Saturday, December 14, 2013

Give the Gift of Delight with December’s Peculiar People of the Month: The Sculptors of Creatures of Delight!

David Rondinelli

(Left: Stewart Buffaloe/ Right: Tom Kopian)
Creatures of Delight started from the creative mind of Tom "T. Oliver" Kopian who, as a boy, had a thing for monsters and sought to make them come to life by turning his childhood home into a playground of happy Halloween horrors. Soon after college, he met his partner Stewart Buffaloe who shared in the vision of a delightful world populated with wacky dragons, monsters and crazy broads. For over a decade they have gone on to create what is known as Rubber Plush, which is a mixture of paper towel fiber and latex. The winning formula of creative designs and fun characters earned them displays in FAO Schwartz and jobs with theme parks at Disney and Universal studios. Originally based in Tampa, Florida, Kopain and Buffaloe have moved their business to New York where they live in their Long Island home that they share with six special needs cats, one of which has only one eye. In a town like New York, one thing is for certain, Creatures of Delight is sure to fit right in. Read more about the business of making monsters with December’s Peculiar People of the Month – T.Oliver and Stewart Buffaloe the creators of Creatures of Delight.

This Peculiar Life NYC:   Tell readers what you do and what you are known for?

Creatures of Delight: Creatures of Delight is a three dimensional art studio which specializes in wacky creatures of all sizes and shapes which they sell mostly through a collection of galleries and shops across the country. Our creatures are mostly made from a latex and fiber process which Tom patented when he was younger. It's a lot like paper mache’ but with Bounty paper towels and liquid latex. The material is then used to create soft sculpture, puppets, dolls, and a line of backpacks and bags which are unlike anything on the market.

Hugo in Red Backpack.
T.P.L. NYC: How did you come up with the concepts for Creatures of Delight?
C.O.D.: Creatures started out Tom's love for Halloween and the Rankin Bass holiday specials and shows like H.R. Pufnstuf. As a teen, Tom worked in his parent’s basement creating monsters, masks, and make-up in hopes of a career in special effects.

T.P.L. NYC: Once you did find the concepts, what made you feel that it could become a business?

C.O.D.: During the eighties Tom would decorate his parent’s Long Island house with elaborate displays for Halloween which attracted a great deal of media attention. Thousands of people would come by on Halloween - one of which happened to be a man who owned a wholesale gift company. He fell in love with the look of the creatures, which were much rougher looking and more monstery. He told Tom he saw a market for the designs if the monsters could be made soft and squishy. At the time, they had been a mash up of wire, wood, plaster and latex. Tom took on the challenge and the very first creature- J. Amberson Troll - was born. Right out of the gate, FAO Schwarz took a sample order and liked them so much they featured them in their front window for Christmas that year! Networking at Toy Fair led to working with theme parks such as Disney and Universal where custom made lines of specialty merchandise followed.

 T.P.L. NYC: What materials do you use to make the characters?

C.O.D.: The materials and process for the creatures have stayed pretty much the same over the years. We use a medical grade natural base latex and pater towel fiber. We work with molds and forms to make each piece. The process is simple and requires no special machinery.

T.P.L. NYC: What is the process to making one of these? Tell us how you do it from concept to finished product?

C.O.D.: In 2001 Stewart began working with Tom as a studio manager. Over the years he has become invaluable- teaching himself to create all of our two dimensional layouts as well as web design and sewing so that we can do all of our work in house. While Tom comes up with most of the character design Stewart is also responsible for most of the color choices and the final look of each character.

Nonesuch Dragon 2 (early model)

T.P.L. NYC: How do you come up with the fun names for the different characters?

C.O.D.: Naming the characters is one of the most fun and challenging parts of the process. As a character comes together, many times they just seem to tell you their name.  Groups like the large monsters usually get names that sound good together- like "Scamp," “Scourge," "Squalor," "Scalawag," and "Skirmish." Sometimes, however, a really fun character defies you to come up with a cool name- it took us years to finally have a name for our first Flamingo - "Fleetwood"- he was always just "Flamingo."

T.P.L. NYC: Will there be any new characters or concepts that you will be creating or debuting?

C.O.D.: We love coming up with new characters. Our newest line "Unusual Suspects" was created for the very reason. The smaller scale of the pieces allows us to sculpt and mold characters quicker and more cheaply than the larger pieces. This allows us to try lots of new ideas and make new characters as in the same way as a two dimensional artist would do a sketch. If the piece works and becomes popular we can refine it and make more; if it isn't a hit it becomes a more collectible piece because there will only be a few made.

Squalor Backpack reaches out for a hug
T.P.L. NYC: Is there a character that you like the most?

C.O.D.: Picking a favorite is really tough. It’s like picking a favorite child. I've carried a "Happy Creature" backpack forever so that would probably be one of them. The only creature that I have as a decoration in my house is a large purple troll so that might be another.  Stewart likes the Halloween ladies and has a set of them in his room so that might be his favorite.

T.P.L. NYC: Which one do you find to be the most challenging to make?

C.O.D.: The most challenging pieces we make on a regular basis are the ones with the most hand painting - like "Lionel Fishie". Custom work can be challenging - especially if we have to capture the essence of a particular subject while retaining our unique look. We made a number  of masks of Chris Sullivan (founder of Outback Steakhouse) for a surprise party his wife was throwing for him. He doesn't have any discernible features so it was really hard to make it look like him but funny yet not insulting. Some of the larger pieces such as the 14 foot mermaid we created for a float in Tampa, Florida was also challenging but at the same time lots of fun.

T.P.L. NYC: Aside from business, what are some other things that you like to do? Do you have any other hobbies or interests?

C.O.D.: Luckily my hobby became my business so I enjoy the long hours we put in around here. In Tampa, our studio was in a restaurant and entertainment district so we got really spoiled with good food. Living in Tampa, it was also pretty affordable. Moving back to New York I've had to learn to cook if I want to eat good food on a regular basis and that has turned out to be something I really enjoy. Stewart loves to read, garden, and is working on restoring the house, which is a cool little former summer cottage built around 1900.
Feed Me

T.P.L. NYC: Where do you see the future of Creatures of Delight going?

C.O.D.: Right now our main focus is on the three dimensional rubber creatures. In the future we'd like to branch out to do greeting cards and fun t-shirts and stuff like that. In the past, I supplemented the creature business doing life masks and castings as well as private makeup jobs for costume parties and such.

T.P.L. NYC: So this blog is about peculiar things. What is the most peculiar thing that has happened to you in New York City?

C.O.D.: When you make rubber creatures all of your life the idea of "peculiar" is very hard to fathom. We've met lots of peculiar and wonderful people and been able to do lots of peculiar and wonderful things. Lots of our customers could be called peculiar, like Marilyn, a nice lady who lives here in New York. She has a great number of our pieces and is known, on occasion, to take small groups of them to restaurants to have dinner with them. 

T.P.L. NYC: What is the most peculiar thing to happen to you in your life?

C.O.D.: We've also had numerous requests which some might find peculiar, but, at this point, they seem par for the course. One time in Tampa, we created a life sized transgender S&M shot dispenser for the owner of a gay bar who had a fetish for transgender people- it was totally nsfw! But even that doesn't seem so strange anymore.

Give the gift of monster love this season and learn more about Tom and Stewart - and all their other creatures- at their website:


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