Redesigning An American Classic
This was my first major toy packaging commission. Until then, I was doing a lot of product rendering, concept boards, and a lot of line art. To tell this story properly, I need to start with a brief history of Silly Putty packaging.
Binney & Smith (Crayola, LLC.) acquired Silly Putty in 1977. The look pretty much stayed the way it was originally introduced in 1951, retaining it's iconic television frame and two blonde haired kids. Up until 1989, they were still producing Silly putty with this packaging. The nineties were rolling in and it was time for an update. I couldn't believe I was going to be the the guy who got to take this on! Granted, there were several attempts in the '70s at updated packaging, Silly Putty Man featured a Marvel-esque superhero fighting off space pirates and limited run holiday packaging from the early '80s. But they never radically changed the packaging for the original Silly Putty until 1992. I had just finished my studies at Syracuse University and was ready to go full-time into the world of freelancing. I had an interview for a full-time job at an ad agency in Harrisburg, PA, then the phone rang.
"Hey Joe, you wanna work on the rebranding for Silly Putty?"
"Sure!", I said. "When does it start?"
"We need the art in a couple months, gotta redesign the characters... Come in on Thursday, we'll talk about it."
"I'll be there."
I hung up the phone and cancelled my job interview. I couldn't pass this up!
Silly Putty Packaging
The first round of the redesign was Original Silly Putty, Fluorescent Silly Putty, and Glow-In-The Dark Silly Putty. The main focus was on Original Silly Putty, as it would dictate how the others were to be handled. The kids were still blonde, striped shirt, baseball cap and sun dress. I decided to make the kids' heads look like a ball of egg-shaped Silly Putty. A pattern of boomerangs was used as a nod to the 1950s origins of Silly Putty. The back was b&w line art where I was able to include my name. A year later I illustrated the packaging for Glitter Silly Putty and a stocking shaped holiday four-pack of metallic putty.
When the newly designed Silly Putty was released in 1992, I was told David Letterman held up the The Original Silly Putty package I had illustrated during one of his skits about funny warning labels, proclaiming, "Use of this product may cause extreme silliness", or something like that. I never saw the episode, so if anyone out there knows where I can see it, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
For you collectors out there, these packages appear to be extremely rare. I have searched the internet for several years and have yet to see them posted anywhere. I've never even seen them for sale on ebay! I have quite a few of them and even some huge press sheets of uncut boards given to me by the art director at Binney & Smith. I had planned to wallpaper a room with them. Maybe someday, I will.
In 1997 the packaging was again re-designed with new characters of which I was not involved. Silly Putty continues to go through many package revisions and was inducted into the National Toy Hall Of Fame in 2001.
In 2002 I worked on some concept art for yet another redesign of Silly Putty. Three pencil sketches of rubbery aliens, goofy birds, and a dog and cat named Stretch and Bounce, never made it past the drawing board, but it was fun to work on Silly Putty again.
I hope this article gets you in the mood to go out and buy some Silly Putty. Like the package says, it's for kids aged "Four to forever". There's nothing else quite like it!
The Model Magic™ Wizard was designed for Crayola's Air Dry Model Magic™ Modeling Compound. I wanted him to be very whimsical with a "chunky" look as if he were sculpted from clay. I first intended to make him out of real clay and have him photographed, but the art director said that wouldn't work. I'll talk more about that later.
I looked at a lot of older illustrators for inspiration. Andrew Loomis, who wrote many art instruction books, and Vernon Grant, the illustrator famous for his gnome characters as well as the creator of Kellogg's Snap!, Crackle! and Pop!® were two obvious influences. I didn't go though a lot of exploration and he sort of "magically" happened and was approved with no changes. Wow! that was easy! Or at least that's what I thought.
So, why not make him out of clay? It is Model Magic™ after all? Well, the package was produced quite a few years ago and the flexographic printing process had it's limitations. Printing the art onto a plastic/foil bag and with limited colors was the reason he became a painted illustration.
I ended up painting him twice. The first painting had more tones and textures and felt more like a basic character. The art director felt he needed to look like he was made out of solid white clay with more dimensional elements on his hat. Even with this direction, I pushed it a bit to include a few more darks around the face just to keep the character from fading out.
Below is the original packaging and a digitally restored version using a scan of the second unused painting. Despite all the concerns about the limited printing capabilities, the new wizard printed still ended up printing a bit dark and murky.
I was hoping that he would become the official Model Magic™ mascot. But he was used only once and for a very brief time. His debut opened and closed on this one package. Still, he holds a good place in my heart and the job was a lot of fun. It's nice to finally see him looking his best in this restored version! He's a happy little guy.
To see more of my art, please visit my website.
Just Like Daddy & Mommy
The box sizes, shapes and general layouts were all pretty much determined prior to me working on the sketches. The project moved along smoothly and I did not have to do too many explorations for the look of the kids. The girl was by far the most challenging. She had to scrub her toes, wear a robe, be in the bath and still read very similar to the boy. I think the whole job was done in about two to three weeks.
Bath Time Fun! Hidden Picture Game
The boxes were a pretty good size, so I suggested that a picture game would work nicely on each box. The layout really lent itself to this. It also gave added play value to each kit. I designed a bathtub themed hidden picture game that would be appropriate for little kids. Each has the same game, but the games are color coordinated to match the boxes. And, whenever I get the chance, I like to put a dachshund or two into my illustrations!
I produce illustrations and creative idea solutions for toys, packaging, publishing and advertising. I'm also a writer and fine art painter.
• MFA, Syracuse University