Ep.103: How to define your brand with Gary Ham (Superham Designs)

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Feb 01, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Gary Ham, an illustrator, designer, and producer of handmade wooden toys. He is the owner of Superham Designs and a winner of multiple Designer Toy Awards!

Get in touch with Gary

Key Takeaways

“Just have fun! Practice, practice, practice to get better and explore to grow!”

Resources mentioned

💡 Please note: We are supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! For more info, please read our disclosure.

Special thanks to Gary for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Gary Ham, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello everyone and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists five days a week. My name is Iva and my guest today is Gary Ham the owner of Super Ham Designs you will learn how he started creating his own designer toys and how he defines his design and toy brand.

Gary Ham  

Yeah, my my brand it’s very cute based. It’s very simple forms. It has a little element of graphic design to it it system is this been described as having a very retro vintage feel to it. It’s a it’s it’s very cartoony,

Iva Mikles  

Geddes and illustrator and designer and producer of toys. He is best known for his handmade booth Creations which include acclaimed toys like Hermes Booba looper and the monster Totem. Gary is also a winner of multiplayer design toy award. So please welcome Gary him. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the next episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have my guest here Gary him. Hi,

Gary Ham  

i How are you? Thanks. Thanks for having me. I’m good.

Iva Mikles  

And, like let’s start with your background and maybe you can share what was your creative outlet as a child.

Gary Ham  

Ah, coloring books, mainly a lot of drawing how to drawing books from anything from the old Preston bleyer How to drawing books and just drawing. I love the Warner Brothers cartoons. So you know, Daffy Duck Bugs Bunny, I was constantly drawing all that sort of stuff. So really anything like that my parents, you know, parents were very supportive in my creative outlet. So I always had crayons. And then as I you know, grew up they always gave me sketchpad and pencils.

Iva Mikles  

And to do Did you also create your own coloring books? already? You’re just like, through someone else?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, I think I primarily worked off other people’s and then I guess he I think I definitely started coloring my own artwork. As I got older, probably around. I don’t know, late elementary school, I’m probably started coloring my own stuff. And before that was straight out of a someone else did it and I’ve filled in the blank box.

Iva Mikles  

Do you remember like the first conversation you had with your parents when you told them I want to take this professionally?

Gary Ham  

Cool? Not not honestly, not really. My parents were always super supportive. No matter what I did, whether it was skateboarding or drawing or anything like that. They never had any issue. I never had any pushback. They never had wanted me to be a doctor. And I’m wanting to be a creative and we’ve never had that. So I was really fortunate. My father, when I was in high school, he enrolled me and like this online, wasn’t we didn’t have online back then it was like a mail to like art school. They would, they would, they would mail me my assignments, I would mail them back, and someone would fill it out. And you know, mark it up, and then mail it back. So my dad was always really supportive in that. And then I went to community college, and just did art, you know, standard art programs there. And then, around when I was about 1920, an animation studio moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and my dad was like you, you got to apply. And so I did and I got the job. And that’s when I actually became an official professional. Oh, yeah, that sounds great. And yeah, it’s nice getting paid to do what you like, definitely. And

Iva Mikles  

what was maybe the best advice or what you learned from your parents.

Gary Ham  

Um, probably don’t turn anything down. Don’t be afraid to, to jump in on something. Even if you don’t really know exactly what you’re doing. You could sort of learn as you go, like don’t pass up opportunities and because sometimes those opportunities whether they’re paying or not like I wouldn’t try to like newspaper contest or local contest and a billboard contest like little things like that, anything that kind of get your work out their name out there, and your stuff recognized and 10 that usually tended to lead to the next thing and then you just kind of project jump until bigger and better things come along.

Iva Mikles  

So we try to kind of like the biggest turning points or like decisions you had to do in order to get where you are now.

Gary Ham  

As far as professionally, it was definitely applying for that animation job. I had no animation schooling. I was strictly just doing general study. These are programs at a community college, I submitted they saw enough talent in my my skill set and decided to train me on the job. So that’s probably like the biggest, most exciting thing that really led me into the professional world. But other than that, it’s just been doing my own thing, like I do toys on the side. And then deciding to I was not an established artist, I didn’t know I was not people were not familiar with my characters in my work. And I decided to go into self production into toys, whether whether that succeeded or not, that was just a route I wanted to go a direction of passion that I had. So going into full production with a toy that you know, I didn’t know was gonna sell or not. That was also another huge, you know, choice I made in my life and it panned out.

Iva Mikles  

It’s a fourth fascinated you on toys. Why did you decide to do that?

Gary Ham  

I have always been a lover and collector of toys. I mean, from when I was kid playing GI Joes and transformers to even when I got into my 20s and when I got my first house, it was decorated with toys. If wall the wall toys, all the walls were crazy colors, I mean, my dad probably found it pretty humorous. It looked like Disneyland in my house. We had purple and pink walls and green walls and then on every shelf was Batman animated toys and spawn toys and Simpsons toys. And I was just I don’t know something about the toy aesthetic has always appealed to me. And I don’t know it just, you know, my day job was never in toys. It was always either an animation or graphic design or illustration work for magazines or doing storyboards. While I was doing freelance for a long time. So it was doing you know, I love work for magazines and storyboards for commercials and all this different sort of stuff. But toys was always where I always felt more directed. I always wanted to do lean more on the kids side of things. And my style is very clean and graphic design. But I wouldn’t say I’m a graphic designer, I’m more of a character designer. And I think that’s why like toys appealed to me. Oh, yeah.

Iva Mikles  

Because now as you mentioned that the colors and toys and everything you can do even like experience events, you know, you can invite people in and they can take pictures for Instagram now is getting so popular.

