Guam-born and raised artist Zard Apuya started customizing toys after graduating from the University of Guam. Since then, the content creator has made over 2,400 customizations with customers around the world.
“I decided to open an online art store called Zard Apuya Art in 2013 because I wanted to share the projects I do and sell them to island and global customers,” the 34-year-old said. who now resides in San Diego.
Apuya’s designs range from wedding decorations to pop culture, but he is primarily known for his food-themed designs.
Its products can also be seen at several pop-up markets and conventions in San Diego throughout the year. In fact, Apuya has an annual booth at DesignerCon, an event similar to Comic-Con that’s more arts-focused. The next one will take place November 18-20 in Anaheim, California.
“The event attracts many toy design fans,” Apuya said. “This is where I would like to make the most sales and meet collectors who have purchased from my online store.
“I can finally meet them in person, which is really cool.”
Apuya’s passion for art began when he was a student at the Catholic school in Santa Barbara, where he was drawn to arts and crafts. He then took art classes like watercolor painting as a student at Simon Sanchez High School.
This led him to later pursue a minor in fine arts at the University of Guam while majoring in business administration.
But it wasn’t until after college that Apuya became more interested in more non-traditional types of art.
“I was customizing shoes or hats and painting them by hand,” Apuya said. “People started asking me, ‘Can you customize something for me?’, and they would give me their shoes, and I would start painting on them.
“That idea of personalizing things eventually evolved into toy design,” he added.
superheroes and food
Apuya was frequenting JP Superstore in Tumon to buy blank custom human figures to start his project. For his first pieces, he mainly designed superheroes.
“Nobody in Guam was doing that back then,” Apuya said. “As I continued to design, I eventually started exploring a food theme just because you can’t go wrong with food since everyone loves food.
“I wanted to do realistic designs on it,” he added. “When I first started making a few, people became more interested in the style that I do with these toys. Since then, I’ve made it my thing in the toy community as a food artist.
Annual gallery exhibition in San Diego
Apuya decided to move to San Francisco to advance her artistic career while pursuing her Masters in Business Administration at the University of San Francisco.
He graduated in 2015, and after a year of living in the Bay Area, he moved south to San Diego.
“I didn’t really know a lot of other artists when I arrived, but I started going to events and connecting,” Apuya said. “When there’s a new show coming up, our network of artists encourage each other to submit their work.”
It was through a recommendation that Apuya landed an annual gig at the Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla, San Diego.
“I did my first in 2017, and since then they’ve given me a solo show every year,” Apuya said.
Filipino and Chamoru roots highlighted
As an artist on the mainland, Apuya occasionally represents his Filipino and Guamian roots with his work.
“I make pieces inspired by Guam foods, like kelaguen or fiesta plates, so people can see more of my roots,” Apuya said. “At the same time, I’m also making a set of Filipino-themed food toys, like kare kare, halo halo, and lechon.
“It’s like showcasing Chamoru and Filipino food, but in a different way outside of cooking,” said Elizardo and Milagros Apuya’s son. “However, I also like to cook these meals at home.”
Work with restaurants
Zard Apuya not only enjoys cooking and designing food toys.
The self-proclaimed foodie who will spend 30 minutes on Yelp looking for the latest new restaurant is also collaborating with several restaurants as a content creator. Apuya produces video content and artwork for brands including Guahan Grill, Carl’s Jr., Coffee Bean, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Ike’s Sandwiches.
“I create art based on their food,” said Zard Apuya. “They don’t just get a photo. They get something an artist made that is inspired by their food. »
Zard Apuya also notices that local restaurants are leaning more towards using TikTok and Instagram. With 31,200 followers on TikTok and 12,300 followers on Instagram, he uses his strategies on social media platforms to help restaurants increase engagement.
“It helps to have a bit of marketing experience and apply it to my artistic profession,” he said. “I try to do a creative strategy to market myself and the brands I work with.”
With Zard Apuya’s extensive artistic experiences, one might get the impression that he is working full-time as an artist. However, he works during the day as a senior account manager at a digital advertising company called Mooko Media, headquartered in El Segundo, California.
“It’s very interesting because when I tell people I work in advertising, they think, ‘Oh, you have to be a digital artist or a creative or a graphic designer,'” Zard Apuya said. “Actually, I’m on the accounts side, so I work with clients.
“I think that’s where the cool thing about my job is because I like working with people, like I’m very likeable, I would say, which is contrary to what people often think that artists prefer to be alone all the time,” he added. .
Since Zard Apuya works from home, he can work in his art studio once the clock hits 5 p.m.
“I prefer to work at night,” said Zard Apuya. “I feel like that’s when I’m most focused anyway. If I have a project to finish, I’ll stay up until 1 or 2 a.m.”
Art as a full-time career
Although Zard Apuya is very satisfied to be able to work in a passionate field, his ultimate career goal is to make art full time.
“I would love to chase that dream, and I know I can because some artists have been able to do that,” Zard Apuya said. “I always think about the financial part.
“I hesitate a lot and I always think: ‘Oh no; I will fail and it will suck,” he added.
At least Apuya is clear about the type of career he wants to pursue in the future after making his television debut on HBO Max’s “Craftopia,” a craft competition show, which was released in November 2021. .
In Season 2: Episode 7, titled “Totally Tree-ifying”, Apuya and two other contestants created holiday decorations made entirely of sweet treats and were then tasked with turning Christmas trees into terrifying monsters.
“The challenges are big crafts, and it was intense because I’m so used to working with small projects like figurines,” Apuya said. “But then like I like it because you can create things and build things.
“I want to make it my daily job,” he added. “I would like to work for Disney doing the designs, in the film industry as a props maker, or in cosplay making cool costumes and props for cosplayers.”