January 13, 2012

paul b

Surrounded by the fruits of his own labors: heroic and villainous creatures from conjured worlds, all of whom he has borne into this one with his imagination, craftsmanship and painstaking patience, you'll find him hunched over his work in the rear corner, his back to you, working by the light of a single lamp.  He may not even notice you, but there will be plenty of other eyes following as you approach.  You'll try to discern which creature's eyes just flickered, which inanimate figure just sprang to life for a moment.  It's a futile endeavor, though.  There are far too many.  When at last, he turns, he'll be gripping a scalpel.  The magnifying glasses he dons will distort his eyeballs to Dali-esque proportions.  A half-excited, half-nervous chill creeps the length of your spine.  After a moment, however, his mouth evolves into a subdued, yet, welcoming smile.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                 paul b. uses crazy glasses to see tiny figures

To find our Gepetto's workshop, in the heart of Clifton Gaslight, in a towering Georgian, don't bother ascending the elaborately hand-carved staircase to the second floor.  You'll have to go down to visit this cellar dweller.  Watch your head.  Watch for spiders, too.  Heck, watch for trolls, dragons, and anything else that little boys wearing homemade paper hats and cardboard sabers dream of slaying, for master toy designer and figure sculptor, Paul B. has, at some point, in his nearly two decade long career, crafted all of them.  He's designed for Kenner, Hasbro, and oodles of others toy manufacturers, and, in a world where nearly everything has become digitized, they keep coming back for more of Paul's handmade treasures.

photo by steve metz                                     someone please save the princess
Despite the fact that his model figures, most of which are only a few centimeters tall, are ornately detailed, wildly complicated, hand carved, and, most impressively to me, never even drawn on paper first, Paul will still be the first person to recognize an inherent irony in his craft.  After all, he's pouring surgeonesque skill and outrageous levels of artistic vision and creativity into something which might very well have its head gnawed off by an ambling toddler, or which might spend its life under a buzz-lightyear-sheet-ensconced twin bed. A dog hair tumbleweed rolls by as a sad dragon sighs.

Paul has a way of putting his work-life in perspective with a one sentence retort to the commonly asked question, "how's work been?"

"Well, I just spent two solid days sculpting a new saddle for My Little Pony."  *Snort*

We could easily jump on board this mind-train, born of Paul's own modesty, by dismissing his work as child's play, but that would be taking the easy way out.  That would shortsighted, and we don't do that here in the Porkopolis of my dreams.  Instead, we look more carefully.  We look with the wide eyes of children.  We look through those crazy eyeball-buggin' glasses of Paul's, too.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                             hi kid-o
Put your awareness now, on the photograph above, for a moment or two.  Imagine that you have a small ball of clay in your hands.  Now, begin to massage it into a form.  Work the clay with your fingers.  Could you even begin to make the rough figure that will eventually become this two inch tall child?  Now that the rough form is complete, you'll be working with a new medium.  You'll be holding a waxen, featureless object: a faceless mold.  It's dimensions are intact, but it is without personality.  You hold a scalpel-like object connected to a heating element, and, minute detail, by minute detail, you carve it into being.  You melt minuscule lines of detail into existence: the lifeline on a tiny palm, a belt buckle no larger than a few grains of rice,  a wisp of hair the size of a pinky cuticle.  You are giving birth to something new for this world, and you are doing so from an image which exists only in your mind's eye.

Can you place yourself in this place: in this perfect, harmonious confluence of imagination, precision detailing, and technical prowess?  Can you see yourself in Paul's factory of dreams?

We have a world that requires tiny joys: casual objects that make us happy when we take them from the shelf and roll them between our fingers.  Maybe next time, thanks to Paul, you and I will both pause for a moment and wonder where these tiny things come from.  Who hatches these ideas and sees them through to fruition?  On behalf, of myself and your kids, I'm really glad that Paul does: that he provides  us with these miniature bursts of felicity.  I'm very happy that Paul and his parade of characters are citizens of Porkopolis.

photo by steve metz                                    paul b., master sculptor, with his heads

To see Paul's work, open your child's toy chest.


  1. Wonderful, and what a fantastic portrait you captured. Thank you for writing about him.

  2. I think he's a butthole.

    1. I guess you're allowed to say that, being his brother and all. Hi Tom.

    2. Heh. Cool blog Steve. I put you in my RSS.

  3. thanks for writing this. Fantastic piece. Really enjoyed it...!!!

  4. Awesome as always. Can't wait for the next one.