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Art & Life with Zard Apuya

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zard Apuya.

Zard, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born-and-raised on the island of Guam, a little tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. For my undergrad, I attended the University of Guam where I earned a degree in Business Administration and also studied Fine Arts as a minor, focusing on watercolor painting. I moved to California 6 years ago where I attended grad school at the University of San Francisco and earned my MBA. I then decided to move down to San Diego about three years ago to try and explore more opportunities in SoCal. While I do my art as a side gig, I work full-time as an Account Manager in the Ad Tech industry.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
In regards to my art, I’ve always had a passion for it since my early childhood years. Drawing, painting, making lots of crafts, and just doing all types of creative expression. After graduating from the University of Guam and working the typical 9-5 job, I decided to get back to painting during my free time. I didn’t just stick to traditional flat canvases though. I decided to explore other things to paint on: shirts, hats, bags, and shoes. Eventually, I got my hands on my first designer toy–a Kidrobot Munny. A Munny is a vinyl blank 3D canvas, ready to be painted and customized to the artist’s imagination. After I made my first customs, I found myself hooked, and that’s where it all started.

With the figure’s human form, it felt straightforward to design them to look like characters–superheroes, cartoons, or even of actual people. Think of them like little action figures. As I continued to design figure after figure, my friends took notice and were interested in commissioning me to create custom ones for them. After my first couple of commissions (and the power of word-of-mouth), I was approached by more people who were interested in customs of their own. A few months into customizing toys, I submitted some of my work to showcase in my first art show: GAX (Guam Art Exhibit). Having the opportunity to showcase my work there really helped introduce to Guam what designer toys are and the creativity in customizing them, a form of art that was very new to most people on the island. It was very well-received, and I think that helped skyrocket my career as an artist as I began to receive more exposure.

I really owe it to Instagram as it allowed me to share my art as many people as possible. Thanks to its wide reach, I soon was being reached out to for more commissions from off-island clients. At the time it felt so unreal that there were many others out there who wanted to own one of my art pieces, including some international collectors.

Fast forward to when I moved to California, I was lucky enough to continue customizing toys. As I was attending grad school full-time, it really helped me as a source of income for my first year since, especially since I couldn’t get a part-time job yet due to my class schedule. Soon enough, I began to search for opportunities to build my presence in the art community out here, especially within the designer toy community. In addition to school, I was spending my weekends showcasing and selling my work at events, shows, and pop-up markets. I was submitting samples of my work to galleries and toy shops that frequently held art shows to get a chance to participate in group exhibitions. After all the time spent hustling and grinding, it definitely has paid off over the years. I soon was booking group shows around California and later New York. I eventually was lucky enough to book my first solo show in 2016 at PIQ in New York City and then another one the following year here in San Diego with Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla.

As an artist, I had struggled in the beginning trying to figure out what my style was or would be. Artists I looked up to had their own distinct styles where you can easily recognize their pieces out there. I always thought I needed that in order to establish a reputation as an artist. I kept trying for years hoping it would come to me, but it never did. What I did realize was that I enjoyed a certain theme across my pieces: Food. I decided I didn’t need to discover my signature style but instead, except that I found my signature theme or subject. It just kept me interested and constantly excited to create each new piece inspired by a specific dish, snack, dessert, etc., because there are so many out there that it would be almost impossible to run out of ideas. Plus who doesn’t love food? The feedback I get from creating these customs that look good enough to eat is priceless. Creating food toys also allows me to keep challenging myself as an artist. I try to make them look as realistic as possible which means experimenting with all sorts of techniques and materials to achieve that. It was a lot of trial and error. Many techniques I still use today actually came out of happy accidents.

Since focusing more on food art, it has allowed me to expand outside the art community. I now find myself within the community of food lovers. Before, I was collaborating with other artists. Now, I can also collaborate with food brands, chefs, and restaurants. Who wouldn’t want a piece of art inspired by their signature dish that could be displayed and not spoil? It’s almost like those fake food displays you see at Japanese restaurants but as a fun little figurine or toy.

What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
I sometimes find myself believing that, but I can honestly say that working on my art does give me a sense of relaxation, especially after a long day at the office. It’s almost meditative. But it is absolutely great to get the chance to connect with other artists. It allows you to not only talk to others who share the same passion as you do, but you are able to share tips with each other. For me, being able to trade tips with other toy artists has allowed me to discover better techniques or materials I never would have thought to use.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I do have a website with a portfolio of some of my work and an online store where I have pieces available for purchase (www.zardapuya.com). I frequently post new pieces on my Instagram (@zardapuya). I also try to do local events here in San Diego, including some pop-up markets, art walks, and food festivals. In September, I will actually be having my third solo show with Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla.

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Image Credit:
Zard Apuya

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