Sometimes there are items that you remember from your youth that you think you will never get your hands on again. Perhaps it is very rare or very obscure or just not very common and you can’t quite remember what it’s called. I quite often have the latter situation. I sometimes remember something from my youth but I’m not quite sure what it was called and therefore it’s very hard to search for. This was the case with a Shrinky Dinks set that was an integral part of my youth.

Shrinky Dinks were those really cool things where you got a sheet of semi transparent plastic and you drew or traced pictures onto the and then put them in your oven where you watched them shrink into little ornaments that you could make into key rings, pendants or stick on your bedroom door etc. There were quite a few branded ones too. Just search for Shrinky Dinks 80s. You’ll see Mr T ones, E.T. ones, He-Man, She-Ra, Smurfs, Dungeons & Dragons, Gremlins, My Little Pony, ALF, you name it. This makes it a bit like searching for Viewmaster reels. They made so many of them that, unless you know the exact set you had, it’s very hard to browse through Shrinky Dinks sets and find the one you want. Furthermore, I believe they’re still making Shrinky Dinks today, although I don’t think they have any licenses.

The Shrinky Dinks set that I was after wasn’t a licensed set. All that I could remember was that it was a kind of build-your-own-character set. It came with a booklet which had pages containing different heads, different hats, ears, noses, mouths etc, and you traced each different element to make up a unique cartoon face, and then also traced one of a number of funny bodies in the book. But I couldn’t remember specifically what the cartoons were or what the set was called. I vaguely remembered there was a Frankenstein’s monster as one of the cartoons you could make up, so part of me wondered if it was a ‘Build-your-own-monster’ set or something. I have searched many times over the last few years for every variation of ‘Shrinky Dinks’ ‘80s’ ‘build-your-own’ ‘cartoon’ ‘monster’ etc etc but to no avail. I would always just get lost in the noise of Shrinky Dinks out there. I thought I would never find it. There are so many Shrinky Dinks out there that it could be like finding a needle in a haystack. I even just wanted to find a low res pic on Google. That would have sufficed. Finding a battered old set seemed impossible. It was one of my biggest retro holy grails and I was almost resigned to the fact that I would never see it again. I even wrote an article last year asking if anyone knew anything about it, in a desperate attempt to try to find it.

But… lo and behold. I searched one more time on eBay last week and whilst scouring through the results I caught sight of a Shrinky Dinks set that seemed familiar. It was on eBay and I investigated further. Cue the biggest nostalgia hit that I’ve had in a while as I recognised some of the pictures on the front of this box. I was pretty sure I had found the one! And guess what… it was being sold by someone who lived about 10miles away from me! What are the chances of that. What’s more, it was an unopened box in pretty much perfect condition and I managed to get it for only £15. Maybe that’s average, or above average, price for these but I still thought it might have been a lot more. I obviously bought it right there and then on ‘Buy Now’.

It arrived yesterday and I can’t describe the feelings of nostalgia that came over me. There are certain things from your childhood that are just burnt on your brain and that immediately transport you back to your childhood. This is in my top five in terms of retro nostalgia hits I would say.

It says this set was made in 1977. I was 1 year old in that year. But perhaps they still made this set for many years after that, because I vividly remember playing with it from maybe around the ages of 6-12, and I don’t think it was too battered. So many mine back in the day was a later printing of the same set, but certainly it was being made as early as 1977 which was interesting.

For me, I really can’t overstate how influential this set was to me. I made hundreds of Shrinky Dinks from it (I guess we got lots of refills of the plastic sheets) but the main thing for me was the cartoon art. I loved the arrays of different ears and different eyes and mouths etc. This booklet was the beginning of my love for art and is what ultimately got me into being a caricature artist for a few years and wanting to be a Marvel comic artist. It all stems back to this Shrinky Dinks set. When I opened up the booklet last night, although I probably hadn’t seen these images for around 30 years it was totally, totally as if I had seen them just yesterday. I knew every nook and cranny of every nose, mouth and eye. It’s such a weird feeling and I do get that a lot with pictures from my youth that are burnt on my brain. I’m already working on a separate blog post all about that.

I remember being asked by a primary school teacher friend, back when I was about 25, if I would go to her primary school class and give them a 1 hour session on how to draw cartoon faces. She knew I did caricatures and thought it might be fun to do. But I’d never taught anyone else how to draw before. My strategy was to do exactly what the Shrinky Dinks set did – give them a few different head shapes to choose from. Then give them some eyes to choose from. Then some mouths to choose from, etc. And at the end of it everyone had a different, unique cartoon head. The Shrinky Dinks set actually says there are 5 billion combination possibilities using all the cartoon elements in the booklet. That’s pretty cool.

I can’t believe I found the set at all, let alone an unopened one. Some people may balk at the fact that I opened it right away, but this was all about the pictures inside for me. I would have been happy with a torn, battered one. The fact that it was a pristine, unopened one was just a bonus, but it was always getting opened. I had to see the pictures inside and I also can’t wait to let my children use it and make cool cartoons together. It’s been sitting in a loft somewhere for over 40 years and it’s now going to get played with. That makes me very happy. And it was very cool to open this set and see it all totally fresh out of the packet. An amazing nostalgia experience. Happy days.

Check out the amazing booklet artwork below.