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Passion, 100%: Timba Smits

When a magazine makes you want to sleep with it under your pillow and whisper it sweet nothings, you know something’s wrong – or, perhaps, terribly right. There are few which fit this criteria of published infatuation, which is probably a good thing, so as to not make you appear like a total freak. But when Wooden Toy is unleashed, beauty-lovers far and wide know it’s time to just give up. It’s not worth fighting. It is THERE to be loved. And so, keep it in your handbag, pet it when you’re so inclined and let people think you’ve joined the circus. It’s worth it.

The creator and self-confessed “arty farty guy” of Wooden Toy is Melbourne-bred, London-based Timba Smits. A creative director, publisher, curator, and exceptional artist in his own right, Timba is the Australian art world’s equivalent to the Olsen twins (I happen to quite like the Olsen twins, thank you very much). Wooden Toy showcases creatives in a visual splendour that augments their work to an even greater level, marking the pages that they sit on as separate artworks themselves. Timba’s illustrative work is everything that makes up Wooden Toy on single sheets of paper – varied in its style but always welcome with aesthetic arms. Playing with headlines has made Timba big on the typography scene, with his creation of texts and fonts making words stand out less as descriptive elements but rather, as elements to be described. So he’s got his own magazine, his own artwork and his own freelance clients, and he even co-founded Melbourne’s Gorker Gallery in 2008. He recently packed ship and moved to London, a relocation made all the easier with his British Council Realise Your Dream Award win, and he is taking Wooden Toy with him. He may be a little trigger-happy when it comes to putting himself under the pump, but it’s the passion he puts into everything he does that keeps him alive.

“It’s all relative, really. I just do what I love,” he says.
“All my friends say that all they ever see me do is working, but I never feel like I’m working.”

“Drive” is the first word that comes to mind when speaking to Timba, shortly preceding “motivation”, “inspiring” and “Energizer Bunny”. His idea for Wooden Toy came up one day when frustration reached a climax. He was working freelance when the mag-skate-whore in him decided that he could “do that shit” himself. “The funny thing is, I had no idea how to run a mag. I had never worked on them before and ended up putting the first issue together in two months,” he describes. The self-funded, A5, 86-page, 5,000-run street press was the inaugural edition of Wooden Toy, and one that Timba threw all of his savings into. This was February 2006, and he planned on recouping the spent funds through advertising, but companies were too frightened to take a chance on something that didn’t have a brand attached to it.

“We learnt as we went. After the first one came out, well, we didn’t get a bad response, so we got the confidence to try different things, and we made it evolve into the mag it is today,” he says.
“We always wanted it to be a different, real, honest magazine – not linked to any commerciality. So today we have a no brands/no advertising policy. It’s about the artists and what they want to say.”

Seeing as I created this blogazine because I wanted to create a magazine and it was too damn expensive, I brought up the question of logistics with Timba, and how on earth he could start something that was pure passion, negative cashflow.

“Everybody goes through that ‘why the hell am I doing this, this is ridiculous’, but when you love something, you know it is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“There have been heaps of setbacks – so many to think about – and there have been ups and downs. It’s not always perfect… One time, I really struggled on an issue, so I had to foot a lot of the printing bill, and it set me back quite a bit. I mean, I always do a lot of stuff to subsidise the fact that the mag doesn’t make lots of money. I guess I put money into it but it comes back tenfold with opportunities and exposure, so I look at it as my personal advertising, and that makes it easier to justify.”

Becoming such a huge player in an industry which is notoriously difficult to crack has made Timba and his little publishing house a success in anyone’s books, but he insists that it’s the influence he exudes on emerging designers that is the most rewarding aspect to his creation.

“That is my greatest achievement. Wooden Toy is more than just a mag – it plays a huge part in so many people’s lives, and being there as an inspiration to people makes the crazy hours worth it,” he says.
“I hope it teaches people that you can do anything you want as long as you put 100% of yourself into it.”

Relocating to Europe has in part been a natural progression for Timba, who says that although he loves his country, the opportunities are limiting. He is already involved with the art scene in London and is putting on a show in Brick Lane next month, while he plans to launch the next Wooden Toy in June – which will effectively be the continent’s intro to the magazine we have all grown to adore. He is also working on a book on Melbourne Street Art with Thames & Hudson and although he sold his share of Gorker before he left, he is working on the concept of another brick and mortar space in London, but this time, a retail store dedicated to art goods – Wooden Toy, of course, being its topshelf product.

But you don’t have to travel to London to catch a glimpse of Timba – well, not yet, anyway. His work is going to be part of the Go Font Ur Self Chapter 4 exhibition, sitting alongside artists such as Above, Super Expresso and Yok. Timba describes type as another area entirely – one that “can really shit you up the wall.”

“I love working with type because it’s so challenging. Everything else is super cruisy, but type is not my main thing so it makes me want to tear my hair out, but that’s what I love about it. It’s got a different set of rules which I don’t understand, and I am trying to learn more about. I like the idea of finding something new, plus I love words. They are so powerful, and I love backing them up with illustration as well. It’s a great mix.”

Timba Smits

Go Font Ur Self will be on from 6pm on March 17 at Peer Gallery, 153 Bridge Road, Glebe.

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words: Seema Duggal


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