“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” is a line famously attributed to Picasso. There is some disagreement about whether the big man did utter these words, but it has endured as a truism; influence and inspiration flowing from one artist to another play a major part in the development of art history.
Marion Deuchars has built her new book on this idea, hoping to unlock her readers’ creative potential by explaining how famous names – from Hockney and Warhol to Kahlo and Kandinsky – went about making pictures and having us recreate some of their tricks. Draw Paint Print Like the Great Artists follows her massively popular previous titles, Let’s Make Some Great Art and Let’s Make Some Great Fingerprint Art which have been translated into 18 languages and sold in 25 countries.
The new book includes nice pen-portraits of the artists at the back but it really promotes learning by doing, as we are encouraged to take our pencil for a walk like Paul Klee or play around with colour and texture like Joan Miró. Marion is great at striking that perfect balance between playful and educational. Too twee and the book would dumb down these hugely important art world figures, too dry and you’d be left with an academic treatise with a side order of colouring-in.
Ahead of next week’s launch, we caught up with Marion to find out more…
Can you explain the ideas behind the new book? How does it differ from the previous books you’ve done on similar themes?
People really responded to the artists’ activity pages in my first book Let’s Make Some Great Art. This book takes that idea and develops it in a more focused way and for a broader audience.
I want to help people step into the shoes of a great artist; learning a technique they used or momentarily adopting their way of thinking. It’s a book that gives away secrets – it’s surprisingly easy to copy and get good results, but the point of the book is to let other artists’ work influence your own way of thinking.
By being influenced by an artist’s technique, you create an entry into making your own pictures. It is a great way of overcoming the fear of the blank sheet of paper, taking you out of your comfort zone and habits.
Why do you think your books have struck such a chord?
It’s not just that they are timely and part of the general resurgence of craft as an alternative to our life on screen, but I also believe it’s an attractive way of rediscovering our sense of play and creativity.
I think parents buy my book to encourage their children to work physically with materials, to appreciate art and to get off the computer (at least for a short while). Adults buy the books as an accessible way into the playful process of making and enjoying art.
How do you come up with the exercises in the book?Are there lots of ideas that get jettisoned along the way? What makes one of these exercises successful?
I try lots of artists and ideas that get discarded. It’s actually quite a difficult process; for example I really wanted to include Goya but I could not translate his work into a child friendly exercise.
I had a long list of artists which gradually got reduced down by studying each one and searching for the essence of what they do or what they were about. I’m deconstructing an artist’s technique and reconstructing it as a playful art activity so it’s very important the exercises were easy to do with materials that are affordable and readily available.
How do you decide which artists to focus on?Is it important to you there’s a real educational element to them as well?
Essentially this is my own personal selection rather than ticking the boxes of the art history curriculum. Some of the artists included in the book are obviously famous, like Matisse and Miro, but I’ve mixed in some personal favourites like Philip Guston and Emily Kngwarreye.
This book has more of an educational bias than the previous two. Art history is so vast, I’d like to think I’ve a curated a small exhibition of a book that makes some of it comprehensible.
How much do you get involved in the design of the book?
I pretty much lay out the whole book myself. All the text is handwritten and the pictures drawn and painted by hand. Whilst it looks effortless and spontaneous, in reality there are many corrections, adjustments and tweaks.
I rely on my husband and art director Angus Hyland to give me a steer and provide me with a valued opinion and my editor Donald Dinwiddie helped greatly with the content.
This was the most challenging book I’ve done to-date and whilst it’s fun, it seemed to carry a responsibility with it. I’d like it to help inspire a new generation of young artists who appreciate working with their hands.
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