Mastering The Art of Art With Children

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.

Any good?

Why Play-Doh is Like Kryptonite to Me

I didn’t have many dealings with Play-Doh as a child so when I did come into contact with it I regarded it as lurid, exotic substance. My grandmother owned a Play-Doh Mop Top Hair Shop, the mechanism of which allowed the operator to shove Play-Doh up through the follicles of plastic figurines with the intention of styling their newly-grown Play-Doh hair. It was rich in creative possibility. You could make your clientele look variously like a Vegas drag queen or a proto-hipster or a weirdly-coiffed tramp. It was brilliant.

So I was very enthusiastic when the Major expressed an interest in Play-Doh and slavered slightly as I prised open the lid of his first tub and reluctantly handed over the pristine lump. But it seems that in my old age I have become quite particular in the way I like Play-Doh to be handled. Because there is something about the sight of the Major mixing one colour in with another that strikes at my sense of what is right about this world.

Of course I would never seek to intervene with his artistic method so I have to watch on as the process is repeated again and again until all the original vivid hues have been replaced by a single greyish slurry-brown. Play-Doh also disintegrates into tiny flecks which are unnaturally resistant to hoovers and require cleaning up with a dustpan and brush, the least satisfying of all household chores. It’s basically multi-coloured gravel, only good for constructing wacky driveways. After only a few days of Play-Doh action each tub has a fraction of its initial wedge, containing something that resembles a prehistoric turd.

Regrettably both my sons have dabbled in clay in recent times. Clay is like some Play-Doh that’s let go of itself. If it had a personality it would be embittered. Embittered that it’s been taken out of its home in the ground and given over to the whim of small erratic children. It dries exceedingly quickly, turn one’s back for one second and a small pile of stones has appeared at the kitchen table. Clay leaves a powdery residue in its wake like a grainy snail and it also sucks the juice out of hands, rendering them shrivelled and lifeless.

For reasons best known to himself, the Minor decided to sample a morsel of clay, which compelled me to frantically examine the side of the pot to check if it was poisonous. It was at this point I shouted to my wife, “it’s okay, it’s only a choking hazard.”

Which is the best thing I can say about clay. It’s only a choking hazard.

Any good?