Steve Lewis aka Slewis Curious is an American artist, designer, and musician currently making major waves in the pop art and design scenes with his perfectly crafted, innovative, and highly playful creations. Which have so far included resin figures such as Piet the Diver and Sir Squidlin, along with traditional art; and design objects such as Slewis’ Moodswings series of pot plants.
Born in Texas during 1975 Slewis grew up on a steady diet of action figures, skateboarding, and alternative music. Spending his life in a mixture of country and urban spaces.
When asked to pin-point the moment his artistic career started, Slewis remembers the pivotal moment went he was 8 years old and watched his older brother drawing.
With Slewis elaborating:
“My brother drew some characters that I thought were cool. I wanted to do that. So I started drawing. Mom put me in summer art classes. My brother quit and I carried the torch.
I think I stuck with it because it was an escape in school. I wanted to be a marine biologist and would draw pics of me scuba diving. Classmates were like, no you should pursue art.“
With Slewis about to burst at the seams with multiple upcoming releases – the Creep House resin toy, assorted prints, and the Carnivorous Troop range of smaller figures – we thought now was the perfect time to ask Slewis some questions about his life, art, thoughts on the current state of the designer toy scene, and a whole lot more.
Read it all in the interview below…
Name + D.O.B?
Steve Lewis aka Slewis.
May 16, 1975
City, State and Country you currently call home?
Austin Texas of the United areas of the North Americas.
City, State and Country youʼre from?
Texas. Dallas/Ft Worth area.
Please describe some memories from key stages of your life: concerts, art, toys, romance, hunting, school, politics, crime, religion… ANYTHING really!
Concerts: First concert Suicidal Tendencies. That was cool.
I’ve seen most acts that I have ever wanted to. I’ve met musical heroes that were life changing: Dick Dale was incredibly nice and gave me a lot of life advice I only now have started to put in place. Mike Watt, nice dude but seemed off, but that was back when he was drinking. I have his cigar butt somewhere in my collectables. Lou Barlow, he was self-absorbed. Probably not fair to pass judgement.
Art: Leonardo Davinciʼs sketches. That blew my mind.
I’ve always liked to see the process more than the final piece. Where the artist is working the idea out.
Anything old that has a story. Art cars. Stuff that’s hand made. Concept art is a big one. Street art and the thought of where to place it. Kitschy art. 50s-60s sci fi. That touches my heart.
Toys: Most toys from the the late 70s and 80s were the best. They were creative, had stories behind them. And a lot of them had hazardous parts you might choke on.
Art toys became a fascination because it was so foreign to me when I first saw them. Seeing what was possible.
Romance: I’ve loved and lost many times. Looking back I’m glad I lost… that way I met my wife… Hey-o sappy. But yeah, what a head game. Clashing of personalities. It’s a needed part of life.
Hunting: It was never for me. I went dove hunting once and saw my brother yank a doves head off after shooting it. I was done after that.
Being from Texas and having the country side to me, I went on deer hunts but I could never get into it. I like fishing. I’m just not nuts about it.
I like being outdoors the most. I donʼt technically have to be hunting.
School: I was great in art and music. Voted most talented. Haha. Whatever that meant. Loved biology too.
So much of school was just trying to survive it and hang with friends.
Politics: What a mess. So many people with opinions on what’s best. I refuse to drink the Kool-aid of either side of the aisle. I think we are living in bizarro land. I hope it all means thereʼs a revolution coming.
Crime: Itʼs a learned thing. Impulse, desperation. Humans are pack animals. I think you could say the word crime and show an icon that represents our government.
Crime is saying there are mental health issues and yet not making it any easier for people to get help. Itʼs a broken record.
Religion: I grew up in a non-denomination church. Sorta 7th day Adventist, but not?
I think there’s good in believing in something. Having some spiritual structure. Whatever it is you believe is true. I just am not a fan of how most of it plays out. So many people that convert are like people that gave up smoking and drinking. They wanna preach youʼre wrong and they are right. Itʼs dangerous and polarising.
* Age 5 – beginnings:
We lived in Grand Prairie. I am the youngest of three. We spent time as a family in the DFW area and a small town of Calvert where my dads family was from. So it was a mix of city and country life.
When we would head to Calvert, the kids would pile into the back of my dads truck with the camper top. We would fight over who got to lay on the big tool box. You would slide around and have to hang on, when he would take corners. Amazing how things have changed with car safety. I’m sure we looked like refugees in the back.
