The Head Merchant. What a name for a character. When he lumbered onto the garage-kit scene a couple years ago, I was struck by both his originality and his familiarity. The character is a cheerful but deadly, axe-toting barbarian on the back of a … whatever that horned creature is, packing a bouncing supply of severed heads. If someone told me this was an image that flowed from the paintbrushes of Frank Frazetta, I would have believed it.
But it’s not Frazetta’s work. It was created by sculptor Kent Kidwell, and for many hobbyists it was a memorable introduction.
Kent Kidwell, 40, lives in Florence, Ariz. He’s married to Linda and has four kids, Chessa, 4, Gabriel, 6, Kaleb, 14, and Samantha, 17. His business is Kidwell Concepts, which offers sculpting, mold-making, casting, design and multimedia. Running his business is a full-time endeavor for Kent; he says it’s all he knows how to do.
“Sadly, almost 20 years of sculpting, mold making and casting has made me unqualified for normal employment,” he said. “I would get fired at Taco Bell, I would get caught making a zombie bust made of beans and that would be it.”
The majority of his clients are private buyers who want unique fine art for home use, some office, but he has done work for larger companies as well.
“Being so young in the resin kit industry, I have just focused on releasing original kits,” he said. He’d like to do familiar characters such as the Hulk or Batman. “For some reason, I haven‘t been pursued for that genre much, not sure why. But I’m pretty sure I will be doing some comic characters soon, I hope.”
For now, the garage kits available directly from Kent are the Head Merchant, Pod Creature and Shadow Host General of the Undead.
I always ask the subjects of these interviews to share photos of themselves. Kent declined, but suggested readers envision him as “Quasimodo meets Uncle Fester, with charm.”
Q&A WITH KENT KIDWELL
Resin the Barbarian: You sort of burst onto the garage-kit scene a couple of years ago with your Head Merchant kit. Since then, what have you most enjoyed about being involved in the hobby?
Kent: Before I answer that, Todd, I just wanted to thank you for the chance to meet your readers. This is my first interview based on this hobby so I’m flattered.
To your question, I think there are two parts for me I enjoy. The first is the original kits side of things. I sincerely love the creative process of doing something that is uniquely your own, and being free to expand on that idea in whatever direction your imagination leads you. Freelancing can be creative but is more challenging in that you have to stay within the confines of the person or persons’ vision of what they want. I really enjoy that challenge but have sort of bottled myself in a bit in that I think producers see me as an original kit producer and not a for-hire sculptor, so few come a’knocking. But I stay busy doing whatever comes to mind.
RtB: I’ve spent some time looking at your online galleries and have been interested in the variety of sculpture you’ve done. A lot of what you show is monsters, warriors and the like that are of interest to garage-kit hobbyists. But you also did a blue heron and bald eagle for a wildlife society, and a wonderful bronze bench. What kind of sculptural work are you called upon most to do? What do you enjoy most?
Kent: Well, I like all forms of art. I really appreciate classic art. If I had to devote my life to one form it would likely be classic monumental figurative work depicting scenes from the Scriptures. I realize that makes me sound like a zealot but really, I love history ,I love figurative work, and I love classic themes that dwell on a higher, more inspirational plane.
It’s difficult to find modern themes to sculpt that have the artistic impact of the classic or historical perspective. An example would be if a modern character was visited by angels — how would I make a baseball cap and blue jeans work in a classic medium like bronze? Also figurative themes are hard to find in today’s society, biblical subjects are always semi-dressed allowing for some nice anatomy details. The modern person is usually dressed to cover their form.
RtB: As mentioned above, you have sculpted animals, original-creation creatures (inspired by artists such as Frank Frazetta) and interpretations of commercial characters such as the Predator and a character from the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Do you have to bring different skills to these different kinds of work? I mean, is there more freedom to play around a bit with pieces such as the Head Merchant, whereas you need to be true to the physical makeup of a heron, or fulfill a Predator fan’s expectations?
Kent: Yeah, it’s funny, the Pred piece was very challenging in that Pred fans are very exacting. All the way down to the smallest detail. The heron and eagle had to go through three very detailed inspections for accuracy even going so far as to count the primary feathers, that’s frustrating but challenging too.
I would much prefer to just go my own way with things but that would certainly stop my freelance career in its tracks. It’s like in any business, the client comes first.
The Head Merchant was easy piece to sculpt because his character was so outrageous to me and what he was doing made for an interesting scene. Original subjects are half as challenging.
RtB: I’m a father and am interested in the ways our kids view what we do. You say in your online bio that your kids aren’t interested in your work. How much of it do you offer to share with them? Are they always welcome to see what you’ve done, or does some of it strike you as “not for kids”?