Gary Ham  

Yeah. Usually when someone walks into my house that you don’t understand it like why are your grown man? Why do you have all these toys but I usually have to justify it and just say it’s you know, I have boys. This is this. Yeah, this is just who I am. I like toys. You know, some people decorate their house with balls of twine and horseshoes and flower vases. I decorate mine with toys.

Iva Mikles  

So what is your favorite toy as you say aside of yours is a GI Joe? And do you have something like new you can pinpoint? Like oh, this is really cool now

Gary Ham  

I’m just anything designer toy. I love all the original stuff. I mean, licensed toys are great. You know, I can say Transformers or GI Joe. That’s what your your listener base is gonna be familiar with. But I prefer the ones that are designed by independent artists that they produce themselves. So it’s tends to be the more obscure stuff. So I’m not sure I can really pinpoint anything like that. But one of my favorite designers is a like Nathan ravages I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, but just any anything that’s original and weird and quirky. I have a love for vintage looking toys, Halloween themed toys, just anything that’s whimsical and fun. I tend to lean on the cuter side of toys as well.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, nice. Do you like any resources or sites that people can like follow if they want to, you know, check out toys?

Gary Ham  

Yes, I have a podcast called The Martian toy hour. It’s a weekly podcast where we discuss anything and everything going on in designer toy world. But if you wanted to stay on top of what’s going on in designer toy scene, like there’s lots of great daily toy blogs for that there’s Spanky stokes.com, or the toy chronicle.com toys are evil. I mean, you can search just search the word designer toys just Google it and tons of information will pop up for that. Yeah, running a daily blog that is so much work is thinking really needs to be on top of the news feeds and all the artists and posting all that stuff. So we just decided to do a podcast and just discuss all of that and what’s coming out weekly I find it much easier here but but as you know running a podcast it’s it’s never as easy as everyone seems. I think they think let’s say this is an hour long recording people will assume oh, you only do it for an hour. But that’s that’s not the case. Right? You got to do like prep time and research and then you got to edit and clean it up. So there’s always a lot more involved when I think when what people expect.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. And so when you mentioned as well that you have a lot of toys and you draw and you create, do you also like do we do boys? Or do they learn from you?

Gary Ham  

My boys are they’re only two and four. So my four year olds just starting to kind of notice that dad does toys and I’m playing with my toys, but they don’t, they’re not. I’m just now starting to get him into trying the four year old. The two year old. He’s a mad scribbler, the coloring book can’t stay within lines. But yeah, I eventually I’ll get to get my boys, you know, a little more on the creativity and drawing in all that that’s gonna be fun painting and drawing with them. That’s gonna be awesome.

Iva Mikles  

And when you said as well with the, with the university and when you’re studying on your own, how did you? Or did you have a mentor when you were just starting out or someone who inspired you the like to do this?

Gary Ham  

No, I can’t say that I really did. I was very much self taught. Like I said, even my art schooling there. It was, it was just very general studies, it was never focused in any one area I didn’t like stick with one teacher who, who taught me anything and everything. It was just my skill set, which is sort of picked up from just a wide variety of people from people in the animation world and then just influences you know, little artistic styles or approaches that I picked up from research searching online or heard artists or stuff like that. So I’m kind of just a melting pot a mixed bag of inspirations and mentors.

Iva Mikles  

So how did you approach learning if someone wants to do what do you do now? Or you know they’re just starting out? How did you kind of collected your your knowledge did you look at like the masters of the past? And then you kind of did the observation like daily or how did you do that?

Gary Ham  

Right um, I was big into to searching on the web, there’s a time where blogs were huge what follow all my favorite artists on their blogs and download all this inspiration they had, I would collect old like Tosh and books where it was, you know, popular robot designs or like old app, I love the old vintage advertising of candy wrappers and soap bottles, and just old toy designs from the 50s and 60s. If I go to like a grocery store today, like most of the packaging, design and character design on cereal boxes and stuff, they don’t appeal me appeal to me today. I’m not really that new style. I’m very much love the old vintage stuff. So I would like I would say my personal style is very heavily borrowed from the old designers of you know of the 50s and 60s and 70s. Do you just the old vintage stuff? Rankin bass stuff? Old Warner Brothers cartoons and just old advertising?

Iva Mikles  

And did you have like, favorite books as well? Where you are learning from? Can you recommend something for our audience to check out?

Gary Ham  

Um, yeah, Ed Emberley drawing books where I was huge into those real, just real simplified, like, how to break down, you know, form into simple shapes. For me, that’s really important. I’m not really heavy into into heavy detail. I like basic, simple shapes, things that make beautiful silhouettes. I’d like to work about straights against curves. So Shane line has the big inspiration. Just a gold vintage. You know, Ed Emberley Preston Blair animation books was something I drew from from constantly when I was a kid, art of Disney books. And a lot of those Animation Art of books were a lot you see a lot of the character animation sketches and all the concept art and all that sort of stuff. I would just collect tons of art books, and it’s just, you know, constantly look through them and figure out why did they do this? Or how did they like that? That was primarily where I learned from probably more so than from schooling was just teaching myself to look at images and artwork and learn how did they do that and kind of dissect it and break it down.

Iva Mikles  

So you would look at one image, for example, and then you will see like, Okay, I like this and why do I like it? Is it the life or shape or something like that? Okay, exactly.

Gary Ham  

Is it the suppression of the proportions? Is it the organic shapes? Is it just a color scheme? Or just the simplicity? Or was it was it more of the expression isn’t because sometimes something has, it’s an it’s super expressive drawing, and it’s beautiful, but there’s other times like toys, it tends to be a very static image, a static pose, but that sort of works for me too. If it’s if it has a nice design to it? I don’t I don’t mind that so but there’s expressive or static it just as long as it appeals to me then I’ve I tried to understand why that you know why I like it so much.