I think anything sparking creativity at that time was me being terrified and fascinated with Halloween. My brother had haunted houses in the garage for the neighbourhood kids. He had this plastic shrunken head he called Witchy Poo. Scared the hell outta me.
I was really into big wheels and had just learned of Star Wars figures. That probably started the life long obsession with action figures.
* Age 10 – continuations:
At that point we were living in Rockwall. I was really into action figures. GI-Joes took over where Star Wars figures were just not as cool. All that articulation made for better battles and posing. Clash of the titans, shogun warriors.
I’d probably be considered the kid that had everything. We weren’t rich, but definitely never felt without. We sorta lived on the outskirts of town, so three wheelers, and go-karts. Crawdad fishing. Typical kid stuff.
* Age 15 – getting serious:
I was really into skateboarding.
I’ll never forget a guy that moved to town from California. He was doing all these amazing tricks. It looked like magic. I was obsessed. I had to learn how to do that. I had a half pipe in the back yard. I was into skate art. I got really into taking friends boards and stripping the graphics off to paint my own.
I took up playing the guitar and played in a few garage bands. At that time, music was what I wanted to pursue. I was still very much into art, but a huge slacker.
Looking back I developed an ego from all the compliments. So I slacked off. I had a very supportive art teacher. She would lecture me that I was lazy. High school years were lots of partying and wasting time. I have funny and fond memories, but in retrospect I wish I had taken life a little more seriously.
* Age 20 – young adult:
I went to a trade school in Dallas for animation. My class was the second class through that course. (I’m ageing myself saying that.) This was back in the day of Jaz discs and even stacks of floppys. That was a lot of fun. I don’t know that anyone really knew what to do with the program at the time. We would get to the point where we knew more about the software than the teachers.
I worked random jobs that needed artists. I think it helped me in some ways that I was a jack of all trades. Not at that time. Companies wanted specialists. But I think in the long run it did.
I played in a band during college and went out to Georgia for a month or so to chase that dream. The guys I played with were in my school in Dallas but had gone back home, so I followed them out there. We were really into Polvo and Sebadoh. So our music was kinda hard to categorize. Experimental garage rock. An anything goes approach. Dying battery in a guitar pedal? Lets get that on tape. Great memories. We played a few shows, then I came home to finish school.
* Age 25 – adult mode:
Gah… so much reflection. I worked a lot of odd animation jobs in the Dallas area. I think the late nineties was an odd time for that stuff. There were one or two big companies, then some small start ups. I attempted to go to Ringling, but applied too late.
It’s funny when you look at past attempts at stuff. You realise your heart wasn’t really in it, or you would have been relentless. I ended up working with a professor from North Texas that had a small animation company. He landed a lot of big gigs. We worked with Disney, doing work for EPCOT. I remember doing dailies over the phone with a Disney animator. He was like… you guys can animate but you canʼt act. That was a big turning point. So just grinding away we learned and got better. We were a small ass team of punk ass kids.
I think that’s where I came into my own. I had a chance to do storyboards, 3d modeling and character animation, as well as 2D animation. We even did an immersive projected animation for SIGGRAPH. That was fairly cutting edge at that time. Especially for some punk 20 year olds. My boss was hilarious. Such a character. He had so many sayings that were gems. Coffee table book worthy.
* Age 30 – fully formed:
I moved to Houston to follow family. My mom had cancer, so it was kind of a family migration to that area. I continued to do freelance gigs for my connections in Dallas.
I ended up at a medical animation company in Houston. I learned a lot there about working super fast. I never knew it was possible to hate someone, until I met my boss at that job. I mean true hate, where you wish ill on them. I wasn’t alone. All the artists stuck around because he paid well, and for the most part it was tolerable if you didn’t deal directly with him. That kind of abuse of power is so common in the workplace. Asshole bosses that know they have the upper hand.
Doing creative for money is taxing in itself.
* Age 35 – meanderings:
I met my wife in Houston and got married. She was working at an art gallery and I had transitioned out of medical to a design firm.
We were happy and doing well for a while. Then we got the itch to get the hell out of Houston. So it was where do we go? Austin made sense. I lined up freelance work and made a deal with my wife that if I could get at least 3 gigs lined up that we should give it a go. We were on a trip to NY when I had the confirmation of a third gig. That made the trip worth it. So we left good jobs and made the jump.
Here we are. Ended up buying a house, then having our son. At the time one kid and two boston terriers.
