The great miniture sculpter..........James Van Schaik
"Can you believe that this sculptor is standing on a Wine cork?!!"
1) How did you get involved in the art and sculpting?
I have always been interested in art and had a talent for it. I burned through colouring books as a child and art was always my strongest class in school. I loved comic books as a kid and would constantly redraw pictures from my favourite comics. I spent several years as a kid in private art classes and workshops.
2) What led you to sculpt in miniature?
My father owned a miniatures company called RAFM miniatures and I grew up around the miniature gaming hobby working summers in his shop. He employed several sculptors and I would constantly watch them work, harass them, and drive them crazy with "how do you do that" questions. I started converting existing miniatures when I was about 12, adding little bits here and there and when I was about 19 I started travelling to gaming conventions with my fathers company and started talking to professional sculptors and really getting insight into the art of sculpting. I started doing my own sculptures and managed to get a few contracts for small gaming companies.
3) In brief, can you explain how you got your first paying contract with a major player such as DC comics?
My big break came when I approached the company Wizkids who were producing the miniature game called Heroclix which is a game based on the popular Marvel and DC comics. I went to thier sculpting studio in Cincinatti with a bunch of the figures I did and asked them for a job. They critiqued my work and one of the sculptors there named Jeff Grace offered to give me a week long crash course. I accepted and went to visit them for a week where I spent the entire time with Jeff Grace and he took me through the process of sculpting a figure from the ground up. The things I learned from Jeff there allowed me to take my work to the next level. Shortly thereafter they gave me my first freelance job for Heroclix and I got to sculpt the Marvel superhero Quicksilver. I worked for them on a freelance basis for about a year and they offered me a staff position in thier sculpting studio in Cincinatti. I snatched up the chance and moved to Cincinatti. This is where my sculpting abilities and carreer really took off. I worked alongside 5 other experienced sculptors and had an immense depth of knowledge to draw from and improve my own skills. Since I have done sculptures for many properties like Lord of The Rings, Dr. Who, Harry Potter and scores of comic characters.
4) Can you explain any little secret that allows your minds eye to see in three dimensions?
The biggest thing that helps me is to think in 3D and train my eye to see in 3D all the time. When I am not sculpting I study everything in the world around me and try to note the shape of those things. I study people, the shapes of their bodies, details in their faces, the texture and shape of their hair. I take note of clothing and drapery and study the way it hangs or the folds run. I look at animals and note the texture of their fur. I study expressions, the way a persons cheek muscles contort when they smile or frown. There are several practical things I do to help me as well like study anatomy- this is probably one of the most important things to do. I also study the great classical sculptor's, Bernini is one of my favourite.
5) What has been one of the hardest things to learn about your trade?
That is a hard question because many things were hard to learn, this is a unique skill that isn't taught in schools. Nowadays there are many tutorials online but in my day none of that was available, you had to glean what information you could get from other sculptor's; many of whom were reluctant to share. I was fortunate to be able to work in a studio setting where I was taught the skills. Probably the hardest thing to learn was to view your own work with an unbiased eye. Sculpting takes a long time and you invest an icredible amount of time concentrating on a single detail, the result that sometimes occurs is that you fail to see the big picture and the thing you spents hours working on does not fit into the rest of the sculpture. Now you are faced with the delema of having to scrap something you have hours invested in and start over- that is very hard to do. The tendency you can have is to not see those errors or turn a blind eye to them. In order to catch (and hopefully fix) mistakes in your work you have to be able to look at it from as if you were someoen else, someone who hasn't just spent 5 hours sculpting a head that is out of proportion but looks great!
6) What has been the most challenging piece you have created to date?
The challenging ones are always the ones I have the least interest in or likenesses. Those are the ones that can end up looking wrong. Probably my most challenging was the DC character starman.
DC has extremely high quality control standards and as a result there can be difficult to work with-everything has to be just so... This particular character wasn't very detailed but he carries a staff that has a uniquely shaped hook on the end of it.
I had to redo this hook like 10 times because DC kept knocking back the figure becuase it was not curved exactly right, it was something very simple but became extremely frustrating!
7) Just for fun: If you could live anywhere where would that be and why?
I think I live in the best place in the world right now Canada! Snow in the winter, great people, free healthcare, and good beer!
Thanks James for a great interview! For anyone reading this article please feel free to contact James by e-mail or visit his blog. Never know...he just may be the one to bring your character to life!
Links to find out more about James' work! Just click on the title of this interview.
Available in Small Print and Poster sizes
If you are interested in any of these paintings (or any other particular piece of my art)please contact me for further information. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org