A few months ago, we had an awesome opportunity to interview Monique Givens, aka Momo, – a senior in Toy Design at Otis College of Art and Design. Monique has won many awards along her journey of this pathway. Her life and passion are extraordinary remarkable. So why not getting to know more about this talented lady!?
Monique givens was born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado to a hard working single mother who always showed overwhelming support for her creativity and passion for toys, as did a lot of her family members as well. She is half African American and half West Indian, on her mother’s side, having roots stem all the way to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Obviously that she is proud of her heritage and many times integrates it into some of her work and projects. From Colorado, Monique moved out to Los Angeles primarily for school. She immediately fell in love with the diversity of people, food, and cultures out there. Although, she finds California was truly the land of opportunities, especially in her filed but Colorado will always be her home with loving family and friends.
Ever since I was in middle school I knew I wanted to have something to do with toys. I didn’t know how or where, but I for sure knew that my dream future was to create toys and play experiences for generations to come. It initially hit me when I was sitting in church one day with a friend about to play with the toys I brought from home, and when I asked my friend which one he would like to play with, he said that he didn’t really play with toys anymore. That made me think. I then started to realize that I was the only one of all my friends that would still ask for toys for Christmas’s and birthdays, and any other holiday in between that I could get away with. But instead of feeling ashamed, I wholeheartedly embraced it and kept on with my toy filled life. It wasn’t until high school that I stumbled upon Otis. My cousin did some digging and told me about this school that specifically had a toy design program. Being one of two colleges in the country that offer a toy design degree, I was head over heals excited. At first my mom was a little nervous about me going out of state in terms of finances and the over all thought of me living out in California without knowing anyone. But she knew that in order for me to follow my dreams, sacrifices had to be made. At first it was hard to leave home and everything I knew and loved, but the adventure and unknown helped drive me.
Growing up I wasn’t your average little girl. I loved playing with dragons, monsters, cars, super soakers, and anything else that wasn’t conventional…of course an abundance of plush toys would never hurt. I was an only child so I just had my imagination and my toys for entertainment. I loved creating and coming up with vast stories that lasted days on end. I was in my own little world when a toy was in my hand. I was never hard to shop for Christmas’s or birthdays because I would first hand let my family know what I specifically wanted, nothing more, nothing less; they’ll admit that that did make their lives easier in comparison to other housholds. My favorite brands growing up were Mega Bloks, specifically their dragons line, Lego, Bionicle, McFarlane’s Dragons, Beyblade, and Zoids. I was definitely more into building and construction toys. I liked putting my little mind to the test, and would always enjoy the outcome. As I got older, I did eventually phase out of playing with toys, but the passion to still buy, collect, and admire them face-to-face was still there. But that transition helped guide me in a more creative way.
I have always been creative; love the arts. Through the transition, I was able to tap into what really drives me to create what ever I wanted and how I went about doing it. In high school, I didn’t have many options of art classes. They weren’t engaging, and were very rudimentary. I figured I could gain more on my own. Through my good friend Google, and numerous trips to Hobbly Lobby and Michaels, I became a formidable force of creative nature. All that I am capably of doing to this day comes from being self-taught and having an ambition to push beyond limitations. My entry portfolio to get into Otis was all work that I had done at home, no works from school, or classes from art centers, it was all me. This really helped me stand out from the rest of the crowed, even to this day.
It’s herd to pin point what I like about the toy program here at Otis, and the toy industry in general. What I will say is that I absolutely cannot see my self anywhere else. I know without hesitation that this is where I’m meant to be, and the future is nothing very bright. I love the thought of toys, I love the feel toys, I love the nostalgic excitement that I feel whenever I go to a toy store or am sitting at my desk designing. I love the thought that some day a little kid will jump for joy over a toy that I designed, behind the scenes. I can stay a kid at heart and literally have fun at my job. Unlike technology, T.V. shows, and movies, toys have always been a gateway to an inner child. They’re hands on tools to another dimension in your own mind and the only limitations are that of how deep you’re willing to play.