Iva Mikles  

And how long do you think it took you to kind of find your own art style? Because you know, a lot of starving artists are like, Oh, I don’t have my own art style. And you know, when did that get there?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, you tend to like fumble around you definitely have some inspirations and and sometimes it’s just you don’t even realize what you’re borrowing from. Sometimes it’s just in your subconscious. And, you know, someone might pointed out like, that looks like so and so you’re like, Well, yeah, you’re right. Is it So as you’re trying to learn your style, you’re kind of borrowing from a lot of things that you like and Springboarding off of things that you’ve seen and done. I don’t know, I would say it probably, it took several years of actually just working around and, and piecing it together, it wasn’t something that I was actually aware of. It’s just something that you just kind of, it just sort of happens over time. And, you know, as you sit down and draw without having to look at any inspiration, you know, sometimes you’ll, you will search the internet for inspiration, and maybe you’ve been inspired by that. But other times, when you’re just sketching just off the top of your head. I think that’s mainly when your true style comes out.

Iva Mikles  

And how would you describe your brand? Like, is there something which goes through your branding or vision through all of your creations?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, my, my brand, it’s very cute based. It’s very simple forms. It has a little element of graphic design to it. It’s just it’s been described as having a very retro vintage feel to it. It’s a it’s it’s very cartoony, it’s also very simple shapes. It’s not overly sculpted. I know whimsical, cute fun is very much what I’m into. My brain is very heavy into a sculpt most of my stuff. It’s not the hand sculpted out of clay or anything, but it’s essentially sculpted out of wood. So I’ll hit my woodshop. And so that’s where all the basic shapes come from, you know, for I don’t wait, I don’t Whittle anything out of wood. It’s primarily cut out of blocks of wood to where I can do, you know, simple cutting of shaping out of bandsaw or scroll saw. And so that’s where a lot of the straights versus curves comes against a lot of contrasting and so that’s, that’s kind of like my style is a very vintage cartoony, whimsical, fun, you know, I like to do more things on the happier side, a lot of myself tends to have a vintage Halloween field as well.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And do you have something strange which inspires you as well or other people think it’s strange.

Gary Ham  

You mean, like, things that I would find inspirational that others would find like you know, I do this thing, like anytime I walk into like a, like a public restroom, or you know, like all the like a heavy marbled countertop, or a brick fireplace that has like a lot of brick work or flagstone work. I’ll try to look for all the for shapes on those. And sometimes you, you might like, you know, see a weird, like a rock that looks like a weird sort of something. Or you might look at a Yeah, like a weird looking face. Or sometimes those just organic shapes can inspire you and can, it’s just something that maybe you wouldn’t normally think of. And that’s where a lot of those organic shapes come from a woodgrain on a door or a marble of a bathroom or a kitchen countertop or a fireplace. I tend to find a lot of like interesting shapes through through that. So that’s always pretty interesting.

Iva Mikles  

We actually talked about these, one of our guests as well in the past like, oh, yeah, that’s actually the same, like just looking for a face. Marble or something. Yeah.

Gary Ham  

So yeah, it happens all the time. I’ll be washing my hands in a public restroom. Like that looks like a witch. And then you know, I’ll draw that shape down in the sketchbook just so I remember it. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, yeah, I should do that as well. But sometimes that happened to me as well as like, Oh, this is cool. This is cool. But then I don’t catch it and I forget. So yeah,

Gary Ham  

that yeah, a lot of times I would always say like, have a sketchbook handy. You know, you know, just something to just quickly jot, either, you know, a quick drunkness you know, a thumbnail sketch down or an idea down because you’re right, you think you’re gonna remember it and then like three hours later the next day it’s gone. It’s gone.

Iva Mikles  

It’s like one of those things I want you to remember something

Gary Ham  

it happens all the time. I have dreams great dreams all the time. And I’m too too lazy to wake myself out of a full sleep to jot it down. I’m like I’ll remember it. I never remember my dreams. Never.

Iva Mikles  

Do you have a favorite sketchbook something’s like small you carry around all the time.

Gary Ham  

I actually don’t they’re just like standard generic sketchbooks. I don’t work any favorite mole skins or a lot of times it’s just like standard print paper. Oh, carry around and I usually have a pencil but no, I actually don’t walk around with a sketch pad I’m a lot artists do they like they always have something with them. But for the most part, I just you know, if I have to jot something down on a napkin in a restaurant or something, I’ll do that. But I don’t have a sketchbook handy at all times.

Iva Mikles  

So you don’t have any favorite brains. Like this is the pencil I laugh or

Gary Ham  

I don’t know. No, I’m pretty simple. I know. I like a big sketcher and sketch pads I I tend to just work off of really a lot of times it’s just my desktop I draw digitally right into my my way calm or my you know, whatever it is I’m working on or my Cintiq but other times I’ll just grab a sheet of you know, print paper out of The printer and sketch on that.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. So, yes. You mentioned before we, like talked about a bit more like how you design your day? Or how do you do everything at once. So can you take us through your like, classic day? How do you manage to do so many projects at once?

