Custom wedding cake toppers and a healthy sense
of humor got Troy McDevitt started on his career as a sculptor

On his Facebook page, Troy McDevitt describes his business, The McDevitt Studio, as “a magical place. For the past several years, I’ve laid a lump of clay out on my workbench before going to bed at night and in the morning, someone has used it to sculpt a brand new statue! This is where all my cake toppers and other sculpts have come from.

“Once, my wife and I hid in the closet and we saw that it was, in fact, two adorable little elves that sneak in and create these wonderful little sculpts for us as we sleep. She suggested that, as a way of repaying them, we should make them some little pants and shirts and shoes, since they were barefoot and the clothes they wore were all dirty and tattered. It was getting very, very cold outside and she felt this was the least we could do for all that they’ve done for us.

[caption id="attachment_1251" align="alignright" width="568" caption="Troy McDevitt's sculpture of the electrifying lady in "Charge!" is based on a painting by artist Aly Fell. Click for a larger view."][/caption]

“I told her to keep her stupid suggestions to herself and that the cold air would help keep them awake. Call for pricing!”

Plainly, Troy approaches his work with a sense of humor and his work reflects it. Just look at one of his latest pieces, “Charge!”, a licensed 1/6 scale reproduction of a painting from British artist Aly Fell. Commissioned by Marc Havican of Space City Resin, “Charge!” is a perfect translation of the artwork into three dimensions, a wonderful sculpture that’s both sexy and funny.

[caption id="attachment_1274" align="alignleft" width="234" caption="The McDevitt family."][/caption]

Troy, 38, lives in Concord, N.C., with his wife, Stephanie; daughter, Lexi, 8; and son Tanner, 5. Running The McDevitt Studio is his full-time job. “This is all I’ve got,” he says, “and if I can’t make it work, I’m screwed because I have no other skills.”

Most of his work until recently has been garage kits and one-of-a-kind pieces, but he has gradually been doing more prepaint statues for different companies. “I look at it as a sign that my work has improved and I’m finally able to produce the kind of work that some of the larger companies require.”

So far, Troy has worked with Bowen Designs, ARH Studios, Reel Art Studios, Resin Pimps, Dark Carnival, and several independent kit producers and private collectors.

“My primary focus is, of course, the sculpting, but I think you have to be able to do it all to survive and even prosper in this hobby,” he says. “You need to be able to mold and cast your own work and at least be a little more than proficient at painting, for one-of-a-kind pieces and paint masters for prepaint statues. Honestly though, I enjoy the end results of painting, but I wish I was able to spend 100 percent of my time sculpting. It’s what I’m passionate about and it’s the thing that pays the bills (most of the time).”

Q&A WITH TROY McDEVITT

Resin the Barbarian: You sculpt, you paint, you make molds, you make castings. What’s the history here? What came first, what led to what?

[caption id="attachment_1258" align="alignright" width="463" caption="Genghis Khan, done for ARH Studios."][/caption]

Troy: I played around with Super Sculpey for a few years (nothing worth showing), but professionally, I started off doing one-of-a-kind custom wedding cake toppers from 2003 to 2007. On the side I was doing my own little sculpts based on things that interested me (superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy), and I wanted to be able to make copies, so I started finding out as much as I could about molding and casting. A big portion of that came from the forums, some from misc. sources online, and the rest from Smooth-On.

RtB: You did a terrific mold-making tutorial that’s “stickied” at the Clubhouse. What’s your history as a maker of molds and castings? How did you learn it, and who have you taught?

Troy: Well, I’m pretty much self-taught, in that, I didn’t actually have someone on hand to show what to do and not to do. Advice from pros is great, but ultimately you just gotta get the equipment and jump in. The downside to this, is that you’re gonna make a LOT of mistakes, but really, that’s how you learn and continue to evolve. My early attempts were pretty horrendous, but after a lot of trial and error, I finally got the hang of it. I can’t say that I’ve specifically taught anyone, but i’ve given a lot of tips and tricks along the way, just as early on, others helped me.

RtB: You have more than 350 Facebook friends. How many have you actually met in real life?

