Norm Marshall's creative toys stimulate the imagination
I'm always thinking about toymaking. That's why I carry a little notebook with me. I use it to record thoughts and flashes of inspiration. It helps to have the Angel of Serendipity looking over your shoulder, too. Serendipity is unexpected good luck.. I remember, for instance, the day I walked into a hardware store and noticed a little pulley. It was the tiniest one I'd ever seen. Right then I knew that I'd make a toy that used it. It was going to be either a toy wrecker/tow truck or a crane. It ended up on a crane.
Then, there was the time my wife and I were looking through a gift store in Northern California. I happened to notice a little Christmas Tree ornament. Really, it was kind of crude. Someone had decorated it with tiny slabs of wood, all the same size. That's where I got the idea for how I'd make the treads on my bulldozer: little slabs of wood glued onto an elongated oval.
I strongly feel that you have to be sensitive to the child when you're making a toy. That's why I don't spend a lot of time making one toy...and why I always use pine instead of hardwood. Use hardwood and you're tempted to put too much detail into the project. It turns into a model and not a toy...then ends up on the mantel collecting dust. The unwritten message on it is...“Don't touch this. You might break it.”
Toys are meant to be played with...even to be broken. If you took too long to make it or it cost too much and then the child breaks it, three things happen. First, you, yourself are crushed. Second, the child is unhappy and feels guilty. Third, the child's parents overreact with embarrassment.
That's not what I want to happen. Toys aren't meant to last forever. If it took four or five hours to make, then five or six hours of pleasure for the child will more than compensate me for my time.
A toy starts with a thought or a child's request. Next, you should take the time to draw out your ideas on paper. I doodle until I get some good ideas then I scale the toy out with an eye for proportions. One easy way to keep a toy looking right is to ask yourself, “How many wheels high is the real thing?” Work in short segments and stick to one project. I also get a kick out of really delving into 'the real thing' behind the toy. If it's an old sailing ship, what's the history of it? How many guns did it carry? How many battles was it in? Who were its famous Captains? All of this research may not go directly into the toy, but it makes it more fun to build.