Lindsey is the relocated Brit who blogs at Filth Wizardry about the
mess art making and other fun things she does with her two daughters, ages 4 and 5. She’s funny to boot — I snarfed my coffee, laughing at Lindsey’s answers!
***Note: Readers will have a chance to win one of Lindsey’s favorite art tools at the end of this interview as well as a pair of her hand-crocheted flower hair clips.
*** JEAN: The subtitle for your blog is right up my alley—“Sharing messy art and craft fun for preschoolers, with the help of my very own filth wizards.” Can you tell us a little about yourself and your filth wizards?
LINDSEY: I’m originally from the UK, but moved out to California in 2004, so although me and the bloke I’m affiliated with are Brits, both our daughters are American, with the full on accents to prove it! My kids are very close in age, they are four and five years old and although that was a lot of hard work when they were babies, I think these days it’s making life easier because they are sharing toys and are able to work together on the same projects easily. I am well aware that I was very lucky to get all the baby proofing and nap co-ordinating over in one burst. If our family grows in the future I know that I’m going to have to face the same issues that you are facing now with trying to ensure that Daphne is able to get into only the art supplies that are appropriate for her, whilst still keeping the rest accessible to Maia.
JEAN: I love how open you are to messes and mayhem in the pursuit of creativity and fun learning experiences! What makes you like this? Don’t you ever think, hmm, I could set up an awesome light box for sand art OR I could keep the house clean and just pop in a DVD?
LINDSEY: I get a lot of people telling me that it’s really good of me to let the kids get in a mess and not worry about the clean up while the art is going on, but really it’s not an altruistic thing at all. I just like making a mess too. I know I have to clean up after, but making stuff is fun and I’m a domestic failure when it comes to keeping a tidy house anyway, so why fight it. I can’t see the point of spending my time cleaning something if it’s not totally filthy, so it’s probably best that we get the house utterly destroyed on a regular basis or I’d never bring myself to clean it at all.
The thought process behind all of our nonsense is usually a case of “what can I do with the kids to avoid chores and that isn’t going to cost us anything”.
Both me and my husband went from living student lives in shared houses to being married with kids and a family home almost overnight, so it’s not like we had any time to collect new furnishings that we want to keep nice and pristine. Everything is second hand or older. Regulars to our site have probably noticed by now that the wood on the kitchen table is covered in Sharpie markers, and truth be told I’ve become rather fond of it looking that way. Also we never had time to get used to not having other people’s belongings all over the place, so having toys and kid stuff and half finished artwork all around the house doesn’t bother us either. It’s better than ash trays, beer cans, last night’s take out or an unconscious stranger.
I haven’t totally banned TV in the house or anything like that. The kids do get a bit of idiot box from time to time, but it’s not in the living room, because it’s too much of a distraction to have it there as the focus of the room. A few years back I moved our TV into our bedroom, which will probably make any relationship expert freak out, but it keeps it out of the way during the day and the kids find loads of fun things to involve themselves in when the cathode ray tube of temptation isn’t right there next to them.
JEAN: What are your family’s favorite art materials and activities?
LINDSEY: Anything that is free or cheap that we can use our imaginations with. I guess I do have a bit of a soft spot for the low temp hot glue guns now that the kids are a bit older. Glue is so frustrating for little kids, because it never dries fast enough to make the 3D objects they want, but hot glue will stick pretty much anything in your recycling bin together in no time at all, and that’s a huge amount of creative fun whether you are five or fifty-five. Things like our Wall-e and care-a-lot would have been a gigantic pain without hot glue.
Same goes for Sharpie pens. Once the kids are old enough to get that you don’t stick them up your nose or in your ears or face paint yourself into a tiger with them, then they are very useful because they will draw on pretty much anything, from plastic to tin foil. I know neither of those things are particularly wholesome sounding, and people often expect me to extol the virtues of water colours and naturally dyed play dough, but we just go with whatever does the job really.
The best projects have to be the ones with oodles of brightly coloured sloppy paint though. The kids love that more than anything else, especially when the things they get to paint are unusual or really really big, like the junk house shanty town from a while back. I am extremely grateful for the vast amounts of cardboard that Costco doesn’t seem to mind us stealing from between it’s pallets of toilet roll too!
JEAN: I love how you think big! So many other families (including mine) seem to be focused on arts and crafts they can do on their kitchen table, while you’re out reclaiming large chunks of wood as play blocks, building your own lightbox to use for sand art, and hanging dumbbells from your ceiling in the name of art. What gives you this drive to pursue such large scale experimentation?
LINDSEY: I’m not really sure. It must be a combination of parts of my upbringing and then maybe being in the labs of the Physics department back in Manchester for four years. There was a lot of building apparatus involved there and that was usually on a daunting scale until you got stuck in. I really want my kids to have some hands on science fun early on, without getting bogged down in mathematics and formulae. Feed the curiosity about how things work in an environment where you can wonder about stuff without having to fulfill any academic expectations, hence the Bernoulli effect “hair dryer in a Frosties box” and the harmonograph in the garage.
JEAN: Was your childhood like this? Did you create hanging pendulum drawing apparatuses with your parents?
LINDSEY: Mum and dad are very creative people. Mum is very good at sewing and crochet. She used to sew a lot of clothes and toys for me and my sister when we were growing up. Dad was a civil and structural engineer before retiring. His influence on me was one of encouraging focus and problem solving. I can remember him teaching me how to draw in perspective when I was a kid. That seemed like some kind of magic until he explained it all with vanishing points.