Art related… still doing animation. Worked at a game company then went to a design firm for a while. I think moving here I started to finally become comfortable with who I was. It wasn’t the Keep Austin Weird thing or anything like that. I think it was the starting over. I think a lot of us want to continue to reinvent ourselves. Itʼs an evolution. You learn more about yourself. I had gotten better about paying attention to what made me tick and what made me happy.
* Age 40 – middle age creeping:
Hah! Middle age. Yeah here it is… like Lt. Dan weathering the storm. I’m yelling at the storm. I ain’t done! I’m just getting started!
Well… I quit my job again. Went freelance. I figured I knew enough about how the business works and stepped out. I started Fixated Design and its been good. Lots of grueling hours at times and lots of waiting on checks.
I canʼt remember exactly when It happened but it dawned on me that I was really into the idea of making art toys. I started connecting the dots. I’m like well I’ve always had a soft spot for toys. That’s never gone away. Then I started seeing where I could apply what I already knew to it. It’s a hell of a learning curve and I’ve still got a ton to learn. So I started Slewis or Slewis Curious. Just to separate if from my day job.
* Age 45 – middle age meanderings:
Man I’m not quite there yet! I plan to keep on creating art that means something to me. Things that make me happy. Try to find ways to shift the dial away from animation and more art toys, sculpting and illustration. I want to continue to dig into that and see where it goes. Take more risks.
I’ll be doing a mural in October at a childrenʼs hospital. A buddy that’s a muralist threw my name in the hat. Its working my hands and getting away from the computer. Doing work that lasts and is not a flash in the pan.
I finally feel like i’m doing what i’m supposed to be doing, if that makes sense. Listening to myself and answering the call. Life is short and you might as well be happy.
“Random with purpose”, and “tomorrowʼs just another day to get it right.” Iʼd say that a lot in the office as an art director. People thought it was pessimistic, but really itʼs fairly positive. Prob not the way I said it. Haha.
Whilst we know you through your designer toy work – care to share with us the details of your other creative endeavours… if any?
Yeah of course. I run a one man shop called fixated design. I do motion graphics and animation. Graphic design. That kinda stuff for different clients. That pays the bills. Its rewarding at times being a custom shop.
Art, Design, and Toy Questions
When and why did you first start making art of any type!?
That I remember? Age 8. My brother drew some characters that I thought were cool. I wanted to do that. So I started drawing.
Mom put me in summer art classes. My brother quit and I carried the torch. I think I stuck with it because it was an escape in school. I wanted to be a marine biologist and would draw pics of me scuba diving. Classmates were like, no you should pursue art.
Any pivotal artistic moment(s) / influence(s)?
I’d say the most pivotal was me finally listening to myself. Maybe it is a mid life crisis, haha. The last 4 years have really been the most pivotal. Kind of waking up.
My influences come from everywhere. Old stuff for sure, but also things people say or the way they say it. Finding the humour in the peculiar. That gets me excited. If its ridiculous, Iʼll light up.
Please describe the process of producing your designer toys – from original idea, to preliminary design, sculpt, production, packaging and eventual release!?
I’ll draw them up, mull them over.
Piet actually came from a crayon drawing I did. I didn’t want to change his proportions. So I tried to make it work.
The Moodswings. All the faces were drawn and thought out. Then in the case of these two projects, it was modeling them in Z brush.
Then Ill print them to size on my Form 2.
Then molds and resin casting.
The Moodswings were a slush casting process. That was a learn on the job type thing. I approached it like clay, but with resin.
I then airbrush and hand paint.
Worst aspect(s) of the designer toy hustle?
So far is the long process to even finish a toy. Then putting it out in the world to see if anyone likes / wants it. For me currently its realising I need to build inventory. To build stories. Do pop up shows. Not just go nuts on one, then ta da!
Its a huge hustle and Iʼm finding the more artists you know that do what you do, the further youʼll go. Cant live in a bubble. As big as it seems.
It still feels far from being fully accepted as an art form. I still have acquaintances that are like…. “oh so toys….okay.” Your average Joe doesn’t know designer toy, or art toy. Kidrobot has helped. But the commercial lines seem to be flooding the market.
Best aspect(s) of the designer toy hustle?
Being able to do your own thing. Possibilities are endless. Something great may be just around the corner. And the support of other artists. My buddy Dirt House Resin is a big support. I think we all wanna make cool shit, and hope it sells.
