Moving Forward, Looking Back!

Congratulations to all the recent graduates out there! Whether you are moving from Kindergarten to First Grade, from 8th grade to High School, or heading off to college in the fall… well done!

In the Spring of 1989, just before I graduated from RISD, I was very lucky to be “recruited” immediately for a job at Russ Berrie and Co., Inc. The company was in New Jersey, which meant my first real move (since I commuted to college). Russ was famous for it’s giftware at the time, and I was put into the Plush division. Yep- designing stuffed animals for a living! Practically a dream come true!

I recently found some pertinent plush designs from way back then:

“Going nowhere fast”… haha!

This little grad turtle was a typical job. A “Product Planner” would decide what they wanted to see, and then have an artist (like me) draw it up and specify (spec) colors and materials for the manufacturer to work from. Then, we would receive a sample product. The sample would usually be presented to the decision makers (including Russ the man himself), for possible inclusion into one of the upcoming lines. Often, items didn’t make it into the line for one reason or another.

This design for “Gradzilla” was a different story. When we designers were finished with our regular work and had extra time, we could freely design items (of any type) as a “Designer’s Day” item. I was a speedy worker, so I drew a lot of these kinds of things.

Did they ever get produced? I have no idea! They probably at least made it to the sample stage. I heard recently that the once great and powerful Russ company was going out of business. So sad! But the world keeps a-turning, and we must go forward!

Good luck to everyone as they move forward!

The Blue Bunny Bookstore!

We found out that Lisa Yee was going to follow up her American Girl signing with a signing of her latest book at The Blue Bunny. I have been wanting to check out this store for quite a while, so it was the perfect excuse to head up to cute, old town center in Dedham Mass.

The Blue Bunny is the brainchild of author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. I have a lot of respect for his philosophies and work, so I expected that the store would be a great blend of toys, books, art, and fun. And it was!

Here we are with our friends the Sheas, who came up from CT for the signing.

Seriously, for me as a toy designer and a children’s book creator, it doesn’t get much better than this! The children and adults who were there that day seemed to agree- it’s a grand place to explore.

According to Lisa, ours was the very first copy of her new book, Warp Speed, to be signed. WooHoo! The book is about a Star Trek geek (there might be a couple… a few…OK, FIVE Star Trek fans in our house), so it was a must-have addition to our nearly complete Lisa Yee library. She’s such a great writer- and just the kind of role model that you want your kids looking up to.

I got to hold Peepy! She’s clearly a girl. And we both were rockin’ the stripes.

Lisa’s back in sunny California now, but we are glad to have seen her here on the East coast. We will certainly be back to The Blue Bunny- and if you live in these parts, check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

Angus McDermott

St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon enough. If you are like me, you like to get a jump on Irishing up your house for the occasion.

Each year, I bring out certain things. Things like this guy:

Yes. I know. He is actually Scottish.

This is Angus McDermott, also known as the first item I can remember designing as a professional. He came with the name “McDermott” sewed to his leg. I added Angus as an homage to his obvious Scottish heritage.

Back in 1989, a few months after graduating from RISD, I started working at Russ Berrie and Co., in Oakland, NJ, a large giftware manufacturer. I was put into the “Plush Department” (What a dream! Making stuffed animals for a living!), and this is one of the first designs I ever made that actually got manufactured. Like other kinds of design, a huge proportion of what gets developed doesn’t actually end up manufactured. In the two years that I worked there, I was lucky to have quite a few go through to production.

Anyhow, when he comes out for St. Patrick’s Day, he reminds me of those early days and of my NJ friends. Begorrah!

2009 Surtex, Stationery Show, ICFF, and Giant Rotating Lobsters

Where else but New York City! I just got back from a whirlwind 4-day stay in the Large Apple with some of my most excellent illustrating gal pals. Two of the aforementioned pals had their own booths at Surtex for the first time, and the rest of us went to cheer them on, help out, and walk the shows. Barb’s booth was bursting with licensing goodness:



And Monica’s was all a-flutter with fun freshness:



Barb and Monica did an AMAZING job of putting these booths together, they truly looked excellent! Surtex (or any show like this) can be grueling in terms of setup/breakdown, and manning the booth for the whole time. Way to go, girls, for managing this. We also got to see a bunch of other blog buddies and other illustrators, like Jannie Ho and Holli Conger. Very fun to see everyone converging in one place!