To be honest, I have a lot of influences on my work. My family’s support and deep interest help me mentally stay on path and pushing the limit. I am the creation of my Creator who has blessed me with vast gifts of creativity and talents to create the unimagined. I am also driven by my peers. For those few who have questioned me out of sport and their own insecurities, it only fuels me more to prove them wrong and boost myself up. I know my focus and my destiny. I would also say that my elementary school art teacher helped plant a seed in me enlightening me at a young age that I am truly gifted in the arts.
I definitely live by the old time Disney Newsies film them song Seize the Day. Actually I get a lot my philosophies and pep slogans from songs. I take influences from the poems Invictus and Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. I think highly of Isaac Newton’s law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; believe it or not it has other real world applications other than physics. I personally stand on the principal of respect, kindness, craftsmanship, enthusiasm, and always leave your home putting your best foot forward; be a person that puts smiles on other people’s faces and not bring them down with your won problems. In a nutshell, people would describe me as perseverant, driven, kind, creative, special, loving, hard working, wise beyond my years, and much more. Like anyone else I do have my short comings, I acknowledge them and try to positively re-right them, but I don’t let them define me. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
I draw inspiration from many brands that I grew up with such as Mega Bloks Dragons, Zoids, and other lines. I also am inspired by movies such as James Cameron’s Avatar, Transformers, Wrath and Clash of the Titans, Companies like DreamWorks, Disney (1990-2005), and even other concepts like ancient mythologies from around the world, outer space, cultures, cryptology, and books with images of cool creatures real and imagined. With me anything and everything inspires me, I don’t limit myself because the world is too wondrous to be bottled up or have some parts excluded. Like I said, Google is one of my best friends. I can spend hours searching and looking up images of animals and creatures ranging from the deep sea vampire squid, to the prehistoric shark Helicoprion. I also am a fan of Wiki, I know people talk and they say what they want about it, but I can literally get lost going from link to link looking up stuff ranging from Bonnie and Clyde, to the latest movie that came out.
I would say that innovation should be a driving force nowadays for design. Some of the best toy lines every produced, and still live on to this day, were the highlight of innovation that helped turn the tides of toy history. Take for example Transformers, converting from one thing to another. Or the story of how Lego got its start. Toys haven’t survived this long with minimal breaks and bends of what is plausible, what if too left field. In my opinion we need more left field concepts and brands, those I feel are what really tap into the emotional need of kids wanting to have their own unique little world off to the corner of a Weight Watchers room.
I must say that my favorite project thus far has to be my cryptozoology inspired CryptoTrucks concept. CryptoTrucks are the first ever hand powered puppet vehicle where kids 5 and up could battle each other or go on a rampage on their own where no puppet has gone before! The main trucks featured in the line are Chupa “Car” Brah (inspired by the chupacarbra), Sasquash (inspired by big foot), and ThunderBird (inspired by the thunderbird of legend).
Last year for my second semester Toy Design class, I was one of 20 juniors (out of 10 seniors and 10 juniors) to be hand picked to be in the Mattel Sponsored Project Vehicles class. At first I was very apprehensive due to the fact that I had never drawn a vehicle before in my life. I was about to drop out of it but my chair insisted that this is opportunity that I wouldn’t want to pass over. So I stayed and over the first few weeks when I zeroed down on the concept that I would liked the most and would peruse the rest of the semester, I became more engaged and enthused in the class and my concept. I was amazed at the drawings and renderings that I whipped out, probably the best I had done in all 3 years of being in the program. I made a great proof of concept model, cost me a few bucks, but it paid off in the end. I’d been up and down and over and out that entire semester, doing revisions, a tight paint job, a well thought out Power Point presentation, all leading up to those final days where I had to give my final presentation. I managed to make it to the semifinals and be one of the final five that would go and present to Mattel corporates.
At the end, I was rewarded the grand first place prize of $1000, and title of the Mattel Sponsored Vehicles Class winner! The second and third place runner-ups were both seniors, so that really helped pump out my chest. I was very proud of the work I put in, and right from the start I told myself that I wanted to win the big one. With that in mind, no matter what obstacles came my way, or low points I had to endure, I triumphed and accomplished the seemingly distant goal of becoming the grand prize winner!