Devin Smith of Minocqua has spent all of his 19-year-old life with a desire to create. From painting to video, Smith has consistently worked to express himself creatively by whatever means necessary.
Now the 2015 Lakeland Union High School graduate has emersed himself in a new undertaking which presents itself as a new challenge for the man who always looking to try something new.
"I love to bring joy to people. If I have an idea, instead of just telling people about it, I want to show them," Smith said. "I can sit and talk about something for hours, but I prefer just to physically show what I'm talking about. I'm constantly drawing inspiration from that idea - creating a world within a world."
Lakeland area residents may have seen Smith's depiction of the famed T-Bird bridge at the 52nd annual Beef-A-Rama event on Sept. 24 and again at the homecoming football game last Friday. Smith said it was upsetting to hear that something that revives so many memories and positive thoughts of his hometown was being demolished, so he wanted to build a tribute to honor it.
"It was a lot of fun to make because it means a lot to me. The bridge was a big part of Minocqua and when they tore it down, I said 'well, I make miniature stuff, this is the perfect time to make a miniature of the bridge and I got to work,'" he said. "I'm still pretty new so I wasn't quite sure how to expose it to people online, so I figured Beef-A-Rama would be the perfect place to put it on display. I think a lot of people enjoyed it."
The piece was sold at Beef-A-Rama for a silent auction price of $300. Smith said he wasn't in any rush to make another version of the bridge as he does not want to get in the habit of repeating himself.
"I like my art to be a one of a kind thing. Even if I am making another version of an original piece, I be sure to make it unique from the first," he said. "The last thing I want to do is mass-produce. I like to keep everything creative, and different."
Most recently, Smith completed a project for a customer who requested a scene from the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Given free reign over the scene, Smith researched the topic extensively in attempt to accurately portray the tumultuous time in our country's history.
"There are a lot of parts and pieces. It's made of primarily recycled materials. The only thing I personally purchased was the base, which is made out of wood," Smith said. "There are pieces of wire, some work with clay. It's a bit tough to explain every aspect, but anything that I can find laying around is something that I'm willing to use."
When asked how he obtains all the different materials for his projects, he explains that it is not quite as difficult as one might think.
"It's easy to come by things. Paper is everywhere," he said. "Don't throw away your trash, give it to me."
He points to an ashtray littered with cigarette butts in his LA riot scene.
"My fiance has asthma and she has an inhaler. That is just the metal cartridge from it painted blue," he said. "I don't throw much away. I'll repurpose it and turn them into something else."
Now living in Plover, Smith works out of his studio in his apartment he shares with his fiance, Natasha, which can be categorized as pleasantly chaotic. With a variety of found and handmade items scattered amount his work desk, Smith's creativity is on full display.
Each of his completed works is posted to his Instagram page (@awesome_thanks) and not only shows the finished product, but often features the steps that involved to creating these tiny objects. The piece that initially "went viral" on The Daily Mini, a website dedicated to the craft, was Smith's attempt at creating the world's smallest silk screen press.
Having been employed at Design Solutions Screen Printing, Embroidery and Sign in Minocqua during high school, Smith took what he knew and made art out of it.
The idea initially came while thumbing through a copy of the 2016 Guinness Book of World Records where he saw a page featuring the world's smallest Rubik's Cube. Smith wanted his own world record, so he got to work, having no prior experience in the world of miniatures.
"I submitted it and Guinness said 'no.' They said it was too specific," he said. "That's where things started, though and things ultimately worked out for the best."
The video depicting the miniature silk screen press in action garnered over five million views, and led to many people coming of the woodwork to request pieces, such as the LA riot scene, to be completed by the artist. In addition, Smith said the silk screen press was so well received that he is now tasked with making eight more.
This led him to found his own miniatures company which he calls "Awesome, Thanks" and now acts as his full-time job. He said the name came simply from a phrase commonly uttered from himself.
"We were trying to think of names for a long time and Natasha noticed that anytime I'm checking out at the store, or the drive thru, I say 'awesome, thanks'," he said. "The name just stuck."
Working in such a small framework can be "difficult," Smith said. He said he has received many comments regarding the frustration that some have just from observing him work.
"It can be very frustrating because you can spend a half an hour trying to position something with tweezers, because you're hands are too big, and it might not go on right," he said. "Then you have to start over from the beginning. That's what makes it better in the end, though. Patience is a large part of my work."
Smith said his interest in art started at an early age, stemming from his parents love for handmade goods. He said the idea of getting to work on something as opposed to heading to the store was instilled in him for as long as he can remember.
"Anytime during school when we would have the days where you're supposed to bring in something that you made yourself, I would always go all out with it," he said. "One of my first projects that could be considered a miniature project was painting Legos to look like a scene from my favorite television show - 'That 70's Show.'"
For those who have visited Design Solutions in Minocqua, the model of the store you see in the front showroom was completed by Smith as a Christmas gift he presented to the shop.
"It's a little mediocre when I look at it now. I think my work has progressed quite a bit from then," he said. "It's still nice to see that on display, though."
Inspiration to keep improving comes from seeing his own skill sets grow in his art, Smith said. That, combined with the positive feedback he receives from friends, family, customers and strangers on the internet keep him consistently searching to create his next masterpiece.
"My art had always been a bit crafty and I never attempted to make things necessarily look 'real.' With the silk screen press, if someone was looking at a close up picture of it, I didn't want them to think it was a miniature," he said. "When I started to get the positive feedback from it, I said 'well maybe that should be my thing, making things look real.' Now I just want to keep getting better and continue to make these miniature objects look as lifelike as possible."
Since the beginning of September, Smith said he has gained about 4,000 new followers on his Instagram page, gained friends within the miniature community and has had his work featured by one of the most prominent miniature artwork resources, The Daily Mini.
"It's really been only a month since this has all blown up," he said. "Now I'm busier than I could ever imagine with all the requests for pieces from people who have contacted me online. It's been crazy."
Smith has been contacted by Laika Studios in Portland, Or., a stop-motion animation studio which has produced films such as ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, all which have grossed over $100 million. The studio reached out to Smith with interest in his work and the possibility of one day working for the studio. He is currently awaiting a follow-up call.
"No matter with what happens with that, It's an honor to know that they're interested in my work," he said. "Even if they never get back to me, I'm going to keep working and keep trying to get better and hope it all works out in the end."
To say he is detail oriented is an understatement. Smith said the more detail something possesses, the more questions it begs to ask, which is something is strives for.
"Whether it was adding one more piece of trash in the LA Riot scene, or a little soda can by the silk screen press, nothing is ever done," he said. "The more detail something has, the more real it looks. I like people to ask questions about the process and what I'm trying to convey, which is something that added detail brings out."
Media productions is something that has inspired Smith from the beginning, including making stop-motion videos with legos. He said being able to combine his love of art and film, such as what Laika Studios does with their films, would be a dream for him.
"Mr. Jahnke (LUHS library media specialist) has been a huge inspiration for me," Smith said. "I've really taken what I learned in his classes into my own life. I probably wouldn't being doing what I'm doing had it not be for him."
If someone has interest in pursueing something, whether it be in the world of arts and crafts, or otherwise, Smith said to pursue it.
"I you have a thought, go for it. Even if you want it to become a full time career, or if you want to keep it a hobby, it will pay off in the end," he said. "I started out making things because I like to make things. People found me, and now I create things everyday as my job. If you want to do something, go for it, give it a try, because you might regret it if you don't."
You can keep updated with Smith's work in the world of miniature art as well as viewing past pieces by following his Instagram page at www.instagram.com/awesome__thanks.
Evan Verploegh may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.