Sweet As Sugar Town: A Taste Of Vanessa Wilson’s Toy Story
Created and crafted by talented Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD) grad, artist and toy maker Vanessa Wilson, Sugar Town Studio is an emerging line of strange and endearing hand-crafted figurines that are taking Halifax by storm.
With the power of modern communication, I was lucky enough to chat with Wilson in Halifax about her route into the toy industry and her collection of adorable figurines.
Being a creative since childhood, Wilson knew she would be destined for life as an artist and chose her education accordingly.
“I’ve been pretty creative all my life, so it only made sense to pursue a career in the art work. I did the 4 year Bachelor of Design (BDes) program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University.”
Wilson’s background in the arts lead her into the path of toy making. She currently works as a designer for Halifax’s Orb Factory.
“It’s weird that there’s even a toy company in Halifax – but also super convenient because it meant I didn’t have to move provinces in order to get my foot in the door.”
Working mainly with illustration, Wilson often works overtime and from home to meet the strict deadlines in the field.
“The toy industry is great! Like any other deadline driven job it can be stressful trying to meet a certain date – but I enjoy it. My current job is a lot of fun. I’ve managed to carve out a nice little niche for myself doing mostly illustration, but I have had to opportunity to work on more sourcing heavy projects.”
Despite the time committed to her career, Wilson’s paired her creativity with her experience in the toy industry, leading her to start her own line of adorable miniature figurines from her home studio in Halifax.
After much consideration, Wilson opted to create under the name Sugar Town Studio.
“When I knew I wanted to start creating under a brand name, it was important that it represent me as much as possible, and also the things I create. I made a list of buzz words I liked, and just brainstormed for a while,” says Wilson, “I don’t recall how I narrowed it down to Sugar Town Studio – I think I stumbled onto it, and was just like “That’s it!” It’s cute without being too cutesy and fun enough without being something I’ll be embarrassed about in a few years.”
The Sugar Town figurines are made with a professional grade polymer clay (Super Sculpey) and each detail is either hand painted or tinted with coloured clay.
“Initially I was using Super Sculpey and then painting the sculpts with acrylic once they were baked. Recently I’ve started toning it with regular coloured Sculpey so that it cuts down on the creating time. And it’s been a much smoother process. It’s still fun to start off with a solid colour and then paint it – makes the transformation that much more awesome!”
Creating with Sculpey from a young age, Wilson is no stranger when it comes to sculpting with polymer clay.
“I’ve been playing with Sculpey on and off since I was about 8 years old. I used to make accessories for my Littlest Pet Shop – when I was in Junior High I would make weird little turtles to give to my friends to put up in their locker.”
What makes Wilson’s figurines that much more impressive and adorable is their size. Topping out at about 4 or 5 inches tall, each figurine features amazingly tiny details.
“They’re all just little guys. They don’t tend to get much bigger than 4-5 inches tall. A small format is fun to work within, keeps them nice and cute.”
Some day if I’m lucky enough to have a good studio set up – I’d like to venture into much larger pieces. But I’m no where near there just yet.”
Despite being so small, each piece takes upwards of 8 hours from start to finish.
“A few of the larger faux-taxidermy busts I’ve made take about 8 hours. They’re done in separate pieces and then assembled once the paint is done. Smaller pieces to sculpt usually take an hour or so – and then the paint takes another couple hours.”
From creepy and weird to just plain adorable Wilson keeps her creativity flowing by finding inspiration from her surroundings.
“I collect vintage toys and puzzles, so my apartment is filled with cute art, and knick-knacks to look at. I think when you surround yourself with stuff you love, it’ll filter itself in on your work.”
“I also keep an “Art To-Do List”. Anytime I get an idea, I write it down right away. The list is HUGE, and I usually look it over every few weeks to see if there’s anything I want to pull from. Creativity fuels creativity – I spend a lot of my time thinking of things, and it only ever fuels more ideas. Once you get the creative ball rolling, it seems to snow ball.”
“I’ve recently started submitting pieces to local art shows. Every other month a gallery in Dartmouth will have a themed show open to public submissions. So far I’ve partaken in a Simpsons themed show, and a show called “Class of 84” which features art inspired by movies made in 1984. I made a faux taxidermy bust of Gizmo (Gremlins) I’ve been looking for an excuse to make a Gizmo for a while – I’m really happy about how he came together.”
Sugar Town Studio is a new endeavor for Wilson but she has big plans and high hopes for the future.
“I’d like to start exploring the use of molds – so I can make multiples of certain sculpts, right now everything is a one off – but that’s also what makes them all so special. They’re all one of a kind.”
“If all goes as planned, these little guys will be my full-time job. In a perfect world Sugar Town Studio will be a brand like KidRobot – and they’ll be mass produced, vinyl toys that people all around the world collect. I’m not even close – but I think if I keep doing what I’m doing, it’ll happen!”
**Since this interview took place, works from Sugar Town Studio have been featured in “Pre-Shrunk; a gallery show at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax.