In-Focus: Case Studyo | Functional Art Objects
Earlier this year we were trawling the net looking for inspiration when we stumbled across one of the coolest designer products we'd ever seen.
Four brightly coloured, hand crafted and lovingly painted wooden sculptures by illustrator Andy Rementer that not only looked fantastic, but their interchangeable heads and body parts meant you could create your own custom characters and abstract sculptures! Clever indeed.
A few clicks of the mouse lead us to the company responsible for making us go giddy with delight – Case Studyo, the Dutch partnership of Benjamin van Oost and Mathieu van Damme.
Founded in 2012 as a conduit for high end, functional art objects, Case Studyo collaborate with artists and designers worldwide, producing hand made limited editions that are quite frankly so covetable we’d snap up the lot (if only we had the cash).
We caught up with Benjamin to find out more about their journey into design and the challenges involved in running their very unique business.
We are not afraid of diving into unknown waters and we are constantly looking for new challenges and opportunities to make the world a more playful, colorful, and happy place.
Toykyo and Case Studyo – explain briefly what each brand / store does – which came first? What inspired these projects?
TOYKYO was first, we started up in 2006 inspired by a shared passion to spread happiness by producing beautiful objects and refreshing designs. Today we are a creative agency based in Belgium that guides clients who are looking to add clarity, flavor and quality to their identity.
We are a diverse team specialized in graphic design, product development, set design and advertising concepts and we always add a dash of FUN to the mix. That is why we are unique… Our clientele ranges from independent organizations to global brands, from the music and fashion industry to publishing and advertising agencies. We support them to dot the i’s and cross the t’s in their campaigns. Following the brief, we work closely with our clients in order to satisfy their specific needs and realize their brand’s full potential. Our factory thrives on versatility; we always remain lean and agile.
CASE STUDYO came later. In 2012 we decided that it was time to take the limited edition artworks to the next level and give it dedicated focus. The rich history of Toykyo art-collabs & productions are the foundation of our new venture, working directly with artists and collaborating with their representing galleries. It’s our brand for publishing and producing artworks by contemporary artists.
We collaborate with artists from a broad artistic scene, because we are triggered by the changing boundaries of the art world, different forms and places of creative expression; we do not limit ourselves to a certain style or visual language.
The artworks are a result of a unique collaboration between our studio and the artist. We choose not simply to repeat or reproduce an existing artwork. Opting for a new creation, where interaction between Case Studyo and the artist creates an own story – a ‘case study’ – resulting in a unique object, edited in several pieces. We let our eyes and feelings go towards artists we consider to be important within the interesting and changing times we live in. Our collaborations result into fine art works, furniture or other functional objects.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background – where you studied and when you first became interested in design & illustration?
I have always been interested in art/design. As a little kid my grandfather took me with him to visit the museum for fine arts here in Ghent. The first works of art I saw where paintings of the Belgian expressionists and a painting of Picasso. This left an everlasting impression on me, since that day I knew that I wanted to become an artist. At first I wanted to become a painter like Picasso, etc. This image of being an artist changed over the years, as I went to art school I realised that This romantic view I had about art/artists, had changed. When I was 16, I started with graphic design and I’ve been busy since, evolving and growing. I studied graphic design, and comic drawing at St Lucas arts school here in my hometown of Ghent.
I work with artists who were my heroes when I was at school, and I do all the things I like the most. Everyday is an adventure, and I take all the challenges that come my way with enthusiasm and love.
How did you end up working for yourself?
As soon as I graduated from school I started my own business and I became independent – I always wanted to do it. I did little jobs (graffiti, etc) and I worked for an animation studio for two years. During that period I met Mathieu, my partner & collegue in Toykyo. We did one project together and that’s when Toykyo was founded. Mathieu already had this brand name ‘Toykyo’ but didn’t used it yet to the full extent. It immediately clicked between us, and Toykyo Productions was born. My artistic skills & expertise and Mathieu’s taste & business know-how made it a supercombo! Which it still is.
The ‘Belgian made nipple sticker pack’ was our first collab. A metal stickerbox with 36 stickers & a screen-print inside – all hand-printed by Mathieu & me.
How did you start Toyko – what was your first product?
The first product we made with Toykyo, and the product that made all the rest possible is ‘HEYHEY the bear’ a plush doll we made with our dear friend and super artist Bue the Warrior. Mathieu and me both invested some money to make a series of 500 dolls, which we sold quiet fast, and which gave us the chance to do new stuff. After this we started doing our own screen-prints and stickers with artist we knew, this was a really good way to approach artist and to get them to do stuff together.
This is also how we met Parra. Mathieu asked to do a product together after he gave an exhibition in Gent in the Toykyo shop. The ‘Belgian made nipple sticker pack’ was our first colab. A metal stickerbox with 36 stickers & a screen-print inside – all hand-printed by Mathieu & me. After the success of this production, our collaboration with Parra really started. The next thing we made was the pop fruit sculpture, and the rest is history – today we’re still working with Piet on a regular basis.
Did you have any moments of doubt along the way as you were building your business? How did you overcome them?
There are always difficult times and moments of doubt in doing business. But you just have to keep going! Never give up! That’s the key to a successful business I think. I’m a super optimistic person, and I’m always open for new adventures and collaborations, I hardly ever doubt. And I hope I can go on the way I’m working for the rest of my life.
