How did Brian Stupski fall into being an Automotive Artist and where did his name Studio Problem Child Kustoms come from?
Meet Brian Stupski, the man behind Studio Problem Child Kustoms. Find out how he has such a huge fanbase.
So how did you get started in design and art Brian?
I fell into it. I started going to school for engineering with a goal to become an automotive engineer. I grew up in a home with parents who were both into cars and very active with restoration, preservation & customization. So I had it really easy as far as being into cars. At school, I wasn't really focused enough but looked over at the finer art people and noticed there were a lot of girls who seemed to be having an awful lot of fun. So I decided at that time that young Brian should get into fine art versus engineering. I thought it would be an easy ride for me because I have always been good at drawing and painting. I went into that program, graduated and then hit a wall. I certainly couldn't go with my original goal to become an automotive engineer without the right papers. So I took it upon myself to keep working in a field that I had grown up with which was vehicles, especially collision repair, parts and service.
During your art study, was there any focus on cars or was it general art?
It was general art but I always managed to find a way to bring the automobile into my work, much to the dismay of my instructors. They weren't really car people at all. They wanted to do figure drawing and to me any shape meant cars. I look back and wonder how I made it through. I was a real pain. My name Studio Problem Child Kustoms definitely reflects roots in my life.
Can you tell me a bit more about going back to your roots in automotives?
I was really immature for my age and if I could go back, I would like to punch myself in the eye. I didn't want to teach. I really wasn't prepared to bring my knowledge to someone and try to shape their career because I couldn't do that for myself. I wasn't interested too much in taking a path which would have led me into a museum or anything of that nature. So I stuck with what I knew which was working with cars. I worked at dealerships and collision shops and really just pursued my passion of cars any way I could. Consulting on builds, trying to get my foot in the door to work with clients and manage projects for them. Over the years, I just fell into jobs where I could utilize the knowledge I had gained through my life being around cars. I got by and made a living doing that, while still doing something which I really enjoyed. The design part came together working a couple of jobs. I was managing a few projects and the thought always came up that I was working with people who really couldn't envision a finished project. I knew how to draw and realized I could actually use my design schooling from earlier, my engineering knowledge and my passion for cars to create finished versions on paper and help to guide the project along for a client. I worked for quite a while designing municipal vehicles like buses, support vehicles for utility companies etc. I later took a job in the off road industry simply because it was much closer to home and bit more laid-back. It got me out of the cubicle role and into the free zone where people spoke my language, I didn't have to sit in meetings three days a week and become frustrated because nothing was getting done. I worked there for quite a number of years and once my youngest son was born, we were in a position where I had enough clients on the side, to start my own studio. I did this with the plan to run on my own and freelance until my youngest was at school age and then head back into the work force. But here I am now and he is in middle school and I am still at this. The rest is history.
Do you have any regrets?
Not at all. My life has gone in directions which I couldn't even imagine. I think if I had of followed my original strategy and eventually headed back into the work force, I would have missed out on a lot of opportunities and meeting people. I would never have come to realize the vision that I have now which is to instruct people on how to do what I do and bring that knowledge out there. I am not a full time instructor but I have a web base where I can have tutorials and work with people in the industry who are extremely talented and are more than willing to lend their expertise and teach people as well. So I don't regret a moment of it.
You design cars, do art and also teach. What is your main focus?
My day is spent for the most part on designing custom vehicle projects for clients who are either working with a shop or preparing to build their own vehicle. I do a lot of work with mostly classic American cars. Taking and reworking things, supplying some knowledge for these clients of what kinds of parts will work for what they want to do, trying to help them figure out their budgets. I take the project management role and throw down the visual on paper for what they want to see.
So you help to stream line the project for the guy with the big dream, who will be working for 5 years on his car in the garage?
Exactly. My work really ranges from anything from the 'build at home' guy to full on shop that covers every base from full fabrication and construction, to a finished custom interior, to paint and everything else. It's pretty broad and I enjoy both. It's challenging on both sides of the fence.
Do you always get to see the end result?
Mostly. There are a few who never seem to finish, or I lose contact with a client. Then maybe five years later, I hear from them again because they are restarting the project and bring me on to update it. I've had a few that were really cutting edge five or six years ago who are just getting finished now. So I really have to go back and re-think a lot of things. Something which would have looked good back in 2008/2009 just doesn't jive today.
So the design that you made say ten years ago, just isn't trendy anymore?
