Thursday, May 24, 2012

COLLECTION #237: My Own Pins

Back in 1976 or 1977, when I was working at Grey Advertising in LA, I began designing whimsical little pins for myself, and to sell to my friends at work. My technique was to draw a little line art illustration on a small piece of cold press illustration board, paint the design with Dr. Martin dyes (concentrated watercolors in vibrant colors), cut it out with an X-acto knife, coat it with a clear coat to protect the surface, then glue on a pin back. When I first started making the pins, I didn't know any spray coating to use, so I actually brushed on Elmer's glue, knowing it dried clear with a glossy finish. Through the next couple of years, I made dozens of different styles of pins, mostly little animals, fun foods, and other mostly child-like designs. I had a few cartoony animals that I did regularly: pigs dressed in cowboys outfits, a bear in tweed, ducks on wheels. I developed a style of outlining the entire critter in a heavy outline, and then I painted the backs and edges of the pins black. I soon discovered Krylon Crystal Clear coating, and I loved how they looked with a nice glossy/matte finish.
One of my original pins, (note my maiden name). The funny dark color at the top of the pig is from the Elmer's glue discoloring after many years.

Some of my early designs. Many of them have faded with age. These were created in 1978-79.
It wasn't long before I tired of the labor-intensive cutting-out process. Illustration board is extremely hard, and I broke countless blades, and nicked myself dozens of times. (Not to mention cutting off a few of my little animal's appendages). It seemed that I could create a simpler shape that would consist of simply cutting straight lines instead of all of those tiny curves. So, in around 1979 or 1980, my new style was born. The fun thing about this new way of doing the pins, was I could create a little work of art, with a border, background, and often, some sort of little pattern behind the subject matter. It didn't take long before I began to add a 2nd layer onto these designs, making them a little more 3D.  By the time I started making these little rectangular pins, I was a young Mom, freelancing at home, and I was no longer selling them. They were just for me.
Original designs from 1980-1982 or so. The hearts were the first with a 3D piece.

First designs I created when we moved to RI. The little girl in the candy store was the first one with a moveable piece. Note the Mexican sombrero man pin with the matching earrings!

Fast forward a couple of years. We moved to Rhode Island in 1986, and I was working for Hasbro. I began to wear these pins again.  Pins were very popular in the mid-80s, and I decided to resurrect my little pin business. I made countless new designs, each one of these with a little 3D piece attached. My Hasbro friends bought them from me, and I loved to make some little design that was special to them. It didn't take long for me to start adding a little grommet, to make my extra add-on piece move. I had fun figuring out some little surprise element that could be hiding behind the moveable part.  I began going to craft fairs, and selling my pins (and sometimes earrings), and eventually, Bruce and I decided to make a business out of it, and have the pins mass-produced. Since they were in essence paper, we didn't have to worry about molds or tooling costs. We just had printing to deal with. We found a local company to print and laminate the finished design, we had them mounted on black illustration board and die-cut, and we assembled them ourselves. We also had a lovely catalog printed up, and Bruce hit the gift show market. This all took place in 1988-89. Our little company was called "A Small Motion", and the pins were called 'Whimsimations'. (A combination of whimsical and animation!) Bruce took on the business with enthusiasm. He assembled, packaged, shipped. He went to trade shows, followed up with buyers and shops, and handled all of the paperwork and complicated legal and tax details. After my first 24 designs were complete, it didn't take long to realize I needed more seasonal designs, so 20 more designs were done for Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine's Day.

The fish in the photo above this one, shows the first design. When I decided to add the movable part, these two fish were my first revisions. Note the evolution of the fish's eye!

The top designs are hand painted, each with a movable part. The lower dragon pin, is printed, and shown on our display tag. 
Not long after we really got the business going, I accepted a new job in Minnesota, working for Tonka Toys. The remainder of our unassembled pins were packed up, and we took them along with us. We still have many of those boxes today, still sitting in the garage. We never managed to resurrect our pin business. It was a combination of factors- we had lost the majority of our sales reps in New England, and so had low sales. Bruce needed to get a job when we moved to Minneapolis, so there was just no time. So, that was the sad end of Whimsimations.

I wanted to document this little business, and share with you my collection of all of the hand made pins I have in my collection. These do not include all of the hand-made prototypes of the final 44 pin designs. I have these all wrapped in bubble wrap, safely stored away. These represent the evolution of my pins, and the fun I had drawing and designing each one.


Jenn Bontrager said...

You should start selling these on etsy. They are amazing. I would definitly love to have one. I ecspecially love the candy store one. What talent you have.

Kitschy Galore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kitschy Galore said...

Hi Stefanie!
My name is Tyna. I am an Etsy artist & for the past few years now I have been making & selling my three dimensional brooches under the name Kitschy Galore Recently I've been working on some new designs for my shop using shrink plastic. Just the other day I was sharing my new creations with my mother (her name is ReneƩ Keough & she is a phenomenal plush toy & clothing designer) she was instantly reminded of an old coworker, from way back in her Hasbro sample room days. She diapered into the other room & came back brandishing a lovely little pin. One of your Whimsimations, featuring Anne Shirley holding a book "The Lady of Shalott" with her movable arm in front of Green Gabbles. It is just the most fantastic little thing! She let me borrow it & I brought it home for inspiration. When I showed my husband he found it instantly familiar & said his parents (his father David Wohl, was also a toy designer at Hasbro once upon a time) also had a few of your Whimsimations that he grew up with. You are so incredibly talented & I simply adore your work! I just wanted to share my story with you & let you know that your Whimsimations have endured these past many years & continue to delight & inspire people. Cheers!

P.S. I also agree with Jenn, & fully support the idea of reopening "A Small Motion" on Etsy!