While most of the time on Tomopop, we deal with the world of plastics or resins or coldcast pieces, Pepe Hiller's wooden creatures from his Swiss studio are just as eye-catching and creative as anything else you might see on the site. They often take on simple, yet endearing and even whimsical looks (like the Boosos you see above) and while they're usually limited runs based on the nature of their construction and materials, constant sellouts of Pepe's collectibles are pretty good proof that people love that look.
We recently talked to Pepe about his toys, what brought him to making wooden critters (and what he likes about working with wood), and what some of his plans for the future are, among other things. Hit the jump to check out the full interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself, Pepe. What's your background?
I'm a 30-year-old designer, artist and architectural model builder with 12 years of experience in model building and prototyping. Based out of Zurich, Switzerland, I've received my Bachelor of Design degree in Industrial Design/Scenographical Design from Zurich University of the Arts. I started to create my own toys a few years ago out of resin, and since then, I'm fully dedicated to the toy world! My recent work is mainly focused on limited series of self-produced wood designer toys.
Woodsprites by Pepe
What brought you into working with wood for your creations?
I‘m a guy who loves to try out new materials, tools and techniques. I usually work with a lot of different plasics at my day job and not that much with solid wood. So wood brings a great diversion to me and to my own design process. I totally fell in love with wood soon after I started to do my first wood toys. It‘s such a beautiful material and the diversity of all the characteristics, colors and grains is so wonderful work with!
How long does the process usually take from start to finish when creating your wooden creatures?
Usually, I'm very fast at doing a first prototype of an idea I have in my sketchbook and want to work on. But then it can take weeks to find the perfect shape and refine all the details to the finished version. When I'm satisfied with the design, I usually do a first small limited handmade series of 5 to 20 pieces for shows, stores or for releases directly trough my online shop. Besides the needed time for designing and producing pieces, there are always other tasks like shooting pictures, writing background stories, thinkering about packaging and promoting my toys that consumes a lot of time, too.
What inspires you most in regards to your style and designs?
I‘m a person who loves to play on all design playgrounds myself, so I try to keep my eyes open for outstanding art every day. The list of the artists who‘s work I admire goes from the Art Noveau artist Alfons Mucha to the conceptual architect Lebbeus Woods or to the contemporary sculptor Ron Mueck. There are also a lot of designers from the art toy scene whose work I do follow closely and try to get an idea where we're heading with our niche art. One of the most inspiring experiences for me is to meet other artists or collectors of the very friendly "toy family." It's so nice get to know new people, share interests and support each other with new projects and ideas.
Keeper of the Sotek custom Qee
In addition to working with wood, you also do customs of vinyl figures as well as original resin pieces. Which medium do you usually find you enjoy working in the best? Which one is the easiest to work with?
I would say for now it's definitively the woodwork that I enjoy the most. A lot of toy designers and toy collectors give me positive feedback about my wood toys and they all want to see more wood characters from me! :) I'm also always on the look out for materials that I can combine with wood. I recently just dabbled my toes into digital modeling and rapid prototyping. It's amazing that I'm able to digitally sculpt a figure, and hours later, I hold the design as a 3D print in my hands for further production. I just love to jump from digital high-tech methods to the true handcrafted work all the time and see what's best for my needs on each project.
You've already collaborated with Cris Rose on his Arborobots series. Are there plans to work with other artists? Do you have any artists that you really want to work with?
I really enjoy working with other artists and designers from all around the world! I already can tell you the collaboration with Cris Rose wasn't a one off thing; there will be a lot more Arborobots this year and the family will grow! It's great to push things further with other creatives that have the same urge to create awesome designs and new toys. I already have tons of projects and collabs in line for the this year, but honestly, I don't have art idols I'm running after ... I do like the work of a few great artists very much, but when it comes to collaborations, everybody out there could be a great partner to design an amazing figure with.
In addition to your style, there's also an underlying idea of eco-friendliness, not only in your characters' stories but their materials as well. How much of an importance do you place on that in your pieces?
It‘s a good feeling when I can use renevable and eco-friendly materials like wood for the most of my creatures, but on the other hand, I don‘t want to limit myself too much with this. I also like to work with resin or vinyl once in a while. So I'm not the eco-activist kind of guy, but I try not to waste too many resources and to be happy with what I've got.
Arborobots by Pepe and Cris Rose
What are you working on for the future right now? Anything you can share with us?
Besides a few comissions and shows in sight, I'm already working on a bunch of collaboration wood projects with very talented artists from the UK and U.S. Like I mentioned, there will be new series of wood crafted "Arborobots" with Cris Rose from London and a little collab with Lunabee from the UK as well. I'm also trying to push the very small art toy scene here in Switzerland a little and hopefully can make it more accessible for a wider audience and new local collectors. And, of, course there will be hordes of new Pepe Hiller wood toy designs crafted by myself.
When you're not in the studio, what do you like to do for fun?
Designing toys really is my fun part! To be able working on my own stuff at my workshop is far most the greatest joy! Besides that, I try to stay informed about the latest buzz in the art toy and design scene and once in a while, I go out for a ride over the Swiss Alps with my bike.
Thank you, Pepe, for the opportunity to do this interview! You can follow Pepe on Facebook here.
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