Yes. I try to equate it to fashion. It seems to go on a seasonal wave. There are certain styles and techniques which people use on a car which will always be there and supplies the base to build everything upon. Then there is a group of guys that if a new part comes out, they have to have it. Other groups stay with what they know is tried and true. So it's really kind of fun to try to balance those out. I like to design a car for especially the 'build at home guy' who I know is going to keep this car and maybe pass it onto his children. I want to give him the kind of vehicle that he is going to enjoy fifteen years down the road every bit as much as he did the first day it was finished. That in itself is a whole mind boggling challenge.
Do you have a signature style yourself or do you stick to the order you get?
I have developed a style during the years. My style is really an aggressive performance based feel. My father was really into traditional style customs, 1950 cars with white wall tyres, very classy elegant. My mother was more into performance cars. So at a young age, it became part of my psyche to like both of them. I liked to do really sneaky kind of things with cars whereby you have to look at it two or three times before you even begin to understand all the work that was done to it. I think my style falls into that sneaky aggressive high performance feel.
If both your parents had a strong car philosophy, there must have been some interesting discussions over dinner.
Definitely. Looking back now, I've met a lot of people in this industry whose parents were not into cars at all and had no real interest in them, beyond driving them to work. That gave me a real distinct advantage. Especially in my field where I was exposed to it at such an early age and I got to know things by, not just looking at cars and being around them but by having worked on them and having an understanding of what it takes to put the car together. So when I work on a project, I am able to figure out how much money and buildable hours will be tied up in expendable materials, material costs, finishing costs, the time line and everything else which goes along with it. A lot of clients come to me expecting me to just draw the cars but then they see a bit more of what I do and what I offer and I usually end up working a lot closer with the builder of the vehicle.
Do the designs of those custom parts turn into a piece of art themselves or do you also generate art by itself?
I try to balance it between the two. Even in the design rendering, once we are out of the general sketching phase and I create a piece to showcase the finished vehicle, what I try to do is to create something that can stand as a piece of art on its own. I like to turn something more over to a client other than 'here is what you were hoping to do with your car and this is what it will look like'. I always ask a lot of questions at the beginning of the process and hand my client a list of different questions to help me get into their head. I want to understand a bit more about them as a person other than just knowing the kind of car they have. By the end of the project, I have a pretty good idea if the client has been married for a number of years and his relationship with his wife. I try to bring some of that feeling into the final artwork, be it in the background or in the colour. Then I can bring them a piece that they can hang on the wall, long after the project is done and they can both look at that and have some kind of connection to it. It's a strange dynamic when the wife may not be too happy about the car the husband wants but is trying to keep his wife happy. Sometimes I get to play marriage counsellor as well as car designer [laughs].
Looking at your work of cars with the skyline as background. Is the background important to go with the car?
I like to tell a story. Some of my work is more personal. I had this great vision in my mind of one day piecing together this great action American movie with lots of car chases, things blowing up, it became a thing for me. I live in the desert and wanted to get further outside of my home town and get very different scenery. So at one point, I put the vehicles into their own environment but tried to customize the background. My wife travels a lot for work and takes the camera with her. She shoots some pictures for me from different angles and we started a collection. On vacation, I tried to get as many interesting photo's which I could incorporate into my paintings. It became a personal challenge with myself to go through and create as many interesting composites as I could to make these backgrounds in these environments. People will catch onto things and notice that the buildings and streets are from different places. That became fun because I can hide things in the background and tell a story.
So you don't photoshop the photo. You take elements out of it.
I manipulate them. It's a little bit of work in photoshop, sometimes it's going back and even re-drawing things and illustrating by hand. A couple of pieces I had taken, I started compositing them, laid them over transparencies which I had printed, reshot them, scanned them back in, printed them out, airbrushed over the top and then went back in and added the cars to them. It becomes quite a process but it's fun. I like it when people look at them and say 'oh wow, you put the car into this picture'. At first that was quite a jab. Someone thinks I just took something and slapped a car on top of it but then I thought 'well maybe that is a credit'. It's like when we design a car and people think it came from the factory that way because everything flows so well. Deep down inside I always wanted to be a film maker. So taking a page out of a lot of the special effects, where people say if you can't tell it's been altered in some way for the visual effect, then you've done your job. I try to keep things as clean and somewhat believable. At least as far as the vehicle goes for subject matter. It's not too often you would see two cars squeezing in between a trolley and pedestrians but in my world, that seems to happen quite often.
I like how you live a part of your dream of a film-maker by visualizing your fantasies and dreams.
Definitely and to me, it gives me an advantage over a film-maker. I don't have to read through a bunch of bad reviews. I get a few people on Facebook saying I don't like it but that's fine. Move on to the next one and I don't have to worry about a studio coming down on me.
Does people’s opinion affect you?
