Greetings from the strange and wonderful creatures that populate The Vickangaroo Toy Company! I first fell in love with these little guys because of their animated faces—and upon closer inspection realized they really are miniature works of art. Aside from their whimsical and ever-appealing strangeness, each one has its own story—as told through the eyes of fictional explorer Professor Morongo Faust.
This evening we sit down with Victor Huang to talk about creativity, being unique and how he molds fabric into friends.
Tell us about your work—why do you create what you do?
I am a toymaker attempting to fill the world with as much nonsense as possible. I create a variety of toys that range from bunnies and crabs to larger, stranger monsters with more legs or teeth than they actually need.
Toys have a tremendous purpose and importance in the world. Whether they are manufactured and sold by the millions or entirely unique, ultimately the purpose of a toy is imbued by its owner not it’s creator. They are meant to be played with. The moment a toy is unwrapped and taken from its packaging it has the opportunity to fulfill any great number of roles from companion to accomplice or confidant to protector. They are an invitation accepted by a significant number of children, or those simply young at heart, to imagine, discover and create.
I am delighted and honored to be a contributor in that experience.
I’m also a printmaker, generally utilizing screen printing, with most of my print work focusing on unusual creatures and narratives involving robots.
Tell us about your process—start to finish.
In November of 2007, I decided that I wanted to make my own toys. I considered the cost of materials and the complicated processes involved for finishing plastic or wooden toys, and ultimately settled on utilizing spare fabric and thread. I had to teach myself how to sew and like most skills in life it required practice and patience, so my first “toy” was an uneven mess of a rectangle, made of orange cotton and stuffed with newspaper.
I generally keep a drawing pad on hand so that I might doodle as much as possible, of course a stack of napkins or a takeout menu would also suffice. Doodling is undoubtedly the greatest practice a person could adopt in the pursuit of creativity. Usually I’ll sketch a fairly simple form, fill it with teeth and add any number of ambiguous limbs. Not every idea is new or very different from that one that precedes it, however if a drawing begins to repeat itself often enough I tend to take that as a sign that it wants be made.
Eventually the work has to begin with making patterns, which I’ve discovered requires a fair grasp of geometry. Understanding the different ways that different shapes can be built is a great boon in creating more challenging and stranger creatures.
The fabric is cut based on the pattern. The pieces are sewn together. The toy is stuffed. I find it delightful that my plans for a toy can be torn asunder in that final step. I may understand the geometry of the parts of the monster, but the stuffing pulls and stretches and until I cut the final knot of the final closing stitch, I remain unsure but optimistic of the result.
What type of environment stimulates your creativity?
I have a cat and prefer to keep him separate from my work, so I’m holed up in a small pleasant room in the basement with half of a ping pong table to work on. It’s nice to be able to wake up in the morning and get started in the sewing room. It’s comfortable, well lit and all the necessary materials are within reach; it’s all I need to make toys. Although inspiration for work can strike anywhere!
What inspires you?
Good Golly, I can hardly fathom what my inspirations are. There are certainly general inspirations such as my own childhood toys, animated films, dinosaurs, octopuses, robots and I sincerely doubt there’s an end to that list. However, I do love discovering new toymakers and artists. Being knowledgeable of what others are creating helps me in challenging myself and creating more and more unique items.
What is your greatest challenge?
While I do have a work space a hallway away, I find that working from home can be somewhat daunting. Honestly, my greatest challenge in being a toymaker is actually just sitting down and getting started. Even with stacks of doodles and unfinished patterns craving to come into existence, I’m quite easily distracted by the idea of lunch or scouring Netflix for a good movie or TV show to play in the background while I consider the possibility of getting started on my work. I think it takes a particular strength of character to work from home; a trait I’m still developing.
How has your work evolved?
I believe it is important to constantly challenge yourself. My sewing work began as two dimensional plushes where the back and front are roughly the same shape. I then moved onto three dimensional plushes; creating cubes and spheres keeping the details while trying to grasp working on creating geometric shapes in fabric. Ultimately I found myself adding teeth, lips and tentacles searching and refining my own style of toymaking. I still am of course! There’s always room for improvement and always more opportunities to evolve. I actually find that creating smaller, simpler toys is very difficult. It’s much more of a process to create a tiny cute toy, that still feels unique.
Tell us about your etsy business.
Honestly, I don’t consider myself much of a business person. I started selling my toys at the end of 2007, after I had decided that my toys were worth selling. Way back when, (four years have already passed by?!) Etsy while certainly sizeable was still somewhat unknown and outside of Ebay, my selling options were fairly limited.
I remember the very “reasonable” prices that I originally set for my toys and I remember the gradual increases over time as I began to take into account how much work would go into some toys. Of course I had my share of mistakes, which unfortunately I think others have had to experience as well. I’d rather not go into specifics, although it is certainly wise advice to make sure the customer’s Paypal shipping address and listed Etsy address match before sending out a delivery.
Selling on Etsy is not my full time job; I have a number of other long term projects that require as much of a time investment as my toys. Since I’ve started selling on Etsy I’ve had a few long stretches where my shop would be completely empty; not the best business practice!
What advice do you have for new etsians?
New Etsians of the world! Don’t expect that because you’ve opened your doors that the sales will flood in. Share your work with the world, but be cautious, patient and prepared for mistakes. Challenge yourselves and offer a product, that doesn’t just feel like a rehash of a trendy object but something that you’d be willing to buy yourself. It can be difficult to be found on Etsy, with so many other sellers seemingly pushing your products to furthest, darkest recesses of the Etsy search pages. Persevere! Keep creating and listing new work and be hopeful.
Where can readers find your work?
Currently, my work is only for sale on Etsy however I am quite optimistic about this new year and selling in other venues, most likely in and around Chicago. My website, www.vickangaroo.com, is also in progress (has been for a while) but I foresee a particularly exciting event occurring when it’s ready. I’m also working on a mailing list: join by emailing “firstname.lastname@example.org” with “mailing list” in the subject line.