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Ken Butler: Giving Voices to Lost Objects

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Ken Butler is your quintessential Williamsburg creative.  What exactly makes art, art?  What makes music, music? With a studio in Brooklyn and an artistic sense that is difficult to categorize, he blurs the lines between the two.  Ken creates functional instruments from found objects.  Some pieces are as large, if not larger, than a grand piano, and others are as small as a key. In a manner that pays homage to Frankenstein, Ken takes old and forgotten items, repurposes them, and gives them voice.  He was kind enough to welcome me into his badass studio. Being a person with deep respect for both art and music, I found myself profoundly fascinated while surrounded by his creations.  Here’s some things I learned while we hung out:

Do you consider yourself more of an artist or a musician?

I am an artist first.  I used to mainly be a painter.  Back then I was slightly OCD.  As I experimented with the sculpture of instruments, I fell in love not with my creation’s ability to make music, but from its transformation from trash into functional poetic art.

Do you ever create instruments for musicians?

I often get requests but I don’t really do it.  My pieces are meant more to be shown, not played.  Often times when a real musician will try one of my pieces, they’ll complain about how it’s difficult to keep tuned.  And I always tell them that’s not the point! The beauty is in the poetry of it’s transformation, not in its utility as an instrument.  When it comes to playability, expectations should be fairly low for found instruments.

How did you come up with this concept?

I found an old axe one day and thought it would make a cool string instrument!  I am a total “noodle-head”.  As a classic “Jack of all trades, master of none” I always found myself drawn to creative stuff but never really being an expert in any of it.  I think creating hybrid instruments was the byproduct of having this kind of mind.

Do you prefer playing your hybrid instruments to classic instruments?

Hell no! Classic instruments are beautiful, refined, time-tested things.  They are popular for a reason.  If I were stranded on a desert island and someone told me I could only bring one instrument, I would bring a classic guitar.

Are you working on any cool new hybrids now?

To be honest I don’t create many hybrid instruments anymore.  There once was a time when all I did was churn out work like crazy, but I don’t do that so much anymore.

Why?

Well, in 2007 I had liver cancer.  I underwent a transplant and realized that like most of my creations, I was a hybrid as well.  Almost dying hit me like a brick wall and honestly it lessened my desire for validation as an artist.  I realized that the true value was in the “making”… not in the expectation of selling the pieces that I have done.

Want to see one of of his badass creations?  Check out this Hybrid Piano:

This piano plucks a string under the keyboard using a spinning bicycle wheel.  When a key is pressed it changes the pitch of the plucking sound.

Influencers

The Dirt on Filthy Casual

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Darshelle Stevens Filthy Casual
Darshelle Stevens wearing Filthy Casual

These are the guys that created a community behind a brand. Jason Soprovich and Mike Gaboury are the creators of Filthy Apparel, a premium lifestyle brand based in Canada focused on the gaming industry. The beauty behind the Filthy Casual brand is the positive influence that it has on the people wearing the clothes. What makes their apparel different is that it is for gamers of every level, whether you are a professional or play casually every so often. This is about growing as an extended family, with people you meet virtually, at conventions, or through social media.

Jason Mike Filthy Casual

Photo by Darshelle Stevens

Jason and Mike began their adventure 7 years ago as nothing more than just a hobby. They were never the cool kids, but not quite the nerds either. Their similar interest in World of Warcraft brought them together as friends and decided to form a company together. Unsure of which industry to reach, they pursued music. They quickly learned that it was not something they had passion for, and discarded the idea soon after. Clothing sounded reasonable, they thought, and that was where they poured their creativity to this day.

What started as 50 shirts for friends became something much more, for a community with a large demographic. According to The ESA, in 2015, 155 million Americans play video games with an average of two gamers in every gaming household. With a large audience in the United States alone, Filthy Casual is quickly becoming the ultimate lifestyle brand for gamers. Their online store features a wide range of products, from graphic t-shirts and snapbacks to artwork in the form posters and prints. Their apparel is focused on comfort, made with premium fabrics and materials. Growing quickly, their product line will be expanding within a few months time.

