Originators: Tony Nakanari
Toys aren’t just for kids. They’re also for adults who collect colorful, bright pieces of art and enjoy hashing out money on expensive pieces of plastic. I’m one of those people, and so is Orlando-based vinyl toy creator, Nakanari.
Nakanari has been in the vinyl figure business for nearly 10 years now, but his love for toys has been a lifelong obsession. His fascination with vinyl toys has blossomed into a bigger passion, as today, Nakanari is one of the most established creators in the scene. From getting his “Spiki” character to appear in Kidrobot’s 2012 Dunny series, to creating numerous custom toys for various galleries and releases, the artist has certainly garnered a reputation in the toy community. We got a chance to chop it up with Nakanari on how his interest in plastic figures first started, his upbringing and personal background, and what he hopes to accomplish with his art.
Mass Appeal: Who are you and what do you do?
Tony Nakanari: My name is Tony Shiau, but I’m also known as just Nakanari. I’m the co-founder of a company called Mai Hiro and creator of a character named Spiki, with my first figure line being Misfits of Nakanari, created from Funny Club’s figure platform and for a Taiwanese company called b.b. birdy. I’m originally from Taiwan and I currently reside in Orlando, Florida. I work at a local university full-time and maintain Mai Hiro part-time.
MA: Why did you move from Taiwan to Orlando?
TN: I moved because my father was seeking a new environment. We moved to Orlando in 1998. I definitely miss my home town because most of my family is there. The cultures and foods are so different from Orlando to Taiwan. Taiwan is a non-stop place for street food or cool spots to hang out, but Orlando doesn’t have that kind of environment. Smaller cities provide many great things to do, but I miss Taiwan.
MA: Why do you choose toys to convey your artistic expression?
TN: I initially got inspired by artist Michael Lau to start making vinyl toys, but I’ve been a huge toy fan since I was little. Toys were always a huge part of my life. Back in the 80’s, I watched a lot of He-Man and I loved collecting the He-Man action figures. When I was a kid, I always thought “as soon as I have money, I’m going to buy all the toys I can!” I loved Gundam toys, He-Man, superheroes — I love the platform of vinyl toys. I don’t see toys as just toys. I see them as another platform to convey artwork.
MA: How do you paint on toys? What is the process like?
TN: Canvas is easy. When you use a toy? It’s harder. It’s painting on a 3D object and it’s not as easy as a canvas. I use 100% acrylic paint and a brush. I absolutely do not use tape — no bullshit. Strictly Nakanari style.
MA: What is your creative process for improvement?
TN: I always spend time to develop. I visit book stores and artists exhibitions to find new ways to inspire. Whenever I try out new things it makes me more excited to work and eager to finish what I’m starting. I’ve been getting better and better. I read a lot of blogs like Juxapoz. I like to gather concepts and incorporate them in my next line of projects. I like pitching ideas to myself. One day I’ll be like, “I love Pokemon,” and I immediately decide to make a Pokemon-themed Spiki toy.
MA: What are you currently looking to improve on?
TN: I wish I could communicate better with people. I’m from Taiwan, English isn’t my first language. I want to be able to publicly speak better, because right now, it’s crippling my communication between others. I want to also work on my workflow. I want to be able to connect and share with more people overall.
MA: What is Mai Hiro? What do you want to accomplish with the Mai Hiro brand?
TN: Mai Hiro was created by Soujohn and I. Mai Hiro is a platform for us to express our design and art, and also a way of communicating our passion. Every year we bring new toys, apparel, and projects. We don’t believe in making money, but we believe in having fun. It’s a self-belief and Mai Hiro is self-funding.
If you come into this world, you have a purpose. To be a hero is to care and help out in the world. I believe the little things you do in the world cause you to become a hero in that role. Mai Hiro is a message to say that you can do whatever to become a hero.
We want to keep interesting stuff. Whatever we do, we want to be able to reach that. I think it’ important to seek a connection with people. You might be able to affect them to work harder.
MA: Do you feel like people in the vinyl toy scene are slowly fading away, or do you think the toy community is still very strong?
TN: Times have changed. Things are completely different since the start of vinyl toys. I started with this movement in 2004/2005, while Kidrobot was initially founded in 2002. I feel like since our economy crashed, people are hardly able have extra money to enjoy collecting stuff they can’t really afford. Food and family are always number one, for sure. Who really has a job to be able to afford toys?
So many of the companies involved in the scene are trying to help the growth of the market. The toy community will always be around and the interest is still very strong for the toys collectors who are already collecting. I do believe artists will always have passion for what they’re doing; I always make sure the toys I do have some type of good feedback or support, so each toy is injected with my vision, passion, and love. As long as artists keep bringing great designs into the vinyl toy community, the culture will continue to blossom.