Pilsen ArtCamp 2014

One more time I had the pleasure and the honor to teach at the the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art in Pilsen (or Plzeň) in Czech Republic. This time was at the ArtCamp 2014 program that this year was the tenth edition and, for the first time, the faculty invited me for lecturing a Toy Design course. It has been such a great experience!

People from the third week of ArtCamp 2014

The faculty staff did a great job to prepare each detail of a complex three weeks event that involved several hundred people. ArtCamp doesn't only means lectures and workshop but also pechakucha nights, conferences, expositions, fashion and dance shows and, of course, parties, as you can see here in the ArtCamp blog.

My course was lectured during the last week (21-27 July) and I found a really different Pilsen when compared with the raining city that I found during my first visit in May. Since the first day I found that creative climate that you can find only in few school: a exceptional space shared by all the arts with highly equipped workshops. This creates such unique conditions for working, thinking, creating, socializing; this means the perfect conditions for learning. People from all around the world join there, each one with his own ideology, culture, skills and dreams.

Both teachers and students, left  home the academic boringness and bring to the ArtCamp just the will to work, to share and to enjoy art. Meanwhile my students was designing toys, in another corner there was people thinking about jewelery, about digital animation, engraving techniques or product design. Just walking through the building was an artistic experience in order to understand the real and deep soul of the ArtCamp project. 

On 22 July I also lectured a pechakucha about the evolution of the relationship between parents, children and toys during the XXth century. I must confess that was my first pechakucha and I was a little nervous (it is not easy and when you are trying to teach something to someone, the time is really little). Anyway people liked it and I think they realized the central point of my discourse, even if was an italian guy that is living in Portugal, speaking english in Czech Republic to people from all around the world... respect!

I'd like to show just few works made by some of my students during the toy design course. They designed and build a real model of each idea because, as I always say, until an idea does not "jump out" from the paper, it is not a design exercise, it is just a idea, nothing more. Several times the transition from the sketch to the solid prototype totally change the design results improving it, sometime killing it forcing rethinking everything from the very beginning. I also asked to the student in order to develop a packaging and a name for their toy, this is because both are important and complementary aspect if we would like to commercialize our creations.  

The block set called "FaceBlocks" design by Štefánia Sekanová, from Slovakia is made by beech wood and painted with acrylic colors. It is quite interesting because with few parts you can create a huge number of faces, expressions or other "things" that you want. Eyes, noses, mouths, ears are the main ingredients of this composition that is characterized for its vivid colors and simple shapes. With Štefánia's toy a child could create new shapes and faces understanding the grammar of emotions in the human been face or the geometrical rules of the visage. This is possible because when you are dealing, or playing, with the unruled, the exception, you learn the rules, the regulation.

Faceblocks by Štefánia Sekanová

Kyougo Matsumoto, from Japan, did several experiences using normal daily objects to create toys. So he went to some shops around looking for inspirations and ideas. The results was a toy made by some kitchen tools, wooden board and small cars for create a circuit. Kyougo also designed a kind of "booster" for launching the cars made by a upgraded wooden salad clip. Finally the cars were made with pencil rubber because normal iron cars were too fast for the toy dimension, indeed all the parts would fit on a normal table. I thought this toy quite interesting because it can teach both to adult and children that a normal object can be a toy, sometimes without any modification, depending from how you use it. So if you don't have commercial toys, you can always push your mind and create a new, creative and enjoyable one.

The Kyougo Matsumoto toy made by useful objects

The Franco Augusto toys was also a construction kit (the construction kit is frequently a toy designed desire) made by thin plywood panels jointed by a elastic rope. The system is easy to understand and with different shapes allow the creation of several solids or objects. Behind that the contrast between the rope color and the wooden surfaces is quite explicit about which material has which function. Franco's toy is an interesting example of construction kit based on shapes with a very intuitive and friendly (but not very easy) connection device. But it's main quality is that you can improve your models with more pieces or you can also build something useful, not a toy, for your home, like a box or a bowl, and you can also paint or change the rope colors. In other words it is a real open and customizable system both for children and adults.

Franco Augusto designed a construction kit based on a rope joining system

For Pavla was not the first time she design toys, indeed she already designed some beautiful pieces in the past. This time we decided to develop a block set with the theme of mythological creatures that would teach to the child the differences between, for instance, minotaur, the unicorn and the pegasus. So we started with the basic horse shape, that was the shared shape between all the creatures, and we move to the different parts. 5 working days look like a long time for who already know what will do but are a very little time for who want design a new toy. Pavla developed sketch and cardboard model before create the final wooden prototype, and all this take time; so even if she only develop the unicorn, she planned other creature for the future.
Pavla Boháčová mythological construction set

Marie Svatoňová is a binding student and because of that I suggested the use of binding technique in her toy. So she designed a changeable story telling book. Depending from the way you fold the book's parts, you can create several different scenarios for different stories, from a forest to a city or to a house, the child can put into the book, because it can be folded in order to create a tree-dimensional play space, some characters and create a unique story. This is good because you can provide several different contexts with a unique device and the children can interact with the object in a new way joining different backgrounds with different characters. Now Red Riding Hood can happen in the city or in a mixed environment made by inside and outside spaces. 
The changeable book by Marie Svatoňová

After some short experiences around illustration and characters, Assel Tleuova was fascinated by the optical toys that was largely produced during the XIX century. At that time the invention of animation, and cinema, was based on the principle of several difference images that was showed in a sequence creating the illusion of moving figures. So, after a short investigation about the issue, Assel started developing a zoetrope that is based on a rotating cylinder where the user can see moving images through a thin opening. But the toy developed by Assel allow the children both understand the principle of the machine and customizing the images. So behind the zoetrope she design and create a device for print the images strips with several different stamps.
The customizable zoetrope by Assel Tleuova

Well, as you can see the ArtCamp toy design course produced several interesting new ideas and experiences. But more than that, student realized that toy design is not a joke and involve not only funny or fancy ideas bur real design problems, materials, habit and uses. On my side the experience was highly rewarding because each time you are trying teach something you learn much more.

I hope see you next year at Pilsen!

Here a great video about the 3rd week


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