There are times in one's life when something happens that seems so destined, easy, natural and joyful. I've been designing toys (under my own company Chump Toys as well as licening designs to other companies like Kid Robot and Qeedrophonic) for 5 years now but this year, I embarked on one the funnest projects of my toy career; I did a line of wooden toys. My publisher, Scholastic Press, has a close relationship with Indigo Books and Music (they are Canada's largest bookstore chain) and so when they showed them my kid's book, This Is Silly!, Trevor Dayton, the VP of Kids and Entertainment at Indigo, immediately fell in love with the idea of me doing a line of wooden toys. It was an exciting first meeting. I went with my wonderful sister, Vandana Taxali, who is my agent and lawyer, and we were thrilled at their invitation to create an exclusive line of Gary Taxali retro wooden toys. This is the first time that Indigo has partnered with an artist to create such products so it is a real honour, to say the least. I instantly had an exact idea of what my toys would look like and from there, I jumped in head first.
In the beginning, I was sent "generic" classic toys as rough templates. These classic designs go way back and in fact, cross cultural boundaries so it's safe to say many kids from all parts of the world grew up with various incarnations of these designs for many a decade. I had to photograph the designs, create detailed specs, redraw them and send these designs to the factory in China to confirm the feasability of the construction. Luckily, only minor tweeks were needed but it was great to know that the factory could realize my designs. Next came the colours. I wanted to create a palette that would be cohesive for all 6 designs. It was a huge undertaking for me because my idea of working with colour is to mix it first! I had to send them Pantone colours and this was hard for me as I am not used to working this way. I was extremely pleased with the sample prototypes and was good to go next on the box designs. Here are photos of the final product, my finished toys called Flip Floppy, Toy Monkey Trapeze, Ladder Fun, Peck Peck, Chalk-Draw, and Whirly. They are all made with non-toxic coatings.
"Toy Monkey Trapeze"
"Whirly" close up
The boxes were a huge undertaking. I wanted to treat them as canvases for my art yet there was a lot of text information that was to be included. I created a brand new typeface for the project which I named "Chumply". It was so much fun to work with and bend, twist and shape and he liked being screenprinted! Vandana gave me the great idea to tile my existing characters and this immediately pulled the whole designs together. Product package design? Easy as pie!!
This Saturday, November 27th at 2 pm, will be the official launch party and signing for the toys, and I will also be signing my kid's book This Is Silly!. The event will take place in Toronto at Indigo's Manulife Centre location. I will also be displaying a brand new limited edition print in honour of the toys called "Flip Floppy". It's a 5 colour silk screen print.
If you are in Toronto this weekend, please come by! I promise, there will lots of silliness to be had.
A short while ago, esteemed and talented book jacket designer, John Gall, contacted me about a project. National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit organization that challenges kids, teens, and adults to spend November writing the first draft of a novel. They asked John if he would contribute a project and he came up with the idea of asking 30 different designers and artists to create one cover for these works-in-progress novels throughout the month of November to encourage, inspire and motivate the writers. The list John selected was impressive so I was immediately honoured to be in the company of Chip Kidd, Brian Rea, Paul Buckley, John Gall, Louise Fili, Dave Plunkert, Chris Brand, Rodrigo Corral, Drawger's own Felix Sockwell and Yuko Shimizu and many others.
The brief was very simple. We were each given a day in the month of November. Immediately before our "due date", it was emailed to us with the caveat that we have only 24 hours to create the cover - no sketches, just straight to final. I love projects like these. Fast, furious, no-nonsense, and jumping in head first.
Here is the cover I just created for my due date, which was yesterday. It's for a novel draft by Silver Cade called, "The Day the Caffeine Died", which explores a world in which disease has wiped out the coffee bean and cacao plant. How would we survive?
Last night was the book launch for American Illustration 29, a wonderful coffee table anthology highlighting the best illustrations of the year. It is a real honour to be accepted in the juried annual. Below are my works which were selected for inclusion in this year's book.
There are special times for an illustrator when an assignment comes in where there is such a strong connection to the piece and the whole process is easy, obvious and joyful. One minute, your mind is completely blank and then the brief comes in, and then, bang! - the picture just happens. It's as if you're in automatic pilot in creative cruise control. I tell my students that you don't think with your brain, you think with your hand. Once that hand starts moving a pen or brush across the surface of the paper or canvas, then you become a receptive channel to the ideas that hover over you ready to be plucked and used. When Conan Tobias, Publisher and Creative Director of Taddle Creek, a Canadian literary/arts magazine, contacted me to create a cover for the magazine (type and all), I accepted the assignment without so much as a thought. I had no idea what I was going to do until I read that it was for the Christmas issue. Then I started drawing and a man appeared, on bended knee, proud and contemplative. After a year's worth of hard work, enjoying a pipe and surveying the efforts of his work (studying the land, the harvest he busily cropped, and of course, the future) he gazes contentedly at it all. I liked the idea of creating the character in a halftone for the final art. There's something ethereal, ghost-like, as if the person is caught in suspended animation that appealed to me for this piece and made sense for the illustration. Of course, I often can't resist scrawling doodles ad hoc so they're happily included, too. The illustration is called, "Yup Sir".
Sometimes, a character just needs to be done in the ghosty, halftone way. Below is another example but this was personal work. This was created for a solo show I had last year at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in NYC. It's called "Lovesong Winner".
The first time I created a halftone character was the below image, created about 10 years ago. It was for a wine label for The Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz. He's like ET, although without the whiny overly-sensitive boy helping him get home - here, it's a television. The wine was the 3rd incarnation of the winery's Cigare Volant, thus entitited "Cigar C".