Posted On 10/14/2015 By In News

ARTISAN SERIES: Interview with Kudos and Koala-T (KeyKollectiv)

Andy: Hey Kudos and Koala-T, thanks for taking the time to sit down for this interview.

Kudos: Absolutely. The pleasure’s all ours. 

Andy: Well let’s just right in shall we? What was the first artisan keycap you remember seeing?

Kudos: I think I started off like most people. Clack was my first introduction to artisan keycaps. I think it was an Oktoberfest. Later on, I saw a Wingnut on Deskthority and I was hooked.

Andy: Those Wingnuts are probably almost priceless! (and Haata has a few :)!

Photo Source

Kudos:- Wow. Haata’s got a few? I wonder which limb he had to give up for those.

Andy: Uh, something along the lines of best vintage find of the year so he won them all directly as the prize.

Koala-T: – Clack’s candy corn blanks. I was smitten! But I was greedy and I wanted more, so much more. I’d still like to get my hands on one of those 🙁

Andy: Did seeing your first artisan strike a note that immediately made you want to start making them, or was coming to that conclusion somewhat of a slower process?

Koala-T: It was much slower for me than it was for Kudos. To be honest, I wanted someone ELSE to make caps I could buy. It wasn’t until he started working away in his newborn lab (where i had started to spend all of my time anyway) that I started to actually want to make my own. Even then, I had zero, and I mean ZERO plans of ever selling them.

Koala-T: In a way I almost feel like the best art is often not anticipated though!

Andy: MrsSpeedbump aka Lizard LOVED the Meowcaps and Snackeys (minus they kind of gross her out because she thinks they were in Kudos mouth), hahaha.

Koala-T:  I totally agree but I never expected people would like the stuff I made.

Kudos: – I resent that. I’ll have you know that we only eat the first of each batch we make, the rest we sell.

Kudos: I think seeing that first Clack made me curious about the process. At the time, I thought it would just be cool to acquire some. When I saw how much they were going for, I was kind of discouraged. I think the keycap that inspired me to seriously research resin casting was Hipster’s Vandal. I remember looking over Binge’s guide and thinking to myself “man, that is way more complicated than I thought it would be”.

Andy: Yeah, after looking into the process myself, mainly out of curiosity and not anticipation to make my own, it is extremely complicated. And there are so many different variables and ways to go about making caps that it was downright overwhelming. It truly is a huge niche in itself within the community.

Kudos: It’s not that resin casting is super complicated. There are plenty of other crafts that require a lot more. What makes it a different medium is that there is very little margin of error. When you mess up, you mess up big.

 

Andy: So getting off the ground, what was your success rate at first?

Kudos:  Surprisingly enough, when we started Meowcaps, our success rate was pretty high. A few duds here and there.

Kudos: Not surprisingly, the problems sprang up when the sale started.

Koala-T:  Deceptively high. My first double pour was effing perfect. We could not have been more blind sided.

Kudos:- Probably around a 50% failure rate. Casting a few keycaps is much different than mass production. Back then, we weren’t all that good at troubleshooting problems. Nowadays, when things go wrong, I know exactly why.

Koala-T: It was honestly comical back then. Almost.

Andy: Haha that would have been fun to be a fly on the wall for. Naturally things go wrong when the real business starts.

Koala-T: Don’t say that. Don’t you ever say that.

Kudos: Murphy’s Law…

Andy: So were Meowcaps your first sale? I assume Koala-T sculpted those then?

Kudos:  Meowcaps was meant to be a little passion project for Koala-T. She wanted to make cute caps for her own keyboard.

Andy: The Mrs. can confirm they are indeed adorable.

Koala-T:  He handed me some clay and tools while I sat in his lab and the rest is history.

Kudos: We wanted to get some feedback and the response was a lot more than we anticipated.

Koala-T:  Like I said, our success rate was deceptively high. We got excited to share Meowcaps and thought we could handle it. Ha!

Andy: Yeah I remember that sale quite well actually. I saw the picture and thought to myself “oh that’s nifty I need to come back to this” and by the time Lizard was home there was tons of people in on the sale already and it was long over.

Andy: Have you guys sculpted before this?

Koala-T: With the exception of a couple summer classes as a little kid with sculpey (I made a bunny with a mermaid tail), no, I definitely don’t. I just had a great muse.

Kudos: 2D has always been my comfort zone. I took a few sculpting classes in college but I think those courses don’t do it justice. With keycaps, you are working on a much smaller scale.

Andy: What were your artistic outlets growing up?

