If you don’t know Greg “Craola” Simkins by name, you more than likely have come across his work at one point or another. Either by seeing his graffiti work, his work on video games such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, his various skateboard deck designs and band posters, designer toy collaborations with Kidrobot, or just by his out of this world surrealist paintings shown in galleries and solo shows. Such a pleasure to get to know him a bit more and pick his brain about what he’s up to, what we can find at his booth at DesignerCon this weekend, and the future of art in general. He is a true artist who never stops creating, he was even drawing during our whole interview!
Lindsay Garber: Thanks on behalf of Nerd News Social, for sitting down with us today. I’ve found a couple of interesting things, such as, I read that your artistic ambitions bloomed at age three with drawings inspired by animals, cartoons and books. Typical three year old things. All of which we can still today find referenced in your art today. “Artist blocks” happen with everyone and from so many years of you being a creative, I’m sure you’ve had at least one. How do you break through these blocks, and get back into your dream world, which you have named “The Outside”?
Greg “Craola” Simkins: Well, the blocks are pretty easy to jump out of these days, because of all the sketch books I filled up for the last many years. I tend to keep small sketchbooks that I keep by me, with a bald point pen. Every thought, idea, gets jotted down in the sketchbook. Every little image, no matter how weird or dumb, gets drawn in there. They are usually really messy. I don’t keep really detailed drawings with me, because I know that later on, I can take that idea nugget, and expand upon it on a piece of paper, canvas or something larger. Really refine it. I try to keep my ideas lose so I can redefine it with new vigor, it’s like giving it new life.
Lindsay: Awesome, out of curiosity, about how many sketchbooks of yours do you still keep? Are we talking in the hundreds?
Craola: Gosh, I don’t even know. I’m looking up here, yeah… There is probably just 15-16 that I’ll comb through if I have a block. I have 3-4 going right now. So I have to remember which one I am in. There is one specifically that I always have. I just finished one moleskin book with a Red Hood sticker on the front. One of my favorite comic book characters. That one, I always look for that one, because I put some fun drawings in that one. I also have some composition books that have that weird black and white pattern on it. I’ll use anything, as long as it will take a ballpoint pen, I’m happy.
Lindsay: Napkins? Never know when inspiration will strike.
Craola: That’s right.
Lindsay: I’m really excited about one of your projects, that I believe began in 2016, you entered the stop motion world with the wonderfully done short called “I’m Scared” which won awards and mentions. It’s based off some of your works, your character design, and you took part in writing and in the art direction. Can you tell us how this project and idea for the project came to fruition, and why you wanted to do stop motion?
Craola: The original idea came about when I started writing, “I’m Scared” with my son Isaac. I have two sons. 11 and 6 now. They were younger. At night time, I would make up a sentence like, “I’m scared of the monster who climbs down the stairs….” and he would say something, “I’m scared of eclairs….” and we’d work it out, “I’m scared of gelatinous goopy eclairs…” We just played back and forth, and I would just make up stories for him. Things that kids are scared of. He has a really amazing imagination, and he is very playful like that. We made up a lot of stuff that we wrote down. It’s not all in the show. There was a portion about going out fighting monsters in the mountains with moles. Dog eating his homework. There are all these places that the kid goes, that we couldn’t quite possibly fit into the short. The short came about because my friend Dan Levy came around and said, I’m working with this director Pete Levin, and I think we should get together and put a Kickstarter together to create an animated short that features your work and your stories, and if I wanted to meet up and talk about it. I said, “Of course” so we got together and I brought them this other story, which was really dark and morose, and kinda sad. I thought it would be very sad, and we were sitting at the restaurant. They look at me and say, “I’m not sure… I don’t think that’s the one…” and I said, “I got this thing that I’ve been messing around with my son…” I read it to them, and their eyes lit up, and they said that they we are doing this one. So we sat down, Pete, Dan, and I, and we rewrote it. Pete has such an amazing linear mind, his creativity is bordered by his organization skills. He helped get the thing in a start to finish fashion that he could direct, and animate. They used all my character work as concept art. It was a fun process. I got to go in and watch the team build puppets. I went in a couple times. I tried to stay out of their circle of things, because I don’t want to be annoying. Pete really knows what he is doing. He comes from Robot Chicken, and a bunch of other stop motion projects like Dan.