Troy: Out of 350? Maybe one-fourth. I gotta say though, that’s no longer that important to me (meeting someone in person, I mean). I’ve made some real, honest friendships online with people I’ve only talked to on the phone or corresponded with through e-mail, and I feel just as connected with them as some of my friends that I regularly hang out with. There are things, like sculpting, that I can ONLY talk with my online friends about, and I think that’s pretty cool.

RtB: Who’s your hero?

[caption id="attachment_1260" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Troy's 2008 Christmas gift to his daughter, based on the artwork of Tony Diterlizzi, illustrator for "The Spiderwick Chronicles"."][/caption]

Troy: Yeesh! Okay, it’s hard to name just one individual, so I’ll list the main ones: My dad for starters. We’ve got a few differences, but overall, we’re so alike it’s eerie. He’s just an awesome, fun guy and he’s really my first big artistic influence.

Frazetta opened my eyes in a way that, artistically, I don’t think think anyone else has since. When they were in cowboy gear, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were the most badass, macho guys on the planet and I wanted so bad to be just like them (still do).

This is going to sound funny but, Arnold Schwarzenegger is up there as well, but not for the reason you might think. My admiration solely stems from his attitude, perseverance and determination. You look at where he came from, and then look at what he did over the next 50 years. I think he’s a great example of goal-setting and hard work.

There are also tons of sculptors out there that I’m in absolute awe of, but I don’t want to list a bunch of names for fear of leaving out someone important. The one single person I will name though is Tony Cipriano. It’s been my great pleasure to get to know Tony fairly well over the past few years and I think they broke the mold with that guy. He’s a hell of a nice guy, honest, extremely generous with tips and advice and as far as I’m concerned, one of the best sculptors in the biz, hands down.

RtB: You’re a father, correct? I’m going by the photos of the superheroic boy on your Facebook page. Does fatherhood affect your approach to sculpting? Do you pick any projects because you figure your kid might be impressed, or reject any?

Troy: It’s so corny to say, but my kids are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. They’re absolutely awesome and they continually surprise me with their intelligence, humor and creativity. I basically made half of my studio their workspace, and the three of us work together quite a lot. I can’t say that I’ve rejected any projects because of them, but I’m definitely more keen to take on a particular subject if it happens to be something that one of them is really into.

RtB: What can you tell me about your cake toppers?

[caption id="attachment_1262" align="alignright" width="300" caption="One of Troy's custom wedding cake toppers."][/caption]

Troy: They were fun for a while, but gradually, couples got further away from fun, creative concepts like the karate couple where the bride is flipping the groom over her shoulder, and more into standard tux and bridal gown pieces in dull, old-hat poses. It became almost cookie-cutter after awhile, and to be honest, it was never really my interest. I did the toppers because, (A) there was plenty of business, (B) I knew it would help me become a better sculptor, and (C) I just wasn’t a good enough sculptor to do anything else at that point. Looking back, it was one of the best things, career-wise, I ever did for myself. It taught me how to work fast, hit deadlines and work with customers. That being said, the only other wedding cake toppers I plan on making will be for both of my kids’ weddings.

RtB: Not being a sculptor myself, I’m just becoming aware of the hubbub surrounding Zbrush, 3d printing and that kind of thing. How do you feel about the digital influence on sculpting? Is it something you’ve done yourself, or do you intend to? Why or why not?

Troy: Boy, this is THE question out there isn’t it? Me and my buds discuss this quite a lot, with very different opinions. Here’s my take on it. I don’t have any problem with digital sculpting and I’m attempting to learn it myself. I really look at it as a tool, and it’s all about the person wielding that tool. I’ve seen lots of digital sculptors who have the tools, and the skill to pull off a well-executed statue, but lack the creativity to do something dynamic and worthy of $100 or more.

