Congrats to this week’s “Artist of the Week”: Felle (of Kingpin Airbrushing)! 1-on-1 interview with the artist after the jump.
Aaron: What’s going on man? I know it took a while for us to sit down and talk but I appreciate you working with me.
Felle: It’s no problem bro; any publicity is good publicity.
Aaron: So let’s get right into it, where are you from and how old are you?
Felle: From Detroit bro, originally. And I’m 28. Haha nah I’m 39 …I think. Yah, I’m 39 bro.
Aaron: You had to think about how old you were?? Haha
Felle: Hell yeah, when you start getting this age, man, you stop counting on purpose.
Aaron: Haha ok, ok. So how long have you been practicing your craft?
Felle: I’ve been airbrushing for about 25 years now. I started when I was 14 so it’s been about 25-26 years
Aaron: Oh, wow. What tools do you use to create?
Felle: The gun that I use is the Iwata Revolution. I’ve been using that now for about a couple years. As far as paints I use Createx, which is a water-based acrylic especially formulated for airbrushing. The Iwata is like the Cadillac of airbrushing. You can even go beyond that and say it’s like the Mazaradi of airbrushing. Honestly, I wouldn’t use any other brand. It’s definitely important to be able to have top equipment. You’re only as good as your equipment and if you can pull out certain techniques having that top of line equipment, it gives you the opportunity to be able to create those certain strokes and blends. It makes it a whole lot easier versus having to wrestle with you product. So the better your equipment is, the craftier your artwork is.
Aaron: Sounds about right. So you say you’ve been airbrushing for about 25 years. What actually got you into it?
Felle: That’s kind of funny man. I was actually over a friend of mine’s house and he just happened to have an airbrush gun and he had a couple bottles of paint but he didn’t really do it. And I just grabbed it and started playing with it and fell in love with it from there. Then met with other guys and saw other guys doing it and just by me being at that right age at the time, it was a part of the hip-hop culture and apart of just my age group as far as being a young teen. At the time that I got into it, airbrushing was really getting big. You had cats like BBD (Bell Biv Devoe), LL Cool J, and a lot of the rap artists – global artists being seen on TV all time – you had them actually wearing airbrush gear. So that was being brought out visually to the people around the world. And I was learning at that same time so it was a beautiful thing that I was able to take advantage of building an art form.
Aaron: Definitely man, that’s cool. Were you into any kind of art before you began airbrushing? Or did that sort of kick off your artistic interest/career?
Felle: Ya know, I was always drawing a messing around, but it was definitely the beginning of my painting career. But I had been drawing all my life, really …or as long as I can remember.
Aaron: Ok so what inspires? What motivates you and gives you the fulfillment to being doing it for 25 years?
Felle: I really, really love what I do and I’m still learning. I never cut off my education with what I do and I’m always keeping my eyes open for certain things. But honestly as far as inspiration, I pull inspiration from some of everywhere. I pull inspiration from my race, as far as hour history. Our race, I think, has accomplished more than any other race, looking back at where we’ve come from. We’ve accomplished more than any other race in the history of man and woman. And also I pull inspiration from other artists – from vocalists and musicians, hairstylists, and anyone who loves what they do – that inspires me. God inspires me; love inspires me. I pull inspiration, really, from some of everywhere. I appreciate art, I appreciate kids, I appreciate all things beautiful.
Aaron: You mentioned getting into airbursh back when you were a teenager and hip-hop was heavy. So let’s go ahead and ask: who are some of your favorite music artists – past and present?
Felle: As far as past, I would definitely say LL Cool J, Rakim, Fat Boys, Run DMC …some of the original hip-hop cats who were doing their thing to the highest; definitely the Def Jam movement. Now, the music I listen to, which I’ve always been a fan of R&B, but Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, cats like that inspire me. I listen to a lot of Brian McKnight, Maxwell, Kurt Elling, Jamie Cullum …I listen to a lot of different types of music; John Mayer, Michael Bublé …some of everybody. It really depends on what zone I want be in and where I want to go. And music really gives me that opportunity to go away and be in my world, and only allow certain people into that world if they’re welcome. But when I’m painting it allows me to go where I need to go and feel how I need to feel to produce that work of art.
Aaron: That’s what’s up man, that’s an eclectic variety of people! Salute. So on the flip side of the same question: who are some of your favorite non-music artists?
Felle: I love the masters, honestly. I love Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci – I’m amazed at those cats. And I really reach to be able to accomplish that level art and respect in the game with my craft. In regards to a lot of the more modern artists I appreciate Picasso, Paul Goodnight, Kevin Williams (WAK), Ernie Barnes who passed a few years ago, who’s famous for the Sugar Shack. I’m inspired by a lot the guys who are around me. I have real good friends that I’m a fan of – the Kingpin movement, Reggie Jackson, Barry B (the black Picasso), Picks (backwards his name is Skip), Cory King the Guru. So yah I’m inspired by a lot of cats that are around me everyday also.
Aaron: I respect that man. So let’s get into some of your work. What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve done?
Felle: Yah honestly man, you know I do a lot of jobs for concerts and tours and deal with a lot of celebrities. But with every job, I try to have purpose, not just for painting a pretty picture and putting it out there. I try to paint to where me doing that work could always come back to me in some form or fashion. And as far as my favorite job, it’s actually a long story but I’ll try to get to the point. When I was about 18 or 19 I went to a Maze concert. I saw the photographer there, I saw the backdrop, and it was a backdrop of Frankie Beverly. And when I saw it, I was so in aw of whoever painted it. I have no idea [who it was], I don’t even know if the guy’s name was on it. But it just gave me a ruler –it gave me a scale, a level like I want to be like this guy! I want to get my work to this level. And I would say about 15, almost 20 years passed and that same photographer called me and said “man I’ve come across your work and I’ve been out here and I haven’t seen anyone’s work that has come close to what you have.” And he said “I have this backdrop, it’s a picture of Maze (Frankie Beverly), and you’re the only person I think can come close to this, if not better.” And I described the drop to him and he said yeah that’s it! And it was the same one that I had seen so many years ago. And I felt honored to do it, so I did the work and he actually came to Detroit to pick it up and I asked him if he still had that backdrop. And you know, over the years your eye changes a little bit – the backdrop might not have been as good as I thought it was, because I was looking at it with those 19 year old eyes. So we went outside and laid it down and looked at it, and I laid mine down next to it and the drop that the other guy did was still incredible… but I MURDERED that drop. So I took it as a sign from God that I was on the right path and that I was doing what I was supposed to do. And also it was a blessing for me to be able to get that reassurance that I was on the right track and I was growing; because I remember being 18-19 [years old] looking saying “that’s where I want to be,” and years later I got that assurance from God. So that was beautiful. And to me, that was my favorite job and moment.
Aaron: That’s awesome…. So, speaking about skill level and what not, what was the hardest technique for you to learn?
Felle: Umm, aw man, I don’t know! I’ve always been in a situation where I was teaching myself so it wasn’t that I had answer and was trying to reach for that answer, it was just me doing what I do. Not necessarily going after a certain technique, just trying to get the art where I needed it to go. So yeah, I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer, honestly, because I didn’t learn traditionally. I didn’t go to school or anything like that so that wasn’t my way of learning.
Honestly, now that I think about it, it would probably be getting my skin tones down, for portraits. I saw other guys doing it and I their way and it just wasn’t working for me. And I was wondering why everyone was going about it the same and using the same formula. So I created my own formula, and to this day, most of the guys that I know use my formula versus the original way.
Aaron: That’s interesting you say that. Daniel said you would think maybe flesh tones or mixing colors would be because finding/making those perfect tones is a challenge on most pieces, but contrary to what you might think, that lettering is still the biggest challenge for him.
Felle: That’s why Photoshop is a beautiful thing; we cancel all that out.
Aaron: Hahahah yeah he’s been starting to do that a lot more. Work smarter, not harder, right?
Felle: Yeah man, the plan is to get it done. And if you can instantly go find the font and slap it on there, draw it out and paint it …I mean come on! It’s a trick to the trade, a reach in the toolbox.
Aaron: So again on the other side of the same coin. What’s one area in which you would still desire to improve upon? Daniel actually paid you a tribute when asked the same question. He said painting motorcycles — an area in which you specialize.
