Todd Oldham has been making activity books and kits for kids for a long time. His delightful Kid Made Modern series is unique in that it often draws upon the great Modern designers—Alvin Lustig, Paul Rand and many more—who have influenced Oldham’s work. In one way it’s a long leap, and in another a small step from his fashion career. I asked Oldham what inspires him to develop (with AMMO Books) this wellspring of inspiration for kids.
How much of your own art and design emerged from the things you are putting into the market for kids now?
I endlessly use the KMM stuff to make all kinds of things, and in reverse, all of my years designing allowed me to figure out the perfect lead-to-binder ratios for the colored pencils, or specific viscosities for optimal paint applications. It’s really fun to do science and art together!
I love that you call the series Kid Made Modern. It has a number of meanings. A few classic Modernists said that their art and design was an extension of their kid curiosity. Do you think that’s the nature of Modern design?
I do indeed; we say a modern kid is one that holds digital and analog experience in equal measure. I think the pure desire of making is celebrated in children but often not encouraged in adults, which is a shame. We hope a KID MADE MODERN kid will embrace process orientation in their making instead of being outcome-oriented, a potentially slippery slope for esteem and creativity.
What are you making for kids that kids have never had made for them before?
I am clear that we have not invented anything new, but we have bundled and fine-tuned every experience in KMM so much that hopefully it will feel like a new version when they experience it. I like mining my favorite experiences in making to fine-tune experiences for others. Our supplies work very well. Many supplies aimed at young artist are inferior and are evidence of a very sad pathway and thought process we discovered in kid’s stuff: the idea that since it’s for children it doesn’t have to be as good as it could.
We think that the fact it is for children is the very reason it should be as great is it can be. I also like to bring back older art techniques like the Victorian watercolor embedded papers that we use, as in a modern mono printing kit. Where we really are different is our color sense; I make every color we use.
Is there any plan to move back to the adult world? Or are you content in both?
We pretend like KMM is just for kids but we know many adults are using the supplies. We do make an adult version called HAND MADE MODERN that takes up about 16 feet in every Target store. That said, I prefer making stuff for kids!