Auriol Herford

Kite Studios founder makes teaching art her life's work because art makes life work

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

How long have you lived in the area?

I've lived above the shop (on Bassein Park Road) since 2005. I've been in W12 well before then, since my mid-20s.

Where did you grow up?

Tewkesbury, west of London on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border.

I've found no pressure to fit in

Do you come from a family of artists?

My parents aren't artists but they're creative. My mother's an antiques dealer and my father runs a holiday cottage and bed and breakfast business.

Any siblings?

I'm one of 4. They're all creative. My brother, who has a complex mental health history, is a self-taught potter. We're keen advocates of neuro-diversity at Kite Studios. Last year we had an exhibition that celebrated the work of (amongst others) my brother, Oliver Herford, and my son, Kallum Vidal, who has a rare chromosome disorder.

When did you set up Kite Studios and what is it?

It's a creative oasis open to all ages and abilities, including the disabled. We sell after-school and holiday workshops in painting, pottery, and printmaking for children and adults. We've had Facebook here twice and Santander. And we help local schools with their arts curriculum. I started in 2005 but, now, we're a large team and I couldn’t have done it without them.

Why the name?

I was searching for a name for ages until the image of the kite came to mind, the bird not the child's toy. The kite suggests freedom and reaching your potential and setting your own sails.

Some people see art education as a luxury, not an essential. Why is it so important?

Art is the key motivator for engaging children. Learning really happens when we're engaged. Take out the creative and all you're left with is the challenge of behaviour management. Put it in and you have the joy of learning.

Once you have the pupils attention, what do you teach them?

Process. It's essential for fostering confidence. Once we realise that everything can be broken down into its components, like a tennis serve, we can have a go at that process. We have a song we sing in our classes. It includes the lines: Ask myself the question first; See if you can find an answer. The "an" is important. There is no "the" answer. The process involves dead ends. There is no failure. It's not just about outcomes.

Which artists best illustrate this process?

We often refer to Turner's watercolours, his landscapes, which are surprisingly abstract. And Rodin's dancers. They're so loose, so fearless of error. They're such a brilliant invitation to see and see again. They take the mystery out of art. By accessing the process, even the least confident will have a go. Creativity teaches the skills for a life of creative learning.

Can you teach anyone to draw?

Yes. I know because I have a 12-year-old son with global development delay and he can draw. He understands mark making. It's not always about realism. I don't think we should all be drawing like a camera. Drawing is not about one perspective.

How can we all be more creative?

Be disciplined with your devices. Turn off your screens and set yourself a creative goal, perhaps doing a drawing a day for a month – just for 30 seconds – with your left hand. And be creative with your boundaries. Setting rules takes the fear away. You can't push your boundaries if you don't know where they are.

Why draw when computers can do it better?

The hand is an extension of the brain. Drawing allows us to enter mindfulness, to be in the now, something you hardly get from a machine.

Did you go to art college?

I did, but mine was an unusual journey. I did my foundation year at Cheltenham (art college) and then started a degree in painting at Wimbledon. After a year, I went to Chile and finished my degree in Santiago. It's where I met my ex, Klaudio Vidal, a recognised Chilean printmaker, who's the father of my oldest son.

What was the most useful lesson you learned at art college?

To set your own sails.

If you could work in only one medium, what would it be?

Collaborative painting. Multiple hands. I'm no longer motivated to paint canvases to hang on private walls. But give me a wall to fill in a school... with many hands.

Have you ever exhibited?

Yes, but not for years in a gallery context. My practice now is so much more about collaboration. I'm more of a conductor now. I guide the rules of the game.

Where did you work before starting Kite Studios?

As a freelance arts educator, for the Crafts Council and the Arts Council and for lots of school projects.

What's your best advice for anyone wanting to make a living from art?

Be prepared to think for yourself. Be entrepreneurial. Take risks. Get used to financial insecurity. Be humble. Learn as much as you can from different experiences even if that means doing work experience for free. You'll get something out of it.

If you weren't working here, what would be your dream job?

This is my dream job but my next chapter is outdoor learning. We're doing a lot more outdoor workshops, outside London.

How do you relax and with whom?

Strangely, with art materials. I like to play with clay or draw. I used to run but I've just had 2 children in the last 3 years with my partner, Pundarik Ranchhod, who runs a digital design agency from here. We support each other.

Have you a tattoo?

No. I used to have a nose piercing when I lived in Chile. Tattoos tend to be a trend and, being the parent of special needs, I've found no pressure to fit in.

Thank you, Auriol. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Interviewed May 2018

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