Designer Toys

Designer Toys is a term used to describe toys and other collectibles that are produced in limited editions (as few as 50 or as many as 2000 pieces) and created by artists and designers. Designer toys are made of a variety of materials; plastic and vinyl are most common, although wood and metal are occasionally used. The term also encompasses plush, cloth and latex dolls. Creators of designer toys usually have backgrounds in graphic design, illustration or self-described low brow art; some are classically trained in art and design, while others are self-taught. Designer toys first appeared in the 1990s and are still in production today.

Spring TWEET by Julie West__$24__[Ningyoushi.com]
Featuring a new vinyl character series by artist, Julie West. TWEET features a bird’s nest bonnet and two magnetic birds. This special Spring edition features a soft green colorway. Packaged in a clear tube. Produced by Strangeco.

CHAOS Monkey by BUNKA__$30__[ningyoushi.com]
A puzzle for zoologists, this monkey has been seen through the ages on every continent but his origin is still a mystery. Based on scientific analysis, CHAOS MONKEY may be one of the first gene mutations ever. With large eyeballs, this hungry creature has escaped from his ancestral slammer in order to devour all human beings on this planet. Born with short legs and enormous arms, he's able to move faster than any other ape without any hope of escape for their casualties. They'll eventually eat you raw. From the largeness of his eyes, billions of monkeys are watching us, waiting for a bloody vengeance. Now forever as a vinyl statue, his hypnotic look and his little sharp teeth will keep you scared to death.
CHAOS MONKEY is the first vinyl toy created by French illustrator BUNKA. It's the second release on the French label ARTOYZ ORIGINALS created by ARTOYZ. Vinyl. This USA White colorway is limited to 500!

Tsuchi by DGPH__$50__[Munky King]

In 2005 Martin Lowenstein and Diego Vaisberg created DGPH, one of the leading Argentinian design houses that blends art, illustration and animation. Here's what they have to say about Tsuchi:
"Tsuchi is Father Earth, the oldest god and wisest being that has ever lived. Seated on his throne in the planet's core, he rules the seas and the land, surrounded by his little minions.
His upper half controls all the nice good things that happen in the world, while his bottom half rules the mysterioius dark side. The energy caused by the friction of his internal struggle keeps the planet on its rotation. As long as both sides keep up the fight, life will continue its natural course."

Gardener Series: Brian 004 by Michael Lau__$90__[ningyoushi.com]

Michael Lau is an artist from Hong Kong who is known for his illustration and designer toy figures. Lau is widely credited as the founder of the urban vinyl style within the designer toy movement. His work has had a significant effect on toy manufacturers, as well as street culture, including artists and musicians, throughout the world. His style is particularly influential to Asian and American hip-hop and skateboarding culture. Lau has won several awards for his work, including four from the Hong Kong-based Philippe Charriol Foundation.

Lau began his career when he graduated from Design First Institute in Hong Kong in 1992. While some of his art was on display in small galleries in Hong Kong, Lau began work as a window display designer, before finding employment in the advertising industry. In 1997, Lau was hired to illustrate the cover art for the Anodize electronic music album. In 1998, he began the Gardener comic strip in East Touch magazine for which he is best known. The characters featured in this comic strip were the basis for his first series of vinyl collectible figures.

In 1999, his work became popular enough to attract the attention of the Sony corporation, who exclusively distributed a selection of his Gardener pieces in Asia. Lau signed a contract with Sony which lasted until 2003. During this time, Lau continued to work steadily, creating illustrations and vinyl figures in a graffiti-influenced style.

Lau worked with the Hong Kong hip-hop group LMF, creating a series of figures based on them. He has created other series of urban vinyl figures, such as Crazychildren and Lamdog, in addition to stand-alone pieces. His work is highly collectible and is predominantly collected by adults; his figures are almost exclusively available from designer toys retailers.

In 2004, he opened his own gallery, called michael, in Hong Kong. [Wikipedia]

The Art of Michael Lau - Gardener Comics
Discovery Short Film by Michael Lau

Michael Lau Set

Uglydog by Uglydoll Plush__$20__[Rotofugi]

Uglydolls are taking the world by storm! The limited edition plush collectables emerged from the minds of two star crossed artists Sun-Min Kim and David Horvath who met at Parsons School of Design in New York City and based on the doodles David drew at the end of their love letters.
That Christmas, after moving back home to Korea. Sun-Min suprised David with a plush, hand sewn version of the first character he drew, Wage. He showed it to his friend Eric Nakamura who owns Giant Robot in LA. Eric thought he was pitching a product and promptly ordered 20. The rest, as they say is history.

Jello Fox__$85__[munkyking.com or $70 @ Rotofugi]
Jellofox came from the creative mind of Chinese contempory artist Tong Yan. The ceramic version of Jellofox was exhibited in various art exhibitions in Mainland, and this vinyl version was exhibited at China Design Now Exhibit at V&A Museum in London as well. The 10" (25 cm) tall vinyl sculpture is a signed and numbered edition of 500 pieces.

