The BIG Silly Putty
I was watching Seinfeld last night with my wife. The episode was The Big Salad. I saw it when it first aired on September 29, 1994. Since then, I've probably seen this episode countless times — in reruns and in the DVD box set Seinfeld: The Complete Series. Let's face it, I'm a fan and have studied this show in minute detail. So, it was a total shock when watching The Big Salad for the umpteenth time when my wife shouted out, "That's your Silly Putty packaging!" WHAT?! I grabbed the remote, stepped the scene back and sure enough, there it was! All this time, Fluorescent Silly Putty hanging in the stationary store where Elaine had gone to buy a very expensive Rolamech 1000 mechanical pencil for Mr. Pitt. It's high on a shelf right behind the stationery store clerk. The clerk, by the way, is very interested in Elaine and she soon finds herself trying to elude his romantic advances.
The scene (the entire show) is very funny. I blame this for the reason I never caught the Silly Putty before. I'm always looking at TV and movie scenes for products or odd-ball stuff. But this time, Larry David had me sucked into the story and the characters a little too much.
To have this particular packaging appear even incidentally in a Seinfeld episode is such a thrill! Silly Putty was my first major toy packaging commission. I designed and illustrated four blister cards in this series — Classic Silly Putty, Fluorescent Silly Putty, Glow-In-The Dark Silly Putty, and Glitter Silly Putty. 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! But now I've seen them on Seinfeld!
It's nice, too, that set people on Seinfeld chose Fluorescent Silly Putty. Of the four packages, it has the most distinctive 90s graphics. It fits really well into this time period. Nothing else is Silly Putty and nothing else is Seinfeld. I think it goes really well with a Big Salad!
Go HERE for more detailed information about my work on the Silly Putty series.
In another surprise moment, I spotted the Crayola Travel Color 'n Rub packaging just as Jerry and Elaine are leaving the stationary store! I illustrated all the characters for this package, too! WOW! I quickly jumped to the deleted scene included with the DVD hoping, wishing it would be Jerry saying, "Look Elaine! Silly Putty!" — It wasn't there, but I like to think it was shot and just ended up on the cutting room floor.
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!
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