The culture that Jason and Mike built for Filthy Casual is unique in the fact that they have remained humble throughout their success. Their appreciation for everyone involved thus far, from their photographer Darshelle Stevens to all the family and friends they have met along the way, is expressed through their language and stories shared. Filthy Casual Spotlights feature individuals that are equally as passionate about the gaming community as they are. Social media has been an outlet for Filthy Casual to reach and engage with fans. Their Twitter is flooded with people around the world wearing their apparel, while their Instagram gives you a behind the scenes look into the people behind the brand.

Filthy Casual Mike Jason

Photo by Darshelle Stevens

Keeping up with the gaming market is one of their priorities that has contributed to their success. Jason and Mike are constantly watching gaming trends and many times, designing on the fly based on what is forecasted. The Filthy Casual team has traveled around the world, with Vancouver, Austin, and San Diego being some of their favorites. Their growth is no secret, with companies actively reaching out to them. They have collaborated with some of the most respected people in the industry like Rooster Teeth, where Filthy Casual designed a shirt based on their aesthetic. Others include Kinda Funny Games, Deep Silver, and are currently in talks on secret projects in the gaming industry.

Filthy Casual is a brand filled with passion and their mission is to spread the positivity that they have seen in the community. They are the family that you wish you had growing up, and are pioneering the way for people to come together based on similar interests, just as Jason and Mike has. They made a clothing brand that they believe in and wear themselves. The best advice they can give is, “Be willing to be dynamic, find where you fit in, and don’t give up.” Filthy Casual is as respectable as the team behind it. What was once days filled with World of Warcraft is now an apparel company sought out by fans around the world. Because their foundation is built on connecting with people and building relationships, they do not offer sponsorships of any kind. Everyone that wears their clothing is a true fan, and they pride themselves on being authentic without having to spend any marketing dollars.

Jason Mike Filthy Casual

Photo by Darshelle Stevens

As Filthy Casual continues to grow, they hope to see their apparel on the average gamer. They have turned down opportunities for entering retail stores, but are considering opening a flagship store of their own within 5 years time. Jason and Mike want to give their customers a personal experience that only they are able to give. Fans from around the world are purchasing their product in their online store and at conventions. Some are collecting the apparel, such as one of their customers in the UK, who has 46 of their pieces. What they want their fans to know is that Filthy Casual is all inclusive and to not be afraid to say hello. Think of them as an extended family, the guys that have your back when there is no where to turn. That is the Filthy Casual lifestyle.

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This NASCAR Driver Started His Own Multi Million Dollar Business Success

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A man influenced by business success, Salvatore Iovino races toward his goals, whether it is in business or motorsports. Like a true entrepreneur, Salvatore began his journey at the age of 18, climbing cellular towers across the country. Since then, he started his own business, Integrated Tower Services LLC, and has turned it into a multi million dollar company. No matter the business success or obstacles in his path, one thing stays constant. He will always be racing. See how he is able to juggle it all in this exclusive interview.

Tell me about your business success.

Integrated Tower Services LLC is a telecommunications company that provides full turn key solutions for carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile etc. To give you a better idea of full turn key services. We are the guys that are climbing towers and installing Antennas, Fiber and even building the tower from the ground up. With thousands and thousands of towers across the United States and even the world in what is claimed a very small industry, it’s only estimated with roughly 15,000 tower climbers across the US. That makes for a very busy fast paced customer serving industry. We are indirectly responsible for cell phone service areas and rural areas. Basically, without companies like Integrated Tower Services none of would have cell phones. It’s a high demanding, risky career as safety is always our #1 priority. Since, telecommunication companies are the backbone to our cell phone service, that means we are on call 24/7 seven days a week. This includes holidays and disaster relief.

What is your inspiration?

