All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
This page contains, essentially, two drawings, neither of which were decreed by destiny to ever become products. I did both of them at the same time, perhaps, on the same day. I handed both boards to KISCOM together. Both had the same color cover paper, as if they were a set. In my own mind, that’s what they were. Both were shown to Fisher Price, right off the bat. I have no idea who saw them, after that.
The first of these started out as Pillow Pets, but I came to call, them “Pillow Pals.” They began as a quick sketch that I enlarged and refined. I really liked the look of them. They were more spooky than cute, and, for once, not saccharine sweet. The essence of them is captured in this first sketch. I could envision them in a nightmare, more easily than a pleasant dream.
When I translated them to this larger drawing, I made a subtle effort to soften them up. The delicate pastel ticking is more pleasant than the coarse old fashioned institutional mattress feeling of the sketch, above. Although, I was not fully aware of it at the time, there was a lot of wishful thinking in this drawing. These Pillow Pals were more elusive than they seem. Making a pillow look like an animal is easier to accomplish in a drawing than it proved to be in this annoying place we call “reality.”
I always loved this second drawing, which is called "Quilties." And I felt a certain twinge of sadness, whenever the question crossed my mind, which it did frequently: What will become of it? This piece of art is, most likely, the main reason why I undertook creating this website, dedicated to lost toys.
The drawing, I realize, would impress no one, but me. But, on a certain secret level, it represents a moment in time when all the years of fumbling, trying to master drawing, suddenly fell into place. To contrive a drawing of this complexity would usually require a lot of time, tracings, and overlays, cutting out individual characters, and taping them in position on the page. Then, I’d trace over the whole thing, in an attempt to make the composition that I’d patched together, like the separate pieces of a quilt, appear, as if, it was spontaneously sketched with ease. But, on this unique occasion, I did spontaneously sketch it out, complete, without preliminaries or overlays. I just sat down and drew it with a pencil, on a single sheet of paper, in the space of a few minutes. One character led to another, and as the animals stacked up, the total scene came into focus. Then, I copied the drawing with my Minolta copier onto a sheet of 11”X17” paper, and attacked it with my arsenal of waterproof Magic Markers.
It had taken years of practice to master and acquire all the many colors that I used; every one, of which I had come to know intimately. Pale colors, like those below, were especially hard to find. I had to collect several hundred markers, from several different manufacturers. And to make sure they were wet and ready, I stockpiled a backup supply, and kept it up to date. The delicious light candy pink that dominates the Quilties image was manufatured by one maker only. It was one of just a half a dozen special colors that I purchased from that company.
Thus, on this delightful day, I set in with all my most subtle pastel shades, and colored the whole thing, with no mistakes. Then, I added a minimum of shading, using colored pencils. This whole process made me feel as happy as finding a great Mickey.
Of course, I knew that, as a product, this idea had no chance of selling, Tackling the printed fabric of the Wild Things dolls had taught me that using purposely printed fabric on a plush doll or animal, could be a manufacturing nightmare. And, in this case, the fabric for each piece would have had to be, not only printed, but stuffed, and sewn along the seams to create the illusion of quilting. Thus, I had visualized a product that would be nearly impossible to produce, even if someone wanted to. I needn’t have worried, though, for no one did!
Both drawings, the one above and the one that follows, were shown to Fisher Price, and several other companies. One manufacturer, ( who it was, I can’t remember ) undertook to manufacture Pillow Pals. They never made it to the market.
Several weeks ago, I came across two actual samples. They represented that unknown toy company’s honest and well intentioned attempt to manufacture Pillow Pals. Alas, they fell short of success. All the elements were carefully rendered. They captured the correct colors, and even the tiny pink tongues. And, yet, they didn’t work. Was this because the dolls they made were just too small, too soft, far too feather light, and formless? I studied them at length, wondering if these professional prototypes were the problem, or if the fault, in fact, was mine. Had I created creatures that looked appealing in a drawing, but didn't translate in real life?
I think if I had sewn these dolls myself, they might have had a better chance of happening; but maybe not, To use a ludicrous analogy, the kind that I’m maddeningly adept at thinking up: I could render a lovely character made of smoke, who, in a drawing, would look credible. But creating it in real life would be an impossible. On the other hand, I was always pretty good at rendering images on a piece of paper that could actually happen in reality. But, Pillow Pals may have been the exception, more wishful thinking than practical toy making. I unconsciously set the samples down, and now they’re gone. For several days, I’ve looked for them, in vain. When, and if, they reappear, I’ll add them here.