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Artist Focus: Guibs Toys

Updated: 6 days ago

Artist Focus shines the spotlight on talented Cebu-based artists and designers and their amazing works. This week, we’re getting up close and personal with the toy artist/ designer and art director currently known as Guibs. He is also the creative director for clothing brand, Medium* Designwear but we’re focusing on his toy design journey that has taken him to different countries around Southeast Asia.

How did you get started in the world of toy making and design?

My toy design journey started when I joined a contest for Martian Toys (a US-based toy company/gallery) called “The Next Great Blank” in 2017. This was the first time that my toy design for “Kantoy’' was made public. It was initially designed to be a blank, so I didn’t put too much detail into it, following the great blanks that came before like the Dunnies by Kidrobot and the Bearbricks by Medicom Toy. I was one of the finalists, but didn’t win the contest. Since I didn’t have resources and funds at that time to produce my own toy, I decided to park the project and focus on other things. At the time, I was working with Toycon PH and pushed to highlight awesome Pinoy toy artists at the event. After pitching the idea and introducing my good friend Quiccs, we secured an exclusive toy drop with him. We were very excited to have Quiccs as our first Toycon PH ambassador in 2018, where he introduced the "Manila Killa" colorway/design for his TEQ63 character. This success boosted his local fan base and marked one of my greatest experiences while working in the art toy industry.

Following Toycon 2018's success, I and some artist and collector friends decided to create an event focused on art toys. By December 2018, Toy Art PH was born, holding our first event at Secret Fresh in Ronac Art Center, Greenhills (one of the greatest spots in the Metro for art toys). We collaborated with Quiccs again for an exclusive "Manila Killa" Dunny (which I unfortunately don’t have a copy of hahahuhu).

Through Toy Art PH, I met more artists, collectors, and suppliers, inspiring me to wake"Kantoy" from its slumber and join everyone else in the pursuit of creating our own art toys. Although the pandemic delayed my plans, I finally released my first batch of art toys in the Kantoy line at Toycon 2021, starting with the character "Luto." Since then, I’ve participated in a few custom art toy shows and released more characters. My journey continues today as I seek to expand the art toy community in Cebu, meet more artists and collectors, share my art with a new audience, and grow my art in this new culture.

Walk us through your creative process from conceptualization to final product? How do you approach designing a new toy?

I think that great design stems from great insight while great art emerges from honest, personal experiences that are rooted in one’s own culture. I also believe that our influences mold us in a way, not to copy but to blend with our uniqueness, creating something completely original. The Japanese are a prime example of this with their distinct manga, anime, and kawaii culture combined with cool ninjas, samurais, and super robots that the world has embraced and to this day, continues to appreciate.

As a 90s kid, Japanese pop culture influenced me deeply. The amalgamation of their own experiences and traditions has a created something uniquely new yet deeply rooted in their own culture. As a result, the Japanese are big fans and proud supporters if their own works. This has been my key takeaway and guiding principle in making my own art toys and designs.

Creating art toys involves balancing local culture with global relatability and merging past personal experiences with something that is relevant today. Looking into our own rich local culture, there are a lot of categories to consider like street culture, folklore, history, and traditions, just to name a few. Filipino street culture, especially food, plays a significant role in my designs. "KANTOY," a fusion of "Kanto" (street) and "Toy," reflects this. There are unique nuances to the street culture of almost every island. With this I have created characters like Luto, Hilaw, and Tustado, aka my OG 3. Another set of characters are the Munchikitings, a play on the Dunkin Donuts Munchkins. One can argue that it is a foreign product, but in terms of local culture, Pasalubong ng Bayan will always be a Filipino Dunkin Donuts for me. Living in Cebu for a year now inspired new characters like Chori (chorizo), Maya (Puto Maya), and Puso (in development).

The concept of street food also bridges cultural gaps, finding similarities and nuances that make art toys relatable across different cultures. Recently I joined the Mango Art Festival in Bangkok, and I thought that I could make a new relatable character, different from the round motif of my previous characters. I came up with a character named Mango Khaoju, a Pokemon looking creature that is supposed to artistically represent the local Thai snack that is the Mango Sticky Rice. Khao also meant sticky rice in Thai, making it a perfect fit for a Kaiju reference, making it indeed a strange, but rather cute beast. The design was also adapted into its Cebuano counterpart, Maya, which incorporates the concept of Puto Maya, sticky rice with tablea sikwate and mango slices. There was no need to take away or alter too much from the elements that were already present in the original design. It was simply the formula of the rice cake as base, a sauce to go with it, and of course the star of the show, the beautiful piece of mango with diamond cuts.