Gary Ham  

Oh, yeah, yes, you gotta juggle, he just got juggle your priorities, I do have a full time day job. So that is definitely priority number one, you know, family would be priority number two, so anytime with the wife and kids when I get home, and then after that, I usually tend to burn the midnight oil, doing my own personal stuff, or whatever side project comes along. So I try to work on my own personal stuff when I can. But I always seem to have something a side project going for, for someone else, whether it’s a toy design for another company, or so I don’t get to work on my own personal stuff, all that much of Cree kids, I got to do that a lot. My weekends were open to do whatever I wanted, I would go in the woodshop spend a couple hours every Saturday and Sunday, do my own thing. But now, it’s just all about prioritizing, you know, I definitely try to do a daily sketch, when I can at work, you know, sketching during lunch or something like that. But otherwise, you know, my personal drawing time tends to start around 10pm. And then till about, you know, 10pm to midnight is usually my time to do my own thing. And a lot of times it’s a word for someone else, you know, unfortunate, but that’s a good thing.

Iva Mikles  

That’s a good thing as well. So you can make more honors on the side? And how do you combine your income streams? Do you have one main income stream from the daily job? Or do you kind of split it into like the table with more legs of income?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, so the main income stream, it’s definitely the the day job, you know, that’s what I ensure pays the bills and take care, all the important stuff, that’s, that’s where all that that my day job pays for all that. And then whatever I do on the side, I do a lot of toys, I sell toys from my online and, and whatnot, that that’s just kind of like side money. And then usually what I make from that I’ll roll into toy production or making pins or banners or whatever merchandise you can for I do a lot of conventions and, and stuff like that. So it’s, you know, what I do on the side, it is a nice secondary income stream. But it’s not one that I’m really that heavily reliant on. I mean, it could be stronger. I wouldn’t say I’m like the most focused, I mean, I definitely like to enjoy watching movies and spending time with the kids. So yeah, I could probably make it do a really decent, like, maybe I could probably even do it full time if I wanted to. But I kind of like having that day job, where the stress is taken off of me, I know that it’s paying for the bills, I was paying for health care. And you know, I don’t have to constantly job hunt and always worry where the next paycheck is coming from. So it’s nice having that full time day job and the toys, you know, stuff and side jobs and side projects definitely is a nice side side income.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And as you Yeah, maybe some of our audience they don’t know, like, what do you do as a job if you can just mention?

Gary Ham  

Oh, yeah, so my day job, I’m an artist and animator for an educational company. So we’ll animate characters for mainly digital products, it was educational company, it was a very print based world for forever. And now everything’s going digital. So essentially, we’re, we’re redoing all the books into the digital in the digital world. So we’ll animate texts on screen characters, to engage the kids for the learning lessons and stuff like that. So that’s what my day job is.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, perfect. And let’s talk maybe about the production of the toys, you usually talk about it on your podcast, but maybe we can just type some like points or just like really top line. What do you make? Sure, yeah, what is kind of the biggest learnings with you kind of nano over the time with producing toys?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, the biggest learning is just getting a feel for the market. I mean, a lot of people don’t know what designer toys are shows, it’s a very niche market. So you were just really need to develop your fan base in that regard. But as far as like learning to learn, like how to make your own toys, you need to a lot of research goes into manufacturing. So a lot of times when you when you just get something, it’s not always the best designed to have multiples made of sometimes it does lend itself to having a cast or a mold made of it. You really need to learn like the industrial techniques used for the manufacturing of toys and be aware of that. And that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. Getting into toys is I would just do a sketch and not be concerned about the molding process or the pad printing process or how things were done. And so you kind of learn that as you go about with anyone who’s wanting to get in Did toys, definitely familiarize yourself with it, I’m not saying that you have to mold it would be definitely helpful if you learn how to mold and cat toys yourself. But if you can’t do that, or you don’t want to do that, it’s definitely an expense to do that. Maybe pick up a book, there’s books out there that will teach you the process. And maybe you can just familiarize yourself with how that happens. And definitely it just just to get into toys it is, it’s a very independent market. It’s, it’s we’re not making 1000s and 1000s of toys. I mean, there are some very established artists who that can move 1000s of product, but the desire toy scene, it’s a very limited edition, sort of handmade scenes. So you know, a lot of times I’ll just make 10 Wood toys, and then you know, hand paint them and sell them directed. A lot of people love that getting something obtainable from an artist is created hand drawn directly from the artist. But sometimes you have a design that’s a lot more popular, and more than 10 people want, are willing to want that design and buy it. And when you’re doing something in a microphone 10 and hand painting it, it tends to be a little spendy till so you know, something could be several $100. And that’s, that’s something your entire fan base can afford. So it’s nice to have different price ranges for your fan base. So if you have something for the high end, you know, collectors, that’s great, the one something that you can paint and handmade, but then have something in the $20 range, whether it’s a pin or a pennant, or poster or print that someone can just pick up and you can, you know, if you want to make that limited edition to you can hand number sign that but you just have the different price levels, because not everyone can afford the expensive stuff. And there’s always someone who’s just stumbled across you and they like your work, but they only have you know, 2010 You know, $20, especially if you’re doing the convention scene, definitely have some cheaper items, you know, $10 $5, buttons, $10, pins, $20 prints, anything they cover the gamut.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely, because that’s what I also want my experience on conventions, because people want to go around more, so they want to have more stuff. So they just buy the cheaper things first. And when they have someone really favorite then they buy, like more.

Gary Ham  

Exactly. I mean, yeah, you go to a lot of these conventions and artists have, it’s great. They had they brought their handmade stuff, and it’s hundreds of dollars. But the average attendee doesn’t have that they have hotel costs, and they have, they usually come in with a budget of maybe 200, up to 100, or $200. And they want to support as many artists as possible. So generally, they’re not going to drop all their money on one item, they’d rather buy multiple items.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And so what are the conventions you go to or something you really like?