Digital Vs. Hand Sculpting – in your opinion what are the pros and cons of each medium? And what ultimately takes your preference?
Digital is accurate, faster, and you can save your original. Print at any size. Send a file off. Do it yourself etc. while hand sculpting is more rewarding. I could sculpt forever and not get tired. Its, natural. I think itʼs in our dna to make shit with our hands. Harder to do symmetrical. Harder to get things ultra smooth with clay.
Favorite other artist(s)?
William Joyce, Scott C, Ryan Duggan, Ralph McQuarrie, Ashley Wood, Sebastien Niark, Brandt Peters, Wondergoblin, Alex Pardee, Chris Mitchell, Amanda Visell, Craig Gleason, all the guys who did Wacky Packages art… to name a few.
Is the rise of designer toys an indication of the changing nature of art? Or just a bunch of nerds with too much money and time?
Hah def not the latter. I wish I had more money for supplies. It’s great. I hope itʼs people becoming more open-minded to what art can be.
A good friend in college said toys were mass produced sculpture and the box was its frame. Iʼll never forget that. Why should it be any less?
Thoughts on the current state of the American designer toy scene?
Itʼs growing. I think with 3D printers, that’s opened some doors for people. There’s some pretty wild stuff being made.
There’s a lot of people playing off trends and whatever is hot. I mean you wanna make money. Then there’s people just doing their own thing.
I think more people are realizing itʼs an art form.
Odds and Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood(s)?
Pretty much everything. I had a ridiculous amount of action figures.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
There was another girl when I was in 6th grade. Always awkward around her. She had a great smile.
Then a girl in high school. Oddest relationship. We weren’t compatible. Dated for short amount of time. Could never be myself. She had a Deborah Harry thing going. I wasn’t doing myself any favors.
Does sex change everything?
Yes and No. It complicates things.
Now a sex change would change everything!
Please describe what you think the American psyche / zeitgeist is today?
Polarized. At times it feels like we are on the verge of a civil war. Then I turn of social media and relax.
I think America is starting to finally look in the mirror. We are far from perfect and there’s a lot of work to do.
In a battle between your characters, Creep House Vs. a tag team of Piet the Diver and Sir Squidlin who would win in a fight and why?
Creephouse for sure. Heʼs big in real life.
It would basically be like Godzilla and Bambi. They are cute and sweet. Creephouse is a dapper asshole.
Which cartoon character, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
Stretch Armstrong? I think heʼs got the moves.
What are the top 3 items you own?
My Gentle Giant – Jumbo Snowtrooper (my absolute favorite figure from the original SW figures.)
A box of shrapnel from the Battle of the Bulge that my grandfather brought back from the war.
My Gretsch hollow body guitar or my toy collection.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
Now I think a waste of time, unless it helps you unwind or focus.
When I was a teenager I thought acid was interesting. Pretty scary moments that Iʼm glad I lived through. Id think hallucinogenics are worth it, if you are gonna go there.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I had a dream that I was walking around Galveston and then San Diego, the locations kept jumping around. Probably just based on memory.
There were these portals that looked more like windows. No hard edges, theyʼd kind of fade into the sky. They would appear when the sun would shine on them through the clouds.
You would be able to see into them and it would be like 60 or 100 years in the past. It was like a lens. You couldn’t walk through the windows, but they would follow you around.
You would see people and architecture going about. It was pretty euphoric. Like you were living with other generations all at the same time. I guess feeding into my love of history. You have those moments where youʼre like… man I wish I could just see what it was like then. The dream answered that.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
Not to sound too soft, I imagine it will be my kids. Hopefully I do a decent job raising good humans.
Art related it would probably be some of my ideas. I think the best is yet to come. Iʼm far from done.
If people wanted to work with you or buy something – how should they get in touch?
Direct message would work, or the usual email or website. firstname.lastname@example.org www.slewiscurious.com
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Dirt House Resin and I talk about it. Our styles are so different, but thatʼs why I think itʼd be fun.
Heʼs really opened my eyes to all things resin.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I am on the verge of releasing quite a few things… Finally. Side hustles are not easy. My CreepHouse toy, illustration prints, more Moodswings, and some smaller figures, The Carnivorous Troop.
I’m hoping to have a drop close to Halloween. Rolling into the holidays with some stuff people can spend there hard earned cash on.
Next year, I wanna show my work at shows. I’ve got some stuff planned for the vinyl lovers, as in records.
Then keep on building.