What are some of the challenges you face during the toy making process, and how do you overcome them?

Every phase of production has its challenges. As I'm still learning 3D sculpting, I often hire 3D artists to execute my designs, which can be time-consuming and costly due to communication and availability issues. Prototyping is easier in Manila, where there are many suppliers, but in Cebu, options are limited to UP FabLab, which has long queues. Alternative methods require extra finishing work, and personal engagements with local artists can lead to delays if their machines malfunction. That means you have to find another person to print for you, which is another layer to the overall cost of production.

Creating molds for casting is another challenge. Cebu lacks commercial services for molding and casting of resin figures and relying on personal contacts who are willing to make casts for you professionally can cause delays. Outsourcing to Manila also adds shipping costs and risks. Apart from adding to the overall cost of production, I would have to spend a little extra for shipping plus take the risk of my pieces possibly being damaged during shipment.

Lastly, the availability of hobby paints in Cebu is limited, causing potential delays in production. Though they are available to order on Shopee, sometimes some situations call for an immediate response. Shipping timelines can cause delays, and I guess this is the time where you learn to gauge your pace with your supply, and have a plan B, C, even up to plan D.

The best way to overcome all of this is to be patient. A lot of preparation can help, but it can’t guarantee that there won’t be any hurdles along the way.

Are there any particular materials, techniques, or styles that you favor in your designs? If so, why?

The dream is to produce in vinyl plastic, but that would mean industrial level production in China, and a whole lot of capital. Realistically, the most practical material to use is resin. It might be harder to produce in large quantities, but it holds more value being an archival type of material. I’d like to explore other materials in the future like polystone, wood, and ceramics.

My designs are mostly cute and minimalistic, focusing on simplicity while conveying a clear image or message. While I admire intricate details in some art toys, I believe there's equal effort in creating simple designs. My influences share these qualities, which are a contrast from highly detailed toys like action figures and model kits. I don’t lean towards realism or hyperrealism but more on modern contemporary and pop surrealism.

How does your background or previous experiences influence your work as a toy maker and designer?

A lot of my influences come from collecting art toys too. It started with Fatcaps by Kidrobot, and little after, the Dunnys by the same company. This is where I learned first about the blind box culture of art toys. A lot of their base designs are very minimalist as well since they were intended to be base blanks or work as a canvas for toy designers and artists. Other big toy companies that were influential are Toy2R and Medicom. Toy2R had the Qee’s and Medicom had Bearbricks, which were their own versions of base blanks. Medicom also made some toys for Kaws which was one of the most coveted art toys at that time. I find that the artists that were influential to me are the ones who were able to bridge the different things that I like overall like art, music, fashion and sometimes even politics. Some of these artists are Kaws, Takashi Murakami, Michael Lau, James Jean, David Horvath, Dalek, Ron English, McBess, Joan Cornella, Frank Kozik, Quiccs, and the list goes on and on. A big part of it also has something to do with Nostalgia. I think a lot of artists take from nostalgia in their own personal way and integrate it with their work, whether it be about traditions in their culture, cartoons they watched growing-up, the games and toys they played with, the food they ate, and sometimes even religious and spiritual references.

Could you share with us a memorable or favorite project you've worked on? What made it special to you?

One of the most memorable projects I had was my first group show here in Cebu last December 2023 called “Strange Beasts 2: Elemental. An Art Toy Anthology” at Qube Gallery, Crossroads. It was also a great opportunity to exhibit my works alongside long time artist friends here in Cebu, and to meet new artists who were also into art toys as well. It challenged me to create work that was beyond just creating characters or colorways for my spherical characters from the Kantoy line. With my core being street culture and food, I thought of a concept that was still true to that but at the same time relatable to both my usual followers, and my new Cebuano audience.

I created a new universe called "Boodle Fights," inspired by the Star Wars fandom. It featured two opposing forces: the Prito Team (fried street food) and the Sugba Team (grilled street food). It’s obviously a reference to fried vs street food since it is always a debate on which reigns supreme when it comes to street food. Both teams had 2 main characters, a pilot and his ship, and a big robot to act as their big boss.

The Prito Team with aluminum and orange motif resembling the Rebel Alliance, includes Prito Trooper the pilot (which was my OG Kantoy Luto with the sauce now being used as a helmet) with his Squidball Fighter ship that looks like a UFO Kawali and Prito Bot. The Sugba Team, resembling the Imperial Army with the gunmetal gray and red motif, features Chori (pilot) with his Chori Fighter ship that looks like a UFO sugbahan and Sugba Bot. This concept introduced a new sub-category, MekaKantoy, a sci-fi inspired series in my Kantoy line, and it was my first attempt at creating prints to accompany the toys for a group show.

Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new toys? Are there any specific sources or influences that consistently inspire you?

Having a core theme in my toys helps me think of new concepts and characters. It also grounds me on what I should and should not do. Rather than it limiting me, it further enhances my creativity on what to make, most especially when I have to appeal to a different culture or audience than my usual. All the artists that are influential to me continue to inspire me to this day. My constant inspiration is experience. There are a lot of things to discover and learn when you travel, when you research, when you meet new people, and when you encounter new works, as well as rediscovering older works as well. My fellow Filipino toy artists are a big inspiration as well. I feel like where there is growth for one artist, there is growth for all of us in the community.

In your opinion, what makes a great toy? What do you strive to achieve with each of your creations?

Like any type of art, and I guess for toys as well, it will always be subjective. At the very least, a great toy or art toy should be able to give you joy. It should evoke a certain feeling, or memory, or can encourage conversation or discussion. As much as it is a work of art, a certain amount of play considered on its creation is always a plus for me, whether it be modular parts, the way the build was designed, or certain limited articulation (not too much for it to be an action figure). Another factor is that if the toy lends itself to be creatively played with as well, whether it be different concepts, colorways and designs, or even a slight modification to its original sculpt. A great plus if the piece is relevant and is relatable to the audience.

The beauty between art and toys is that it gives a platform for the blurred line between something that is personal and expressive, and something that is a shared vulnerable experience with toys. Some people think that it is immature to be creating, buying, or collecting art toys, or toys in general for that matter. I beg to differ. In one of Michael V’s interviews regarding this matter, I think the key take-away is not be childish, but be children at heart when it comes to these things. With my creations, I want to achieve that as well, for people to reach into their inner-child and be able to be at peace with that happiness in them through my works. I also want to have a sense of pride in promoting local culture in the same way the Japanese have influenced a lot of us, and a sense of belonging where other cultures can relate to ours in their own way as well.

How do you see the future of toy design evolving, and what role do you hope to play in shaping it?

With the evolution of 3D printing and availability to other technology, I think that there will be a lot of growth, maybe much more than I have witnessed in the past 10 years alone. In terms of the actual art and designs, I feel like a lot of artists are mostly into character design and world building. Eventually there will come a time where the works could expand, possibly be more political in nature, or much more of a statement or a message. There are a lot of other materials to play around with other than resin. I can see people trying out other media like wood and terra cotta. Hopefully at some point we can have our own vinyl production in the Philippines, or at least a local toy company who will be willing to invest in local talent. I would love for the local government to be involved as well in supporting these artists, whether it be a grant to help them produce their art toys, or a form of allowance or budget for us to be able to forward our works on international events and platforms. With Quiccs getting involved with brands like Adidas and Jollibee, I can see that more brands will be interested in working with local talents and collaborating with them for merchandise.

As for me, I would love to grow the community even more in the VisMin area through my platform Designer & Art Toys PH (D&A Toys PH). I’m looking forward to opening a store soon here in Cebu and being host to our local talents as much as expose the local audience to other art toys and artists outside the country as well. With that, I am also planning an event here in Cebu as I have before in Manila, where we can all gather together, artists, collectors, enthusiasts, both local and international, and celebrate everything that is art toys.

I also look forward to organizing more art toy shows like Strange Beasts 2, and expanding the platform to other galleries, venues, and audiences who are not yet very familiar with this art. I hope that in my other international toy events, I can bring more artists from VisMin as I believe that there is much more talent to discover in our local soil. Lastly, I would love to share my time and knowledge to everyone who is interested and is also as passionate about art and toys as I am.

Tell us about upcoming events and where to find you on the internet. 

Toycon 2024 just wrapped-up last June, but there is another one organized by them this December for the Christmas Toy Fair. Then in August there is an event in Singapore called Pop Toy Show at the Marina Bay Sands. We already joined last year, and I am so happy to come back this year with a new set of artists with me, including Happy Garaje and Lab Monkeys who are all from Cebu.

Lastly, I am going to open a store at Atua Midtown this coming July for the soft opening. The store’s name is NEUE Design Store (pronounced as NO-YE). The actual word means “New”, but the brand acronym brings new meaning to it with it being “Not Everyone’s Usual Essentials”. The store will carry curated goods, like clothing, art books and magazines, artisanal candles, and of course a good chunk of art toys, both local and international. I hope to have a grand opening by September with a big event, and a couple of exclusive releases with some artists.

You can find Guibs’ artist page both on Instagram and Facebook To learn more about the local art toy scene, follow Designer & Art Toys PH @dnatoysph.

Photos by Niko Blanco

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