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Toy convention brings out artists — and your inner child

The sixth Designer Con brings together makers of toys, apparel, printing, sculpture and other art forms with eclectic patrons.

November 03, 2011|By Jasmine Elist, Los Angeles Times
  • Designer Con is a one-day confab that is about vinyl toys and the street-inspired art that influences those collectible toys.
Designer Con is a one-day confab that is about vinyl toys and the street-inspired… (Victoria Lara )

The culture of vinyl toys thrives in Los Angeles, home of the makers and designers at local institutions such as Otis College of Art and Design as well as boutiques full of vinyl figures by established artists Gary Baseman, Frank Kozik, Tim Biskup and others. It makes sense that the L.A. area would host the top annual confab about these toys, Designer Con. Given that culture's deep roots in art, it's also no surprise that this gathering is now about so much more than toys.

Designer Con will return to the Pasadena Convention Center on Saturday for its sixth annual art and design convention, moving way beyond toys to acknowledge the interaction with apparel, plush, printing, sculpture, designer toys and other arts in a full spectrum ranging from fine art to urban street art one step removed from a freeway overpass. The convention features more than 90 vendors, loads of exhibitions and provides a forum in which artists can meet with manufacturers, collectors can buy exclusive pieces and attendees can purchase unique art, apparel, toys and gifts.

"Toys are so intertwined with the art and design scene that it's hard to ignore the relationship," says Ayleen Gaspar, show coordinator for Designer Con. "We wanted our show to be representative of the whole design process as well as showcase some of the current trends and inspirations in 2-D and 3-D creations."

Gaspar continues, "Although Designer Con is a one-day show, it's generally a little less rushed than other major conventions, giving creators a chance to really chat with each other and maybe even collaborate on some new projects."

Over its six years, Designer Con has grown in size and in scope. Founded in 2006 as "Vinyl Toy Network," the show originally pulled together artists, designers, manufacturers and retailers in the toy and collectible figures market. Show organizer Ben Goretsky says that by its third year, the show included almost every major player in the toy industry and it simply was no longer growing.

Opening up to other aspects of art and design was a natural evolution for the show. What started in an 1,100-square-foot meeting room now easily fills a 25,000-square-foot hall.

Beginning at 10 a.m., Designer Con offers several scheduled activities throughout the day, including a Lego Art Show featuring dozens of original Lego creations and a live drawing experience with Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, an alternative modeling class with live models cavorting as pin-ups, burlesque dancers, zombies and more. Blindboxes, which are boxes that contain an unknown toy and are how many vinyl and PVC toys are sold, also figure heavily in the convention: Attendees are encouraged to buy a blindbox and participate in the World's Biggest "Blindbox Time," attempting to break the largest recorded group blindbox opening record from last year. One hundred limited-edition Designer Con goodie bags filled with toys, magazines, pins and stickers will be available, on a first-come, first-served basis, for $5 each.

"The show is the only one in its class that specifically focuses on the art aspects of our industry," Goretsky says. "Everyone in our show is somehow related to art and design, whether it's hand-crafted plush toys, screen printed apparel, art-related books or collectible art figurines. It's a wonderful array of products that our audience loves to browse."

New to this year's Designer Con is the art show "Skin Deep" by Scott Wilkowski, an artist whose work is best known for putting skulls, skeletons and creepy creatures inside popular designer toys. For "Skin Deep," Wilkowski infects six designer toys, including Kozik's "Labbit" and Buff Monster's "Buff Monster." Ten pieces of the hand-cast resin editions, in each color, will be available to collectors.

Buff Monster, who has participated in Designer Con for five years, explains, "For those who don't want to trek down to San Diego for Comic-Con or fly to New York's Comic-Con, this is a really rad and convenient way to experience the fun and excitement of that kind of event."

John Stokes, an avid fan of the convention, has had a booth at Designer Con for five years. "Designer Con is so immersive and gives a little taste of everything," he says. "There is so much visual stimulus that you can't help but look around and say, 'I want that. And I want that. I wish I could buy that. But I'm definitely getting that.'"

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