Kudos: I grew up in NYC (Queens). I remember buying a pass on the 7 subway line and just looking at graffiti. This was back in the early 90’s before Manhattan got cleaned up so there was a lot to see. The rooftops and billboards were like an art gallery to me. I ended up writing (doing graf) at the age of 14. I’m 33 now and no longer bombing but I still practice throws and pieces in my notebooks. Aside from that, I tattoo’ed down in Florida for a few years before I settled down in LA. In terms of formal training, I’ve had my share of fundamental design and concepts courses.

Andy: With some of your branding I can see a lot of throwback to that Graffiti look and feel which I love. Being a tattoo artist has to be intense, hopefully the failure rate there was quite low!

Kudos: Ha! It’s essentially glorified tracing with a heavy vibrating pen.

Andy: I can only imagine trying to gather the materials to start making caps was a little overwhelming at first. Did you have community members help with that (if so, who?) or did you basically figure out what you needed on your own?

Koala-T: This is such an unfair question for me because Kudos has literally and figuratively held my hand through this entire process. In fact, why are you even talking to me?! I am not worthy!

Andy: I’ve worked with enough artists across quite a few outlets to know BS when I hear it.  Artistic insecurity is as old as the Big Bang.

Koala-T: I suppose if familiarity with feline anatomy makes me an artist than I am a master. Wait, that sounds wrong. I love cats!

 

Andy: I have 3 on me now, I do as well.

Kudos: The process can be very overwhelming at first. What’s available in terms of guides and tutorials online are either too detailed or too vague. Resin casting is broad in terms of applications. A lot of the concepts can be applied to rapid prototyping, jewelry making, prop building so it’s hard to find something that fits keycap making.

Kudos: Binge’s guide on GeekHack was my blueprint when I started. I went back to it for reference quite a bit while I was learning. When I started, I wanted to reach out to these artisans that I looked up to. I decided not to because I felt like I would cheat myself out of experience. Some of the best lessons you learn are through mistakes. Eventually I decided that I’d rather be noticed by those I looked up to instead of asking to be hand-held.

Andy: I think it’s fantastic that you used the resources available from to the community to really hone in on your skills. Cutting your teeth and proving what you can do is definitely something that the community, especially the other artisans and people that have been around a long time, seem to respect and respond very well to.

Kudos: I approached resin casting like I did with writing(graf) or tattooing. You enter with a level of humility, keep your mind open to criticism and demonstrate skill through your work.

Andy: I think there is a lot of maturity in having that approach.

Andy: What, if anything, has inspired your designs and previous sales?

Koala-T: A big, fat, furry black cat. Honestly though, I really, really, really wanted to be able to buy stuff I actually wanted on my keyboard. All due respect to the big guys, I’m afraid I still don’t want skulls on my keyboard. It snowballed from there, but Kudos’ determination and perseverance is what has inspired me most of all. I’ve always wanted to learn how to work with resin and silicone but as you mentioned before, the process is seriously overwhelming. I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole if it hadn’t been for him laying down the groundwork for us both.

From an actual design perspective I love Scandinavian minimalism, but that hasn’t had a chance to come out in my work yet! Too distracted by all the cute things.

Andy: I love that though. In the artisan world, creepy is definitely king, so seeing some new designs that were rather adorable was a really nice break for the eyes. I am also seriously stoked to see when this Scandinavian minimalism comes out in your work!

Koala-T: Me too! Now, if Kudos can actually give us a break. It’s been back-to-back for us.

Kudos: Making me sound like a slave driver… I went into resin casting with the sole purpose of being able to customize my own keyboards. After getting feedback from the community, we decided to share some with others. I don’t know about Koala-T but I guess I’m the “blanks guy” right now. The original plan was to make my own templates (base/stems), learn color matching and multi-pour techniques.

Kudos: These were goals I set for myself before I felt ready to put out a sculpted design. I think of it as “learning to crawl before I walk”. The hope is that each of our previous sales have met the criteria. I think I’m ready to let go of the “Topre blanks guy” title.

Andy: Each sale has been noticeably more ambitious.

Kudos: Let’s hope that we can meet expectations.

Andy: And the modifier sale was just outrageous. What an undertaking!

Koala-T: I’ll let Kudos respond to the modifier sale.

Kudos: We don’t talk about the modifier sale.

Andy: Haha.

Kudos: Yeah. That’s not happening ever again. If you got yourself a set. Hold onto it.

Andy: I will give away just about anything. I sure as fuck am not letting go of my set!

Kudos: I know why people don’t do full modifier sets. It’s painful. With different dimensions, you have more clearance issues. I was also making them to order which led to some curing issues down the line. At the height of the sale I was casting 15-25 caps per person. 2-4 production runs a day. That’s 30-100 keycaps I was churning out everyday. With the way my molds were set up, every mistake was painful. We learned a lot from this sale. 1u from now on!

Kudos: At this point, I will do modifiers for one reason and one reason only. Gimme dat wingnut!

