In this episode, Japan Cinema spends time with AW177 to see his art and toy collection and tour his artwork. Allen’s work as an artist and his super cool personality gave us a very slick insider’s look at the vinyl toy phenomenon. We chop it up about fatherhood, color schemes, anime, & Japanese culture. Scroll down to read the full interview!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how the AW177 brand came about.
AW177: Born and raised in Queens, NYC, I am a Chinese-American self-taught artist/designer with a bright and vivid style influenced by my Chinese roots, Asian motifs and culture, graffiti and technical illustration. I like to take these concepts and mix them together to create a colorful/festive yet powerful, emotional feel to my work, whether in printed or graphical form to customized vinyl art toys. I go by the artist name AW177 – an amalgamation of initials of my real name along w/ numerals that hold a special meaning to me. The same can be said with my artwork – an amalgamation of different mediums, subjects and ideas that work together to form pieces of unique art that have special and powerful meanings.
Congrats on the new addition to the family. Is it harder to be creative now that you have a family?
AW177: Thank you! For those that don’t know, my wife and I welcomed our first baby daughter, Kaylee, on December 27, 2010, into the world. I wouldn’t say it’s harder now to be creative; more like it’s harder to find the TIME to be creative! I’ve always had a ton of ideas to design/experiment on, but trying to get some free time with a new baby has made it very difficult.
However, with the arrival of my baby daughter, it makes me realize that life is too short not to go for your dreams – I have a mechanical engineering degree and a computer/technical background and training, but always had a passion for art, creativity and design. I don’t want my daughter to see her father do something he didn’t enjoy and was too scared to try to achieve his dreams. People always say they don’t have time to do this or do that, but if you don’t do it now, you may never have the time to do it later. Therefore, it is a goal of mine to try to break into the graphical/art/design field and make a career doing something I love, and perhaps expand my own brand. I want to show my daughter that to achieve anything in life, you have to work for it and be passionate about it. So it may be harder to find time, she gives me inspiration and drive to be much more productive and lead by example.
Can you explain your creative process behind customizing a Vinyl toy? How do you come up with your concepts/color schemes?
AW177: My concepts for my custom vinyl toys draw inspiration from my Chinese/Asian heritage; I am a fan of the rich history and beautiful art of Asian culture and I want my work to reflect that (with a modern twist). If I’m doing a commission based custom, I would ask the client what they want, if they have any concepts in mind, and go from there. If I’m doing a custom for myself, it’s based on what I feel at the moment; for example, last year was the year of the tiger, and since I am born in the year of the tiger, I wanted to do a tiger themed custom toy.
But as an artist, I don’t like to stick to one style or technique all the time; I like to experiment and try many things. I guess I would rather be a jack-of-all-trades than a master of one – what’s the fun in that? So sometimes you’ll see an Asian-inspired toy, another you would see a circuitry-technical-inspired toy, and then you may see a Gundam-robot-inspired toy. I don’t know if I have a ‘style’, since I’m always learning, changing and growing.
Once the concept has been thought up, I’ll try to first create a digital vector representation of it in Flash (I know the majority of artists out there use Illustrator to do their artwork, but I’ve been using Flash for years and really grown to love the drawing tools of the application). After the vector design is sketched up, colored, sized to fit the toy, and I’m happy with it, the hardest part is getting the design onto the toy. There are many ways to do this, and I mostly use an old school technique – print it out, copy it onto tracing paper, trace it again on the back with an ebony pencil, and then rub the design onto the toy. It’s not as easy as it sounds – it gets tricky at times! From there I go about coloring it in, sometimes doing a few layers of color at a time.
I usually use Sharpie water-based paint markers for my custom vinyl toys; they are easy to use, apply on smooth, dries quick and allows for minute details. Only problem with them is their minimum choice of colors – I’m only allowed a small palette. But it’s fine since I love their vibrant colors!
You’ve got a fairly obvious Macross/Robotech and Transformers influence in your work – tell us about a Saturday morning in young Wen’s house.
AW177: When I was young, on Saturday mornings I’d wake up earlier than everyone in my family and run out to the TV and watch a few hours of cartoons – I’ve always had an interest in Asian culture and anything mechanical or machine like, so that’s why a majority of the shows I watched were Macross/Robotech/Transformers/Gundam/Voltron/etc. In fact, even today, I still try to watch and collect Transformers when I can! I’d like to develop more art and design based on technology, circuitry, robots and manga in the future.
What Asian films are you a big fan of? Any Anime?