Lindsay: And your son was even the voice of one of the characters, which I find so perfect. It goes so well, and to now know that he helped come up with some of the lines…
Craola: Yeah, he did the monsters growl and the “hmm” of the little brother boy. That is so funny because that would be his little brother in real life. He is the big brother, and the little brother is the scariest monster in the room, is his little brother. Which is kinda a flip flop.
Lindsay: These characters have such growth potential, will there be a second installment, “I’m Scared Again”? Or do you see yourself doing another project like this in the near future?
Craola: Oh, I think I definitely want to do more projects like this.
Lindsay: Speaking of stop motion, and mediums where art can be, there is a lot more virtual reality, 3D printing and sculpting now. What do you think about the future of art in virtual space and digital 3D space? Do you have any desire to get into these platforms and dimensions? Maybe virtual reality galleries?
Craola: I like the whole virtual reality world, it’s very compelling and interesting. My friend Stephen Reedy is doing a lot of stuff with it. He took me to a studio he was working at, with a game he was developing, also some other projects that they had. He also has some 3D sculpting, and I was blown away. I come from working in video games, and I thought I was looking at the future. You could do so much of this. To be able to 3D sculpt something, and then be able to print it out, it blows my mind. I want to mess around with that, and see what’s going on with that. There are so many things to do, and not enough time in the world.
Lindsay: I’m very curious about one of your characters, who I also would love to see in the 3D world. Tell us a bit about “Stabby.” He’s quite a different style than what we usually see and he’s shown up on a few of your works such as “The Glass Pinata” and “Beyond Shadows,” one of the DCon billboards this year, as a comic throughout your Instagram, and even on merch such as backpacks and shirts like your new Camp Stabby shirts now available on Amazon. When and where did he come from, is he an outlet for a different style, what can you tell us about him?
Craola: Well, Stabby is definitely an outlet for a different style. It goes back to being a kid watching Mickey Mouse cartoons, and then later, finding out what was before that, like Felix the Cat, and of course Oswald the lucky rabbit, who I just adore. I have spray painted him on so many walls, just because he is the step brother of Mickey that didn’t quite make it. My logo is a black rabbit, which I kinda adopted from Oswald for a while, but I had to change him up to make him my own. Then I said that I needed my own character, who is mine. Then I started doodling and I drew this switchblade whistling down the street. I said, “That’s my guy!” he is cool and has a heart of gold, he is never going to stab anybody, he just looks tough because he is a switchblade, and his name is Stabby. However, I’m trying to make him the sweetest character possible. He just makes me happy. He is the most fun character to design around. My favorite thing to design with him is the posters we make, more than anything. I look at my old book of Mickey and Disney movie posters from the 30s through the 40s. Then I create these posters as if Stabby had been around from the time before, and he had a part in their coming about. I’ve played around with him always doing bunny ears on everyone with his two fingers. I thought it would be funny if he turned every character into a bunny rabbit, and then puts bunny ears behind it.
Lindsay: I’m a bunny mother myself, I just love what you are saying right now. Any chance that we will see him as a figure at DesignerCon?
Craola: 100% yes. There is a toy that will be there for sure. A Stabby toy will be released at DesignerCon.
Lindsay: So exciting!
Lindsay: So speaking about animals, as we can see throughout your art, animals play a large part. If you were turned into an animal, what animal would you pick and why?
Craola: That’s tough. There are a few good ones. Probably killer whales, except for the ones that get stuck in aquariums. I love them, I’ve seen them a lot. I just like their color patterns to be honest. Also I love rabbits too. I watched Watership Down as a child and it affected me. I liked the Black Rabbit of Inlé, and all the rabbits from Watership Down. They hold a big place in my heart. There are too many animals though. I like tigers, and I was drawing flower spiders today, which don’t really exist. I was making up a story about them, and what their place in “The Outside” is. I like mixing them up though.
Lindsay: I love the combination of how you even put objects with the animals, creating something new, like stripes on a whale so it looks like a tiger now. Do you come up with stories about your subject before you paint, or does it develop along on the way?