Success. I always want to be successful at everything I do. Sometimes, I’m not always as successful as I wish, but that just means you have to work harder. When I see my teammates, friends, colleagues being successful, that is an inspiration for me. Giving back, encouraging others and inspiration all work together hand in hand. Helping a friend reach their goals by encouraging them, is inspirational for me. Being supportive to friends and family is inspirational. Helping colleagues through advice and hard work is inspirational to me because it shows working together or working alone but at the same time helping others is rewarding for many people other than just myself, and that is inspirational.

How do you stay motivated?

Motivation is one thing I think I have truly blessed with the man upstairs. My motivation is a passion. When I set out to do something, I dive deep into it. I can never do anything partial, maybe that is a little OCD, I don’t know. But, whether it’s racing or my business, when I set forth a goal, I work very hard to reach that goal, even if there are setbacks along the way. Sometimes I will envision a big picture goal. For example, One day I want to race in the Sprint Cup Series. That is a big goal that will take time, no doubt. But if you make goals within the big picture goal, then you are being successful along the way to your overall original goal. That will leave you with encouragement and inspiration along the way. So make several goals, not just one and will you are successful that will motivate you and if you aren’t a business success as you had wished then motivate yourself to another stepping stone goal. Just don’t give up.

What is your day to day like?

My day to day is usually pretty busy. I travel just about every week for racing. Whether it’s NASCAR, Drag Racing, or Dirt Track Racing, there is racing all the time. So I am always on the go. With this, I still carry the responsibility of my business. Luckily, I am blessed with technology in my time era, so that enables me to work and communicate while always being on the go. I only average about 5 hours a sleep a night. I’m not so blessed in the sleeping aspect of life, my schedule doesn’t allow for it and hasn’t for a long time, so I believe I just have became accustomed to it. But, I never start my day without coffee, it’s a must. From there my obligations will include Emails, Social Media, Photoshoots, Interviews, Videos, Meetings, Speaking Engagements, Charity Work, Kids and Family.

What is some advice you can give to aspiring business owner who wants to be a business success?

Be prepared for setbacks, be prepared for struggles, be prepared for stress. You must dedicate yourself full-time to what you want to accomplish, make a big picture goal, and make stepping stone goals for along the way. It won’t be easy. I’ve found it more difficult to be a business owner as my company grew. The more your company will grow, the more responsibility you will have, the more money it will take. You have to make risk, without risk, there is no reward. To become a business success, you must dedicate yourself to your customers, you must build on your goals. Keep setting goals, goal after goal. You have to be passionate about what you want to do. You have to love what you are doing. That passion will feed your motivation, your motivation will accomplish your goals, your business success will keep you motivated. You will then become an inspiration to others. Let everything feed on each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.

What are some obstacles you’ve overcome?

Too many to count or keep track of. You will or already have obstacles in your way on a daily basis. Become a bulldozer and push through it. Sometimes, you have to learn the hard way, I always did and still do. I haven’t always been successful. I still don’t consider myself successful, because I am still working towards my big picture goals. But, along my journey in life, I’ve been put in rough situations. My family wasn’t wealth. I spent my late childhood putting myself in situations I wish I never have. Can’t say I grew up on the streets, but where I grew up, it was very easy to become accustomed to a negative life style. For anyone, that is obstacle. Growing up as a teenager in Los Angeles can be rough. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but learning from your mistakes… I’ll stop right there for a second. I want to emphasize something. You have to, it’s a complete must, you must have the ability to learn from your own mistakes. Your mistakes are obstacles. You are going to make mistakes along the way without a question. I didn’t finish high school, I kind of consider that an obstacle, a mistake for sure. But, years later, I worked towards and eventually received my GED. I think my best answer to your question is learn from your mistakes, they are obstacles.

What was your proudest moment?

Becoming a husband and a father.

How has NASCAR affected your life?

I don’t believe it has affected my life in any way. I believe it has embraced it. It has given me a new passion.

What was your journey like in motorsports?

