The November issue of CR, out tomorrow, is all about Work In Progress. All our features will look at the rocky road that is the creative process, from initial idea to finished work. As a taster, here’s James Jarvis describing how his latest vinyl toy, YOD (shown above), came into the world
Illustrator James Jarvis made his first designer toy in 1998 to publicise the launch of fashion label Silas. He named the toy Martin, after his dad. Martin proved so popular among toy collectors that Jarvis designed some friends to keep him company, among them Tattoo-Me Keith, The Bearded Prophet and Lars. Since 2003 Jarvis has been designing and producing toys through his own company, Amos. Figures include the In-Crowd series, King Ken and characters licensed from the comic book Vortigern’s Machine and the Great Sage of Wisdom. Jarvis has just launched his latest ‘high concept art toy’, YOD.
I draw all the time, so I’ve always got a reservoir of ideas that I can explore for future projects. The first drawings of YOD (above) date from 2005. He’s very different to toys like the In-Crowd, which reference the minutiae of pop culture. YOD’s more iconic: he’s very pure, just a head, a walking id… the potato-headed essence.
I wanted YOD to have an iconic, cartoon feel, which is why I gave him the generic Mickey Mouse-style white gloves and shoes. I did all of this without really thinking about a concept for the toy, other than that he was the potato-headed essence. I wasn’t sure how people would connect with such a simple design, so with my partner Russell Waterman we developed the idea of YOD as the ultimate high concept ‘art toy’. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek. We created graphics and charts, classifying YOD and scientifically explaining why, as an art object, he’s so beautiful. Russell’s son, a mathematician, used the golden ratio to develop an equation that plots the perfect shape of YOD’s head on a graph. In an essay accompanying the toy Russell went off on a tangent of religion and philosophy. We called him YOD because we liked the sound of it, but also because it has lots of other references: YOD is the first letter of the word Yahweh, the name for God in the original consonantal Hebrew Bible. There was also a 70s guru from California who made psychedelic rock records called Father Yod.
Once we were happy with the design and concept for YOD we put the toy into production. When I design toys, I always begin by making a series of very precise technical drawings or ‘turnarounds’ based on my freehand drawings (shown above). These detail the toy’s front, back, left, right, cross sections and any other details that might help the sculptor. I send those drawings to our factory in Hong Kong and once we’ve agreed on the costing they proceed with the manufacture.
A sculpt of the toy, based on the turnarounds, is made out of clay, photographed and emailed to me for feedback (above). I’ve worked with our manufacturers for years, and they’ve become very good at interpreting my drawings in 3D. Once the clay sculpt is approved, a wax version is made, which is more refined. The final moulds we use to make toys are cast from the wax sculpt. After that you can’t make any more changes, so the wax sculpt defines the look of the finished toy. Once the mould is made, the toy is ready to be manufactured. YOD is made using soft vinyl, although in the past, toys like the In-Crowd have been made using injection-moulded plastic. Once we’ve made the mould, we make a hand-painted prototype identical to the finished toy that we photograph for sales and promotion. Then we wait for the finished product (below) to be shipped from Hong Kong.
To build up some hype around YOD we created a MySpace page for him. Initially the only friends YOD had were black metal bands. We posted progressively detailed images of YOD, and just let the idea of this character filter out in a very gradual way. We also produced a hand-made fanzine called YODzine, (cover shown, 4). I did lots of drawings that Russell chopped up to make collages with, and he researched different revolutionary figures he wanted to integrate into the YOD world-view. He got really into making badges with Albert Camus and various other revolutionary luminaries that we stuck on the covers. We released the YODzine in the summer, letting people work out for themselves that this was connected to our next toy. We also started an Amos blog and used that to keep people informed about YOD.
This is the finished item (above). If you ignore the two years since I first drew him, the whole production took about six months (that includes the month the toys spent on the boat from Hong Kong). YOD is available in six different colour-ways, one of which is super-limited and only available through our online store. He’s quite a weird character for me, I was worried that he was bit self-indulgent, but feedback so far has been really positive. We’ve got YOD T-shirts coming out next: one says Peace and the other says Fuck Off.
The November issue of CR also includes articles on the development of James Goggin’s identity for DLR Art; a John Maeda cover for Key magazine; The Guardian’s current ad campaign; a Second Life avatar for Richard Hawley; illustrator Karen Caldicott; director Dougal Wilson’s sketchbooks and the develpment of an identity for Planet Positive by Red Design. It also features a lasercut cover designed for us by Kam Tang