Gary Ham  

I’m primarily here in the States, it’s a the toy convention would be designer con is would definitely one of the biggest, biggest conventions. They also call it D con, this designer con, that one’s coming up in November. Another really big one, very designer toy themed are really independent. All of these are independent artists theme, they’re not just designer toys, they initially started out with the direction of designer toy artists, but then they’ve grown to just the independent artists in general, from T shirt makers to printmakers really anyone who’s just handmaking. And doing the small independent runs themselves. So the five points fest is another big one. A lot of the larger conventions, the comic conventions, that was initially where we started out, but they slowly started pushing out the independent artists like that just the cost of the booze and the expensive of, of the hotel costs and all that. So a lot of these other people within the scene, they started these conventions that are more directed for us, and our collector base where the collectors, you know, to get into the convention, it’s only, you know, 10 $20 ticket to get in versus a Comic Con can be 100, you know, $150 for your trivia weekend ticket, that doesn’t leave a lot of money for people to spend on the item. So, you know, really, for me, it’s designer con and five points are the two big ones. And then if you wanted to attend the occasional comic convention, you can do that too. But I pretty much don’t do those ones anymore.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And if you would, like, if someone wants to try something small for the convention like pins, or I don’t know, buttons, would you recommend them to search for a producer in their area or online or overseas? Or what is your experience?

Gary Ham  

It really, really depends. I would definitely just do your research. If you know someone who’s done something, a lot of times just just ask them. I know some people are, you know, holding us up close to chest. They know for some reason people don’t like to share their information. I think there’s like I did the research, you should do the research, but you know, you know, you can email me I’m always real helpful. I have no problem sharing the information because I definitely know as far as like overseas manufacturing, it’s really He really hard to find the information and you don’t want to be sending 1000s of dollars over to a company that you’re not familiar with. So that’s scary. But as far as if you have like a local printer, you can you can rely that you know, rely on them for making your posters or prints or your buttons or something like that. But there’s a lot of, if you’re into the there’s a kind of a movement in the art enamel pins game going on. There’s, there’s a lot of producers in that a lot of artists are producing that. So you, you know, contact and maybe a few hours, a lot of watch. They even say where they got that done. But you know, I would say approach everything with hesitancy do your research, because a lot of these places are just newly startups, they don’t have their full business up and running or you know, so just I always say just be wary, do your research and ask around before just jumping into something. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And if you’re really just like, Okay, I don’t know how to do research, or what would I search for? Like, Oh, where do I do enamel pins? Or what would you search or quality enamel pins? Or, you know,

Gary Ham  

yeah, pretty much I mean, for enamel pen, just search enamel pin productions, or manufacturing. Or if you’re into designer toys, you can actually search designer toy manufacturing or production. And just do like the simple basic words usually, if exactly what you’re thinking things are typed that into Google. And that’s, that’s usually going to bring something up. And then if that doesn’t happen, then if you saw a toy from someone, just contact that company director that artists direct, and maybe they can point you in the right direction. Not all the artists are willing to do that. I know a lot of them have become jaded. Over the time with sharing information, you’ll you’ll take, you know, 30 minutes or an hour out of your day to type in, you know, a nice letter and respond, you know, to a, you know, a fans email trying to help them and then a lot of times you don’t get something back. And so I know a lot of ours and become jaded, like, why am I spending time when they don’t seem appreciative. So I would say if you do reach out to an artist, definitely let them know that you appreciate their help, or let them know that you have done some research and you’re not just relying on them to tell them exactly what to do. And if they do take the time to respond to you. Please take the time to like thank them and show them that you’re appreciative of their time and knowledge.

Iva Mikles  

If someone wants to contact you, what would be the best place to reach out?

Gary Ham  

Or you can reach out you My website is super ham.com my contact info and information on that is on there. Otherwise, you could just email super ham.com and I’ll definitely try to answer any questions anyone has

Iva Mikles  

perfect and whatever the the, the project you are working on now something exciting coming up, you can share already.

Gary Ham  

I know a lot of that stuff is under a nondisclosure agreement contracts. So it’s definitely but we have some exciting toys coming out. I’m working with several different companies. So that’s, that’s gonna be fun. What is there, you know, a lot of minifigure designs. Some I like toys, shelving, so I’m working on some of that. So we’re sort of stuff where it’s, it has the toys, that IQ, but you can actually use it as shelving for your toys, a lot of toy collectors, they just kind of run out of space. So what I’ve kind of done is making toys shelving, so it still lends to that collector base, but it gives them more room to put some of their stuff. So So you know, I’m definitely gonna be working on more of that sort of stuff that that really excites me that sort of stuff. And the a lot of the stuff unfortunately, I can’t share him at the moment. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And with the shelves, you can also share with your own experience, right? Because you have a lot of noise. So you know exactly how it should be.

Gary Ham  

I do. I do. I do. I always love furniture, design and stuff like that, too. So it’s nice being able to go on the woodshop and make something that’s not just a small toy, I enjoy making the small toys for gallery shows or, you know, you know, that’s my initial sculpt as I’ll make something out of wood. And then I’ll send that to a factory to be mass produced. They’ll cast it from my wood, and then they’ll just mass produce it from there. But for the most part, I do enjoy making those larger one off items, which tend to like the shelving

Iva Mikles  

and do you have a studio at home? Or do you have to travel somewhere?

Gary Ham  

No, I my garage is a it’s a it’s an oversized garage. So I have a decent woodshop set up in there. So I don’t have to move the cars or anything, which is nice. So you know, the cars can fit in the garage and the woodshop fits in there

Iva Mikles  

too. Yeah, perfect. And how do you find new paid projects? Or how do you get yourself noticed? Is it usually the social media or the events you go to?