Felle: My drive right now is texture. When I do skin tones, when you actually look at it, I’m going for HD! I’m trying to show the texture in the skin, but honestly man I’m so busy that I don’t have time to sit down and really work at my craft. I do jobs but time doesn’t allow me to reach for that level. I would love to just be able to sit down and work on a piece for 2-3 weeks and be able to pull out the best potential. Honestly, I don’t get an opportunity to see my fullest potential because with most of my jobs I’m hurrying getting it done to get it done and it’s not a situation where I can really take my time and put the love in it. People see me work and they appreciate it but they still never get an opportunity to see my fullest potential.
Aaron: So I was on your Facebook page and saw a lot of body paintings. Can you talk a little bit about that, what it is you do, and how you go into it?
Felle: Actually man I saw a guy doing it, and me being an artist I believe I can pull anything off. So I saw him doing it and I was like wow he’s really making a mess! So I thought I could do it and just started it doing it and meeting other people who did it. I’ve been to Vegas; I’ve done work with Circus Olay, liquor and cigarette companies, different models and all that stuff. So I’ve been able to do a lot of different things with body painting.
Aaron: That’s really unique craft. How long does something like that take? What’s the process with that?
Felle: On average for a full body it takes about 1.5-2 hours, sometimes longer depending on the level of detail. Most of the girls that I do are naked, but it depends on the event. If we’re doing it for photos I push for nudity because, to me, it looks better because you don’t see any of the clothing lines. I’m able to work with a blank canvas versus trying to mesh the G-string with the skin. But I’m never trying to portray anything that looks raunchy; it’s all art. I try to make it look as if they have on clothes versus trying to show breasts or anything like that. So that’s my job – making the sexual aspect disappear but still maintaining the beauty of it.
Aaron: Definitely. I think that’s something that sets you apart from other artists – your eye for detail and your respect for the craft and the model. Can you talk a little about the process of airbrushing motorcycles?
Felle: I’ve always wanted to get into automotive so started doing the bikes, and hooked up with a partner of mine who was already painting bikes but not doing any artwork. So I added to what he was doing and was able to get my work out there form that. Doing the motorcycles is a beautiful thing because your work goes directly to your target market; it goes directly to those people looking for someone to do that type of custom work. So all you have to do is do your best. And it’s a moving billboard; everywhere [the client] goes everybody’s wondering who did it. So you have to make sure your work stands out. And that’s the same approach I took with backdrops because I couldn’t be there and do the talking, so I had to make sure my work did the talking.
Aaron: I’m learning a lot, I’m learning a lot! You actually said something that sparked another question: why is it that you choose to stay in Detroit. With your talent and your heavy out of town clientele, why not move to an LA or FL or a bigger city that’s known for their entertainment circuit and nightlife?
Felle: Really, I’m a family based person. I’ve been on the road and traveled and been some of everywhere and I look at my life as a journey; I’m on a mission. I have a daughter, that kept me in the city and I’m glad it did because that gave me an opportunity to be able to raise her and watch her go. And now my daughter is 16, so wherever I go, I KNOW she’s going to want to go. I’m not into bouncing around, so once I decide to move somewhere it’s definitely going to be a vacation when I come home. I’m looking to settle my feet into something because I work hard and don’t want to be working like this for the rest of my life. I want to be able to create something that’s going to give me some residuals to where I can stay at home and paint as I want to and still have a nice home, be able to spend time with my family and just have fun.
Aaron: What’s one piece of advice you would give an aspiring artist?
Felle: I think the biggest thing I would want to say to artists is really believe in your talent, believe in where you want to go; and you have to put the time in, that’s most important. You have to believe in yourself, you have to be able to pull energy from other artists, whether it be painters, singers – pull that drive from somewhere else. Also, you can never get paid today. You have to make sure you create the best yesterday as possible because that yesterday will always come back around and pay you tomorrow. That’s really it, you have to put the time in and never start learning. Never get to a point where you feel like you’re done; you can never learn it all. Make sure you find that passion, that love. Doing it for the money is NOT the reason to do it. If you’re doing it for the money, STOP. That’s not a reason for any art form. You have to find that passion, that thing that you love to where at the end of the day it has to be that thing you would do even you weren’t getting paid. If you love what you do it will show in your work and your customers will appreciate it.
