Shin Tanaka

Paper toy designer

Nike Air Force 1__paper

Gritty__styled by LessRain


Spiky Baby Army

T-Boy__styled by LessRain

T-Boy__paper__styled by Shin Tanaka

[pics: (flickr.com) (pingmag.jp) (plasticandplush.com) (shin.co.nr) (newyork-tokyo.com)]

Shin Tanaka Official Site
Shin Tanaka's Photostream

Interview by New York-Tokyo
Shin Tanaka (b. 1980) is a native of Fukuoka, Japan and is a maestro of the paper arts. Shin’s work is instantly recognizable: a combination of one-of-a-kind paper design with strong graffiti elements. His passion for paper began with the familiar disposition of having no money as a student. He couldn’t afford his favorite sneakers so he made life-size paper versions of them. This caught the attention of many people, most notably the shoe companies he was imitating. Since then, he has collaborated with big brands such as Nike and Adidas…and should no longer have a problem procuring his favorite shoe.

New York-Tokyo: Why did you to become a designer? And do you have any formal training/education in this field?
Shin: Because I want to meet many designers and be inspired from them, therefore I created a collaboration system “custom paper toy.” I provide blank paper toy for the artists as a new canvas. My paper toys are mediums between the artists and me. This game is doing well. I have been able to meet over 500 artists, designers, and brands.
I haven’t had any formal training, it’s self-training. It’s one of the reasons that my works are unconventional style.

NYT: How easy or difficult was it to get your work noticed with so many talented artists/designers out there?
Shin: It’s not difficult, my works were noticed by mouth-to-mouth advertising. An artist notices my work and make a collaborated toy, the friends of him notice mine, and the friends of them notice…
I haven’t promoted my works strongly.

NYT: What advice can you give to aspiring artists/designers? Any specific tips on how to promote one’s work or to get exposure to a larger audience?
Shin: I think they should not consider how to promote their works too aggressively, it disturbs ingenious ideas and groundbreaking designs. The most important thing is not to promote their works but to create their original works and show their own style. If they have been keeping their originals, the people who can find some keen insight into the “REAL” must not miss the works.

Interview by Format Magazine
Format: What, in your opinion makes a good paper design?
Shin Tanaka: I always consider the curves of the paper; it’s a very elegant surface. Many people make paper toys, but they are very boring because they use 3D-modeling software. As a result, their toys are like polygon characters with no curved surfaces. It’s just a copy of computer polygon characters. I hate them and this is the most important difference between them and me.

Format: What sort of reaction did you get when people first saw your paper sneakers? Was it an instant hit or did people criticize you for imitating designs that already existed?
Shin Tanaka: They couldn’t understand that they are made from a paper. They also couldn’t believe that they are only 7cm small; most people thought they were real human sizes. (I also make human size paper sneakers or much bigger ones; I have made sneakers 3 meters long even.) The sneakers were an instant hit. People didn’t criticize. They loved the concept I started. They can customize and make their own colored sneakers.

Format: What is the perfect sneaker design for Shin Tanaka? Does it exist yet?
Shin Tanaka: I think it is Nike AF1. The reason is that it’s been loved by many people for over 25 years. Also, I think it is very interesting that AF1 has so many color variations and different feelings.

Interview with Lars Eberle of LessRain by PingMag
PingMag talked to Lars Eberle from LessRain, who are currently hosting the Shin Tanaka KAMI ZOO exhibition in their gallery in Berlin about how they collaborated with Shin.

PM: Lars, LessRain is actually a web-design company, but you launched a little shop, bar and gallery in Berlin as well. (And maybe I should also mention here, that you just opened up the LessRain Tokyo office! Well done!) What is your relationship with Shin then? Why was he chosen for an exhibition in Berlin in the first place?
LE: We found him on an internet tour doing research about paper models and graffiti for our online graffiti community Vandalsquad. We were amazed by his paper models and the idea of sharing them over the internet and asked him if he was interested in collaborating. We actually haven’t met him in person yet, just spoke on the phone a couple of times and exchanged lots of emails.

PM: Less Rain developed a graffiti spray tool, which allows you to spray virtually and legally on a high level - online. Over 30,000 works uploaded on Vandalsquad every month (!) prove well, that people like it. In what way did you connect online graffiti with Shin’s paper toys?
LE: On the whole we invited about 20 German artists and designers to download illustrator and freehand files of Shin’s paper toys and in particular, we invited the 50 best graffiti artists from Vandalsquad to design the “wallman”- toy.
Parts of this particular character could be downloaded into the graffiti studio on Vandalsquad, then sprayed on and uploaded as a PDF. These designs can still be seen on Vandalsquad and downloaded by everyone.
The ready designed PDF can then be printed out and built as a paper toy (takes more effort, love and care than you might think!). During the exhibition we have a lot of scissors, glue and papercrafts lying around…
We also showed about 30 toys designed by Shin Tanaka himself and 40 toys designed by other Japanese artists.
We plan to bring this exhibition to Tokyo afterwards and ask more Japanese designers to collaborate.

PM: I guess one of the strengths of Shin’s work is that it is fun for everybody to create their own version of his paper toys T-Boy, Gritty or Spike. (Although you now have to write an email to Shin first and get the PDF from him, since someone started selling the PDFs on eBay without his permission, so he keeps it personal now!) Would you call Shin’s work’s origami, though? If he uses scissors and glue??
LE: No, Shins work has not much to do with origami, but rather with plastic toy characters. When coming up with this idea, he was more into the idea of finding a way to produce his own characters - by himself and as cheap as possible. Getting a plastic toy produced and getting it into the shops is a costly and commercial thing, whereas creating and publishing paper toys is free. He is also very much into the idea of getting other artists to create designs for his toys which works perfectly - everyone seems to enjoy collaborating. Shin is working on new toys right now and currently doing a project with Adidas.

Giant Paper Robot Fight: Shin Tanaka Contest
Winning Submissions