Hervé Tullet, the French author and illustrator behind the bestselling Press Here! and most recently, Art Workshops for Children, has recently moved, with his wife and his daughter, to the United States. Tullet was a longtime resident of Paris before his move to New York City. The author has written for children since 1994, but became widely known in the U.S. market with his breakout book Press Here! Since Chronicle released that volume in 2011, more have followed, as well as interactive board books from Phaidon, and most recently, Workshops. His daughter is in the 10th grade, and his family hopes to stick around to see her off to college.
Ideally, the move to the States will put Tullet in the position to be able to engage longer-term residencies. “My idea is to find places with a big audience. I want to settle down, I want to share.... I want to figure out how to work with a neighborhood, city, town, art students, begin workshops with these people, with children, families, teachers and librarians.... And naturally in that time we could make art, and turn everything into an exhibition. The exhibition [itself] could be a work in progress, [which would] start from an empty space, and fill it for one, two, three months, whatever.”
In Art Workshops for Children (Phaidon, Sept.), Tullet has created his first book geared for specifically adults, meant to guide teachers, librarians, and others who interface with children on how to run playful workshops that foster children’s imagination, creativity, and movement. The first workshop in the book – and one of the earliest Tullet developed – is called “A Field of Flowers.” The essence of it is to have a group, of almost any size, build a field of flowers, starting with a dot, then adding more, then circles, all while the participants are moving along the mural, so that a sense of movement and play is engaged rather than students growing comfortable in their seats. The book provides materials, advice, and general scripts for dozens of workshops, and with the recent boom of creativity books for adults as well, one can see the playful spontaneity engaged in this book as one that might appeal across ages.
The book is Tullet’s first for adults, but writing it was not largely different from the experience of his other books. He worked with author Sophie Van Der Linden – who contributed an essay at the end of the book – speaking aloud to her and creating the book more as an exchange. The photographer, similarly, came to Paris and shot the entirety of the book in two days, in an improvisational style that came together “exactly the way I love to work,” Tullet said. “To keep moving. To keep the freedom, and the possibilities that something could happen.”
In developing the workshops, Tullet said, “I didn’t want the children to draw with me. Drawing was a failure. Because drawing with children [is just] to let them draw. To calm down, to rest. I didn’t want that.” Instead, his workshops expect participants to move around and think for themselves. When participants ask questions, he’ll not answer, so that they’re forced to figure it out themselves. Tullet said that he was never particularly drawn to books until he discovered the Surrealist art movement as a teenager, and was then transfixed. It’s easy to see, years later, the sense of play that is rampant in Surrealism motivating Tullet’s workshops and books.
Ultimately, Tullet’s aim with his work is no less than to “save the world.” Discovering books and creativity when he was 17, Tullet said he “was quite lost, and I think that in some ways I was saved by books, I was saved by culture. This is something I share with some people; you find a way to convey this experience, and to give [it] to other people. It drives you.” For Tullet, that experience is creativity, because it urges “you to challenge yourself.”
Tullet’s mission, then, is to inspire creativity wherever he goes. And with that force driving him, Tullet’s own U.S. sojourn is not too far from his own modus operandi when running workshops: to keep moving, and see what develops.
Recent and forthcoming releases from Hervé Tullet:
Art Workshops for Children. Phaidon, $19.95 Sept. 2015 ISBN 978-0-7148-6973-5
Finger Sports Game. Phaidon, $12.95 Oct. 2015 ISBN 978-0-7148-6979-7
Finger Travel Game. Phaidon, $12.95 Oct. 2015 ISBN 978-0-7148-6977-3
Game of Shapes. Phaidon, $12.95 Oct. 2015 ISBN 978-0-7148-6975-9
Let’s Play. Chronicle, $15.99 April 2016 ISBN 978-1-4521-5477-0