For this edition, we spoke with Eric Siegel of Tree Hopper Toys. Based outside of Chicago, Eric and his crew are creating some of the coolest, hippest, funnest, most well designed and ethically made toys for kids on the market. Read on to learn more about their process and products and we’ll bet there’s a child in your life who will dig these colorful toys and games.
1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?
I usually say we make traditional wood toys, combining old fashioned quality with a contemporary design aesthetic.
2| Why do you make/design things?
It’s fun to see ideas come to life.
3| What do you love about your job?
Without a doubt, my favorite part of my job is designing new products. It’s super exciting to have an idea, sketch it out, refine it, make it, package it, etc. It’s a great feeling to turn a concept into a physical object. I’m fortunate to have the space and equipment to go from concept to final product pretty quickly, which makes the process even more exciting.
4| What inspires you? How do you come up with new ideas? A lot of inspiration comes from my kids.
Sometimes they’ll literally tell me an idea, sometimes I think of something they would enjoy, and sometimes I just observe how they interact with other toys/games/activities, and draw inspiration from that.
5| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?
For as long as I can remember, my goal was to be self employed, but it took a while to figure out how to make that work creatively. It was honestly just a ton of work, persistence, and trial and error (lots of errors!) to figure out how to be a working artist. I’m still working on it.
6| How do you work, and where?
I work mainly at our studio. Sometimes I’m sitting at a computer all day in my office, and when I’m designing new stuff I pretty much hunker down in our print studio and/or woodshop so that I can quickly turn out prototypes and flesh out ideas.
7| I see you have one puzzle that is a collaboration with The Bungaloo (another Homespun vendor). Do you collaborate often/ have any future projects in the works?
We do occasionally work with other designers when I see something that looks like a good fit, but don’t have anything in the works at the moment.
8| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?
There’s an artist I follow on instagram named Jay Nelson (@jay). He makes amazing campers and all sorts of wooden structures/displays/sculptures. Seems like a sweet gig and his work is incredible.
9| What makes a handmade object valuable?
That’s a tough one. It varies so much from one thing to another. Some objects are valuable because of the time and expertise that went into making them. Other things are valuable because of their uniqueness or rarity. Others simply for their personal sentimental value.
10| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?
I have a couple things come to mind. One is an old hand-carved whirligig wooden toy to by an old Appalacian artist. Most people would probably think it’s a piece of junk, but I love the thing. The other thing is a series of hand drawn sketches of an invention that my great grandfather was working on for years. The invention never worked out, but I love the drawings.
11| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.
I have three kids. Not that crazy, but that usually surprises people for some reason, and my life if pretty boring otherwise!
12| Where do you see Tree Hopper Toys in 5 years?
Great question. I don’t know 🙂 I love what we’re doing and just hope to continue to add new products to the line and expand beyond children’s products.
Come on in to Homespun to shop a variety of Tree Hopper Toys, or hop on over to their website and see more behind the scenes fun on Facebook and IG, @treehoppertoys.