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The Rise of the Disposable Designer Toy

Kathleen De Vere | 27 Oct 2011 10:00
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It was the desire for collaboration that inspired Walleen to take his paper toys offline with his I Found Vinny project. Instead of keeping all the toys he creates, Walleen now photographs them and releases most of them them into the wild, spreading paper toys in real life the same way they first spread online.

"[Papercraft] is kind of an isolated practice ... I wanted to figure out a way to reconnect with people. I thought, why not put an email address on my toys, and start leaving them all over the city," he explains. "People would email in saying, 'Hey! I found this!' and then I would share the template with them, or any other templates they might be interested in, and I would ask for a picture of the toy in the new surroundings. That's how I started connecting with people and getting known."

At its core, papercraft has become popular because it democratizes art - it is both complex and totally accessible.

Feedback was positive, but Walleen started getting requests for an "entry level" paper toy. That led him to create his Simple Vinny template , a straightforward toy designed to be stable and secure even when made with lightweight printer paper. As with all paper toy templates, Walleen made sure that Simple Vinny could be assembled as is, or completely customized by using a blank template. All he asks for in exchange are pictures of the new toys.

When I ask him about why he thinks paper toys have suddenly become so popular, Walleen echoes the sentiments found online - it's a seductive mix of collectibility, accessibility and accomplishment, and both the designer and the collector get it.

"When people look at something like the Simple Vinny model, they're not intimidated by it. People have been cutting and pasting since they were in kindergarten so it's a really approachable craft," says Walleen. "Paper is cheap, and I don't know any household that doesn't have a printer now. [With paper toys] you can download something for free, print it out in your own home and end up with something really awesome. On the other side you have the design. You can create something and send it out to the world, but people make it with their own paper, their own glue and their own scissors. Your overhead is so small, but you can still promote your name."

To illustrate his point, Walleen picks up one of the toys he's brought to the interview. "If this was a vinyl toy, it would be $150 bucks," he says in a matter of fact tone of voice. "But when I build this, I'm not buying a toy, I'm interacting with the artist. Every time I finish a model I laugh - the toy comes to life and there's a great sense of achievement. It could either be from five minutes or [several hours] of effort but in the end you've created something."

At its core, papercraft has become popular because it democratizes art - it is both complex and totally accessible. Only with papercraft can someone create a three dimensional work of art completely from scratch, a work of breathtaking difficulty, and yet still compel someone who doesn't think they have any particular artistic talent to try and recreate the results.

Or, as Walleen puts it, "You can create a toy that looks really neat, I don't know how you would not enjoy that."

Kathleen De Vere is trying very hard to be a professional funny-person and writer. Most famous for LoadingReadyRun, Kathleen has discovered her main passion, petting cats, is not terribly practical in the financial sense, so if you need some adjectives strung together, she'd love to hear from you.

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