Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interview with Custom Figure Artist Pat Billings

We had the opportunity to interview artist and custom toy maker Pat Billings this week. He's been busy making customs, painting and drawing for the past 14 years. We were lucky enough that he brought in samples of his work.  Take a look at the custom figure he did of himself and other customs posted throughout the interview.

How did you get into custom toys?
I originally started in the mid 90s with Starting Line Ups. I would repaint figures and one of the earliest figures that I repainted was using Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds and making a Roberto Clemente figure. Then I slowly started piecing other figures together in the ‘Frankenstein” style. The first one I ever did was the Harlequin. It was the animated Harlequin look. There was a figure from the Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.s of the 90s. There was a character called Voodoo. That's what I used for the [Harlequin] figure. Then I sculpted and it was my first true custom where I added pieces to it like Frankenstein.

What has been your favorite custom creation so far?
Definitely my favorite custom would be the Female Punisher because it was one of my first and it took me about a year and a half to finish. It's where I really learned about sculpting and adding different pieces together. It took the most time and it is one of the better ones. On Deviant Art and another website called Figure Realm where you can post your figures and write a description and that is the most popular there from all my figures.
The Female Punisher includes pieces from Nina Williams (Tekken), Judge Andersen (Judge Dredd) and Chandra Rising Stars

I've seen your characters from Star Wars, Marvel and sports figures. Is there a specific genre you prefer?
What I really like to do is put my own spin on things. I like to make female figures of well established characters like Darth Vader, Punisher and the female Joker.  

What is the process you use to build a custom?
It depends on the type of figure. I can use a base figure or I might have to use different feet, different hands, different head. I might have to sculpt. There was this guy that wanted me to do his brother-in-law as Captain America. I used the body but needed a different head and I used Dr. Strange. The guy was Korean and I needed to resculpt the face. I had to redo the cheeks, eyes and eyebrows. Then I had to paint. It wasn't very involved like having to Frankenstein stuff but the head had be remade from scratch.
What is the biggest challenge in creating customs?
Time and teaching myself how to sculpt.
What character was the most challenging for you?
At the time with the tools I had, Female Punisher was the toughest. The Joker after I had the Apoxie was the most involved. It wasn't the toughest but the sculpting tools I used to create it were fairly simple. It's involved because you are making something from scratch. It wasn't a difficult figure but it was really involved with the work that I put into it.  
I've had the opportunity to look at your Deviant Art site. You not only have pictures up of your customs but also drawing and paintings too. is there a certain medium you prefer?
I prefer doing the customs because it entails all the skills into one with the painting and sculpting and everything. If you are a creative person it really helps to really get that all out of yourself and put it towards a project because it feels really good when you are done. You can stand back and see what you have done. I really love doing that anything creative. It's really cathartic for me because it's something you have worked on that you can see when you are done. It's notthe pats on the back or the accolades, I just really like seeing  the person if I have a chance to give it to them personally. They are blown away. There was one lady that commissioned me to do the football figure posted on Deviant Art he was a Sahuaro football player. The lady met us at R-Galaxy with her son. She saw it and she started crying. I've never gotten a reaction like that. It was really special. There is no better feeling. You can't pay money for that kind of feeling.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Jack Kirby, Alex Ross and Brent Anderson from AstroCity. AstroCity is one of my favorite comics. 
Are you a collector of anything?
It's hard for me to collect toys because I see it for its potential for another figure. I look at it and think 'aww that would be a cool such and such' or 'that head would be perfect for this other person'. I will look at a figure and I don’t want to spend $25 just to use the head for another piece and just toss the body into my fodder box.
What supplies do you use or recommend for customs?
You don't necessarily have to have the Apoxie or the Super Sculpey if you want to do a repaint. For instance, if you want to change the costume. You can always find the head of one figure and put it on another body and repaint it for a different look. You will definitely need good quality paint. I use acrylic paint called Basics. You also need lots of reference pictures too. For example, I'm working on a female Bane. I have five or six different pictures of Bane in different costumes and then you make it your own.
How has the Tucson Comic Con helped artists?
For comic book artists, they can set up their tables and do sketches. I think for someone like me, it's just to get my name out there and let people know who I am. I get a lot of people that see my stuff at R-Galaxy and then they come to the shows and they see it in the case and they can put a face to the figures. That makes them feel a little more at ease to commission me to do a figure.
Final question, our mascot is the Angry Koala. Why do you think he is so angry?
I think he's angry because he can't find one source for all his pop culture items. 

The following are pictures of figures of just some of his customs. You can contact Pat via  You can also look at his site on Deviant Art.

Here's a custom War Machine

This one is a Zombie Venom

This is a Female Angel. The figure is Black Widow and the wings are from a Spawn figure.

Female Joker- I really did think it was amazing he turned the Matrix Twin 2 figure from this:
into this...

For this figure he had to sculpt, add breasts, repaint, add the shells and bullet holes on the cement post.

Last but not least is the Atlanta Braves Jason Heyward figure.

Notice something peculiar about the black home plate and "batter's box". The figure was that color black completely! Yes Pat painted the ENTIRE figure. These toys really do show his talent for sculpting, painting, details and love for figures and toys.

Thank you Pat Billings for the interview!
Again if you want to contact Pat you can do so via  
You can also look at his site on Deviant Art.

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