Today we’d like to introduce you to Brandon Monk Muñoz.
Brandon, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I started drawing sharks and whales incessantly as a child and got into jet fighters and spaceships. The lines and shapes of these early sketches have found their way into most everything I make as an adult. My first woodworking projects were extremely sketchy skate ramps which the neighborhood kids and I would test our bravery and pain tolerance upon.
I began furniture making while attending Otis College of Art and Design in LA in 1998. I went there to study painting and paid my rent by sanding rustic pine bookcases for a small manufacturer in LA. Eventually I was promoted to building their custom orders. I eventually dropped out of art school when I got a carpentry gig at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Burbank. I would build these big strange jigs and rigs which were used for making large animatronic puppets for the movies. I loved working in the special effects industry, but the desire to work for myself was too strong to deny.
I moved back to Orange County and started making furniture out of my parent’s garage. I built for family, friends and neighbors (to appease them for all the noise I made). I said “Yes” to every custom request that came my way, even when I had no clue how to do it. Through trial and error, I learned how to build many different kinds of pieces. I then specialized in large-scale TV armoires and massive entertainment centers – remember those?
At this point, I merely saw woodworking as a way to avoid a 9-5 and apply my creativity. I could make something different every week. I loved the variety and challenge it offered, even if I averaged less hourly pay than a barista.
I soon got married to to an beautifully adventurous woman named Pamela in 2003 and we moved to London, England to start a small church. I had brought out all my tools so I could build things for our flat while doing ministry. We both gained much perspective and inspiration whilst in London, being surrounded by such a wide variety of people and cultures compared to our suburban SoCal upbringing. We eventually moved back to Orange County in 2010 with only what would in our suitcases. Now with a growing family to feed in the middle of a deep recession, we had to figure something out quick! No one was hiring ex-missionary, art school dropouts, so I started building furniture again based on Pamela’s suggestions.
We made simple things for our home with whatever wood I could find for free. I used tools inherited from my late grandfather, Tino. They reminded me to build with love and intent at all times, and make it strong as hell! We posted the the finished pieces online in hopes of attracting some orders. It did. Our first out of state shipment was around this time. We were amazed that something made in our little garage could end up in a New York apartment. It was like practical magic.
I soon designed a recording studio desk for a musician friend in Los Angeles. That initial design started catching fire online with people who were on the hunt for something special for their equipment. I’ve now built them for many different kinds of clients: film composers, producers, songwriters, editors, DJ’s, lawyers, engineers, etc. They’re designed to facilitate and inspire people’s best creative work by arranging their favorite tools in a way that makes their workflow feel more intuitive and inspiring. I treat these desks more like instruments than furniture. They are in the studios of Grammy and Oscar winners as well as those who quietly create much of the media we see and hear everyday.
I am now going back to my roots as a painter by exploring new finishes and colors and releasing artwork on wood. I have a collection of specially set aside pieces which have sea creatures and other strange figures hidden in the grain. I’m simply bringing them out in the open. I will continue to make furniture as I believe it to be an art form with much unexplored potential. My aim at this point is to express the powerful inherent qualities of wood through my work in whatever form it takes. It’s a different kind of ministry to me.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
My medium is Oil & Water on Wood. It’s blending the two elements that aren’t supposed to mix upon a material that allows for both of them to work together just fine. Through a careful process of layering and time, I can create effects among the grain and add my own hidden touches to make a piece feel unique and one of a kind. I will soon be releasing a series of large painted headboards that can also be displayed in a gallery or any room of your home.
I am known for using a lot of poplar wood in my work. It’s a species that is looked down upon for its softer nature and weird limey green streaks that most people paint over. I developed a method of tanning the wood in the sun which brings out its natural colors and turns the lime green into a dark chocolatey brown. Many woodworkers ask me what kind of wood it is and are surprised it’s poplar.
“Isn’t that paint grade?”, many say.
My usual response is, “Sure, but not in the way you think it is.”
I plan for the factor of Time to enhance each piece over the years. The well seasoned patina and life-marks will only make each piece more beautiful through normal use, telling a story. Poplar is wonderful at this, yet even the hardest woods out there are not immune to a 3 year old with a fork. Life always wins, but wood isn’t concerned with looking new forever.
Another trademark of my work is joining planks that are similar in character in a way that makes them feel like one unified piece. You must look closely to see the seems. It gives an effect that is much different than just a wide single piece of wood.
I believe their are hidden messages within wood grain that speaks to us humans on a very intuitive and non-verbal level. We are inspired and reassured by the presence of wood. Trees have been with us since the beginning of our creative journey as a species. We made instruments, shelters, temples, tools, weapons, paper and so on. As we progressed, wood took a back seat as plastic mass-produced items and electronic technology became more profitable.
So why is wood still relevant?
I believe it is because it reminds us of our connection to this earth which sustains our lives, with trees being the ones who give us our very breath.
The stereotype of a starving artist scares away many potentially talented artists from pursuing art – any advice or thoughts about how to deal with the financial concerns an aspiring artist might be concerned about?
I think necessity can fuel a certain kind of do or die mentality that can be helpful, albeit very stressful sometimes. We have four kids who are homeschooled and Monkwood is our main source of income. This is not easy, but it has forced our family to focus and choose what is best both for us all creatively and financially. I think both can work together. I am now teaching my kids how to build so they can feel equipped to bring and idea out of their head and into this world. And maybe even get paid for it.
Pricing is always a challenge, but I always advise making and building at a higher quality than you can currently charge for. Learn and grow on the job. Eventually, your pricing will increase as your skills and reputation grow with consistent output.
My main recommendation for upcoming makers would be to start fusing your own varied interests and talents into a cohesive product or design that creates a unique hybrid that is special to you. Only then, will it will be to others. With my studio desks, I mix my knowledge of recording with my understanding of wood and design. My childhood love for sharks and spaceships is also evident in almost every desk design I make.
There are plenty of woodworkers out there who are far more skilled and notorious for their mastery of the craft than I’ll ever be. But I don’t waste time trying measure up with anyone, I’d rather make the things I see in my mind than battle with imaginary competitors. I’ve learned that there are people out there who want just that. Rarity and quality will only help you as an artist in the near and far future.
Time and tedium are not your enemy – they are the team that will help you create something that no one else can, if you stick with it. So in financial terms, it’s playing the long game. You can do pretty well making what’s trendy at the moment, but trends will always bend into something else and you’ll be stuck be playing catch up or ever trying to guess what’s next. If you create something timeless, beautiful and well made – it’s value will only increase through the years. It’s worth will be self evident, both now and in the future.
Also, learn photography.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
You can find my work at Monkwoodstudio.com or on Instagram as @monkwood_
Along with my furniture and artwork, I will be creating a new series of affordable smaller pieces in the new year. I want to make my work more accessible (and also make things that don’t take 6 months to finish)
- Website: Monkwoodstudio.com
- Email: questions@
- Instagram: instagram.com/
- Facebook: https://www.
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/
Photos by Monkwood