Week 1: Intros and Character Design


We will introduce ourselves and talk about what the class is and is not. We’ll discuss what an art toy actually is and finish with some in-class exercises in character design.

Turtle Camper
Turtle Camper by Jeremy Fish


Who are you?  What do you like to make?  What was your favorite toy?

What to expect in the class

  • Week 1: You will create an original character for a toy/sculpture/object
  • Week 2: You will model/sculpt the toy
  • Week 3: You will prototype in various materials
  • Week 4: You will experiment with different finishes
  • Week 5: You will create one of your final toys
  • Week 6: You will create and then present 4 or more toys for your final

We will discuss the art toy scene, talk about the toy industry/history, and examine the work of current toy artists.  This class will be hands on and fabrication/prototype heavy.

What the Class is NOT

  • Not an Intro to Fab or Digi Fab Class
  • Not a “traditional toy” design class

What I expect


In addition to keeping a blog you should get an Instagram account.  Post your work and progress to Instagram and use the hashtag “#ArtToyITP”, make sure it is camel case.

At the moment, the art toy community is favoring Instagram.  There are many sources of inspiration to be found there, you should start following and researching toy artists that you find interesting.  Every week I will pick a few artist to watch.  Feel free to pass along artists you like.

Artist to watch

Amanda Visell
Jan Calleja

More Artists to Watch (non-traditional material)

Horrible Adorables
Toy Roboto
ITP Studios

What is an art toy?

It’s art, not a toy… but it’s still kind of a toy.

Paul Budnitz discusses designer toys.  He mentions Mori ChackFrank Kozik, Kaws, Sucklord, and Blaine Fontana.

Snippets from the video I liked.  “You put these things together and your mind gets a little bit bent.”  “It feels like art.”  Paul mentions a few topics: juxtaposition, appropriation, complexity, emotion.

Juxtaposition, two elements that don’t fit and are put together.

Appropriation, taking something that already exists and adding something to it to make something new.

Complexity, saying more than one thing, having more than one emotion.

Emotion and depth through articulation/posture.

My Thoughts on Art Toys

Patterns I’ve seen.  Almost always a character of some kind.  Typically has a face (or at least eyes).  Has personality.  Usually in the toy esthetic (bright colors, plastic).  Functionality (if any) is very limited.

Nostalgia is a popular theme in art toys.  But nostalgic for me is not necessarily nostalgic for you.

You get away with a lot when it’s art and not a toy.  Toys have to pass regulations and safety standards (toxic paint, chocking hazards).  Licensing and copyright infringement for mass produced objects can be very expensive.  If you only make one, you can call it art and get away with a lot.

Smaller run manufacturing opens you up to different fabrication methods.  3D printing actually makes sense.  Hand finishes.  Custom pieces.  One offs.

Cost.  Typically, the toy industry is trying to make the cheapest product possible.  Art Toys can be finely crafted, made from “precious” materials, costs can be high.

There is a “purity” to art toys.  The children’s toy industry can be a rough money driven industry.  Art toy makers and artists make the toys they want to.

One Artist’s Process

Watch artist Joe Ledbetter as he takes you through his entire toy design process with his “Chaos Minis” project.


Vinyl art toy blanks
Vinyl art toy blanks

Blanks are commonly customized by toy artists.  Think of them as canvases.  Some popular ones: Munny, Dunny, JankyBennies?


Character Design

The process of creating the physical appearance of a character as well as the personality of the character.

Character Turnarounds

A character turnaround is a series of drawings that typically shows a character from the front, the back, the left, the right, from the top, and from the bottom.

Character Turnaround Lion


In Class Exercise

We will be doing a series of exercises in Character Design.


Customize a wooden blank with your character.

Draw a character turnaround.

Watch the Toys that Made Us.  Any episode except for the LEGO one.

Related Reading/Viewing

100 Hundred Stories, One Face

Creating a Character Turnaround Sheet

Designing a Vinyl Toy with Jeff Ledbetter