Kent: Well, I was exposed to some great artwork at a very young age. My elder brother Rod, five years my elder, was very interested in fantasy art, Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, even more expressive graphic novels like Heavy Metal magazine. Honestly very racy stuff I would never read today. I would never let my kids see something like that. I keep the scary stuff away from them and gore, nudity that stuff was a little too available when I was a kid so I do the filter thing.
My youngest boy, Gabriel, has taken an interest in sculpture and has an affinity for it, he loves monsters.
RtB: You say your wife supports your work. In what ways?
Kent: As a freelancer, you never know where your next check will come from. Having a traditional job, collecting a stable paycheck, is a dream I never get, sometimes I get paid on a 30, 60, 90 net basis (the number of days until the full balance is paid), so she has been able to fill the dead spots with her work.
She is also a talented musician, so we have a mutual respect for each other’s desire to pursue our art. I have seen other spouses really degrade an artist into quitting. Money is often a marriage-defining element. Artists are notoriously broke. Not always, but in today’s economy art is not the highest priority of buyers, its kind of weeded out those that need more practice.
RtB: Of all your works, what is your wife’s favorite?
Kent: I never asked but I believe it would be the Head Merchant.
RtB: Reading through your materials, I get the impression that your church is important to you. True?
Kent: I have done a few faith-based figures and I would do more, but it’s more an issue of time. Sadly, there is also a financial trade off for it as well. I really can’t invest a lot of time in things that don’t pay. Maybe someday I will be independently wealthy and could afford the up-front costs involved in marketing Christian based subjects to the world.
RtB: Are any of your works intended as a celebration of your faith?
Kent: I have only ever done a few LDS pieces. Captain Moroni and the title if liberty, and Lihi and the Liahona. These were done with the intent of selling a product and religious appreciation, I guess.
RtB: How does your faith help shape your perspective as you do your work?
Kent: Well, I would say I’m like any that have a belief system, mine keeps me from road rage and overthrowing our current government.
RtB: Do you think some of them might be viewed as being at odds with your church’s beliefs?
Kent: I think there is a line between porn and beauty. I try and stay away from sexual subjects in my work, this is a very touchy subject for sure, but I will do my best to answer.
I believe all mankind must work within the confines of one’s own conscience. I think without question the female form is the pinnacle of beauty on earth, at least for me. Artists have been trying to capture its beauty for millennia. For me to say that a naked woman isn’t art would be in effect spitting on every great masterpiece that has ever shown a breast or buttock.
I have had to draw a line where my conscience dictates, and here is what I formulated for me. I will never use nudity to express sexual behavior. Any pose or expression I am trying to get across will not in any way degrade women or put them in any light other than powerful, beautiful, mysterious, etc., which to me they are.
I might dabble in sensual or even sexy but never openly sexual. So for me it’s not how much skin is involved but the nature of its use.
I was once offered a sizable commission to do ladies of porn in various sexual poses. It would have been great financially, but in the end I would still have to look at myself in the morning.
RtB: Obviously, I’m more familiar with your sculptural work than your illustration. Have you had comparable success as an illustrator?
Kent: No, not as an illustrator. Luckily I learned very early on that my skill was sculpture, so I shifted my focus around 18 years old. I use illustration a lot, however, in showing people ideas and concepts without having to sculpt an entire maquette to get my point across. For me it’s a work tool and a fun hobby.
I have dabbled in oil painting. In fact, my first and only real oil painting was on a large board, called “Calling Down Dragons”. It was fun doing but I have no plans to revisit the frustrations of oil painting, at least for now.
RtB: Back in April, you posted something at the Clubhouse stating you hadn’t been able to paint one of your own kits yet. Is that still so? What do you think of the build ups of your kits that you’ve seen?
Kent: Yeah, sad but true. It’s mostly a time issue. Right now I have four more kits on the way and production of my other kits. I really struggle to find time.
Luckily, I have had some amazing artists do that for me. I get a lot out of it, especially with original kits. I honestly search the web for anyone doing my work, altering it, just showing their take of it, is very exiting to me. It’s like seeing the subject in a new way every time.
RtB: What are you working on now? Your website mentions carnival classics “Perry Winkle” the clown and “Carni Val” as coming soon. Did I miss those? If not, how are they progressing? How about Head Merchant 2?
Kent: The head merch 2 is almost finished. I am doing a commission of a warlike gorilla. The vampire bust (Fallen Bride) and I hope to finish one called Wind Witch. After these I will be doing a few life size pieces and then back to doing kits again.
The two zombie clowns are a month away likely.
RtB: Would you like to add anything else?
Kent: Only thanks again for the chance to meet your readers.