You put a bit of yourself into each piece and you hope that everyone is going to like it. To me, my pieces are like my children, I do my best to raise them and put them out into the world and hope they will do well. If someone doesn't like it, you feel sad and I wonder what they didn't like or what didn't appeal. But I am no longer at the point where I would stop and rework everything to fit the needs of two or three people who maybe wanted to see another artists' style applied. I think people fall into that, they get adapted to one style they like and think everything should look like that. I have a lot of fun with exposing someone to something they have never seen before. I try to keep proportions and perspective as realistic as possible but I tweak things a little bit and try to bring a bit of life into it. Also cartoon some things and then I do my best to make realistic lighting or have a glow coming off the parking lamps. Just something that throws you a little off balance from 'hey this is a cartoonish representation of a car but hey the lights are on'. That kind of weird moment. I am not quite into that uncanny valley with realistic robots and things.
Where do you find your inspiration and what triggers you to make a particular kind of artwork.
I have never really figured it out. From the time I was a kid, I was always making mental notes as we would ride around in the car. I would look at other cars and think 'wow, there's a shape to maybe the panel on that car which would look really cool on this other car'. Then it became a game of, if I did that, how would I change the lights and I've always looked at things that way. I never look at it like a slap in the face to a designer because there are a lot of very talented people designing these beautiful cars. I always look at it in a way of how I could personalize that vehicle for either myself or another client. You get to a point where you don't even think about it. I can be talking to a client about five or six cars he likes, and in my head I am thinking about his personality and what he likes and I'm already sketching out an idea. Usually in two or three quick changes, I can have a client come and look at it and say 'You hit it. That's exactly what I pictured in my head'. And I'm thinking 'oh well, I don't even know where it came from but good'. So it's a weird thing and as far as the personal art goes, I look at so many different things for inspiration. Having gone to school for fine art, we spent a lot of time in art history. So I am always studying people’s technique and their vision. I probably spend far more time than I should watching documentary's while I work. For a lot of years I listened only to music but then decided to have documentaries playing, so that I can learn while working. I pick a subject for about a month and read all the books I can find and look at as many documentaries as I can, to apply new things to my artwork. Whether it's a theme, or historical knowledge.
Do you have an example? What is the topic you are currently studying?
Right now I have gone back to something near and dear to me. Early Warner Brother’s stuff. When I went back to school, I studied animation and one of my goals was to get into feature films but life got in the way and children came along. It's an ongoing passion of mine learning as much as I can. Max Fleischer who invented the rotoscope was the beginning of animation. I will be watching something and the way my brain works is that I can't let it go until I know about it. So I have small notes everywhere which remind me to search for things. It leads to sleepless nights.
But do you pick those topics specifically for what you want to do in the future?
Definitely. There is always a plan. Sometimes it's not so clear but somehow on some grand scheme it always seems to make sense in the end.
What would be your big dream, if you had no obstacles? If you had 10 million on the bank, what would you do?
My one goal that I would most love to do, would be to gather a small group of us artists and designers, get a van and trailer with loads of art supplies and make a travelling art studio. Take this to hospitals and under privileged neighbourhoods and bring art and design to kids who may never have had a chance to be immersed in, or exposed to it, To hopefully inspire someone somewhere to realize that there is this whole world of cool things to do and it's only limited by their imagination. I would hand these kids art supplies, give them some knowledge on the working of tools and go to the next place and hopefully come back in a few months or a year, and pick right back up with these kids. That is my ultimate goal if I had no limitations.
That sounds like a very realistic goal
I think it has a lot of potential. Life seems to hand me little bits of inspiration that lead to something. Maybe I'll meet someone along the way that either becomes a great friend or who becomes instrumental in helping either myself or another friend of mine to get to a better station in life. I was fortunate enough to make some connections in this industry where we can probably get the van, the trailer and the supplies. It's now just a matter of getting the schedule rounded up and getting people to travel and figuring out all the logistics to make it happen.
You could even start a crowd-funding event to get more exposure. You already have your Facebook fan base with over 9000 likes.
I am always shocked by that. I look at Facebook and think that's a lot of people looking at my stuff and I get stage fright every now and then. But I definitely think it would be an idea to utilize that group to do something as simple as buying us a tank full of gas and the artists lunch at various stops, in order to keep it going. We could then invest everything we were doing for those children and get some of them interested in it. There may be one child out there who has never heard of this but who gets inspired and becomes the next great painter or animator. I think that would be absolutely outstanding.
Wow, that is an awesome dream that you have. You should definitely go for that Brian. I believe that we are all preparing for some bigger things in life. Studying everyday in life and improving yourself is a great way to get there.
Visit www.problemchildkustoms.com to see more of Brians Stupski's great work.