PIQ is lucky to have a friend like the talented designer Peter Kato. The fellow New Yorker has created fifteen custom color variations of his Bedtime Bunnies exclusively for PIQ. In advance of the launch at our Grand Central Terminal location, Peter sat down with us to talk about sculpting, silhouette, and sleep.
Peter Kato Launch, PIQ Grand Central Terminal, February 1 7:00-8:30 PM
Peter, the first question is the obvious one. Are you sleepy right now? No, seriously, talk about the theme of sleep in your work. With the Bedtime Bunnies, Sleeptime Bunnies, and even with the Mogu Tanks drowsily waiting to defend earth, you have a solid slumber theme that your fans relate to.
It's a question I'm constantly asked. I've always been obsessed with the concept of sleep, I feel it represents the whole other world of our time on earth where all the imagination, nightmares and memories can come out to inspire us. It wasn't a constant in my earlier work, but when I started to explore that sleeping state expression something felt right. This started to express itself for me in my thoughts on the sculpture itself.
When it comes to the base reasons, the face of the characters in all of my figures are of a static single moment. But when I chose the sleeping face expression, there was something else I began to notice more recently. It was that the face gave this allure of slight existence or life. The toys we have in our collections stay on our shelf for many many years, the idea that my bunnies are in a comfortable position makes me happy.
You were an established illustrator before becoming a toy designer. How did your skills and interests as a two-dimensional artist guide you as you moved into sculpting and mold making?
My love for illustrating led me to everything when it came to sculpting. I was taught that if I love to draw, I can learn to sculpt. The two go hand in hand, and through experience I've realized how true those words were which were taught to me many years ago. Drawing out your ideas on paper gives you the base beginnings of your ideas, gives you your battle plan, and reveals what problems you will have to solve when making the idea into a sculpture.
Now that Bedtime Bunnies have a huge following do you have plans to go back into comics and put this or your other characters into a narrative world?
I actually have been exploring that aspect of the bunnies for years now. There's a whole dark forest world that these creatures are a part of, and I've been trying to find the best way to illustrate that. What I have at the moment feels strongly dark and I'm wondering if my audience will understand it. No plans when or if I will actually release these illustrations or stories yet, still working it out.
You have been working with Cortes Studios for a long time, yet your work has a very different feel than the products they are known for. Even when his pieces have a more cartoon style, the Dave Cortes characters definitely look like they work out a lot. How is it working with this crew when most of your creatures seem more focused on snacks or a nap?
We'll, the members of the Cortes Studio primarily work on licensed products for hire. So, when they do work on their own personal projects we all tend to have very different likes and wants from our pieces. The ideas are similar only in that the inspirations for them come from the similar influences of movies, or stories, or even a toy of a classic era. I'm always inspired to be around these seasoned veterans who can sculpt really just about anything and are on another level compared to myself.
You are skilled at using clean simple shapes to create expressive figures. How do you work through this in the design process? Do you use both hand and digital sculpting? Do these forms come quickly or through many versions?
My process uses both. I make very rough wax clay pieces just to reveal if the sculpture can stand. You see a toy, at its core being must stand. This sounds simple but you'd be surprised at how many people (artists included) want to create a toy that has no balance or cannot stand safely as a toy without a base to support it. There are some rules that sculpting reveals that may not be as evident on paper.
I've always been taught and have been attracted to the idea of the strength of a piece’s silhouette. If the sculpture has an overall feel of a sphere, or a square, or a triangle, I feel the piece is most attractive. Again, this is just my take on things but you can notice this idea in the shapes of everyday objects around you. The items or objects you find yourself attracted to probably have a base silhouette that makes you happy.
Both you and Andrea Kang make creatures that are cute but also have a feeling of an inner life that is more complex. Your collaboration was great. How did it feel to have these Bunnies looking back at you, and some giving a side eye? Do you plan on working together again?
I've loved Andreas work for so love now and I've been so lucky to have had multiple collaborations with her in the past. We are always open to working again when the idea or moment is right. So, yes I'm sure we will come up with something fun in the future.
With the topic of collaborations, I have to say the bunnies have opened the doors for many artists who want to do a team up. I couldn't be more blessed. There are many collabs from a variety of artists in the works now, and I am excited for each one.
Before making your own toys, you worked for a long time on the retail and buying side of the industry. What was the final push that made you jump to the other side?
Chance. Honestly just chance. While working at Toy Tokyo I was aspiring on the side to have my illustrations noticed to become a toy of some kind. But for years I lacked the audience, or better yet theme in my work that inspired production towards it. Many years went by and I had thought it not realistic I would ever get a toy made. But all that changed when I visited the Cortes Studio (which was known as the Inu Art Studios back then) and was shown a simple few second demonstration of how to begin a sculpture. I spent years taking that one lesson to heart and explored sculpting and just sculpting I didn’t even learn molding or casting till later. Seeing that one demo, anyone could start and make their own ideas become reality become a toy.
In making original toys, art and commerce have to work together and must sometimes be in conflict. In making a hit character how do you reach the balance between what you find fulfilling and what the market wants? Have you created any figures that made you happy but didn’t connect with the outside world?
It's a very tricky line between art and art that people will buy, I suppose. For me, my goals were kept simple: make the toy your art. The rules of the toy as a toy came first: it must stand, it must have a strong silhouette, etc. Then it was the audience that showed me what actually sells and what doesn't. When my Bedtime Bunnies first released through my website and sold out (which had never happened before) I naively thought anything I made from that point would gain the same attention. I quickly was shown not the case. Not to say other sculptures I've made didn't do well, it was just the theme of my bunnies was so well received and continues to gain my audience’s attention. I'm lucky I have that, to be able to create a variety in the theme of bunnies. Hoping it will spill over with my introduction to the rest of the creatures where the bunnies come from that dark forest.
PIQ was born in NYC and is based in Brooklyn, so we love our city. Can you tell us about a favorite place in New York that makes you happy?
My studio space makes me the happiest. The neighborhood to me is priceless (Gowanus Brooklyn) with its warehousey feel mixed with choice foods like fusion French foods and amazing baked pies. But the happiest places for me, really simple pizza. Pizza makes me the happiest, and thankfully there are thousands upon thousands of pizzerias for me to feel awesome.
When you are designing and need to either focus or recharge, what music do you listen to?
I've been listening to a lot of Hawaiian culture music. My favorite artist is Iz Kamakawiwo'ole also known as " The Iz ". I really get happy and inspired with Hawaiian music with their beautiful instruments, and wonderful themes of the horizon (future). Really good stuff.
That and Cheap Trick.
Peter Kato is a New York base toy designer, illustrator, and artist. Through resin and vinyl, he makes figures that speak to all of us, have internal lives, and most importantly stand on their own. Peter works with Cortes Studio and collaborates with his friends.
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