Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I’d been asked by my son’s teacher to chat to the class about being an architect. I was filled with dread that I could potentially bore a class of six year olds with the joys of architecture and knew I had to up my game to come up with something fun and engaging. I centered the activity around sketching famous lookalike buildings, including the Gherkin, the Armadillo and the Pringle. Thankfully the kids loved it, and encouraged by the positive reaction, I decided to take the idea further and launched Skinny Sketcher drawing kits at London Toy Fair 2015. Since then the range has expanded to include tips on how to draw an assortment of cool things from Campervans to Castles.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
That your learning journey should continue throughout your whole life. Never stop being curious.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
When I developed Skinny Sketcher I wanted to reach the kids who say “I’m no good at drawing”. My daughter has always loved sketching but my son was a real reluctant drawer, probably due to his hands constantly being in goalkeeper gloves! For some kids (and adults) drawing can be intimidating and I wanted to remove that by introducing the step by step instructions via tracing. I’ll never tire of witnessing the self pride of reluctant drawers when they discover their hidden talents.
What and/or who inspires you?
Great teachers don’t just furnish children with facts, they inspire and change lives. I was lucky to have more than a few amazing teachers. I remember feeling very empowered when my teacher first told me, aged ten, that I could be anything I wanted to be in life. From that day on I was determined to become an architect. Before I went off to University, Mrs Law, my font of all political knowledge, pulled me to one side and said “You can only be intimidated with your own permission.” On my first day, as a wide eyed eighteen year old at one of the UK’s top Architecture Schools, surrounded by worldly peers, I was grateful for her wisdom. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by a task, I always revert to that mantra, give it my best shot and everything turns out fine.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I lucked out because I shared a room with my older brother who was always willing to let me play with his toys in a one sided transaction. As a result I wasn’t limited solely to traditional girls toys, which in hindsight was a massive plus as my play experience was a wonderful mashup.
I think the best toys are wrapped up in memories and nostalgia. For me, Evel Knievel’s final stunt performed from the top of our hall staircase, will forever be imprinted in my brain. I vividly remember the whirring sound of the wind up mechanism as my brother (not me, mum!) launched Knievel through the air in a perfect arc. But much to our horror his trajectory exceeded our estimations and he continued through the hall window. Our dad emerged like the Hulk, throwing Evel Knievel in the bin and screaming at us in a rage. Once the dust settled and the window was long fixed, we agreed that Evel Knievel would have chosen to exit this world in a fitting blaze of glory. He just wasn’t destined for a long life gathering dust in our attic.
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
Despite growing up in a Scottish council estate, during the Thatcherite era, I never felt deprived in the slightest. As kids, me and my brother were too busy having fun to notice the devastating impact that the car plant and textile mill closures had on our community. All things are relative and our world was pretty small, where our neighbours were all of similar means; no-one had fancy cars and holidays abroad were rare. Besides, social indicators weren’t published back then and as a result I was blissfully unaware that I lived in one of Scotland’s poorest communities. Before my dad was a fireman he was a chef in Scotland’s top restaurants, having cooked for Royalty and the movers and shakers of the sixties. No matter how short money was, quality food was a massive priority to my parents. Food, laughter, love and loud music were plentiful in our home, which made for a ridiculously happy childhood.
As I reached my teenage years I realised I was lucky to have inspirational teachers and parents who encouraged me to take all the opportunities that came my way. Not all of my friends were as fortunate.
Years after leaving Paisley my mum told me that money was especially tight for our family during the fire fighters strike and how our neighbours had a collection for our toys that Christmas. To know that we had neighbours who were so generous while facing their own hardships, confirmed that I’d grown up somewhere pretty special.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Not getting enough shut eye. They use sleep deprivation on prisoners of war for a reason. I make better decisions when well rested.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
The app, Procreate is a nice piece of sketching software to use for quick concepts with the Apple Pencil. Apparently there’s a paper that sits on the screen of the i pad pro, that I keep meaning to check out. I love the current developments of tech with an analogue twist.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
For me the worst thing to do is worry the problem. I take a break, enjoy a distraction, then revisit.
Do you have any pets?
A handsome rescue dog, Skipper. Father unknown.
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
Smile. Or lack of.
Summer or Winter?
Being Scottish I have no choice but to embrace winter all year round.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Line Of Duty, for it’s twists and turns.
Favorite movie of all time?
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, for it’s heartbreaking humour and spirit.
Note from Mary Couzin, Editor: This is Gill and her creative family, Michael, Mya and Zak! Inventor Peggy Brown and I spent an evening with them at their gorgeous and welcoming home in Helensburgh, Scotland between London and Nuremberg Toy Fairs. Michael made us a delicious taco dinner and we played Clue (or Cluedo as it is known there). It was so much fun - I was Mrs. Peacock! Gill's precocious daughter Mya was in control and had us all in stitches all night.