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The Art of Play: 5 Questions for Toy Maker Merrilee Liddiard

In Merrilee Liddiard's imaginative world, petite princesses wear papier-mache crowns, little knights in shining cardboard armor slay dragons, and the backyard is alive with a puppet parade of wild creatures. As the author of "Playful: Fun Projects to Make with + for Kids," she shares ways to repurpose everyday items into handmade toys.

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Photography by: finearts

1. Introduce us to your craft-making: How did you first become interested in crafts? Where do you find inspiration? And how would you describe your personal aesthetic or style?

 

I come from a very creative and large family where we learned to use what we had around the house to make magic. We crafted, sewed, and made houses from cardboard, and masks from paper plates. When I had children of my own, I wanted to carry on the magic of creation and play -- as well as the resourcefulness of making something out of what you had.

 

I actually find a lot of inspiration from limits. For example, if all you have around the house is a paper towel roll, some paint, and paper, the wheels in my brain start spinning. I think kids are the same way. Give them only a few supplies and only a few colors to work with and see what they made from it! My kids and their personalities are a constant source of inspiration.

 

I love so many things I often find it hard to describe my style. I've pegged my decorating style as "playful French industrial," but my crafts definitely have a modern feel to them as well.

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Make the Animal Masks

2. The "art of play" is something you talk about in your book. Can you explain for our readers? How important is hands-on creating and imaginative playing for children? And do you think that is something that is becoming somewhat of a "lost art" as we increasingly rely on technology?

 

When children play creatively -- such as making their own cracker-box trucks or cardboard sword and shields -- they become engaged in creative invention as well as imaginative play. When they step away from screens for a time to use their creative minds, they become authors of their own creative universe of sorts rather than just being influenced by what they see on TV or in the stores. It also helps to plant the seeds for thoughtful, creative problem-solving adults. When parents and caretakers engage in creating with (and for) their children, unique memories are made and bonds are strengthened.

3. Can you describe the process for designing the projects featured in your book?

 

When making "Playful," I thought long and hard about what I wanted for a kids' craft book. I wanted to give kids (and the adults who love them) a range of projects -- so some of them could be done on a rainy day while others could be more thoughtful projects made for gifts and special occasions. I was also thinking about my grandparents' era, when making toys out of wood or recycled materials was commonplace. I wanted to encourage adults to not be afraid to dive in and try something new, such as working with wood and drills. I also wanted to make toys and crafts that could be easily be revised and adapted according to the likes and needs of the kids engaged. And it's been such a treat seeing so many do just that!

 

Oh, and I also wanted this book to be beautiful and inspiring -- like opening up a world of play you could just get lost in. So children and adults alike could just sit down and be inspired again and again not only by the crafts but by the imagery, the props, the clothing, and the locations.

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4. Do you have a favorite project from the book?

 

It's so hard to decide! But I love the tiger pinata. That party shoot might be my favorite!

5. What tips do you have for aspiring crafters?

 

Find your personal voice/style -- inspired by your upbringing, nature, travel, art, history, etc., and create from that. Create from you. Try creating with limitations. And don't be afraid to do silly and quirky things!

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