Laura and I also got to check out the ICFF/International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
Despite the name, there is no cotton candy or pig racing at this fair. You will, instead find things like this:


Lots of furniture, lighting concepts, and home fixtures of all kinds. I always like to check this show out since some of my Fred work falls into this genre of design. Speaking of design, here’s Laura in the fabulous Japanese pavillion:


Here’s one of Mary Beth’s two Louie-nominated greeting cards at the Stationery Show:


And OH! Look! Here’s Mary Beth with the actual Louie Award that she won! WooHoo! The Louies are given to the the best greeting cards of the previous year. MB’s cards were designed for the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.


Our hotel had excellent views of about a hundred water tanks!


And look at this ridiculously green rooftop garden amongst the grey. I never once saw anyone up there enjoying it!


As usual, you can never predict what you’ll see in New York.
Maybe you’ll see:
A ginormous button and needle. We couldn’t figure out the weird configuration of button holes on that button. Then we decided it was “art”.

I love this homage to the city’s immigrant garment workers!

Weeniemobiles…times three!

Giant rotating lobsta! And a chick in a bathing suit looking on. Weird.


Serious M&Ming going on at the 3-level M&M store…

Or, if you prefer your chocolate to be Hershey’s, just go across the street.

My hero George M. Cohan will gladly show you the way to any of the freaky sights in Times Square. Just be glad I didn’t take a picture of The Naked Cowboy.

One of my must-go-to-places in NYC…the giant Toys R Us, complete with Ferris wheel inside!

Life-size functional Tyrannosaurus? This is always amusing no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

Likewise insanely large things made out of Legos.

Speaking of which, look at these cool Harry Potter Lego guys in the FAO Schwarz:


To cap off the Surtex/NY experience, we went to Angelo’s in Little Italy for an amazing dinner. It was sort of like Federal Hill, but, um…more so!


We’ll be back next year to do it all again!

New Stuff Sightings in Mystic

Mystic, Connecticut is a great town that’s close enough to us that we can visit it often. And we do.I found some of my stuff on a recent outing there:


 Bank Square Books is a sweeet little independent bookstore- I love them, because they HAVE MY BOOK! They put it with the pop-ups alongside the Sabuda/Reinhart ones. Hmmm, interesting choice. I usually find it in the baby/toddler section (if I find it at all)!


Here’s a cute little shop in Olde Mystic Village called Hammen Home. Love the yellow paint and blue trim! It’s an extremely cool, bright shop, and I’m NOT just saying that because they have a bunch of my products there:




Next to the Smart Cookies you can see some intriguing little Japanese collectibles that I couldn’t resist- ReMent (?) puts them out- the series I bought contained the world’s cutest, bitsiest, retro-ist tea sets ever!


MAN, that’s cute! I put this set on my perpetually Irish shelf. It matched the leprechauns.

Spotted at Mystic Aquarium: a healthy dose of Snack Attacks!


Thanks again for the exposure, Mystic- we’ll be back! 

Lunch Break

Don’t you hate it when you’re talking to a nun, and a good, stiff wind just carries her away? This week’s box is an ode to Sister Bertrille, the The Flying Nun. It’s a late 1960’s box, chock full o’ weird charm. There is Sally Field, happily flying over her Puerto Rican convent, probably up to good-natured mischief of some kind.
Oh, Mother- that’s Superior comedy!
This deserves a ranking in a special category of shows with the oddest premises- it’s right up there with I Dream of Jeannie, and Hogan’s Heroes. The art is from the celebrated MAD magazine school of realistic-but-enhanced caricature.
Too bad they don’t make ’em like this any more- the shows OR the lunchboxes!