Marion Deuchars interview: 'Let your children make a mess'

Children’s book illustrator Marion Deuchars chatted to us about not forgetting the joy of pencil and paper

Marion

Not only has she produced bestselling children’s art activity books Let's Make Some Great Art and Let's Make Some Great Fingerprint Art, but mum of two Marion Deuchars is also the woman behind those Shakespeare RSC commemoration stamps and the cover of Jamie Oliver’s Something for the Weekend cookbook.

Her latest children’s book and first storybook, Bob the Artist, sees a self-conscious bird find confidence in creativity and expressing himself through art. She spoke to Gurgle ahead of its release.

What inspired Bob the Artist?

I’ve wanted to do a picture book for a long time. This little bird has been a character in the background of quite a few of my books. He’s popped up a few times, and I wanted to bring him to life. That’s how it came about.

Tell us about the story...

When most people write their first story, it has some personal resonance in that it’s come from a grain of truth. The story is about a bird that has skinny legs and is very self-conscious. My brother and I had quite abnormally skinny legs as kids and people commented on them quite a lot.

I took that story and put it onto this character as how he overcame something that he doesn’t feel very good about and is teased about. In the end it’s about acceptance, that you have to eventually accept the way you are, and Bob finds other things to concentrate on instead.

He was difficult to characterise because birds are quite cold. They’re not cute and cuddly, so it was quite a challenge to make Bob appealing. But there’s something about the simplicity of the shape and I tried to put a lot of emotion into the character.

What’s the best way to introduce children to art?

Most children are interested in art at a young age. It’s not like we have to introduce it; it’s actually keeping their interest as long as possible. There are so many distractions nowadays. You can just put a screen in front of them to keep them occupied – but a paper and pencil work just as well.

Even now, when we go to exhibitions or museums, my boys always have a little sketchbook. The worlds that children go into with their own drawings are really magical and important, and the longer they have that the better.

I’m not anti-technology; we use technology. Give them the iPad, but also give them a sheet of coloured paper and scissors. You’ll get much more interesting results. Don’t forget to let your children play with materials and make a bit of a mess, because it’s through that that they will discover themselves more than getting the top score on any game. But I’ve never forced my kids to draw; I just leave pencils and coloured paper out for them.

This year there was a big Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern that I took my kids to. I don’t go around and explain each picture, I let them go freestyle around an exhibition and see how they interact. If they just get something from one painting or picture, then that’s fantastic, because they’ll remember that more.

Any tips for getting creative with tots?

I always leave materials around, and there’s also proactively taking them to see art. It’s always good to take them to see interactive art. Recently there was a Carsten Höller exhibition at the Hayward Gallery which was a huge slide.

We also went to the Anish Kapoor show when they were quite young. It was a paint cannon exploding onto a white wall; that was the most fantastic thing for a child to see. A big noise and a big mess. Kids love that don’t they? You could see that they were thinking they’d never be allowed to do that at home.

When they’re toddlers they’re so receptive, and it’s such fun. I used to think all the time ‘what can I show them today? What can I do?’ Once we just made a huge rocket out of rubbish with tape, plastic bottles and bits of paper and card. It costs nothing but time and getting down on your hands and knees with your kids.

How do your boys inspire you?

They inspire me all the time. They always take my ideas and make them much better. Children are natural improvisers and I love that. They’re a constant source of inspiration because of their lack of fear, there’s an openness that they lose as they get older.

Can you share your five favourite arty activities to do with little ones?

  1. Get a big sheet of lining paper and put it on the floor. Then either your child can lie on top of it and you can draw around them or they can draw around you, or if they’ve got siblings they can draw around each other. Then they have a big outline of themselves and they can draw and paint and colour a full-size drawing of themselves. It’s so easy to do and fun.
  2. I always have paper and pencil in my bag, especially when we go to a restaurant, to keep them occupied. Children need that stimulus.
  3. Because it’s quite messy, a good one to do in the garden is to get proper clay with proper little wooden tools and get them to make a right old mess. Then you can ‘fire’ it in the oven and keep it.
  4. I think the hardest thing for parents is the willingness to get stuff out and make a mess. You can’t go wrong with sheets of coloured paper and a glue stick and getting them to collage, because it’s messy but not too messy.
  5. You just need some foam paint, a pencil and a roller for some basic printmaking. You score into the foam, ink it, and then print it.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on another storybook. I’m trying to write another story for Bob. I’ve got lots of characters from my fingerprint book that I think would make great characters and stories, and I want to bring them alive; at the moment they’re all flat characters. Bob was static and now I feel like Bob is real.

Bob is all about trying to spur parents and children to realise that things that can inspire you are actually within your grasp, they’re right in front of you. It’s just remembering to tune into them.

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