It’s not difficult to detect Huck Gee’s warm and friendly disposition from a mile or two away. Wearing multiple belts of contemporary artist, illustrator, designer and more significantly, toy maker, he is a driving force in the world of art toys and is known for crafting small runs of handmade figures that sell out instantly online.
His other accolades include having his art published in numerous books and magazines, and exhibited in galleries worldwide where he has consigned pieces for Christie’s Auction House and a design in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
We caught up with the San Francisco-based artist, who is also recognised for his characteristically-illustrated tattoos, at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention this month..
My oriental-inspired designs are… simply my childhood growing up being fascinated with ninjas and samurai. I create based on what inspires me. That also clicks with my collectors and fans. There are different worlds that I play around with but something that I keep coming back to is the Edo period of Japan. It’s fantastic when I take it beyond strict history – my ninjas might have flying wings. When I go back to my youth, it’s primarily Japan. As I’ve done a lot more travelling through Asia and spent more time in China, the Philippines, Taiwan and Cambodia, I pull in other elements that I’ve been inspired by. And now Singapore, once I’m done with this trip. The new world I’m spinning is completely different from that. It’s sort of like World War 2 Europe. And that’s as far as I can get from Asia.
My job is… to be a problem solver. Everything I do involves challenges and problem solving. I once had an assistant who would be working on something and when the mould wasn’t working the way he had been instructed to do it, he would just go, “Well that’s it. Can’t do it.” No, that’s not the answer. You have to figure out how to do it.
I don’t like… drawing in front of an audience. It is my number one nightmare. I consider myself very sloppy and sketchy and it takes me hours to erase and redraw. Maybe that’s a sign of my confidence of how I draw. It’s just private to me. An illustrator or an animator’s entire career is built upon drawing really fast over and over. I’m a toy designer – I do draw but doing it in front of people is not my strongest skill set.
In the community in every country that I’ve been in, everyone… supports each other. I’ve been in it for 15 years and we watch each other’s back and take care of each other. It’s really pretty amazing. But that being said, I have a competitive edge. If we have to design a toy, I would take every chance I get to say that I’m better than everyone else. At the end of the day, we’re good with each other.
I’m always open… to collaborate with other industries. It was a chance encounter [with Barneys New York]. I had the figure already in the works. It was in production when they came forward and said that they wanted to work with the kidrobot that I was working with at that time. Here I had a figure that was just so right for them to put clothing on. I came from a fashion industry background. I used to work in retail and follow clothing trends, so I know who Jil Sander and Marc Jacobs were. The toy community might not, as they were still young at that time. For me, it was a huge opportunity. I jumped on that. I still like to work with other industries. I do a lot of stuff with the automobile industry. There are two things when I decide who to work with – are they a good company and is it fun? Oh and am I getting paid?
Every now and then, I meet… a fan that just clicks. There’s always somebody that’s more than a fan, somebody that has an appreciation for similar things. They get inspired by the same thing. You can have a good conversation with them. I get a lot of fans that are starstruck too. They’d walk up to me and they wouldn’t know what to say, they’re awkward. I try to put them at ease. There are also some that try to take advantage of you.