By Luis Silva
When someone says the word “artist,” Cynthia Gerriets is one of the people who immediately leaps to my mind. Her artistic career is long and varied, having ranged from clothes and costume design to, currently, toymaking. She’s recently moved to Portland and has opened an internet shop called Ten Times a Tiger in which she sells her many creations.
After arriving at her home, the first thing I noticed about Cynthia Gerriets house was the paint-stained table that she told me was where she sets her projects to dry. Going past this table and through the front door I then observed a small studio filled with a vast amount of collectibles and sculptures ranging from pops of comic book characters to one of my personal favorites: a plushie of Marvel’s Black Panther. Everything, down to the posters on the wall, was a reflection of her artistic style.
As we sat down on her couch to begin the interview, we were truly surrounded by the art that has influenced her work.
What can you tell us about yourself?
I am a toy designer. I sculpt and do resin casting and painting and all that. I’ve created a bunch of critters that way.
What is the inspiration behind your title for your business, Ten Times a Tiger?
It actually came from my favorite comic book, King City by Brandon Graham. I get a lot of my inspiration from his stuff. He’s just amazing. He has a lot of puns and a lot of silly stuff that he’ll have in his comics, and there’s one panel where, on a popsicle stick, there was a riddle that said Ten Times the Tiger on it. I was like, “Hey, that’s really clever, it sounds cool.” It was a title that always stuck with me.
When did you first start making toys?
I’ve always wanted to make toys! Ever since I was in high school and first discovered designer toys, and realized that that was an actual art medium. Like, “Hey, I could actually do art and do toys!” I started sculpting right after high school. In Tucson, they didn’t really have school for toy design, but I took sculpting classes.
I think because I was a young artist, I was really intimidated by it and got discouraged, because there wasn’t really a toy scene in Tucson. That was until two years ago after I got my gallbladder removed and had surgery, and I was sitting at home. I couldn’t do anything and I finally was like, “Why am I not making toys? I’m going to make toys.” At the time, I was doing a Batman art show at the comic book store I worked at.
That was when you made the Bat Cow?
Yes. I was like, “I don’t really want to do fashion anymore, I don’t want to do a cosplay, I don’t want to do any of that. You know what, I should sculpt something. I should make a toy. I should do some resin casting of some Bat Cows.” I decided to do this little character, Bat Cow. From there, I just kept doing it and I loved it.
For those not in the know, what’s Bat Cow’s story?
I was working at Heroes and Villains at the time, a comic book store. I was doing their marketing. I decided to put together this Batman art show for Batman day. Bat Cow is actually a Batman character. You know Damian Robin, Batman’s son, it’s like his sidekick. Damian saves him from a slaughterhouse, and he’s a cow that has this Batman mask going across it’s face. It’s super adorable and really cute.
At that time too, since I was having all these stomach problems, I decided to become vegetarian. Damien also decides to become vegetarian because he saved this animal and he has his animal sidekick. I was like, “It’s perfect. I’m going to make Bat Cows for Batman day.” That’s Bat Cow.
A Land of Ten is a world that I built. This is a thing I like a lot about toy design, and why I like it as an art medium or even a storytelling medium: you don’t need to have a book to walk you through what the story is and what each character it is. You have this tangible thing in your hand and it’s what we did when we were kids—we had toys and we would make up stories.
What has inspired your work?
Inspiration can come from anywhere…because I have influences and different styles that come from everywhere. I even have a few other things coming up that are inspired by Star Wars.
I take inspiration from everywhere. But specifically, for A Land of Ten, my original work, there is some influence from The NeverEnding Story, Where the Wild Things Are, and mythology.
What can you tell us about A Land of Ten?
A Land of Ten is a world that I built. This is a thing I like a lot about toy design, and why I like it as an art medium or even a storytelling medium: you don’t need to have a book to walk you through what the story is and what each character it is. You have this tangible thing in your hand and it’s what we did when we were kids—we had toys and we would make up stories. We kind of just got what it was about. We would make up our own stories or we would go off of that. It’s kind of the same with Land of Ten.
There’s the two Sphynx; those are the rulers. They both are twins. There’s Orion; he’s my favorite out of all them. Then there’s Tinsby. Tinsby is almost like a Two-Face type character. He has almost a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde thing going on. They rule over Land of Ten. It’s this world of harmony. There are all these interesting weird characters. Like I have the bunnies—the Junos—and those play off being the night sky. They look like these little alien bunnies and they hang out in the clouds. Then there’s the Kaiser cat, that’s like this alley king. He wants to be the ruler of Land of Ten but he’s really not, he’s just a brat! I have the Foxy and Wolf boys—those are the woodland creatures. Croc Rev Dead is probably…god, I want to say he’s my favorite too! I just love them all! Croc Rev Dead is so weird. He’s just like this weird swamp demon that’s inspired by Dr. Strange. Then there’s the Manticore. He has a very sad story. His story is he’s a protector of the Land of Ten. It’s a young world. The Manticore is like a baby, he’s really cutesy, almost like a puppy. But something happens to Land of Ten where another type of creature comes in and skews the world and it starts with the Manticore. That’s where I want the next toy design to go, is he’s going to be grown up. He’s going to be a big scary Manticore. I want to tell this story through these toys, this land. I want to keep continuing with Land of Ten and see how these characters change… Right now, I’d just like to get the story out there.
For those interested in A Land of Ten, how can they learn more about it?
Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for young Latinas who want to engage in a creative field or a creative career?
Man, just do it. It’s heavy, especially being a young Latina doing art. There’s a lot of conflicts that I’ve had with that because, of course, more than anything—whether it’s my race, my gender or my interests or whatever it is—I want to be looked at as an artist. I want to be looked at just purely for what I’m doing with my art. I don’t want it to be skewed at all.
I am super proud of being Latina and what I do; I’m always going to represent that. Just don’t be discouraged by any of those things. I’ve had it happen before where people are like, “Oh, that’s great that you’re a Latina doing all this stuff,” and talk about me being that rather than about my art. That is frustrating for me because it’s like, yes, I know I’m Latina and I love who I am, but to me being an artist comes first and I want people to see that. Don’t get discouraged by that—it gets frustrating, I know. Keep going.