(photo credit: Mike Hoeting)
What do you do in the industry?
I’m a full-time toy inventor at Bang Zoom Design. Outside the industry I’m best known for making artwork using peanuts. In fact, my nickname is “The Painter Of Nuts.” I also make custom wooden toys for art shows AND the fun of it.
What are you working on now?
At this precise moment (11 PM) I’m making a sculpture of Queen Elizabeth from almond shells for a an ad campaign in the UK.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I started out as a packaging designer at a now-defunct company called “Happiness Express.” After moving my way up to product design I met The Kislevitz brothers, who had licensed inventions I was working on. They hired me at their company The Obb and taught me how to invent. After that I went to Bang Zoom Design and it’s a blast there. I’m proud to work for such insanely talented people.
How did you become a peanut artist? How long have you been making these peanut miniatures?
I was eating peanuts one day and noticed the shells looked like people. I drew myself on one with a marker and it made the guys at Bang Zoom laugh. About a year later I was looking for a new hobby and came across the peanut I had made of myself. I decided to apply that idea to famous people and it started there. I had a long way to go at that point in learning how to paint. That was six years ago. The best thing to come out of it was being featured in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” To kids of my generation, that’s like a lifetime achievement award.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite you?
I love that there is an upswing in standalone feature toys and games that are less reliant on licenses and more about innovation and play pattern. Very much like it was in the 1960s when toys like Mr. Machine first hit the shelves.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Don’t spend money on college for a major where there is no clear-cut job that can support you at the end. Painting, for example. Take painting classes, don’t spend 30K per year on it.
What does your typical day look like?
Wake up, Yoga, work, home, work out, dinner/family time, more work while watching Netflix. Sleep. Repeat.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The initial rush of coming up with a good idea.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked the night shift in a cheese factory during college. After losing a fingertip on the third day, I learned never to be in the position again that I had to work the night shift in a cheese factory.
What inspires you?
Classic punk rock, crazy old toys, weird artwork on Instagram.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
The “Anything Muppet” from Knickerbocker Toys.
Where were you born?
What was your life like growing up?
We had woods behind our house and I would spend entire days walking around, catching crayfish, digging holes. A lot of pretending to be an explorer.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
Mercer, PA. A tiny, depressed town in Western, PA. There was a freakish proportion of talented people in my school at the time that made me competitive in the arts. Two of my friends grew up to be actual rock stars, one was a true art prodigy and the other is now a well-known children’s book author. This was public school with a class of 90 students.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Every time I try and create something that I THINK people will like, they usually don’t. But if I just be my weird self there are usually people out there who I reach on some level and they like it.
What do you read every day, and why?
Peanuts comic strips. They’re the first thing I ever learned to read. The wit & wisdom of Charles Schulz never gets tiresome to me. I have old paperbacks of them lying everywhere around my studio.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
I love my Ipad Pro to draw on.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Isolate myself from outside stimuli so my brain has no distractions. This can be a shower, a walk, riding a buffalo, etc...
Do you have any kiddos?
Two teenage daughters. Grace and Isabella.
Do you have any pets?
A cute dog named Maisey.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
What’s your favorite cereal?
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?