That being said, it’s not something I’m looking forward to doing a lot of, if I can help it. Most of my life, I’ve been a graphic designer, and one of the reasons i got out of that was because I was tired of sitting in front of a keyboard all day. There’s something about having the clay in your hands and physically pushing and pulling the sculpt that you just can’t replicate with a computer. Obviously the advantages of computer sculpting are huge and I won’t go into all of them here. It’s definitely the future of sculpting, but I don’t think it’s going to completely eliminate traditional sculpting. Sure, some companies may make the switch completely, but there are lots of talented sculptors out there, and lots of people and companies who want statues and don’t really care how they’re done. If you’re good, you’ll find work for many years to come.

[caption id="attachment_1264" align="alignright" width="294" caption="Actor Jorge Garcia, rear, with Troy McDevitt's sculpture of Hurley from "Lost"."][/caption]

RtB: The “Lost” caricatures you did for Titan Find seem to have gone over well. Are you a fan of the show? I confess I’ve never seen it.

Oh yeah, I love “Lost” (despite the fact that it’s over now). It’s a subjective thing, so not everybody is into it, but isn’t that the case with everything? I just found the characters so unique and compelling, I felt the overwhelming urge to sculpt them. I started off with Hurley and Sawyer and I’m trying to finish up Locke now. John, the owner of Titan Find, and I are hoping that, even though the show is over, once Locke comes out, there will still be enough interest to continue the line. Guess we’ll have to wait and see though!

RtB: You’ve done some unabashed caricatures and comical pieces, some hard-chiseled comic-style characters, and lots more. It’s rare that I can look at someone’s work and take note of such diverse things. For example, your Genghis Khan is just all kinds of bad. Tons of details, weapons, armor … a jaw dropper for fans like me. The Frazetta Dracula meets the Wolfman looks like the painting come to life, as does the “Charge!” Bride you recently completed. Then there’s the Clint Eastwood figure … I recognized him immediately, but I had to stare at the photo a while to appreciate how stylized the proportions are. The Hackman Lex Luthor … dunno what it is about that one, but I grin every time I look at it.

Ummm … was there a question there? Yeah, yeah, I was going to ask which of your sculptures reflects YOUR taste. What would you spend most of your time doing if you were working purely to please yourself?

By the way, I think my favorite of your pieces is the Wolverine vs. the ninjas. That giant idol base is just too cool for words.

Troy: Wow ……… what would I spend most of my time doing? To be honest, it’s all about how much the sculpt excites me, and what kind of challenge it is. Sculpting one particular type of subject, no matter what it is, sounds incredibly boring to me. For me, it’s all about improving, and as long as the sculpt I’m working on leads to that, it’s enjoyable. I’m a big fan of expressive faces, so that’s always something I try to capture. A bad face will always ruin an otherwise great sculpt in my opinion. Other than that, the things that excite me are those subjects that I haven’t really explored enough, or at all. I want to add a lot more women to my portfolio, as well as some monsters (classic and original), dinosaurs, and a lot more portraits just in general.

One of the key things I’m focusing on now is getting away from the more cartoony aspect that so many of my past sculpts have had, and working towards more realistic pieces. It’s been difficult, because I always find myself wanting to slide back into that habit, but I think the Genghis Khan piece I did for ARH Studios and the Wolfman vs. Dracula piece for ReelArt Studios was the first indication that I was heading in the right direction. I think you’ll see a lot more of that in all of my future work.

Like I said before though, I really do love superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy, monsters …….. just weird and nerdy stuff in general, so that will probably continue to dominate most of my portfolio for years to come. Thanks also for the kind words regarding the Wolverine vs. ninjas piece. It was another one of those challenges that I put before myself, and in the end, i was pretty happy with how it came out. It wasn’t by any means the greatest Wolverine statue out there, but at the very least, I felt that it was unique in the Wolverine garage kit universe.

RtB: What degree of artistic freedom are you used to when you work on projects? I presume it varies depending on the client, but can you tell me how widely it can vary? Are you used to clients providing you with detailed illustrations and instructions? Do you get people saying “I just want a cool werewolf”?

Troy: The greatest clients in the world are the ones who are fans of your work, and are happy with whatever you come up with. They’re hard to come by, but when you find those clients, there’s nothing better and more often than not, you end up becoming friends.