AW177: I’m a fan of Asian kung-fu/action flicks, films of Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, etc. I love the combination of action and the intensity of the fights + Asian culture and history. A few of my favorite films are Ip Man, Enter the Dragon, Fearless, Fung Sai Yuk, Iron Monkey, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, The Legend of Drunken Master, Kung Fu Hustle, Ong Bak, and many more that I can’t think of off the top of my head!
I also love the Green Hornet 1960s TV show with Van Williams and Bruce Lee. Why? Well that was Bruce Lee’s first big on-screen role and propelled him into stardom, opening the doors for future Asian actors. Gotta give props to the past in order to embrace the future! And c’mon, we all know Kato kicks ass!
As for anime, it’s funny, but I could never really get into them, don’t know why! Does Transformers the Movie count (how could they kill off Optimus)? [laughs]
Japanese have a unique culture that is different from other country. Do you think Japanese are much cooler then other people, let say, American?
I definitely think the Japanese culture is unique and different, and that makes it pretty cool, but I wouldn’t say that it’s cooler than other cultures. One must learn to be open-minded and embrace the diverse cultures of every country/people – they bring different talents and experiences that can foster new ideas and skills to help create much more meaningful art and design.
I’ve noticed you have a lot of classic hip hop instrumental on your website. Is this generally the type of music you like to surround yourself with when you design?
AW177: When I design, what I listen to really depends on my mood at the moment. There are times when I just want to chill and relax, so I listen to some classics like The Beatles. Or if I want to get pumped up and keep my energy going, the raw power and street beats of hip-hop is what I’ll listen to. I’m a huge fan of Wu-Tang Clan, which is the first song you’ll hear if you went to my website (“Protect Ya Neck”)! But music is definitely important for motivating me to get work done! I wanted the visitors to my website to feel like they’re entering something exciting, something that will get them to stay and explore, and bop their heads while doing it; so what better music to play in the background than some hip-hop? Word!
Have any big plans for 2011? Will your work be making another Comic Con appearance?
AW177: Beginning in 2011, I have a limited edition poster, “Koi”, available with The Poster Cause Project (http://shop.thepostercauseproject.com/products/koi-poster-designed-by-aw177), where 50% of all profits are donated to charities and organizations in need. Also, some of my custom vinyl toys and artwork are showcased in the Japanese design issue #145 of Computer Arts Projects (http://www.computerarts.co.uk/about_us/latest_issue/computer_arts_projects_issue_145), which is one of my dreams come true since I’ve been reading it for years! I created design concepts for some vinyl toy companies that I hope to see come to fruition in 2011; hopefully I’ll be able to work with more companies and produce more products.
I plan on updating and creating more content/products for my Artsprojekt store (http://www.zazzle.com/aw177), my Behance site (http://www.behance.net/aw177) and my personal website (http://www.AW177.com). I’d like to do more gallery shows of my artwork and my custom toys. I’m always striving to work and grow and move onto bigger things – my ultimate goal for 2011 is to make a career in graphic/digital/art and design, whether it is freelance or with a company – as long as I’m learning, I’m willing to do whatever it takes!
This past year at New York Comic Con, I was invited to display my custom art toys and for a signing/sketching session at the Tenacious Toys (http://www.tenacioustoys.com/) booth, which was really fun. It was my first time doing that and I had a blast! As for another New York Comic Con appearance this year, if anyone would like to invite me to display my artwork/toys and to do another signing/sketching session, I’d be more than happy to do it!
Any advice out there for any up-and-coming artist or toymakers out there that would like to get their work out there to the masses?
AW177: If you got passion and put a lot of heart into your work, people will see that and appreciate it – don’t be afraid to go out there and show what you got! Never let negativity discourage you from pursuing your dreams!
Do whatever it takes to learn, grow and cultivate your craft; this can only help you to become a better designer/artist. As an example, I worked with Tristan Eaton at Thunderdog Studios for a few months, it was really hard work, ranging from digital design to artwork creation, organization, updating digital content, gallery installation and handling, etc. But I was glad to do it since I was able to learn so much! And don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today; I know it sounds cliché, but the time is now and if you don’t take that chance now, you may never have that chance again.
Many thanks to AW177 for kicking knowledge to the masses. If you’d like to see more of this artists’ work, follow the crumb trail below:
AW177 Website: http://www.AW177.com
AW177 Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/AW177
AW177 Twitter: http://twitter.com/AW177
AW177 Blog: http://aw177.blogspot.com
AW177 Store: http://aw177.bigcartel.com
AW177 on Artsprojekt.com: Artists > AW177