Gary Ham  

You know, initially when I was just starting out, I would send stuff out I would look up art directors or editors or art editors or in magazines and I would send them like samples of my work. That’s how I got a lot of my freelance work when I was a freelancer was just me like mail marketing. But that’s changed a lot back when I was doing that there was no social media. So I will say definitely today, it’s, you know, keep your insert whatever you’re using for social marketing, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, I know a lot of people, Instagram is primarily what people are using for their portfolios nowadays are not keeping up to date on their websites, it’s primarily the Instagram. I’m even a victim of not keeping up on my websites and you know, superhero.com it’s, it’s been it’s been neglected. It’s I haven’t been keeping it up with the most current toys I’ve I’ve released and stuff like that. So for me, it’s definitely been Instagram, doing art shows, I never turn anything down. So if I get approached for doing, you know, I unfortunately, when I was just starting out, don’t turn things down, take anything and everything. As you become more established, you can kind of, I guess, become a little more selective, you know, you know, prioritize, prioritize your time. But yeah, definitely just social market yourself. Like, a lot of things, comment to different are, that if you comment to a different artists and lunchtimes you’ll recognize, oh, this, this person left me a comment, and then you, you know, you’re on their feet, and then you see their stuff, and then they’re following you. So if a project comes up, and they liked your artwork, you know, they’ll keep you in mind. Yeah. And

Iva Mikles  

also, it’s good to comment, not just like, cool and awesome, or something really generally, yeah.

Gary Ham  

Yeah, that stuff will tend to get lost. And I know a lot of people will, like, love to go to someone’s page and like 40 different things and thinking that, but I was definitely try to engage with whoever you’re trying to, you know, get noticed from, yeah, you know, you’re liking someone’s great, but sometimes, the more popular artists don’t get 1000s of likes, so you just kind of you get lost amongst the mix. So it definitely what you said exactly what you said, you know, you can say nice or cool or awesome, but say something that’s a little more memorable that makes them want to, don’t say hey, check out my art. Oh, yeah. That’s, that’s almost Stanny to me. I was definitely just just be friendly, engaging and complimentary. And a lot of times, an artists or an art director or whatever, like, check out in your work. You were

Iva Mikles  

good. But yeah, as you were mentioning, it’s like these comments like, oh, just come check out my page. He’s done. I heard it in other podcasts, like someone was mentioning, like, you’re gonna walk up to someone like, will you marry me? You know, you want to like, you know, get some relationship first. So yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. So I think that’s

Gary Ham  

exactly.

Iva Mikles  

And when you were also mentioning the, the new jobs and that you are trying to take as many projects as possible. But how does it look like when you have to say no, what is going on in your head? Like, how do you choose?

Gary Ham  

Yeah, at that point, you just gotta choose what you want, or what you want to work on. There was a point where I was taking meaning in anything and everything, and I wasn’t enjoying every single project. So over the time, I’ve learned, what do I enjoy? Is the timeframe doable? Is it a project I’m going to enjoy, because a lot of that a lot of this stuff is done. Late after hours, after I put my kids to bed, generally, I’m pretty tired. So is it something that’s going to interest me, if there’s a lot of projects all at once, unfortunately, you know, you do have to turn things down. And I would say just do the thing that you want to do most, sometimes you might take something off, because it might give you the most exposure maybe it’s a great show with a lot of other artists, you know, that might get your your artwork noticed and looked at. But if it doesn’t interest, you don’t force it, just do what you enjoy. And that’s and that’s I think that’s my best advice I can give you don’t force it, don’t do anything that you’re not really into. Because otherwise you’re gonna prescribe me a pressure, procrastinate and put that off. And next thing you know, you’re going to be having to do that over one on one weekend, and you might not be doing your best work. So do what you want to do the most and then turn down anything that’s kind of like I don’t feel like doing that. Yeah, you definitely never take on a project that’s that doesn’t fit, you know, I know some artists will take things on that. It’s not them and they’re forcing their artwork into whatever this assignment was and you know, in don’t do something that’s your style, don’t do a project. If you need the money and you need to do like a side project or take on a freelance project that’s not working how you normally would you’re being forced to work in something else, you know, if you need the money, take that job, but otherwise do the things that’s best suited for you and your style. Yeah, definitely.

Iva Mikles  

And so when you were talking about the procrastination and the you also have like these down days when you have to motivate yourself and what do you do if you need to motivate yourself?

Gary Ham  

I’ll sure I mean, like I said, I love binge watching things on Netflix and movies and you can death Really let procrastination get away from you. At that point, you know, it’s just when that happens, I’ll just like start sketching. And then then that kind of once, once I start doing it, I enjoy it. But if I, if I let myself go a few days without sketching, I know as I just start slacking off more and more than I do, I enjoy a lot of doing a lot of different side things, too. So I’m not, I’m probably one of those artists that’s easily distracted, I can go days and sometimes I go a couple of weeks without really being heavy creative. In that happens, when you’re when you work in it for when you’re really doing it. And you’re doing it heavily for weeks and months at a time. So you’re preparing for a show, or a gallery or a convention or something like that. You can burn yourself out. So allow yourself to, you know, to relax and, you know, reenergize and stuff like that. But when you need to, like respect that, that creative energy, I usually just start with just just doodling just and sometimes just from that doodling, there’s always something in those doodles that it kind of excites you. And then you’ll like just kind of start hitting the you know, the the heavy projects again.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And do you have something which simplifies your life? Something maybe you bought recently, maybe for planning or some tool or medium?

