What’s the Deal With Art Toys?

So, after staring at my blank screen for what feels like hours trying to narrow down what to write about this week, I decided to tackle a topic that is rather dear to my heart, and, perhaps, a bit more low brow than what I have been covering. This week we are talking art toys.

This is probably the most accessible art movement ever, with a pretty broad appeal. Art toys are one of a kind or small run figurines or plush dolls that are meant to appeal more widely to the adult art enthusiast than necessarily to children (which is not to say kids don’t like this stuff, it’s just not aimed at them as much). They are usually made by artists with a somewhat more low brow, graphic arts, or street art aesthetic. They run the gamut from small five dollar figurines sold in blind boxes at your local comic shop (you never know which one you will get until you open the box) to one-of-a-kind artworks that are shown in galleries like more traditional mediums. And they are fun. Like oh my goodness fun.

There are two basic types of art toy, vinyl figures and designer plush. You may also see resin figures, but I tend to lump them in with the vinyl figures for purposes of orginization. Resin figures and vinyl figures tend to be very similar in style, but resin, while more expensive to produce, is easier to work with for small batches and is something an unaffiliated artist working out of his house can use.

Custom Munnys, silver, large-headed figurines with decorated eyes, ears, and mouths
A pair of custom Munnys. Photo by jooOey.

Vinyl figures, also sometimes called urban vinyl, are probably at there most common in blind box figurines. They typically have a strong graphic style that is often reminiscent of street art or cartoons. Some of the big names are kidrobot, Toy2R, and crazylabel. They also sometimes come in a blank customizable format. Kidrobot paved the way on this one with their Munny figures. These toys are a special brand of awesome in my book because they make the artwork interactive and more accessible. Another common trend is for them to feature major pop culture figures. I have rather a lot of the Tokidoki x Marvel Frenzies…

Spike by Saint Angel: green dragon plush doll with red spikes down its back
Saint Angel is a personal favorite etsy seller.

Designer plush has a fair deal more small artists working in it, if only because fabric is a lot easier for most folks to work than hard plastics. Sometimes you’ll also see these called softies. Aesthetically, they are often softer and more vested in layers of texture rather than a slick graphic plastic finish. Uglydoll is probably the biggest brand name, but there are so many awesome small designers out there that a browse through etsy is often highly rewarded. I also read Stuffed Magazine religiously.

So what’s the appeal here? I mean aside from the fact that they are toys and I know almost no one who dislikes toys. I think there is a real value in the lower price point for one. I can go to the comic shop with $10 in my pocket and leave with a vinyl figure that is part of a limited run and that very few other people will have. Also, there is the tactile nature of these toys. This isn’t art to be looked at. This is art to touch and hold and play with. It also is a fairly accessible medium for collectors to in turn create in, which gives a greater sense of ownership. Grand masters are wonderful in their own ways, but this is something we can have for ourselves as more than just a print on a postcard from a museum gift shop.

1st frame: painted torpedo-shaped vinyl doll. 2nd frame: two cube-shaped furry dolls with large eyes.
A few from my own collection. Left is a Vimobot customized by me. Right are two softies I made.

By Opifex

Opifex is a former art student, unrepentant nerd, and occasional annoying liker of things before they were cool. She keeps two sets of polyhedral dice in her purse, in case the first set stops being lucky. That's kind of how she rolls.

10 replies on “What’s the Deal With Art Toys?”

I find painting blank vinyl dolls to be sorta freeing. I’m less invested in them coming out just so, so it’s a good way to recharge the art batteries. Of course others go whole hog with it and make some amazing stuff. It’s one of my favorite art movements.

This is most definitely near and dear to my heart (and hands). I do custom plush, and to tell you the truth I am thinking more of adults who want something special and strange.  I’m glad this is becoming a thing!  I am Jumbo Jibbles on Etsy (and if anyone was looking for a stuffed unicorn horn bandana, I’ll just leave this card….)

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