The next best clients are the ones that let you know what kind of look they like, and give you a general idea of what they’re looking for, but ultimately, let you conceptualize the piece. The worst clients are the one’s that THINK they’re giving you a lot of creative freedom, but end up micro-managing the entire project throughout, which ultimately makes the sculptor lose all interest in the project and results in an inferior piece. I always us the example of hiring a famous chef for your restaurant, and then coming in the kitchen and telling him, throughout each step, how he should make his Chicken Parmesan. If you’re looking for someone to recreate a picture EXACTLY as it is, that’s totally fine, just make that clear up front. If you’re coming to me saying that you want a cool Batman statue, giving me creative freedom, and then continue to tweak it throughout the process, you’re doing yourself, and the sculptor, a big disservice.

This isn’t to say that the client shouldn’t be able to offer their opinion, or make some suggestions along the way, but in the end, let the sculptor do what he or she does best. I’ve seen many, many sculpts that started off as amazing, and, with the help of constant tweaking, ended up as complete duds.

[caption id="attachment_1270" align="alignright" width="294" caption="Bowen Designs' Man-Ape, a Marvel Comics character in a crazy costume. Is that redundant?"][/caption]

Presumably, if you’ve hired a sculptor to do something for you, you’ve looked at his previous work. If that’s the case, you need to have some faith that he (or she) is going to do their best to create something equally as good for you, but you can only do that by stepping back and letting them work. Up-front communication, between both the sculptor and the client, is ABSOLUTELY key with any commission. I’ve had one or two control freaks along the way, but by far, the vast majority of my clients have provided me with almost total creative freedom. It’s for those people that I give 100 percent and will do everything in my power to make sure they’re satisfied in the end.

RtB: Do you ever get a commission and struggle to keep a straight face while you work on it? I ask this while looking at your photo of what I presume is a Marvel Comics character, a very angry-looking, muscular fellow wearing some kind of white ape costume. I don’t know who that is, but hoo! what an outfit!

Troy: Ha! See, that’s one of the funny things in this hobby that I love so much! I think each of us has this sacred cow mentality in terms of certain subjects that other people look at as something completely ridiculous. The piece you’re referring to is Man-Ape, a villain from Marvel Comics. Of course, he’s ludicrous, but I was first introduced to him and a universe of equally silly characters when I was a kid, and at the time, they didn’t seem ridiculous whatsoever. To a preteen, these guys make total sense, especially in the right story, but seeing them for the very first time as an adult, usually induces quite a different reaction. Look at all the monster guys who love the drive-in movie creatures from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The vast majority of them are absolutely preposterous, but it doesn’t diminish our nostalgic love of the character. We’re still seeing it through our 10-year-old eyes.

I guess one of the other things i feel pretty strongly about as well, is the ability to take a silly, or ridiculous subject and somehow make it cool and dynamic. It’s never difficult to make a Hulk sculpt look cool ….. ’cause he’s the Hulk. Now lets see you take Ronald McDonald and make something worthwhile. That’s the real challenge! As long as the client allows me to really run with the concept and do something unique and exciting, there are very few subjects that I work on while rolling my eyes.

RtB: Would you like to add anything else?

Troy: I’d just like to thank you for this opportunity Todd, it really means a lot to me. There are so many guys out there, new and old, that absolutely blow my socks off, and being asked to do an interview is a real honor. I love this hobby, and the people in it, and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I’ve been very, very lucky these past few years and the future continues to look pretty bright. You’re going to see a lot more variety from me over the next year and I appreciate all the support and encouragement I continue to get from friends and fans alike. For all the new guys looking to break in, all I can say is, make some goals, stay focused, be your own worst critic, lose the ego, and work, work, work!

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  • Posted June 3, 2010 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    how can i contact Troy McDevitt for a short intereviews?

  • Posted June 6, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Great interview!
    Troy’s one terrific guy, and he deserves to be recognized. He’s a great sculptor, loves what he does, is unselfish with his talents and I consider him one of my most valuable online acquaintances. 🙂

    Rock on Troy!

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