I always say that I have the best job in the world! It doesn’t feels like working, I work with artists who were my heroes when I was at school, and I do all the things I like the most, working with my hands, searching how to make things. Everyday is an adventure, and I take all the challenges that come my way with the same enthusiasm and love! I just want to say that I’m the most happy guy ever, doing my thing, working with great and interesting people, materials, etc.
There are always difficult times and moments of doubt in doing business. But you just have to keep going! Never give up! That’s the key to a successful business I think.
Setting up a business can be expensive – any advice for launching a business on a limited budget?
We started Toykyo on a limited business, we funded our first product (heyhey doll) with our own money (really limited budget) and ever since we made all the following products with the money we made out of our previous productions. We never had to put extra money into Toykyo to make stuff. Mathieu is a really good businessman at that. He takes limited risks and builds out of our previous projects. Little by little we build it up. My advice is not to try to run to fast!
Did you have previous experience running a business or did you learn on the job?
I’m not much of a businessman really, I feel more like an artistic director. Mathieu is the one who fixed the real business aspect of it all. We discuss everything together but Mathieu is the one who made it happen businesswise. He is also an art director, and has an exquisite taste for design and art but doesn’t have the hands on skills and technical know how I have. We both have almost the same taste and interests, so that makes it easy and fun to work together. We really understand each other really well. One thing is that we never did business like in other companies, we don’t do marketing, we do everything out of a ‘gut feeling’ and 98% of the times this proved to be really well.
It sounds like it’s been quite a journey – what has been the most important thing you have you learned?
The most important thing I learned is that you have to work if you want to reach your goals! Nothing goes by itself. Hard work remains the key to a successful business. And of course making some smart decisions – but working is the key.
Mostly I get up around ten, and start the day. I go work at the office or work at home. I don’t have a fixed schedule by which I work. It depends from what projects were working on. I have to paint a lot of stuff by hand (really detailed and precise work) and I do a lot of screen-printing together with Mathieu (all our boxes are hand printed by us). I have lots of fun every day and I learn new stuff on a daily basis.
Which aspect of each business takes up most of your time these days?
For me it’s the handwork that takes up most of my time… all fine and detailed work. I love it! And technical stuff on the computer, making files to print, dtp work, etc. and a lot of design for Toykyo studio. Alongside Toykyo productions where we make our own productions, we have Toykyo studio, this is when we do commissioned jobs for brands, advertising, decor building, etc. This also takes a big part of my time. But lately what takes most of my time, is my new brand that I started at the end of last year: A solo project of mine: Lovecraft – Handmade Jewelry. I’m working on it right now, and it’s going strong!!! This is really what I like doing most, working, experimenting with materials and techniques.
One thing is that we never did business like in other companies, we don’t do marketing, we do everything out of a ‘gut feeling’ and 98% of the time this proved to work really well.
How do you select artists to work with at Case Studyo? Are all your products custom made & exclusive?
In the beginning we worked with friends of ours, that’s how Toykyo started: Bue the Warrior, Hell’o monsters, Pointdextr, Remed etc. Then we did these projects with Parra and other artists started contacting us, asking to work together. We don’t do go in on all the projects people ask us, we’re pretty picky on the artists we work with.
We work with artists we admire ourselves. As the quality of the artists we work with gets higher, we get more opportunities to work with bigger and bigger names. But mostly we contact the artists ourselves. And when they see what we’ve done in the past, they mostly agree on working together. So we keep on going further and further and contact the people we really admire, and try to look with them what we could produce together. Now we don’t do any productions with Toykyo anymore. This all falls under Case Studyo, and it’s Mathieu who contacts and searches for new collaborations and artists. I’m at his side for advice, technical assistance and practical work still.
Tell us a bit about your latest collaboration with Parra – what was the reason for making a functional item and not just an art object?
Case Studyo is all about that! More and more we wanted to create functional objects with the artists we love. Already when we were busy making our productions with Toykyo the idea of functional objects was there. It’s a natural evolution I think. Today we have more possibilities, means and experience than back then. It also makes the objects even more interesting I think. With Toykyo we made nice 3D models in porcelain of the characters of our favorite artists. Now we’re adding an extra dimension to this, next level! All the figures/ objects we made so far are exclusive, limited edition objects. We never make big series, and it’s all handmade. This is I believe is our strength – our trademark.
How do you develop ideas for the brand and your products?
I can get inspired by almost everything (beautiful things I mean). I have tons of books & magazines, etc. that I collected trough the years. But to be honest I try not to look to other artists works online. Mostly it’s other people who show me this or that… that works best for me. Not too much visual impulses. Mostly my inspiration comes by talking to friends, the brainstorm sessions I do weekly with my best friends & some booze work really really well.
If you could got back in time and give yourself one piece of advice / change anything what would it be & why?
I wouldn’t do anything else, maybe I would just advise myself to work more & harder.
What are your hopes for the growth & development of the brand?
I hope Case Studyo will keep on going like it’s doing now… making great design/art with great people. I’m launching my jewelry pieces and more of my own art pieces this year. And I hope to meet new people to collaborate with on diverse projects.