Oh, it’s nothing exciting. We send emails, do office work, fundraise, and plan the conference. There are a few others helping us out with layout, design, and press issues. We’re a small operation.
How did you go about researching the topic of contemporary character design before the first book?
PT: I conducted about a year’s worth of research and most of the work was done online. But I was also going through magazines, looking at ads, and collecting flyers. I contacted a lot of artists and asked to see more of their work. This put me in touch with even more people, for I would then learn about their friends and colleagues.
Was pitching the first Pictoplasma book to the publisher difficult?
PT: Not at all. In fact, Die Gestalten Verlag contacted me. The second book was their idea as well. I only had six months allotted for research that time because a competitor was purportedly working on something similar. The time pressure made it quite challenging.
You must have determined the Pictoplasma logo around this time. What can you tell us about it?
We wanted something simple. It represents plasma cells and inchoate life forms. Many of the characters themselves are mono-cellular in appearance, like those found in Genevieve Gaulker’s work.
Did the first Pictoplasma book exceed your expectations?
PT: Lars is right when he points out that I didn’t really have any. So yes, it did. [Smiles]
PT: It wasn’t easy. I made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of emails to his studio in New York, but he finally agreed to contribute an essay. We invited him to the conference and he said he would come, but he changed his mind several times and couldn’t make it in the end.
What are your thoughts on Murakami's work?
That's a big question hidden in a short sentence. We like his theoretical underpinnings. His “Superflat Manifesto” is an interesting insight into postwar Japanese art and its reaction to the import of American trash culture. And we think the group exhibitions he curates are great.
It’s a shame he couldn’t be at the conference. What was that first Pictoplasma conference in 2004 like?
It was a great time and the word “hippie” was thrown around a lot. It’s not your average design conference; it’s more like a festival. The focus of the conference was less on distinctions of format, style or technique, than on the exploration of common territory. The conference brought together a disparate community of over 500 international character creators and producers from the worlds of illustration, animation, design, street and fine art. We wanted to meet the artists with whom we’d been exchanging emails around the globe.
Looking back, it was almost character overkill. There was a tight schedule and many of us weren’t getting much sleep. There was always something going on. We had one activity called “Turn a Pillow into a Friend” where anyone could take a pillow and cut it, rip it, and re-stitch it into a doll with scissors, sewing machines, and buttons. It turned into a group endeavour. One person would make a pillow friend and then someone else would come along and rip its head off. People were sewing busily in the audience while simultaneously listening to an artist talk on stage. There were also a lot of sketchbooks being passed around and drawn on.
There were a good number of nervous artists. Pictoplasma is not a commercial
project and a lot of the cartoonists, designers, and illustrators we work
with create their characters for fun. They’re not designing them
to meet a job requirement. It’s their passion. So we had to do a
lot of calming of nerves since many people were apprehensive about discussing
their personal work in front of an audience. We’re looking forward
to the next one.