I have many ideals when it comes to parenting; a sort of fantasy blueprint for how my two sons and I go about our joint business. One of these involves art-time. In my head the three of us sit around the kitchen table, pencils and crayons lovingly laid out in rainbow order, each of us beavering away at a potential masterwork. And perhaps one day when the pair become globally renowned artists, they’ll show some of the pieces created during this early period as part of a retrospective at the Tate.
The reality is that after about five minutes my sons will have become bored and dashed off to some other room probably to graffiti the walls. They will have left me still labouring away at a biro portrait of Kung Fu Panda, essaying careful pen strokes to make sure I’ve got his eyes just right. Once I’ve finished the boys will return to the table to deface whatever I’ve managed with their crude squiggles.
In the time that the two are at work a surprising amount has been achieved. Invariably the manageable pencils and crayons are ignored in favour of what I consider the Four Horseman of the Art Apocalypse: felt-tip pens, stickers, Play-doh and paint. Weapons of mess destruction.
My youngest son has an unusual approach to using felt-tip pens, preferring a sort of jackhammer method of repeatedly smashing the pen down onto the paper. This has two results, a cluster of colourful bullet-holes and an obliterated tip. If I can persuade him to actually draw something, it’s normally a face. On his socks.
The stickers in our house live a nomadic existence, scattering from the kitchen to the darkest corners of the home. There’s a fungal quality to them, a relentless spread, like Dutch elm disease. I swear that they creep about when we are sleeping, dancing around the door frames and gathering in the cupboards. The bravest ones will attach themselves to your person, and seal themselves on the soles of your feet. And eventually, inevitably, you’ll look down and find Chase from Paw Patrol plastered to your bum-cheek.
I have so many issues with Play-doh that it requires an entire post. The tragedy of a tub of Play-doh is that it is never better than when it is opened. Fresh and clean and moist to begin with, it quickly degenerates. Within seconds, my sons will have sourced an alternative shade of Play-doh and jammed the two together. This will first produce an agreeable marbling effect. But this rapidly subsides into a brown lumpy mass soon to be discarded.
Paint has the most potential for catastrophe: even a gloop of children’s water-based paint has the power to ruin soft furnishings. I once allowed my older son to quench his thirst with a slurp of bright red paint. It was from a tester pot of outdoor wood paint, which led to a panicky call to the NHS emergency line. They advised to keep an eye on him to see if there were any after-effects. Gladly there were none, although he did look like Ronald McDonald for a while.
And when I think again of that retrospective, perhaps it would just be a series of Tracy Emin-style installations: a bin full of decapitated felt-tip pens and a hospital bed with a poisoned toddler in it.