Hay Sam, tell us what you’ve been up to lately.
I’ve been as busy as Boiler in any illegal situation possible (thats pretty busy). Me and my girlfriend are opening up a small gallery on November 11th (www.thegrocerygallery.com) , to display her work (www.leighmulley.com) and my Tiny Hearthead figures, as well as other designers artworks and products in the near future. It’s been pretty busy really, you dont realise how many little bits of stuff there is to sort out.
and hows the beloved heart head?
Yeah hearthead is fine, he has a small sofa here on my desk and a tiny tv which he watches stuff on. I currently have a hearthead project on the cards of which more I shall be able to reveal very soon, hopefully when it all works out. Series 2 is also on the books, just working out some little ideas and concepts with it at the moment, which should be cool, as well as another idea I have where I will have to make a LOT of heartheads.
Its always intersting to see how people discovered the toy world. How did you stumble across it?
Well i’ve always been interested in toys and collected Ninja Turtles / Action Force / when I was a kid, and then through my interest in Art I ended up doing a product design degree at Uni, and nearly all of my projects were heavily character based (here are some pics) which got me back into the toy arena. Then during a trip to london and Playlounge in 2003 I bought a couple of QEE and it all went from there…
Its fair to say your best known as the creator of tiny hearthead, but you’ve also created many customs and were involved with trexi series 1. Do you have any other
super secret stuff lined up you can tell us about?
Yeah, having my design chosen for series 1 of Trexi is still a highlight for me, nothing better than seeing a design of yours ‘properly’ in production, ‘question what?’ still sits proudly on my shelf. I’ve got a project Tiny Hearthead based that could be pretty cool as I mentioned earlier, just sorting that all out at the moment, once thats all confirmed I shall spread the news, and of course our good friend Boiler shall be making an appearance. I still want to sort out the Boiler plush range idea I probably started about two years ago but its still incomplete, and I really wanna get Brickboys amazing Tiny hearthead custom into production, as people really liked that design.
A little birdy told me that Frank Kozik has one of your customs in his collection… how did that feel when you found out?
Yeh it was weird, I auctioned my Violence 8 inch QEE egg on ebay, then after speaking to the buyer I noticed the e-mail address was Frank Koziks and then after looking at their ebay history it confirmed it was definetly the man himself. That egg battled me to the very end, everytime I thought I had it complete, Id knock it on something, or some spray would run over or the masking tape wouldnt stick properly. That egg probably has about 15 coats of Orange spray on it, about as thick as an actual orange peel I reckon..hehe.
When your not turning your house into a mini toy factory, what else do you get upto?
Just design really, Ive always got ideas on the go, from t-shirts to new toy ideas. I like to be busy, if Im not doing something I feel like Im wasting time, so Im nearly always at the computer with Illustrator open or messing around with silicone and resin plaster trying out new moulds and ideas. Plus I also run www.tesselate.me.uk which is an electronic music review site, its been a bit dead lately cos Ive been busy with the gallery stuff, but keep an eye out as Im back on the track with it. I also like to play on my 360 online, just waiting for Gears of War to come out, for some proper co-op play, should be a good one.
So what made you decide you wanted to start making your own toys?
Im not really sure what got that idea into my head, I think it came about from always looking around for blank qee before they were that widely available, and thinking if I had my own ‘canvas’ to work on I could make as many blanks as I wanted and experiment a lot. That coupled with just really wanting to try making moulds and casting stuff, it just pulled me in and Ive carried on ever since.
Who or what was your biggest insiration for designing tiny hearthead?
Hmm not sure , I think I just sat down and started sketching and came up with concept. I wanted it to be a small fun character and in reality it had to be simple for me to produce as I was just starting out with the molding processes. I tend to get inspiration from everything I see, the internet, shops and just places I visit.
Talk us through the design process of tiny heart head, how the figure changed and developed from the first sketches to the final design.
The version 2 which is the one most people know, did change a lot from the original wooden hearthead. I made it a lot neater, so I could produce them pretty easily and they didnt give me to much hassle.
Describe a typical production run.