Craola: Both. Sometimes I’ll be working on them and they change. A lot of time the stories will change while I am working on it. “Puppets Pathos” is a good example of it. A puppet creator in the mouth of a hermit whale, writing a goodbye letter, and I just had to sit and write a story about it, so I wrote a small notebook, 18-20 pages, it’s a small notebook, so it probably equals something smaller. I just started writing and a fun little story came out of it. I tend to make up the stories, and make the things fit in the world more often than not these days. I share that stuff with my director, and writer friends, Pete and Dan mostly, and see if we can mess around with the stories later. There are a few stories that I’ve put out there, one was called “Awkward Breeze”, from this painting I did called “The Gift” a couple years ago, that’s online some place. I don’t really show to many people all the writing yet. We will see.
Lindsay: Speaking about news, and what’s going on, very recently the legendary Stan Lee has passed, but will never truly be gone or forgotten. Can you tell us a bit about how he’s affected you as an artist, as an average joe, and how his now passing has affected you?
Craola: Obviously I grew up reading comic books, he was always there. Growing up, he was a character, like a staple in so many of our lives. For so many generations. The guy outlasted so many people, and had his wits about him the entire time. He was super impactful, just his stamina and energy to make things that were awesome. It was infectious. I recently re-posted a picture from DragonCon a few years back. I had an opportunity to sit with him at my booth. He was signing things, for about an hour. I did a painting that was called “Anti-Venom.” I had Spider-Man, as an actual spider with Daredevil riding him, like he was a roller coaster. With Iron Man. In the window of the building they were on, was Stan Lee. People at DragonCon reached out to him, because he was going to be there, if he would like to sit there and sign with us. He did, and he was there for over an hour. He told me stories about how he met Salvador Dali, Ali, his interactions with them, and about meeting Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. He just told me these funny stories, and was making fun of my signature, which I thought was awesome. “I can’t even read that signature! You have to do it with pizzazz, but make it readable! Like this!” and he signed a couple prints upside down by accident, so whoever got those were lucky. He was so nice and so genuine. He talked to everyone who came by, and comic book writers and artists came by in line, just to meet him! They had tears in their eyes. He meant a lot to so many people. You never hear anyone give him a bad rap. He had a good reputation, which is really important, and a good example of how to be in this industry. He has done a lot for creative people. It’s sad that he is gone. I am stoked that I got to meet him a couple times, and that his legacy will live on.
Lindsay: Thank you for commenting on that. I never got to meet him, but the hustle he had was amazing. He always had that great personality on stage and places that I’ve seen him, like at Comikaze, and the jokes that he’s done, and the Youtube “Stans Rants”. He just acts like a silly old man, ranting about ridiculous stuff. He had just an amazing sense of humor, so I thank you for your comments on that. To bring things back up… You will be at DesignerCon in Anaheim the 16th through the 18th, can you tell us what we can expect to see at your booth and are you participating in any additional events at the con?
Craola: I’ll be signing there two days. On Saturday and Sunday, from 2pm to 4pm. We will be doing some releases, the prints for “Mischief Makers”, which I think is a perfect fit for DesignerCon. I’ll just be at my booth. No other events. Also the Stabby toy is coming out, with a bunch of other things being released. DesignerCon Dunnies are being released.
Lindsay: You recently had work up at KP Projects Gallery and at “Beyond The Streets” in Los Angeles. Any other art exhibitions, murals, or anything else we should keep an eye out for?
Craola: I’m working on my next show right now. I have a lot of drawings for it. I’ll be painting the big one soon. It’ll be for summer time. I’m working on the big work of art now.
Lindsay: As we speak.
Lindsay: Great, I am so glad that we spoke.
The best place to see more of his work is to visit GregSimkinsArt.com. He also has a YOUTUBE page where he posts time-lapse videos of his paintings coming to life and you can connect with him on his INSTAGRAM.
If you want to support this artist he will be in the Anaheim, CA area for DesignerCon November 16th through the 18th at his booth #2423. He will be doing a signing at his booth the 17th and 18th roughly 2P–4P (give or take). Additionally he has a new shirt, “Camp Stabby” now on Amazon.com and a SHOP for various merch, apparel, books, and more! Lastly, you can also support by watching and sharing his movie “I’m Scared” or sharing this article.