Andy: (haata, are you seeing this?!?!)

Andy: Speaking of 1u, the Snackeys sale was a brilliant follow up.

Koala-T:  We start SnacKeys kind of as a joke. People would comment on how some of the mods looked like jellies or fruits. I asked Kudos about encapsulation and he, the weirdo that he is, started watching some weird taxidermy encapsulation videos.

Koala-T: We tinkered a bit and made the first watermelon. Of course Kiwi was next and the rest kind of happened organically.

Andy: I personally spoke with Hoff about blood keys as well. I will donate to that cause.

Kudos: Blood keys?

Andy: Yeah. I cut my finger, bleed into clear resin. Bam! LSBloodKeys.

Andy: Perfect for the creepy holiday right around the corner. (PS – finger cutting will happen naturally, I always find a way to accidentally cut myself when I’m working)

Kudos: – Oh. Encapsulating blood? That sounds interesting. The exotherm from the resin might discolor the blood but hell, I’ll give it a shot.

Kudos: I’ll call them LivingHoffBump keys. All proceeds go to Keychatter and whatever weirdo fetishes Hoff’s got.

Andy: It’s Halloween though, “DeadBumpHoffs”. Hahaha. Vinyl. Vinyl for us both.

Koala-T: Right…

Kudos: Ooh, interesting fact.

Andy: Shoot!

Kudos: You can dupe vinyls with silicone just like burning CD’s. That’s how they use to pirate vinyls. Send me some rare ones and let’s corner the bootleg vinyl market.

Andy: Got plenty of those lying around =D

Andy: So, do you guys have any future plans for KK that you would like to discuss, hint at, tease, or keep completely secret?

Koala-T: Oh, I have so many plans for KK. For now, I’ll just say I’ve got my girls covered. Who likes Sailor Moon?

Kudos: Hmm… Asking the hard hitting questions. Well, we are hoping that SnacKeys will become a series/staple for us. Aside from that, we want to try our best to release stuff in both Topre and MX moving forward. Like I mentioned earlier, we have plans to put out more sculpted/designed keycaps. I’d like to let you in on more stuff we have in the pipeline but that would spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that KeyKollectiv has no plans to slow down with the momentum we’ve gathered.

 

Andy: Speaking of momentum you guys are running sales faster than anyone else out there right now. While caps are inevitably limited in each sale due to obvious bandwidth restrictions, people seem to always have some sale right around the corner to try to get in on. The same can’t be said about a lot of other artisans.

Kudos: It’s not intentional. There’s no schedule in mind. I’m constantly thinking of the next project while I’m working on the original. By the time one sale is over, I’ve already started working on new molds.

Koala-T: We are also just so excited to be making caps. I know it sounds ridiculous but even though it’s hellish at times, we are also having a ton of fun experimenting. Also, it’s nice to have lots of sales since not everyone gets to participate at a certain time for whatever reason in their life.

Andy: I think the fact that you are excited about what you are doing really shows as well. Its really exciting from the consumer side to never really know what is around the corner.

Koala-T: But to always know there will be something waiting to delight your senses! In writing, there’s a goal to “delight and surprise” the reader. We want it to be the same for the community. You guys are on the journey with us.

Andy: I don’t think I’ve ever delighted or surprised any readers in my books, haha.

Andy: Depressed and deprived? Is that one too?

Koala-T: It is in my book. Ouch! The puns.

Andy: Hahahaha, well played.

Andy: My wife recently joined GH after meeting everyone at the NC meetup which was pretty cool. How is it working with a significant other on projects? It actually seems quite common for couples to work together in this hobby, Binge/Wifu and Pete/Steph of 1up Keyboards also come to mind.

Koala-T: It’s more challenging than exciting at times, but Kudos and I also have very different approaches when it comes to this kind of thing, so that may very well not be the case for other couples. However, if it wasn’t for me, Kudos would literally work himself to the bone, and if it wasn’t for him, I’d probably never start anything (because I’d be too intimidated). So all in all? it works out pretty well for us. We’re still ironing out the kinks, though.

Kudos: It’s been amazing actually. Because we are a duo, we aren’t pigeonholed into any category. I can put out blank sets and she can put out a cat paw. That kind of flexibility really allows us to explore ideas. It’s also been nice to get perspective. I can ask Koala-T what she thinks of a certain color or future project. It’s not all without any pitfalls. We share in our failures and it can get frustrating sometimes when things go wrong. Despite that, I’d like to think it’s very worthwhile.

Andy: Yeah seeing the duality of KeyKollectiv has been amazing. I mean the MeowCaps and Modifier sale were both so different, but that has really just made you so unpredictable which is awesome.