Me, a few boxes of resin plaster, a makeshift big cardboard tray thing I made, some water, a pot…and then me trying to remember what ratio of water to resin plaster I used last time, and messing up a load of figures. Then a lot of time spent making sure I bashed all the air out of the mold, and then coming back every half an hour or so to empty the mold and fill it up again. When they are complete it all depends, if I have to spray I can go out on the roof, or if its all using sharpies I use my desk, then it’s all about getting the packaging printed out and its complete!
How much did your background in product design help with the development of tiny hearthead?
I think it helped a lot as I was used to making models and using tools a lot, whilst at college and Uni using the workshops and all the machines. Even though I didnt have a workshop when I started making the original tiny hearthead out of wood (I still dont have a workshop now the hallway leading to the front door in my old flat was the production area, and with my trusty b&q fake workmate bench thing, a saw, some sandpaper and a thick block of mdf, I managed to get them created.
What are the easiest and hardest parts of producing your own toys?
The hardest part is probably the money, Id love to have some big ass vats of silicone so I could play around making new moulds and tweaking ideas, but that stuff isnt cheap so you have to make sure you get it right first time. Not really sure what the easiest part is, Id probably say the packaging as not much that end can go wrong once Ive hit print and the printer does its work.
Roughly, how many heartheads have you made?
Hmmm I probably reckon about 200 ish, well thats blanks.. actual production figures probably about 50.
What does the missus say about all the mess?
The missus doesnt actually mind it all that much, she is also into art and design and has also made her own products and items all her life (she also did the same course as me at uni) so even though she is into her painting more thesedays, she is always interested in what Im upto and is gonna mess around with some molds and ideas of herself.
Time for the customary VA question… If you could be equipped with one Inspector Gadget like gadget what would it be and why?
I reckon id go for the extendaneck, it would be pretty handy to spy on stuff with. Just elevate that neck and peer over that wall, Im pretty nosy like that, always want to know whats behind a wall or through a doorway Ive never been through.
Do you have any plans in the near future for hearthead? maybe a 3rd version?
Yeh well series 2 is definetly on the way, Im not sure if the valentine batch really counts as a series or not? so the series 2 might be series 3 in reality, hehe well whatever its called, I hope people like em and I should be introducing some new ideas into the range to mix it up a bit.
Which designers in the toy world are standing out for you at the moment?
Ive kinda been out of the loop for the past couple of months, but as always SKWAK and KOA are producing the mad stuff, love their designs, the TADO twosome always manage to make me smile with their crazy colourful characters and worlds, and also MAZ with her plush figures and now mini badges/keyrings is coming up with cool for school stuff which Im appreciating 200%. As always the Peskimo duo always infitrate my brain with character goodness…oh yeh I forgot JELLYMON also, waiting to get my hands on a set of their figures.
Having produced your own platform toy, which artists or designers would you love to see leave there mark on tiny hearthead?
Well luckily SKWAK and KOA have already customised a tiny hearthead each, and they are both crazy cool, they are gonna be part of a tiny hearthead exhibition I wanna get going pretty soon. Also some of the random designs I see around on forums always interest me, which come from people who probably arent that well known yet, that stuff always catches my eye.. I love originality.
Which platform toy would you like to put the Tesselate spin on?
Id really like a go at one of those MASSIVE qee, as it would be really like a huge canvas, you could really get into it. I still havent customed a Mad’l so Ive gotta give that a go pretty soon.
As the toy scene gains more exposure, how important do you think it is for designers to independantly produce their own toys?
I think there will always be a place for the small batch designers, and I personally seem to enjoy collecting stuff which I have seen the progress of and I know someone in their bedroom somewhere has toiled on this idea for hours/days/weeks. I find some of the more mass produced stuff can seem a bit soulless, but thats not saying everything is, its just when a billion different colourways of one figure are produced, that seems to be a bit of a waste.
So overall I think it is really important, as the major players manufacturing wise cant always take a risk on someones design, with the costs of tooling etc…so seeing people get their ideas out there all by themselves is what needs to happen, and you never know your idea could be picked up by someone. Im sure if I hadnt made my own figure I would be mainly working on customs.
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about designing their own toys?
Just give it a go. I had such a cool response when I posted my very first mold experiments on forums, people messaging me saying “thanks youve given me inspiration to try my own stuff now” as it showed that you didnt need to really do that much to get your own design off the ground, it was really cool to know I had inspired people to start kaining some stuff out.