So last Saturday the very first Toycon UK was held in good old Londinium. The designer/vinyl/art toy scene is not one I’ve really followed – a lot of what I see out there doesn't interest me in the slightest. Often the toys are very simple with little or no articulation, and for me, articulation is a huge part of what gives a toy character. I’d always been a little surprised at how many art toys exist, and how often they get written about on blogs like Tomopop and Toysrevil. Why were people interested in these more than production toys?
When I gave a lecture at my old uni last year, a student told me about Toycon. I looked into it initially thinking I’d be able to get some work together to showcase, maybe sell a few pieces. It didn’t happen – I still haven’t really got anything to sell anyway, and had very little online presence at the time – but I got a ticket anyway to see what the fuss was about. See if there was anyone else out there making things along the same lines as me. It was totally worth it.
In the weeks running up to the event I was seeing teasers for work on show, interviews with exhibitors, all these things which really told me that this thing was way bigger and more important than I’d given it credit for. Through browsing the blogs I read, I’ve been aware of a load of the exhibiting artists for some time to varying degrees – Doktor A, A Little Stranger, Lunartik, Stitches & Glue to name but a few. Turns out they were all UK based. OK then, so we’ve got a bigger presence in this field than I thought! For some reason I had thought more of the big guns were American. Suddenly I found myself a little nervy going in. These people are important; I’m just some upstart who has been doing something different, and I’m lagging far, far behind. I know the ‘brand names’, but I don’t know the names of the creators. I definitely don’t know their faces, I’m not knowledgeable about their specific creations, don’t know how much these things sell for and I’m not intending to buy anything anyway.
The first person I saw on my way in was a guy who was two years above me at uni. We are modelmakers; it wasn’t a huge surprise to see him, but a welcome one. Turns out he was helping out Holly of A Little Stranger, who was a couple years above him, again on our course. I was expecting a huge room for the con; it was closer to the size of a village hall. Interesting. I had a nose around, initially doing the typical Londoner thing and finding it very difficult to enter conversation with anyone. I was being smiled at, argh! Oh god, I’ve got to talk!
I’m really glad I did. Wow, these guys are friendly. Everyone on every stand was very approachable, gracious, and excited to be there. They were happy to talk about the processes they’d gone through to create their work, and it was fascinating to hear about the different routes they’ve taken to reach their end products. In terms of technique, nothing was news to me. I make models for a living. But most of these artists are self-taught; they’ve dedicated vast amounts of time to learn how to turn their ideas into reality. Garages and kitchens have been turned into workshops, spare bedrooms have become sewing rooms.
The best thing though? They’re working together. I kept spotting versions of other artists’ creations on stands, and hearing tales of collaborations. Some were helping out with things like casting or 3D printing. Other projects were completely co-developed. Then you get teams like Monsters and Mecha, a couple who have completely different approaches to their work yet come together perfectly. Penny of Taylored Curiosities – who instantly became one of my favourite people ever – asked about my own creations and directed me to a few stands with work I’d be interested in when she heard my answer. She referred to them all as a family. They know each other; they’re friends as much as collaborators. Suddenly my impression of the room as a village hall was both completely right and completely wrong. Wrong because I’d linked it to the soulless hall in the village I grew up in, but right because the artists are such a close-knit community. It was a living room. University halls. The kitchen at a house party. It was a home.
A lot of the work still isn’t to my tastes, but that’s just me. Plus it’s expensive, and rightfully so. It was nice to see the artists aren’t underselling their hard work. As for the general lack of articulation? Most of the time, the toys aren’t articulated because the artist doesn’t think their piece needs it. That’s fine. Sometimes though, it’s because the artist just doesn’t know how to do decent articulation in a resin piece. I can relate to that, I’m not quite there yet either. But I’m close, and if I am, others are too. Which means this industry is only getting started.
So what did I learn? Why are these toys as popular as production toys? These pieces have stories. I’m embarrassed to not have realised it before, to have just taken them at face value. Seeing them on blogs led me to just see logos and not people. Now that I’ve seen the dedication and passion these artists have for their craft, I hold it in much higher esteem. I’m excited for these wonderful people and want to thank them for taking the time to talk to me. The ‘toy family’ is embarking on a fantastic voyage together. One day, I hope I’m worthy of joining them!