Kid Made Modern:
A Visit with Todd Oldham

Most of us believe that art and craft making are important outlets for children's creativity and expression. But can they make you a kinder person? Todd Oldham thinks so and after an hour visit with him to talk about his new line of art supplies for Target, the Kid Made Modern collection, he has me convinced.
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You may be familiar with Todd's book of the same name, Kid Made Modern, (Ammo Books, 2009) which introduces children to some of the best artists and designers of the mid-century era. It includes 52 projects for kids to make inspired by luminaries like Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi and Verner Panton. If this sounds slightly pretentious - it's not. It's very much a "let's dig around the house for supplies and make something" kind of undertaking that still honors the artistic legacies it was inspired by. More recently, Todd has released more focused, topical KMM books in an "All About" series, also for Ammo, beginning with collage, dye, embroidery and fabric painting.

Oldham's current collaboration with Target, the Kid Made Modern line, extends the spirit of the book, teach and do, to a full spectrum of art supplies and craft kits. About half of the collection is tools and supplies: classic artist supplies with modern, kid-friendly twists. A huge, kaleidoscopic, faceted crayon containing 64 colors, brightly hued and patterned tapes, richly colored glitter glues, and paints that are intentionally not washable.

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The rest of the collection is more linear activity kits that still leave room for individual expression. The paint by number kits, for example, leave some of the coloring decisions up to the maker. There's a comic book kit, jewelry making kits, a board book kit, a diary kit, and more. Nothing is more than $20 and much is considerably less (like the 10-brush set for $10.99 or 36 mini colored pencils for $5.99).

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If you think Todd just slapped his name on these products, you'd be sorely mistaken. He and his team have considered every detail of every product and are committed to two attributes that don't often go hand in hand: quality and affordability. "Touch this paper," Todd implores as he shows off the thick, saturated construction paper which includes patterns as well as solids. He proudly shows off the paintbrush set and explains that written on each brush is guidance for how to use it ("for precise edges and fill", for example).

Even the packaging is thoughtfully designed. No blister packs here. Todd insisted on minimal, eco-friendly packaging. The outer packaging is also noticeably absent of imagery of kids (with one exception) so no product suggests that it's for a boy or a girl.

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I asked Todd what attracts him to connecting kids and art. Not only is it a response to dwindling art budget in our schools, he told me, but he believes that making things, making art builds self-confidence and creates more rounded individuals. Put simply, it makes people kinder, he says. He offers this statement with the utmost sincerity and I'm certain that in his case, at the very least, it's true.

This collection, I'd argue, also better equips the next generation with skills, know-how and interest to join the populist DIY movement which seems to be reaching its zenith (or, you might say, catching up to lifelong diyers like Todd). A Creature Cushion kit, for example, teaches how to stitch, a skill that can then be applied to any number of homemade ventures.

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So what's next for Kid Made Modern? There are a slew of Halloween products coming out in the fall and Todd and his team are working on new kits (like clay, and embroidery) for next year to further round out kids' exposure to the world of arts and crafts.

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The Kid Made Modern collection is sold in Target stores and about half of it is also available for online purchase. Todd is about to relaunch the Kid Made Modern website which will provide a space for kids to share their creations so be sure to check that out.

I was predisposed to like Todd and these products, but I came away from my visit to Oldham's office (and KMM HQ) truly impressed by the thought and earnestness behind them. "Designer" collaborations, especially with big box stores, often offer accessibility and affordability without integrity, but this is a refreshing exception.

(Images: Simon Gerzina)