Benny the Barb by Stash__$55__[ningyoushi.com]

One of New York's graffiti legends, Stash played a role in the pivotal East Village Scene of the early 1980s, exhibiting his first canvases at the famous Fun Gallery alongside pop art pioneers Keith Haring and Jean-Michael Basquiat when he was only 17. While his contemporaries turned to Pop Art, Stash stayed true to the subway, working on trains until 1987 when he created his last underground piece alongside Zephyr. His early works on canvas demonstrate a loyalty to his early career in the use of subway map-collages and signature bold outlines and clean shapes. By the late-1990s, Stash had pioneered the use of graphic elements of graffiti on streetwear through high-profile collaborations with companies such as Nike and Bathing Ape. The move ensured his work reached a much wider audience than the gallery crowd and played a key role in the widespread understanding of graffiti, which in turn led to its public acceptance and the shift in its perception from vandalism to art form. Stash is now firmly established as an innovator and influencer in the world of urban design, and his fascination with the urban environment is also evident in his perfectly-executed photographic work, which features a combination of city motifs alongside the latest lighting and printing techniques.

Europe's popular Flying Fortress graffiti artist continues to spread their army of Teddy Troops with their latest blind box mini figure artist series:

Teddy Troops Series 3__designed by Joe Ledbetter__$15__[ningyoushi.com]

Flying Pigs
The Art of Joe Ledbetter

Cluster II by Joe Ledbetter__$14.95__[gelaskins.com]

Known for his popular paintings of cute cartoon ruckus and innovative toy designs, Joe Ledbetter's career has rapidly accelerated in only a few short years. A 30-year-old Los Angeles native, Ledbetter studied Sociology at Humboldt State University, before returning to his hometown where he worked as a graphic apparel artist for 3 years.

He also became involved in the LA underground art scene showing in small group shows as well as Cannibal Flower's monthly art extravaganzas. By the summer of 2004, Ledbetter was able to quit his day job and focus entirely on his art career. His unmistakable style can be characterized by an amazing combination of vibrant colors, shadows, character expressions, and thick black lines. Utilizing imagination and the subversive with a light-hearted approach Ledbetter's work often illustrates the harsh realities of everyday life, but also reminds us not to take things so seriously sometimes.

Joe Ledbetter Official Site
The Vinyl Frontier Spotlight

Teddy Troops 3__designed by PARSKID__$11

PARSKID Interview by CrownDozen.com
Parskid might be a man of few words but his work speaks loudly. From the Pacific Northwest, Parskid brings beauty to the damned and all their friends. With many products under his belt, shows always in the works and collaborations continuing, I am suprised he has any time left to "vandalise" the city. I am always pleased to see Parskid's work in a gallery or on a street in my local hood. I am sure he will leave a strong impression on you as well.

CrownDozen.com: I am not sure if you are a man of very little words or what but I had a very hard time finding information on you. So I thought we could start at the beginning. Can you tell the readers of C12 a little bit about your life up until now?
Parskid: I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve had a love for drawing and creating ever since I was youngster and had a lot of artistic people around me growing up. I went to a little bit of art school and worked as a designer for a bit but realized that wasn’t really for me. Meanwhile, I got into graffiti in my late teens/early twenties and it had a pretty big influence on my art and way of life. From there I pretty much have just been focusing on creating and distributing my ideas everywhere I can. And I’ve always been a man of few words.

CD: Do you think growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where it is often pretty dark and dismal, has influenced your art?
P: I think the climate here has definitely influenced my art quite a bit. Not only has the overcast weather been an influence but the landscape as well. And not in a negative way at all… the dark clouds, the rain, the rivers and lakes, the hills, the forests and trees, all inspire me immensely.

CD: The themes of your work often seem to portray subjects such as death, life and rebirth with a certain element of light that makes each piece less menacing and more serene. Can you talk about your process?
P: My process in coming up with my ideas is very free-form I think, in the sense where I just start working and see what comes out. Usually very little pre-planning is done. I just try to explore my subconscious thoughts and places that I wouldn’t normally think about in day to day life. There are definitely moments of darkness there, as well as moments of serenity.

CD: Do you believe in ghosts or spirits?
P: I think I do, whether as just an idea in a story or something physical that can be seen by the living. I think it’s just the belief that there is more to our lives than just the period between birth and death, and that there is more to us than our physical selves.

CD: As one of your favorite past times is still vandalism, how do you feel about the occasional bad wrap that graffiti artists receive?
P: Graffiti will always receive a bad wrap and I don’t necessarily disagree with that. That’s part of the appeal of doing it. It’s illegal and will affect most everyone who sees it, either in a positive or negative way. I think graffiti is best when it’s intrusive and not pretty to look at. If I was making everyone happy, I would really question whether I should be doing anything at all.

CD: You do a lot of collaborations with galleries, other artists, etc. Do you have any favorite projects that you would like to do more of?
P: I love making products. It’s great to see the project from start to finish and see the final product in quantities and then distribute those to people. I also like doing installations and working with other artists on shows. I have a couple shows where I’m collaborating with another artist coming up next year (2008) that I’m really looking forward to.