I have been very fortunate to have been blessed with setting and still holding several different records in a few of the different types of racing I am currently doing. It has been an awesome learning experience along the way for all types of racing. I wouldn’t change any of it. Whether I am winning or losing, it has been very rewarding to me. It’s been fun. I have had a ton of support. Support that has motivated me, motivation that fueled my passion to be successful in racing. It won’t happen overnight, but believe, I am working on winning a championship sooner than later.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Racing in the Sprint Cup Series hopefully!

Is there anything exciting happening in the near future?

Lots of racing and I recently just finished building a mini studio at my house. Soon, my website will have live feed access to all my races and I am working on building a youtube channel show called “Juggling Racelife with Family Life”

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Tapping Into Punished Props With Bill And Britt Doran

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Bill And Britt Doran
Bill Doran of Punished Props

Bill and Britt Doran – From a workshop in Seattle to conventions around the world, Bill Doran has showcased and taught millions how to create props from materials that can be found in a hardware store. Bill and Brittany Doran are doing what some can only dream of with their company Punished Props. As a positive voice in the comic and video game industry, they continue to bring people together through the power of creativity.

Where it all began…

Bill’s love for creating props began in 2009 at PAX West, exposing himself to his first taste of cosplay, where fans dress up as their favorite fictional characters. He has an art background and has worked several jobs bartending, teaching, and held a position at Microsoft for some time. In 2012, he quit and started his own company, which we know as Punished Props today. Brittany is highly experienced in 3D modeling and animation, and she joined Bill full-time in 2015. Together, their perseverance and commitment to prop making has taken them down a road to success.

Bill Britt Doran Punished Props

Giving back

From playing World of Warcraft in a college dorm room to becoming a successful entrepreneur, Bill is inspiring and empowering people to pursue their passion. Trading a position at an established company for EVA foam and filming tutorials was the best decision. Creating beautiful replicas is rewarding, however learning business was the biggest obstacle Bill had to overcome. What started as a commission based company quickly changed gears to a fabrication tutorial business because of the difference in body measurements per person and the large distance between him and his clients. By devoting more time to instructional content, he became a pillar in the cosplay community.

A growing success

With an audience demanding to see things built on screen, Punished Props became a key resource for costume creators. Their YouTube has over 100k loyal subscribers eagerly awaiting videos on how he creates props like the Skyrim helmet, Han Solo blaster, and a 3D printed batarang. They built up momentum over the years and are committed to their fans and schedule. The comments section is flooded with positivity, inspiring them to create a new video every week. Hungry and curious, fans rush to their Twitch channel, watching his tutorials live from their computer screens every Monday.

It is no surprise that requests to build specific items are sent their way on a daily basis. Although Bill cannot create everything, he encourages his viewers to try it themselves. His interactions with fans show extraordinary dedication to his craft and relationships built over the years. When approached with a request, his usual response is, “I can show you how to make it.” With two books under his belt, Bill has established credibility in the prop making scene. Unlike many in creative industries, Punished Props has become allies with other prop makers such as Volpin Props, Kamui Cosplay, and WM Armory. The support from fans and friends enabled Punished Props to grow into what it is today.

Bill Britt Doran Punished Props

Where can you find them Bill and Brittany?

If you want to meet Punished Props in person, look out for them at some of their favorite conventions. Catch Bill and Brittany at BlizzCon in November, or if you’re on the East Coast, Dragoncon, the largest multi-media pop culture convention in the country. Bill was recently invited to TwitchCon 2016, where he was a judge for the costume contest. Bill and Brittany will be wearing their latest work at any of the events they attend. Be amazed by the precision and accuracy in the details of each piece. If you are unable to make it, follow their progress on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Not only will you see meticulously crafted tutorials, but also their interaction with various other prop makers like Volpin Props for this space gun on Kickstarter.

Bill hopes to continue inspiring the community to create things that would otherwise only exist virtually. The couple hopes to continue doing what they love but on a bigger scale in the near future. Growing fast, they’ll soon need a larger studio for building props and filming content for their channels. Continuing to inspire and empower others, Punished Props forges a path for prop makers, cosplayers, and gamers around the world.

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