Aaron: Well said, my friend. Are there any projects coming up that you’d like to talk about for a second?
Felle: I actually have a celebrity dolls project that we’re working on. I’ve met with Diggy Simmons, Mindless Behavior, and a couple other artists that love the brand and love the product. The name of the brand is called “The Celebies”. I’m actually going to meet with major merchandisers in a couple days out in New York. We’ve met with Warner, Justin Bieber’s people …they love it. Everyone’s loving the product so we’re really trying to lock that down. Actually, we’re trying to shoot for 2013 to have our product in retail stores all over the country.
Aaron: That sounds official man! Congratulations and best wishes on that venture. I’ll definitely be on the look out for that.
Aaron: One last question: where can my viewers find you and your work and be able to contact you?
Felle: That’s a great question! Hahaha. Of course I’m in Detroit. My studio, Kingpin Customs (Kingpin Airbrushing) is located at 20094 Livernois. I’m 2 blocks South of 8 mile on the Westside. I’m here man. The only time I leave here is when I’m out getting supplies or I’m going home. But yeah my whole life is home and here. [I’m] not into drinking and partying, not into nothin’ but relaxing and doing what I love to do.
Aaron: Man the next time I’m home I’d love to come check out the new shop. I came to your last spot but I heard the new shop is just ridiculous. So I’d love to come down there and kick it and see, first hand, what you do.
Felle: Yeah fa sho man, definitely. The door is always open. Yeah I remember you came to the shop I had at the Plaza …and I think you were painting back then too. But yeah whenever you’re ready, we’re waiting for you.
Aaron: Man I was trying… but Daniel was being selfish back then and wouldn’t let me get in on it; something he openly regrets now. Haha but it’s cool because I found my niche in graphic design and what not.
Felle: Yeah. I see and appreciate what it is you’re doing.
Aaron: Well I think that’s about all I have, unless you have something further you would like to talk about. But other than that, I really appreciate your time. I know we’re both mad busy and it took a while for us to connect but I definitely wanted to get you on the website because I love your work. I, originally, wasn’t into the idea of featuring 2 airbrush artists. Because you know I did my brother and he’s one of the best I know, but he suggested I contact you so I gave your work another look and I was like MAN! …yeah you’re right, I definitely have to connect with him.
Felle: Naw man I appreciate what you’re doing. Like I said I know tons of artists but it’s a beautiful thing for you to even take the time out to want to put some type of form together for people to be able to comment and appreciate the artwork. I have an incredible tattoo artist that we actually just added onto my studio. And I’ve been working with him since he was like 14 and he’s working with me now doing tats and stuff. And it’s kind of crazy because he started off airbrushing and I told him at least 15 years ago if not longer, you should start doing tattoos. And I was just trying to give him an opportunity to find his niche or something that separates him from everybody else. And at the time, tattoo’s was just starting to grow. This was way before the Ed Hardy’s and before the tattoo culture now. Everybody and their momma are getting a tattoo. But he started tattooing about 6 years ago and now that’s he all does. And he’s incredible – one of the best in the game, definitely here in the city. His name is The Guru, I can give you his information, he’s definitely someone you might be interested in reaching out to.
Aaron: Definitely. I don’t have any tattoo artists in the book so that’s another area of art I’d be interesting in exploring and showcasing. Anyway, I really appreciate talking with you and kickin it with you. This, obviously, won’t be the last time we talk so until then stay up and continue doing what you’re doing.
Felle: Fa sho bro! Again, I appreciate it, good lookin’. I’m glad we were able to get this accomplished; it’s a beautiful thing. You stay up and keep doin’ your thing. And anything you have going on, if you ever need my help or whatever just holla at me!
Diggy Simmons with his Celebie doll.
Felle with Mo’Nique and her Celebie doll.
10 ft x 10 ft backdrop that should’ve just arrived in Orlando for NBA All-Star Weekend
Felle with Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather
Felle with Ginuwine