Lindsey making wine with her dad when she was about 4 years old
He also made a lot of stuff around the house, usually woodwork and DIY related, which was empowering to see happen. They were really good about facilitating some of my childhood obsessions too. Like when I was about seven and became utterly absorbed in decorating paper doilies with intricate coloured patterns, mum collected all sorts of different ones for me. Last time we went back to visit, my older daughter got equally involved in the same thing, and mum still had a stash of those doilies handy from 25 years ago! Mum and dad do like things being extremely clean and tidy and really well organized though, so their house is very different to mine in that respect.
I think I realized in secondary school that other kids my age didn’t think the stuff I thought was fun was actually anywhere near as fun as I thought it was. Luckily I have a great best friend (back in the UK now) who was totally into making things with me, like river rafts and sculptures out of trash (we even collected scrap from a dismantled local railway station to make garden sculptures at her parent’s house). Having a friendship like that, where open ended creativity was a legitimate pastime, must have really reinforced it becoming part of my adult life too.
I know right now my kids require a lot of supervision with using tools and learning creative processes, and I love being a part of that, but I’m excited for when they are older and can just go have those epic, totally adult free, self directed, creative projects that ruled my tween and teenage years. It’s fun to be in the presence of these girls, who have the enthusiasm and drive to explore and play, and who don’t think it’s a silly idea to make a rocket ship out of a Costco potato box, but rather think it’s totally cool and want to do it RIGHT NOW!
JEAN: Where do you go for inspiration? What are your favorite books and blogs?
LINDSEY: All sorts of things can be inspirational. The kids themselves are very inspirational. They have what might seem like totally wacked out ideas, but given a bit of thinking time, they often turn out to be things that we can actually make happen, like the homemade toy car wash , the freaky kiddy scarecrow and the paper making fiasco . The cool thing about helping them to make these ideas a reality is that gradually over time their ideas get bigger as they dare to think that more might be possible. Their enthusiasm pushes you forwards to try bigger projects with them and before you know it you have a cardboard metropolis in your backyard and your mate’s kids are referring to your home as “The messy house”.
I subscribe to plenty of blogs and enjoy a lot of different websites. Some are parents that are into similar creative pastimes, some are teachers that have whole classes to attend to and some are purely selfish craft and hacker sites for me to expand my own skill set. Stupidly I didn’t take the opportunity to learn to crochet from my mum, so I’ve only recently been learning via Youtube videos because mum is so far away. I’m hoping to crochet her something decent for Christmas this year.
I like hearing what you are up to over here, because you always manage to have what seems like both creativity and a calm almost meditative environment. It feels very serene to read about your adventures in art. I also love Kami’s blog “Get your mess on”. She seems to have a similar truck load of crazy at her house as we do and it makes me happy to read about someone else who is embroiled in creative chaos and loving it. I love Teacher Tom’s attitude and many of the other progressive preschool bloggers out there too. I like Ikatbag, because LiEr is so lovely and the things she sews for her kids remind me of the types of things my mum would sew for me and my sister, also she shares our fetish for crafting with cardboard boxes.
As far as books go, I don’t really have any craft books that are aimed at kid’s stuff. Most of the art/craft books I pick up are from thrift stores and are instructional books for crafts that I want to learn myself, like basket weaving and knot work, then if the kids are interested we try and figure out a way that they can accomplish something similar. My five year old is really into knots at the moment. Paul has some old climbing rope and she’s creating these marvelous knots that look like some insane Celtic monk’s artwork.
JEAN: Anything else you’d like to add?
LINDSEY: Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed! It’s extremely flattering because I’m not qualified in early childhood education or anything like that. I just have a blog diary of the things we make and play at and think that it’s really cool that there are other people that find our antics interesting or useful to their own families. It’s always a highlight to my day when I find out that someone has tried something on our blog and enjoyed it.
I’d also like to say that it’s really fantastic having Paul as a partner in crime with all this stuff. He’s really into making stuff with and for the kids too. Over the last couple of years he’s got more and more into electronics and that’s added a whole extra dimension to the type of things we can make as a family. I persuaded him a while ago to start his own blog, which is called Fangletronics (Fangling and Ferkling are words that my dad uses to describe subsets of tinkering) He has a quite a few electronics and non-electronics based projects on there now. I love seeing the kids all enthused about us making things as a family and I feel pretty lucky to be with someone that’s as open to my usually batty suggestions as Paul is.
JEAN: Thank you, Lindsey! What an amazingly fun mom you are! I’d love to channel some of your energy and attitude when it comes to creating and parenting.
Readers who leave a comment by Friday, September 3rd at 12midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for one of Lindsey’s favorite art tools as well as a pair of flower hair clips that she crocheted. In her words: I’ve talked a few times about how much I love my little Styrofoam cutter that I got from Daiso, and I’ve never seen such simple compact and cheap cutters like this anywhere else. Being able to cut out shapes to use in our projects has been very helpful, and I know that lots and lots of my readers live nowhere near a Daiso store, so the first thing I wanted to offer as a giveaway is one of those little Styrofoam cutters (of course with the C battery it uses, because you don’t always have that size handy). I also wanted to offer something that I’d made, so seeing as I’ve mentioned my learning to crochet, I’m giving away a little pair of crochet flower hair clips. Good for kids or grown ups, and one of the few things I make that doesn’t involve hot glue ;)
This giveaway is now closed.
The random number generator picked #24 so Molly wins the drawing!
Awesome, awesome, awesome interview. I’m so glad I have an official title for the messes around here — domestic failure! Seriously though, I am so excited to go and check out Lindsey’s blog. Thanks to both of you.