Wiggs of Vortigern's Machine by James Jarvis__$41.27__[Designer Toy Store]
Rusty's trusted companion William Ignacius Guthrum, aka Wiggs, will be available complete with his precious front door keys. These keys, as insignificant as they may seem, are paramount to the plot and the very reason for their great adventure. Wiggs will come with extended index figure from which the keys can hang safely forever.

Vortigern's Machine is a cutting edge study of today's youth. Rusty and Wiggs roam the sub-urban/semi-rural mean streets of a fictional town looking for answers to the conundrums that life throws their way. On their quests they seek the help of the mystic visionary Mr Vortigern. Through his magic they are dramatically sucked into a psychedelic vortex and transported to different lands and dimensions where they meet fantastic characters and embark on epic adventures.
All this and a magic slide machine.

Wrestling Elves by James Jarvis__[amostoys.com]

James Jarvis created the Wrestling Elves as a depiction of the struggle between good and bad. These characters were designed for the special CD box set packaging of Hong Kong artist Juno’s fifth LP, 'Chapel of Dawn'. The Wrestling Elves appeared throughout the CD box, the enclosed booklet and the accompanying marketing campaign. Amos were then commissioned by Hong Kong lifestyle brand, Silly Thing, to produce a three dimensional, soft vinyl rendition of the two characters locked in their eternal battle.

Amos was set up in 2002 by James Jarvis, Sofia Prantera and Russell Waterman. James had previously designed toys for fashion brand Silas, beginning with the now legendary Martin figure, released back in 1998. Along with Bounty Hunter in Japan, Silas unwittingly became one of the pioneers of the soft vinyl designer toy revolution. With help from Bounty Hunter, who had already released two figures, Martin was unleashed on an unsuspecting world and the work of James Jarvis reached a whole new audience.

James Jarvis Interview by Design Museum
Inspired by classic cartoons like Tintin and Popeye, the British illustrator JAMES JARVIS (1970-) has created his own three-dimensional casts of characters as the World of Pain and In-Crowd plastic toys. He also invents imaginary worlds for his characters each of whom has their own role and personality.

When James Jarvis dreamed up a group of bikers as a new collection of the plastic In-Crowd characters he designs for the toy company Amos, he pictured them as “reasonable, sound, sane, wise, balanced, rational, sagacious, prudent, judicious and level-headed”. He even invented a club for these do-gooding bikers – the Forever Sensible Motorcycle Club.

The members of the Forever Sensible Motorcycle Club, like the musicians in Ages of Metal, his next In-Crowd characters, stem from the drawings that Jarvis has created since childhood. He was inspired to start drawing by his love of illustrated books such as Tintin, Rupert the Bear and The Tale of Peter the Rabbit. Born in London in 1970, Jarvis went on to study illustration at the University of Brighton and then at the Royal College of Art in London.

A Japanese friend suggested that Jarvis should turn the characters drawn in simple, sparing strokes in his illustrations into toys which he did by creating the engagingly raffish Martin, a moulded plastic model, for the London-based fashion company Silas. Jarvis then developed equally engaging characters to live with Martin in the World of Pain, the imaginary world inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which he invented for them and depicted in a book and website. Eager to create different characters, who would not necessarily fit in to the World of Pain, he then invented the In-Crowd series of figures.

James Jarvis Feature by Ika Zcha
A short film I made about the illustrator James Jarvis. Its main focus is his drawing and the thought processes behind his work. Filmed over 2 days on location in Amos offices.

Smorkin' Labbit by Frank Kozik__$72.39__[designertoystore.co.uk]

Kidrobot is a producer and retailer of designer toys founded in 2002 by Paul Budnitz, specializing in artist-created toys and imports from Japan, Hong Kong, and Europe. Kidrobot has a commercial website, as well operating retail stores in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami Beach, and Toronto, Canada. Most items are produced in limited numbers and are, or become, collector's items. Each of the three retail stores features a gallery of designer toys and related art, and often host artist signings to commemorate the release of limited-edition figures, such as the Bondage Labbit by Frank Kozik.

Bunch of Dunnys by various artists__[flickr.com]

Munny is a do-it-yourself toy from the American designer toy company Kidrobot.
Munny is primarily a "Do-it-Yourself" type action figure which the owner can decorate using pens, pencils, markers, paint, and supposedly, ketchup. The action figure is made out of vinyl and has moveable joints. The first Munny action figure was white, and has since been available in other colors such as black, pink, blue, and glow in the dark green. The figure is housed in a box which includes 4 random accessories that vary from a different series (1 through 4, 4 being the latest) and can be many things, such as a carrot or a hat. The doll also includes one out of a series of collectable coloring books which have been designed by a variety of people.

The Dunny character is similar to the Munny character. According to Kidrobot "DUNNY is an action figure made of soft, smooth vinyl. DUNNY was created to be customized in a broad variety of styles by diverse artists working in different mediums."
Unlike the Munny, Dunny is not sold blank. Instead, Dunny's are designed by artists and released in 8" versions almost every month. Typically, two blind boxed series of 3" Dunny figures are released a year.

Designer Toys
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