Gary Ham  

You know, I wish I had something cool for that answer. But I don’t know. I mean, everything’s just kind of in my head. I’m very regimented. My life is very routine. So I don’t need any additional help in that area. It’s just, you know, stick to your routine. And as long as you stick to that, like when I fall off my routine, that’s what I noticed. And when I start prescribed procrastinating, so, no, but there’s no like new technology, or anything that’s really helped me in any of those areas. I wish I had a cool answer for you, though.

Iva Mikles  

Do you? Like do something daily, which kind of contributes to your success, like meditation or sport? Or like, I don’t know.

Gary Ham  

No, it’s mainly the, my daily stuff is just trying to stay inspired. And by doing that, I try to, you know, always try to, you know, find it, spend a couple minutes looking, you know, through the feeds on Instagram, just really staying on top of things, you know, the new cutting edge things or new approaches, or, you know, like, Instagram live feeds, watching live videos, and a lot of times I’ll watch, you know, sculptors, there are different approaches to sculpting or that sort of stuff. I try to stay up on top of that as much as possible. Then for like, the designer toy scene, I just follow all the daily toy blogs just to try to stay on top of what’s releasing and staying inspired in that area. And then trying to do like a daily sketch. That’s, I think that’s really important, too.

Iva Mikles  

And maybe let’s talk also about like, the worst carrier moment, if you had something like that, like, most difficult time, and what do you learn from it? What would be like the key takeaway,

Gary Ham  

um, man, worst moments. I’ve been accused of biting or, like, sometimes when people say that they see too much of another artist in my work. And that’s, that’s tough, because I know that we’re all inspired by the same artists, like when you like, I know, the person that who did accuse me of this, we had the same inspirations we drew a lot from, it’s not like, their work wasn’t the most original either. It’s like, the today with, especially with social media, it’s so easy to be influenced by so many others. And so that sort of it didn’t bring me down because I knew that my work was It’s my style, it’s my own, and I don’t think they were very familiar with my own style. So for them to sort of accuse me of plagiarizing their work that sort of graded on me the wrong way. But I think it’s important to note I didn’t really respond to it. Because you don’t want to feel that you don’t want to get into you know, another big learning lesson is do not get into these social media Brahma things if someone was to Yeah, someone accuses you of something like that, like don’t respond to it on public, you can respond you know, send them a private message and maybe you can you know, work it out over private but don’t make things so public to where everyone’s is like, you know, going to run out, you know, get a bag of popcorn and they’re just gonna sit there watching your, your drama happening on Facebook and Yeah, cuz it happens more often than not, I see that sort of stuff all the time. And it’s hard not to want to jump in and protect an artist or someone who’s been accused of something like that. Recently, I saw an artist’s They were saying that yeah, their artwork was stolen from another artist and their feed got ugly really, really fast, like a lot of their fan base came to the protection of the artists that was being stolen. And unfortunately, it was sad, it was a sad case of a very young artist, she was only like 15, or 16. And she was very heavily influenced by this artist. And apparently, she was signing other artists work as her own, and which, you know, you’re never supposed to do but the fan base got really, really nasty, like giving her death threats and just bowling around. I don’t like seeing that sort of stuff. So. But those are learning lessons. And that sort of made me, you know, take a look like was maybe I focus the artists who accused me of plagiarizing their work. You know, they were favorite artists of mine, too, because their artwork was very similar to my own. So it appealed to me, and then I had to take a step back and think, you know, I wasn’t consciously trying to rip their work, but what was it? You know, subconsciously was maybe a little too close? And should I have been aware of that, and then when that’s sort of when you need to step back and take a look from the outside in and then out, ask some friends, like, you know, it was brought up and you get some, you, it’s very important to get honest feedback from your friends or family. You know, a lot I know, a lot of times it’s very easy for them to want to, to not want to hurt your feelings, but I think it’s also very important to give constructive criticism and and even if they’re harsh comments. You just don’t take offense to it. Just learn from that and then build from that.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. As well, as you said, like if someone is practicing, or they just want to just study some art closely. Or then they can just say like, I was inspired maybe by this I was really practicing this drawing and then when they like move on later on, of course, we are influenced by many different artists. So if it is not exact, like color pose and exactly everything, then

Gary Ham  

Right? Yeah. Yeah, I would say if you ever do that sort of thing, if you if you know, you’re very heavily inspired by I know maybe one of your favorite artists and it’s going to be something that other the fan base or that artist is instilling in the notice. Maybe if you post that into Instagram or Facebook made me that you can note it first that you were inspired by this person because what’s going to happen if you don’t do that someone is going to pounce on you and accuse you of biting or plagiarizing that artist or being too heavily influenced. And, and it’s I think it’s perfectly okay to be influenced and springboard off of artists and stuff like that. But when something’s too reminiscent, and it feels like someone else’s work and not your own, that’s something to be aware of, and definitely pointed out. When you do your post.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, and what do you see now is a like the worst advice a young our like starting artists or getting or maybe if you ever get like the worst advice ever.

