Meet Jan Calleja, a Filipino graphic designer and toy customizer. Before he was introduced to the wonderful art of toy customization by a friend, Jan worked as a scenographer and production artist.
His first custom toy, a Major Dick Winters action figure inspired from Band of Brothers was actually made from a 7-inch Daredevil figure. It has won no less than the first place in a figure competition in TAGCOM 2007 – Toys, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, and Movies Convention – a yearly event which features toy customization competition, collectible merchandise booths, and toy exhibits. Now while gaining more popularity, Jan is making commissioned custom pieces to companies and still winning various competitions, both local and international.
ToyPusher.com: Hello Jan, your work is really impressive. What made you decide to jump into toy customization?
Jan: It took me a while to get the hang of customizing from the time I started. My day job gets really crazy for me to have time for my toys. Then an officemate, and toy collector, Shiela Tiongco introduced me to my first client. I made him a 10 inch Bart Qee Galactus. I was so happy with the result that it fired up my imagination to make other projects with my new found medium – vinyl toys.
ToyPusher.com: Cool. I’m curious what was the feedback from your first client?
Jan: He was happy actually, Pat Carlos. My second was from him also, a Munny Ghost rider.
ToyPusher.com: Aside from vinyl what other medium do you work with?
Jan: Well, I’m old-school so I can work with acrylics, oil, watercolor (my fave then), plasters, plastics… I can’t say I can work with everything but I had experiences with many materials before I got stuck with work in the office.
ToyPusher.com: When choosing a base figure to customize, which do you consider as the most important aspect (in terms of shape, size, material)?
Jan: I have only worked with Munny, Bart Qee and Celsius. I used to think that Munny was the best for any custom idea. I thought that the novelty of having your idea translated to a cute chubby Munny will do the trick everytime, well kind of. But If you’re aiming to have a more human-like anatomy to it you should consider starting with a DIY Celsius. Let’s just say that it depends on how you would want your custom to come out.
I made my Iron Man Munny with the thought of it being cute. But that was before I saw the second IM movie. Now I’m thinking of making a limited edition of 5 Iron Man and War Machine from a Celsius. The idea is to have a more human-like feel, more detail so that it being cute and being bad-ass will balance off somehow.
ToyPusher.com: Can’t wait to see War Machine Celsius! I bet that would be a hit.
Who are your favorite artists? Which company or artist would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Jan: Well there’s Klimt and Klee and the more recent, Kathie Olivas, Theo Jansen…
In the future I would love to do projects with Nike or any car or airplane company. I would also like to collaborate with leading Vinyl artists like Viseone, Cris Rose…
ToyPusher.com: I also like Kathie Olivas’ cute yet dark and whimsical style as well as Cris Rose’s awesome semi-corroded robotic creatures. Very cool choices. Are you also a collector? What types of toys do you collect? Any other hobbies?
Jan: No. I don’t collect toys. I don’t collect anything. But it’s not too late to start. I want to collect toys that may help in my designing not necessarily just for the sake of collecting. I used to play tennis… but now I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else aside from customizing/designing toys.
ToyPusher.com: You were part of the recent custom toy exhibit, BINIL. Too bad, I wasn’t able to attend the event. Would you like to share more about this? Any other upcoming exhibits that we have to watch out for?
Jan: Sayang :) The event was great! We didnt expect that many a crowd to attend. The artists were happy, The gallery owners were also happy, and I hope the people who went there were too. Definitely there will be more exhibits but in the future. Individually maybe. The other artists that participated in BINIL are also active in the local gallery art scene.
ToyPusher.com: You mentioned before that you’re a Fine Arts graduate, and obviously you’ve got the skills and talent to customize toys. I’m not that artistic, do you think I have the chance also to do customs? ^^; Can you give me the basics on how to start?
Jan: Yes you can. First, develop the love for it. Then practice with different materials: putty, clay, plastics, metals, different paints…and lastly, ah… hmmm… just do it.
ToyPusher.com: Any tips to aspiring custom artists out there?
Jan: Hmmmm…pick up a blank vinyl, get your materials ready, then go!
ToyPusher.com: Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions. Maybe one of these days you can give us a mini-tutorial for beginners?
Jan: Gilbert Ibanez and I are planning to make a module on how to customize toys for kids. Gilbert is a senior graphic designer and Final Artist for Redworks Manila and O&M Manila. He also worked as an illustrator for TOEI and PhilCartoons.
ToyPusher.com: Thanks again Jan and we’ll definitely watch out for more of your vinyl customizations and exhibits. ^^
Filed in interviews