The Best Art Toys Of The 90s (Or, The Toys That Propelled My Future Career)

As we get close to Christmas, I have no clue what kids today are asking Santa for! I don’t have kids myself, and don’t know many people with young kids. Also, 3-year-olds seems to have smart phones and tablets now, so … Do they still play with toys? Who are they planning to call, Big Bird? I have so many questions. All that aside, toys can be tools that help kids develop their interests and explore what they may want to be or do in the future. In homage to 90s nostalgia and the time when toys were still not quite high-tech, I’ve compiled a list of the best art and design toys from when I was a kid. I’m sure a lot of these will look familiar to many of you! And so our trip down memory lane begins…

Fashion Plates

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This toy let you be a high-class big name designer, mixing and matching your own styles with plastic stencils you could shade over with a magic black crayon and then render in your favorite color story. That woman with the bob, chunky bracelets, and boots is basically the me of today. Check out that dapper lady on the top right adjusting her bow-tie!

Blush Art

First off, this commercial is just nauseating. That aside, this was a fun toy, again utilizing stencils so even those terrible at drawing could be a star, thus preventing any destroyed self esteem. I had the fashion design stencil set for this rather than the ones shown in this video – I was obviously a bit singularly focused. I liked my clothes far better than cuddly creatures, but I’m no Cruella de Vil, just cursed with being allergic to anything fuzzy.

Crayola Stampers Markers

You could make some wacky mosaic drawings with these markers, case in point the self portrait on the right, circa 8 years old. Remember the 70s revival yellow smiley face craze around that time? Those guys are in there.

Barbie Fashion Designer PC Game

Again with the fashion designing … I honestly did consider this career path but alas, discovered later on that I hated sewing.

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As you can see, the earlier self portrait was pretty spot-on.

Nickelodeon’s Mix ‘N Spin

ece0a94f8a84a07aedf4329a4605a677I never had this, but one of my friends did – The 90s kid version of all that pour art that is so popular now. Was there any design trend that people loved more than rainbow splatter painting in the 90s?

 

Watercolor Coloring Books

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These books really lulled you into a false sense of security, giving you perfect blending and shading with just a smear of water, provided you followed the coloring book code and stayed inside the lines ;). Nevertheless, they were so relaxing to sit and fill in, and I spent many a rainy day with a pile of these in front of me, completing one picture after another.

Sand Art

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Like color by numbers but with colored sand, you would peel off one number at a time revealing a sticky surface to pour the corresponding colored sand upon to slowly reveal a finished masterpiece. Though Disney ones were always super popular, my sets were of unicorns and tropical birds!

Shrinky Dinks

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As a kid the shrinky dinks I had were pre-outlined, and you colored them in like a coloring book before putting the plastic sheets in the oven and watching them curl up, shrink, and harden into durable plastic pendants or flat mini figures. As an adult, I discovered the fun of using blank shrink plastic to design your own one of a kind pendants covered in art! I sold these for a couple years in a local handmade shop downtown, and they did really well.

These truly are the toys that made me! I hope everyone gets what they were hoping for this Christmas, though of course, no gifts could ever possibly be as epic as these.

 

 

 

 

Art Discussion – “The Way I See It …”

In progress!

A rare in progress photo! I nearly never take these.

Many times I like to keep quiet about the specific message I had in mind when creating a piece, because I like my work to be allowed to speak to each viewer differently based on their own unique thoughts and experiences. At the same time, I myself am a curious individual and I hate when other artists flat our refuse to share what a piece means with their audience. So, every so often on this blog I want to pick a piece with a lot to say and explain the thoughts behind it. Today I’ve selected “The Way I See It”.

The Way I See It ... , 18x24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

The Way I See It … , 18×24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

In this piece, an average young woman sits, quiet and composed. She sits straight-backed, hands in her lap, legs together. The viewer can discern her reserved and unimposing nature simply based on how little space she purposefully occupies. Like many, she is probably good and bad, but mostly good. The other figure looks at her and sees evil. He can only see her shortcomings or what he views as such, and blames her for them as if any part of her person he doesn’t like was a planned attack against him. He paints her as a vampire, a monster, a whore. While she passively sits, he smears paint on her clothing and on her skin as he touches her. (An interjection, the gender choices in this piece are not significant. It is simply easier to depict the main character in this narrative as a woman so I could draw from my own perspective of when I have felt treated this way. The figures’ roles could easily be reversed, or it could be two men or two women.) The artist is delighted and proud of his portrait, his telling of her story and who she is as a person, be it true or not. Truth doesn’t matter when one is convinced they are right.

We run into serious problems when we let others be the artists or creators of our story, when we let them tell us who we are. Like the paint smears covering the young woman, as we let them sully what we think of ourselves, our own essence literally floats away before we even notice. Meanwhile, their incorrect perception creeps in like a vapor, taking its place.

Stories are tricky. We are not omnipresent, nor can we view the past or future in real time. So, when we view a situation, we are only inputting a piece of the overall story. We don’t like incompletes, it’s why in Hollywood Blockbusters everything gets hurriedly and inconceivably tied up all within the last 5 minutes of the movie, and we love it. Back to the situation we’ve just viewed, one of many in a given day: how do we complete the story we’ve caught just a chapter of? By either consciously or unconsciously inventing the rest of it in our minds. We can fit the puzzle pieces together so seamlessly that we often will even remember the inferred story as fact. We may have come close to truth … but then again there is a good chance we have not.

“What you remember is determined by what you see, and what you see depends on what you remember … a cycle that has to be broken” Tim O’Brien writes in his novel Going After Cacciato. No object or person is visually neutral. Think of our brains as a giant search engine. I’m going to get very simplified here – we see a person in a blue shirt. We “type” the input “blue shirt” and up pops images, videos, memories of all the experiences we’ve ever had with people with blue shirts. It’s hard to emotionally separate our memories from this new experience. We could see a person we’ve never even met as malicious simply because we’ve had negative interactions with others who look like them in the past. We could see a country or city as sinister, be wary of a new activity or experience because our memories literally distort our perceptions.

Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, and she also has a few great Ted Talks which is how I discovered her. This talk I’ve included a link to below about stories is fantastic. I was so interested when I came upon it after finishing this piece, because it deals with many of the issues I was thinking about when I came up with the artistic concept. I would highly recommend a listen.

I would also welcome any thoughts you may have on stories, perception and memory, or any different way you might have interpreted this piece. Sharing is fun, don’t be shy!