Gary Ham  

Um, that’s a tough one. I would say probably kind of goes back to what we were just talking about, like, be inspired by, but don’t learn and break down what it is about other artists that you enjoy. But don’t necessarily don’t necessarily just take it as your own. And I think that happens a lot in when you’re first developing your style. I know in middle school and definitely in middle school, I was drawing borrowing very heavily from Disney and, and stuff like that. And Joe is I just be aware of it. And I think it was just with the way the internet is now I think a lot of the younger artists believe is very easily to just make things their own like like, like intellectual properties and licensed stuff. There’s a lot of fan art out there. It’s not, it’s not yours to sell. It’s not. But I understand that if it’s something you’re very passionate about, and you want to kind of do your own version fan art of that licensed property. That’s fine. But unfortunately, when you go to conventions and stuff now, a lot of artists are trying to base their income on doing fan art of licensed products and they’re not getting the license. They’re just, they’re just doing it. And I say that’s, that’s not the greatest way to approach things. Definitely try to work in your own original style. But if you want to get your artwork noticed, sometimes it is easier to do something that’s if you want to do an Adventure Time fan art and hashtag that in Instagram. Yeah, people might notice it and they might like your style. But definitely try to work your style into that adventure to Adventure Time artwork, don’t just do the Adventure Time and then post it as your own. You know, if you do that just, you know draw the event. For a time style on your own, but don’t necessarily say that it’s your drawing. So I was like just be, I think younger artists aren’t very aware of intellectual property and licensed property, it’s, they almost feel what they see on the internet is for the taking. And it’s not, it’s really, it’s someone else’s brand, someone’s worked hard to build and establish that brand. And it’s the same with artists too, like their style is something they’ve built and worked hard for years to develop that style. So don’t just think that style is for the taking. And unfortunately, it happens all the time someone thinks that someone’s in American artists, and they’re in Ukraine or Russia, and they, for some reason, think that they can get away with it, because it’s not, maybe someone’s not familiar with the, the American artists with your Ukrainian friends, or, you know, students and in school are probably not aware that American artists and you know, they’ll kind of like say it’s their own work, and you see it all the time. And I would say, definitely be aware of that. And just don’t go into the area, you know, keep fan art fan art, and but don’t take someone else’s art as your own.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Because as well, as you mentioned, when you have the Instagram feed, or you want to get noticed that whatever, Avengers, or Arielle or whoever, if you do fine art, it’s good on social media, but if you want to sell your own prints, that is kind of gray area, and it shouldn’t be done. But yeah, so try to sell your own artworks.

Gary Ham  

Yeah, I don’t necessarily have a problem with selling the fan art. But when you base your entire portfolio on the fan art, it’s, I would rather see an artist do like a mixed work when you go to their, their table at a convention, yeah, you can see the the fan work, but you should be able to see their original works as well. But I know, you know, these properties, a lot of them, you know, they’ll jump on you. And some properties don’t like you working, and they are in their medium, but some art, you know, properties really don’t have a problem with it. Because in a way, you’re helping promote their products. So it’s a gray area. And I don’t know the fine line of where things are, how to tell your you know, any any of your listeners what to do and what not to do. But I would say just be aware of it and just kind of, again, just be aware of its intellectual property and the same art and stuff like that.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. And then let’s talk about the future. And I would like to know, how would you imagine like five to 10 years? And what would be your dream scenario? What are your projects you’re working on? Or if you cannot fail, and you’re not afraid of anything, and everything is how you want?

Gary Ham  

No unfortunate I can I get I’m very fortunate to say that everything is very much how I how I want right now perfect. I don’t, you know, there’s, there’s sure there’s always aspirations to have something you’ve done licensed out, and you know, go more broad, were you I would love to go something, you know, what, what Toki what’s happening with Tokidoki right now, their brand is on, it’s on everything, you know, Tokidoki backpacks, and apparel, he’s got his own, you know, his clothing, you know, store and he’s just exploded. And so you know, that’s something I would like to aspire to. But it’s not necessarily a dream of mine, I don’t have that character base that he has that he’s really exploded until I kind of work in character design a lot of different things. So I am working in what I want to do. So I am self producing toys, I’m working with our companies to help produce toys with them. And I enjoy just having this artwork thing as a thing on the side is that I don’t know that I want to go full time into doing my own thing I sort of I am sort of scared to do that is I think I would love to do it if it wasn’t a struggle. And, you know, that’s definitely a fear. I think that’s one reason a lot of ours don’t go into following their dreams because there’s a fear of am I going to fail? I can’t say that I necessarily have that there’s nothing that I want to like quit my day job for to try. But what I’m doing on the side is exactly what I want to be doing. And if that becomes bigger and greater, where I need to quit the day job, I definitely would. As long as I know my number one priority is my family. As long as I know that I could quit the day job in a way to where finances aren’t hurt enough to where my family would struggle. So I don’t know. But I have definitely loving life at the moment and really enjoy what I’m doing and I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I may just I would just like more of it.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, that’s nice. And my last question would be what would you like to be remembered for in like 100 years

Gary Ham  

of just toys that made people happy just knowing that I brought smiles on people’s faces in 100 years, I would love to know that my toys have been handed down to the next generation. And, you know, maybe it’s something that you can find in a vintage antique market or something like that, just knowing that, you know, I’m no longer around. But my work is still putting smiles on people’s faces. That’s the legacy that I would like to leave behind.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, that’s super perfect. I really like that. And I’m so happy that you took time and join us here. And thank you so much.

Gary Ham  

Yeah, it’s been fun. Thanks for having me.

Iva Mikles  

It’s been awesome. And now before we say goodbye, maybe you can share the last key takeaway or advice, and then we will finish.

Gary Ham  

Just have fun, practice, practice, practice getting better. And like I said, like, don’t let, don’t let things weigh you down. Like don’t let fears get you down. Push through it. And always try new things. Don’t don’t get working too heavily into one one thing. Don’t be afraid to try sculpting or, or I’m not a big painter, but I forced myself to paint and try new techniques and all of that. Trying new things. It’s gonna it’s only going to help you grow is only going to help you evolve and improve and get better and so definitely don’t be. Don’t be weighed down by fear. Try new things.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. Thanks again. And thanks, everyone for joining. Yeah, thanks so much. Bye. Hope you guys enjoy this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you. So go check it out. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our tight of life podcast because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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