation to my style really was not very difficult. I think the shape of the gwin lent itself well to the design that I had in mind. The most difficult part was incorporating so much onto such a small figure.
My design process (for both production and customs) involves me staring at a blank figure until the right design appears. I like to work in a way that I embrace the natural shape of the character. I want the final result to be something where it appears that my design and the figure are working together in some way.
Talk to me about the Yeast Infection Project? What made you think of using Dough Boy as a platform?
The Yeast Infection Project is an online art show starting 10/6/06 where several talented artists are customizing the old vinyl Pillsbury Dough Boy figures from 1971.
This show is meant to be a study in the way that each person interprets a previously unblemished character that has been emblazoned in our minds for years and years.
The Dough Boy was a natural choice, because the figure is simple and easy to customize. No complex lines, no really difficult crevices, etc. Plus, I love old corporate icons and characters! I think the marketing behind them is brilliant.
I chose something that, to my knowledge, had never been customized (in this case, Mr. Dough) because I was at a point of frustration where I was tired of seeing the same figures being used over and over (and I was also growing tired of customizing those same figures). Let me be clear, I am not in any way criticizing the great artwork that I have seen on the figures. I just think that enough munnys and labbits and dunnys have been customized to last us the next few years. It was just time for a breath of fresh air, and I think these customs are providing us with exactly that.
How is the event actually going to take place?
This will be an online event/auction. On 10/6/06 I will be starting the auctions on e-bay (and setting up an e-bay store to keep everything in one place) so people can bid on these excellent creations. All of the customs will start at an affordable price, so there should be something for everyone to enjoy and hopefully own.
Drilone (one of the artists in the show) has generously created a website to document the work displayed thus far, and to also provide a way that people can get in contact with the artists for future work/projects/etc.
We will also be attacking various message boards and online vinyl news sites to spread the word about this show. It’s very word-of-mouth.
What has you reaction been to the submissions so far?
Every single one of these has been absolutely amazing. I love looking at how each of these different minds approached the same puzzle. Everyone has put their own spin on this figure, and has far exceeded any expectations I had by 1000%! I have to keep telling myself that I am the curator of this show, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to just buy these and keep them all to myself!
I am extremely proud of the well-rounded group of artists that are in this show, and I can’t wait to see what these mad scientists come up with in their future endeavors.
How hard is it to put together this kind of event and what has been the most challenging part of it?
I have never organized anything like this, so every step of the way has been a learning experience for me. I originally met with a lot of resistance from the “naysayers” when I first brought up the idea of customizing these little dudes. But I ignored them (as is my usual nature) and focused on the people who were encouraging me to pursue this. I am extremely happy that I didn’t let this idea die.
Challenges: well, time has been a major challenge for me. I had to bail on doing a custom Dough Boy for this show as some other commitments came up at the last minute. How lame is that, my own show and I am not even participating in it?
It was also very hard to pick a line-up of artists. I had such an overwhelming response from people who were interested in participating that I had to turn some people down. I felt really bad about that, and I hope they understand I did not mean to insult them in any way.
Overall, the most challenging part was deciding if this show should be strictly online or if it should be at a “brick and mortar” establishment so people could see these pieces in person. I would have loved to have this at a shop or a gallery, and I was even approached by several different places. The problem is that the galleries and shops were asking for a pretty heavy commission for hosting the show (to the tune of 50% or more). My goal with this show was to have something where the majority of the sale goes directly to the artists, and in order to do that I was not able to have this at a gallery. I am hopeful that with the show being online it will still have as much success!
What does the future hold for El Maz?
I have a few things lined up for the future. I am participating in the Gallery 1988/Disney Cheshire Cat show on October 7th. All of my recent energy has been going towards finishing up this custom piece, and I feel it is some of my best work so far.
There also are a few other upcoming custom toy shows I have been invited to participate in over the next several months. On top of that, I have several commission pieces to complete over the next couple of months. I owe everyone who has been patiently waiting for a custom (and has been so understandable about other projects coming up) a big thank you!
As for production stuff, I have completed a design for series 3 of the gwins, and hopefully that one will make it into production. I also have a few leads/offers on some other possible production pieces, so I will be trying to polish up my Illustrator skills and hopefully come up with some designs that people will enjoy.
If the Yeast Infection show goes well (which I think it will), I might try my hand at curating another show in the future. Most likely it would be something odd and unexpected for artists to customize, just as this one was.
As for what I want the most, I would love to go to art school. Take some fine art classes, really step up and take my work to the next level. At this point in my life, I most likely can not afford that luxury, but if I hold onto that dream it makes my dreary 9-5 M-F job somewhat bearable.