Nathan Jurevicius, 34, has an imaginary friend, Andrew, who he’s been chilling with since pre-school. No wonder he wound up designing vinyl toys for a living.
Born in Melbourne to an Australian mother and Lithuanian-Latvian father, Jurevicius studied design and illustration at the University of South Australia. He then began freelancing full-time as an editorial artist, simultaneously working on personal online projects. One fateful night in 2001, he got a call from Hong Kong-based toy producers Flying Cat, who wondered if he might like to take his illustrations to the third dimension. He thus embarked on a fruitful toy-making career, gaining renown amongst kids and serious collectors alike.
Jurevicius’ toys recall everything from Tim Burton films to Japanese prints, early Disney animation to the futurism inherent in ‘60s interior design. His signature character, Scarygirl, is at once adorable and deformed, colorful and drab. Based partially on his daughter, Scarygirl was abandoned by her parents as a baby, raised by a mop-topped octopus named Blister, and guided by Bunniguru, an oracular rabbit. This sort of fractured-fairytale sensibility shows up in all Jurevicius’ work, whether it’s toys, paintings, or prints.
Living in Toronto with his family since 2004, Jurevicius is currently working on expanding the Scarygirl universe with a graphic novel and an online game. He is also preparing for his first L.A. show, which will be mounted next January at Gallery 1988, and is hard at work creating a super-secret gigantic toy.
XLR8R: What is the process of designing a toy like?
Nathan Jurevicius: The initial designing and sketching process for toys (and any project) is the best part for me. It all begins with conceptual sketches and turnarounds. From here, it is accessed by the factory to see how feasible it is to build, and then we go into the sculpting process/testing (which is being done more and more with 3D software). As I’m sketching, there’s a back-story developing simultaneously as to how [the piece] fits into my overall Scarygirl story arc (if I’m designing for that series). Sometimes there’s a locked-down, preconceived idea, but generally I like to keep various options open.
What’s the coolest thing about making vinyl toys? What is the hardest thing?
The coolest thing is thinking up the concept and seeing the first stage of production. The hardest is properly communicating the little details required for some figures.
How did your color palette develop?
It sort of goes in cycles. Every few years I go darker/moodier and then come back to more intense, almost fluorescent colors. Some of this is inspired by Eastern European paintings and children’s books that came out in the ‘70s. [Joan] Miró is also an influence on me, as well as religious iconic art that uses a lot of bright, flat colors combined with more subtle backgrounds.
What is your favorite color, and why?
It changes, but currently I’m a little bit addicted to Winsor and Newton’s carmine, crimson, and canary yellow inks.
Do you feel differently about your paintings, drawings, and comics than you do about your toys?
I’m always feeling like I’m still learning on the job with all these mediums so I tend not to get overly critical if something doesn’t turn out exact. There’s possibly more pressure on the toy side of things as it’s usually other peoples’ money I’m playing with, and it’s hard to control exactly how the final product will be.
How do you feel about working with pre-existing toy forms like Qees or Dunnys?
I did a lot of crossover pre-existing toy projects in the early days with Toy2R, Red Magic, and others and tend to avoid getting involved now. That being said, I’ve always had a soft spot for Medicom’s Bearbricks/Kubricks and will do the occasional collaboration.
What artist has inspired you most? What toy designer has inspired you most?
Have always loved Picasso, Miró, and [William] Dobell, though probably my dad’s sculpture and pottery has been the biggest influence on me from a young age. Yoshitomo Nara’s toy and product design is something I admire greatly.
What artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Could be fun to do something with architect Toyo Ito or Michel Gondry.
Does your Australian upbringing influence your work?
Up until I was an early teen, my father and grandparents only spoke Latvian to each other (sadly, I didn’t learn the language) and their home was very much old-school Baltic in style. They were a big influence on my artwork and attitude. That being said, my mother’s side are all super-Aussie and have a unique perspective on life, which I also love.
What was your favorite toy to play with as a child?
Lego... Oh, and local football team-branded cheap YoYos.
What is your favorite animal?
Cats are my favorite–relaxing to be with and they have great styling!
What medium would you like to work in that you have never tried before?
Neon-tube lighting. I would love to create some sort of giant character made up of neon lights all twisted together.... I may have to research this.
What is your favorite toy that you’ve designed? Your favorite toy that someone else has designed?
Possibly the Peleda wind-ups with Toy Tokyo or the Scarygirl City Folk with Kidrobot. The Eames plywood elephant is very wonderful (but I don’t own one).
What scares you the most?
Spiders and flying.
What is your favorite scary movie?
The soon to be released Spiders On a Plane! The Omen series and Lost Boys are also favorites.
How do your kids feel about your work?
The older they get, the more they appreciate what I’m doing. The work sometimes hovers between the adult-child world and I see them viewing it with excitement and confusion (which is a good thing, in my opinion).
What is your attitude about playing with vinyl toys?
Depends on the nature of the toy. Some of them lend themselves to be more hands-on and exploratory, whereas others are purely statues/non-functional and are purposely designed to be an art piece. I’m open to both.
What music do you listen to while you’re working?
I generally listen to a lot of podcasts and radio shows. Currently listening to John Safran on Sunday evenings and a bunch of books on tape.
What is a development you would you like to see happen in the vinyl toy world?
A less toxic product that has the same smell!