Koala-T: Thank you, it’s awesome to hear that! Life is all about duality, I wholeheartedly embrace it.

Kudos: Hopefully, we can extend the “Kollectiv” concept and work with other artisans in the future.

Andy: So the questions you just can’t get around. When did you get into mechanical keyboards? Favorite switch type? Favorite keycap set? Favorite artisan cap?

Kudos: We actually got into mechanical keyboards while I was deep into building a PC for gaming. We planned on having matching setups for Diablo 3 and then Final Fantasy XIV. Eventually, the gaming fell by the wayside but the love of mechs stayed.

Kudos: In terms of favorites. That’s easy. 55g Topre, silenced and lubed. Grail board would be a 55g 10th Anniversary RF lubed and with purple sliders. In a perfect world, I’d have a HHKB Pro HG with 55g domes. Might as well throw in a Hasu BT controller while you’re at it.

Kudos: As for artisans, I’m a huge fan of Binge and Hipster/KWK/KBK’s. I still don’t own any but I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into them. Matt30’s Skull Squadron was the set that made me fall in love with keysets in general. Sadly, I never got a chance to snag a set. Speaking of Matt30, I’m pretty stoked on his Topre set.

In general, contoured SA sets are pretty great. I love 7-bit’s Round 5. I want to say GMK Hyperfuse but I’m still waiting for it to get here 🙁

Koala-T: For me, it’s MX Ergo Clears. Lubed and 62g springs. Though with this new HHKB, I might have to switch over.

Andy: That-a-girl. Topre fo life!

Koala-T: Favorite keycap set would be Galaxy. Even though my heart breaks a little every time I see it on Massdrop because I remember the blood, sweat and tears kudos went through to get it for me. Plus, I feel less special. No one likes that!

Unfortunately, my Ducky Shine and I broke up so my Galaxy set is currently not in use. I think Kudos still keeps it around as a work horse and an occasional keycap model. In hindsight that keyboard was never really me to begin with, but it was fun and incredibly exciting at the time. Nowadays I want something a lot more minimal but also very functional.

Koala-T: Kudos also put a set of 7-bit’s Round 5s on my Poker 2 and I’ve been really enjoying them. Dat Honeywell doh.

Andy: I feel like that is a journey we all take in some form though. Start off wanting flash, and end up wanting something a lot more minimal.

Koala-T: That’s exactly what happened.

Kudos: Simplicity is sophistication.

Andy: I know I had quite a few decked out Pokers and a Filco etc, and now all I want is my stock Topre boards, at least as far as aesthetics go.

Andy: What is something that you, as an artisan, wished the community knew?

Kudos: Hmm.. Koala-T works and attends classes. I work a full-time job and spend all my free time making keycaps. It bums us out to disappoint people. We’re not a big company who can crank out huge numbers. Our keycaps are all made by hand and there’s only so much we can reasonably make. If it were up to us, we would make enough for everyone but it’s not feasible.

Andy: I think that probably resonates with a lot of artisans out there.

Koala-T: The pay sucks too.

Kudos: Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’ve lost money on all of our sales so far.

Koala-T: Kudos can’t bring himself to crunch the numbers or charge more for that matter.

Andy: I’m telling him to constantly 🙂

Koala-T: I agree. He sees it as a passion project and until he feels things are up to standard, he’ll charge what he thinks they’re worth.

Kudos: We’re getting closer with SnacKeys.

 

Koala-T: We are honored and flattered. It’s hard. Kudos tries to please everyone. I want to, but I won’t do it at the expense of my mental/emotional/potentially physical health. I do draw my line somewhere!

Kudos: Being critical of one’s work is what leads to improvement and mastery.

Andy: So what advice would you give newcomers to the cap making game, or those interested in making caps?

Kudos: I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only been doing this for six months now so I might be totally qualified to give advice yet. I would say that you should do as much research as you possibly can before you start. That the experience is different for everyone so there is no “right resin or silicone” to use. And most importantly– if you’re not comfortable with failure, you’re not going to have a good time.

Koala-T: – Stay humble and learn from mistakes.

Koala-T: Seriously, it’s easier said than done, but mistakes are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.

Kudos: “No one is perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers”.

Andy: You heard it from Kudos kids. Don’t be a pen, be a pencil.

Kudos: That’s exactly what I meant 🙂

Koala-T: That’s deep.

Andy: Haha, shirt material.

Andy: Well, I think we should probably wrap this up. Anything you guys want to plug while you have the spotlight?

Kudos: You can check out our blog at Keykollectiv.com. Also, sign up for our newsletter for sale and contest announcements!

Koala-T: Sorry it’s so outdated! We are working on bringing it up to date.

Kudos: Thanks for having us. It’s been a pleasure. Now back to casting.

 

2 Responses

Leave a Reply