PLAYTIME Artists Turn Client Playground Concepts into 3D Works of Art

November 21, 2012

“I always wanted to create art for children,” says Ruth Barstow, whose whimsical drawings have been turned into play areas for many shopping centers. “At PLAYTIME, I get to draw for children, but my art is taken right off the page and brought to life as engaging, soft play area equipment.”

Every one of PLAYTIME’s gorgeous play elements – including the carpeting – is created by many artists at PLAYTIME who work together as a team. These artists take client concepts from sketches, to models, to full-color drawings, and then into a shop for sculpting and hand-painting.

“Our company is built on an artistic process,” says Jonathan Norby, PLAYTIME Founder and Creative Director. “And we have an amazing team of fine artists who infuse life into every play element we create.”

The first stop in PLAYTIME’s artistic process is the Creation Chamber, where the artists who sketch and color and design the play areas and water features ply their trade. Where once Norby began his work with drawings and clay models, today the artists work on Cintiq Tablets, which allow them to create three-dimensional models on a computer.

Artist Shane Duerksen was snapped up by PLAYTIME in March 2003 because he is a wildlife artist and fine art painter. He also knows how to sculpt clay, as well as create virtual sculptures on the Cintiq Tablet. Near his desk, Duerksen keeps a large cage for Chamel, his veiled chameleon, and his muse, of sorts.

“Computers allow us to work much more accurately,” says Duerksen. “Ultimately, our drawings must be translated by the sculptors and painters in the shop, so we must have our scale and colors very accurate.”

Across the Chamber, Tim Kirch also works on a tablet. Kirch was discovered by Norby at a Denver-area restaurant where he drew and sold caricatures of people.

“Tim is a self-taught artist and he can draw anything,” says Norby, explaining that he often uses Kirch’s drawings during sales meetings to help clients understand how a concept might be brought to life.

Whereas Duerksen is an animal expert and Kirch often creates concept sketches, Ruth Barstow’s work looks like the lovable characters you’d find in children’s books.

“We try to match an artist’s style with the client’s vision,” says Norby. “For example, Ruth’s whimsical characters are featured in many of Westfield’s play areas. Other clients prefer a more realistic approach, and we pair them with Tim or Shane. We have so much versatility on this team.”

Once a design is approved, the drawings head over to “Area 51 ½,” where artists sculpt giant blocks of Styrofoam into three-dimensional characters, buildings, animals, trees, cars and just about anything else you can imagine.

Once complete, the sculptures are locked into the “Gooping” vault and covered with layer after layer of the “rubber stuff” that makes PLAYTIME’s play elements so squishy and soft.

And finally, each piece is hand-painted by airbrush artists who take drawings from the Creation Chamber crew and turn them into fully realized play elements.

Many of the artists at PLAYTIME say that they have found their dream job.

“I am an artist and I have steady, full-time, creative work,” says Kirch. “We’re doing things here that some of the big animation studios do, but I get to live in Denver and not in California or New York. It’s a great place for an artist.”