After Cyrus developed a nasty chest infection which left us sitting looking at the four walls of our house for a week, we were both in desperate need of a more stimulating environment.
And rather than go on yet another trip to the city’s intu Eldon Square (window shopping), I decided to take eight-month-old C to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne where he could experience his very first taste of art illustration.
Now an art gallery may not be the first place you think of when it comes to entertaining babies, given that silence falls as soon as you walk through the door and you usually find yourself whispering to whoever you are with.
So I did worry a little that taking eight-month-old C to a place usually reserved for thoughtful reflection might be challenging if he started to wail, but I am pleased to say that he didn’t and I was wrong.
The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne is different. It’s not stuffy, it’s not silent and it’s bright, colourful and filled with things for youngsters of all ages. It ensures that even the very young are catered for and encourages active children who want to point and gurgle at what they see.
It’s everything the artist behind the exhibition we went to see believes in.
Best known for his work on Roald Dahl’s children’s books, London-born Sir Quentin Blake, now in his eighties, is a firm believer in art at a young age and he has inspired generations of children to draw and paint.
He certainly captured my imagination all those years ago with his illustrations for The BFG, The Witches, James & The Giant Peach, The Magic Finger and my personal favourite, The Twits. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have read as many Roald Dahl books if it wasn’t for Blake’s interpretation of the worlds and characters created by the top children’s author.
He’s an author, artist and illustrator who has been able to bridge the generational gap, inspiring mums over 40 (like me) thanks to his efforts with Roald Dahl and now youngsters too via his work on ‘The Boy In The Dress’ with TV star David Walliams.
So it was a huge treat for me to get a close-up look at some of the works of the great Don of illustration and the thought that had gone into them at the exhibition “Quentin Blake: Inside Stories”.
The exhibition at the Laing showcases roughs and storyboards from the artist’s stunning career and it proved to me that art isn’t just for the parents.
His sketches proved a rich source of visual stimulation for Cyrus who was particularly attracted to the bold parrot wallpaper and brightly-coloured furniture in the kids’ play area. He also gurgled with delight at the colourful illustrations of Mr and Mrs Twit, while they made me chuckle and smile.
His eye movements and sounds meant it was easy to pick out what he found fascinating and the exhibition gave him a wealth of new things to take in.
With plenty of space and things to look at, combined with the the ability to go at our own pace, it meant he didn’t get overwhelmed by it all.
While Cyrus is too young to appreciate some of the hands-on parts of the exhibition, it’s given me ideas on how I can replicate them at home once he’s older and able to scribble with colour, nibs and ink.
Although he doesn’t understand everything I say yet, the visit definitely ramped up our one-sided conversations and proved a really enjoyable experience for both mum and son.
It enabled me to engage with him as we walked around and gave me new things to talk about (which can be tiring at home when I struggle to find inspiration).
I was really glad to have introduced Cyrus to the Laing and I’ll most certainly be back once he’s a verbal toddler!
It’s so exciting to know that I’ll be able to inspire Master Cyrus with Blake’s genius in the future too. I just hope he’ll be as inspired through the partnership of Dahl and Blake as I was.
You can see the exhibition from the House of Illustration at the Laing Art Gallery until Saturday, July 8th. There are also activities for the kids on offer in April when you can model yourself on one of Quentin Blake’s quirky characters. Visit www.laingartgallery.org.uk for more information.
You can also find out more about the author by clicking on the website here.