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Sam Oswin Vonk Makes Tiny Graffiti Things


Dutch artist Sam Oswin Vonk first caught our attention on Instagram (@54mv0nk) as an incredible maker of tiny things. He finds inspiration from the influence of graffiti within the city, including Amsterdam, where Vonk is originally from and still lives. Having collaborated with BEYOND THE STREETS on a special edition of his Tiny Vandal Kit, which we are releasing tomorrow in limited quantities, we wanted to catch up with the multidisciplinary designer to get the scoop on what led him down the path to making tiny objects, what's inspired his work to this point, and where he plans to take his miniature creations in the future. 

Luis Ruano: Has graffiti always had an influence in your work?

Sam Vonk: I don't really consider myself a graffiti writer, but I dabble here and there with markers and spray cans sometimes. I always liked the influence of graffiti on a city’s landscape. So for me, that was a big inspiration, and miniature stuff has also always been sort of in my life from when I was a kid, building model railroads. 

So you caught the artistic bug at an early age?

Yeah. I've always drawn as a way to express myself, so it’s always been a part of my life. After I left the Dutch version of high school, I studied graphic design. I went to the art academy in Rotterdam, The Willem de Kooning Academy, where I studied illustration. From there I started incorporating the influence of graffiti in my illustration work a bit, and I guess that was sort of the point where I started to pay more attention to graffiti and street art in general.

When I finished my art academy, I was kind of burnt out on illustration. I felt it wasn't really the way to go for me anymore, so I started searching and trying new stuff with model building, just to see where it would take me. After a while I liked where it was going and I just started growing and expanding on that side of craft-making.

How much 3D printing do you incorporate in your builds?

I usually try to make everything by hand, especially with big builds, but at a certain point I started 3D printing because some things are just easier to print and it just looks better than hand-building it. At a certain point I thought of creating a miniature library for myself of small items that I could just reuse in my builds. So I started to 3D print the tiny spray cans, and sort of developing how can I make the labels look really nice. Within that process I thought “this is really cool,” and that I could build something on a more mass level because the usual sculptures I make, a lot of people like them and they’re interested in them, but when they ask to buy them they’re usually shocked about my prices and that’s because there’s a lot of work that goes into making them, which is reflected in that. I just really wanted to make work that was more accesible to everyone. 

Do you remember the first time you saw street art or what triggered your fascination with it?

I don't know if it was a physical art piece necessarily. For graffiti, the first time I was like, “Okay, this is super interesting,” was watching Style Wars. That, and Friendly Fire 2, which is a small graffiti movie about crews in Sweden. I am quickly recalling, and especially with Friendly Fire 2, all the night scenes, hitting up the metros and stuff like that, that I was really like, "Holy shit, this is cool." The atmosphere felt really dope and inspiring, and that was sort of the “Holy shit, this is something that triggers me,” moment, in a good way.

You’re based in Amsterdam. How’s the art scene out there?

The art scene is pretty good, I'd say. But very different city by city. I don't really like Amsterdam, to be honest. Even though I live here, it's a bit snobbish. I mean, we do have STRAAT, which is, I think the world's biggest street art museum, or at least Europe's biggest. They're doing really cool stuff. The Rotterdam art scene is pretty good I'd say. It’s more about the up-and-coming artists, so there's a lot of fresh stuff. There’s a rich history with the arts in Amsterdam so there’s always something going on. 

I know you have a following in Amsterdam, but it looks like you’ve captured people’s attention from all around the globe since you started on Instagram. Are there any unexpected places you’ve had interest from?

Definitely a lot of attention from America. That's what I see from sales in my workshop now. A lot of Germany, America, and Spain has also been pretty interested. One thing I found surprising is that there's a lot of interest from the finger boarding community with the miniature skateboards. So that’s been pretty funny. Suddenly I got a lot of finger boarders following me.

It feels like you can miniature everything these days! I was on YouTube a while back and this guy was making miniature steaks.

There's some crazy niches in every scene. I've seen people who convert Hot Wheels cars into drivable RC cars. There are also guys who make them into low riders that can actually bounce and stuff. So there's some really crazy, crazy guys out there doing it. Super, super fun stuff.

So with little tiny mechanical parts and stuff?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. They just build them into the small Hot Wheels cars and just convert them to actual RC cars.

Daniela Rega: Can you talk a bit about the items you chose to include in the Tiny Vandal Kit?

I wanted to have a combination of fun items with some diversity. Just like a painting needs to have a certain composition in a way. For me, it was like a cool collectors item you can put on a shelf, but there was also this idea that people can buy it and make their own miniature scene with it, for example.

So you have the spray cans, which is obvious. Then it's sort of like, okay, what do you need for a night out on the train yard? Okay, bolt cutters, maybe to get through a fence or something. Maybe a crowbar to get some door open or whatever, a beer can for some courage, I guess. And then I had to throw the brass knuckles in there. They're a bit over the top, but there was this idea that there are a lot of different kinds of vandals. The broken bottle could be used as a weapon, but it can also be some trash on the ground, for example, as sort of a decoration for a scene.

It’s a nice, diverse set of items that are fun to look at, but also could be fun to make your own scene with.

Daniela Rega: That's awesome. People can create their own diorama out of those elements.

Yeah. Sometimes I get tagged in pictures of people who made their own own scenes with the kit. I also, from time to time, get tagged by somebody who's a diehard Funko pop collector, and has some sort of a small scene with items from me or other miniature artists, and they just build a scene and photograph it and tag everybody in it. Sometimes you really get to see what other people are doing with your stuff and that's pretty fun.

It feels like you could continue this for a long time. The tiny vandal kit is just one component of a larger story that sort of never ends. 

Yeah, exactly. It's just fun to try and create something as a collectors item, but also as something people can use to create their own tiny stories. I'm really thinking about how can I expand these kits. Where do I want to go? I have sort of an idea for an old school hip-hop kit, sort of the originating times of the hip-hop scene, with a boombox and probably some old Krylon cans at least. That idea is floating around, along with some other ideas that are somewhere in the back of my brain in a development phase.

The process feels good so far. It's felt really rewarding. The past one and a half years since the launch of the vandal kit. I feel like I finally got validation, especially when somebody like Roger Gastman contacts you about a collaboration. That was sort of my, “What fuck the is going on? How is this happening?,” moment. Recently I got contacted by the Amsterdam Museum. They bought a piece from me for their collection, which is also really sort of a nice milestone to reach. To actually be part of a museum collection!

It just goes back to that concept that if you create something with passion and purpose behind it'll always find its way to the right people. Your work comes from a place of authenticity and I think many will appreciate that. 

Thanks! Definitely, definitely.

Sam Oswin Vonk can be followed on his Instagram and more of his work is present on his website,