Interview with Anna Bruder

Interview with Anna Bruder

August 17, 2020

Anna Bruder is an artist, theatre designer, prop maker and creator of the brilliant, A Line Art. Since 2004 Anna has worked in the world of theatre, not only practicing as a highly skilled prop maker for London's leading West End musicals, but also designing and building awe inspiring sets and installations for productions at The Young Vic, Sadlers Wells, The Southbank Centre and many more theatre based institutions.

Since 2012 Anna has been working on her design concept A Line Art which specialises in immersive theatre performances and art events for children, young people and their families.

The Big Draw is a big fan of A Line Art. They have taken part in The Big Draw Festival for the past five years, inviting audiences to join in with fantastic, free and ever-popular A Line creations, including: Ready Steady ColourReady Steady Go! and Fold Your City. We always look forward to catching up with Anna, and were thrilled to chat with her about her practice, what drawing means to her and a bit about how the lockdown has affected her life and work.

Matilda Barratt in conversation with Anna Bruder.

Artist, set designer, prop maker, creator of A Line Art... You are a woman of many titles and talents! Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your background?

Hello! Thank you for inviting me to be part of this. Yes, I do many things and wear many hats! I had a wonderful childhood growing up between London and Zambia in Central Africa, travelling the world and experiencing new things and meeting new people. I went to school in Zambia as well as in the UK and trained in Theatre Design/Design for Performance at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design graduating in 2004. I was fortunate enough to assist the brilliant theatre designer Ian MacNeil whilst I was at art college and for several years after I left college, assisting on shows at The Young Vic and The Barbican Theatre. Whilst assisting I met various directors, production managers, producers, other makers etc, so I was able to build up my contacts and start making props and designing sets at several theatres, from The West End, to many repertory theatres, to community art venues including working in Wormwood Scrubs prison, women’s refuges, mainstream and SEND schools. These were the years where I learnt and developed my craft leading to 2012 when I set up our interactive art and theatre company, A Line Art.

What is A Line Art, and how did it first come about?

A Line Art is a company that myself and poet-partner Arji Manuelpillai set up in 2012. We specialise in creating interactive playful art events and theatre performances for children, young people and their families. We love to play, and our main aim is to inspire and encourage creative play within families. It all began in 2011 when I designed a show called My Dad’s a Birdman at The Young Vic Theatre. This design was really the beginning of finding my illustrative A Line Art aesthetic. It was the beginning of my hand drawn style which has now become my trademark. The style takes the audience back to a childlike state of mind by transforming the original interior into an illustrated world. Over the years I have been building a language of simple, drawn symbols which anyone can access and understand, a universal language. We tour our work to weird and wonderful places all over the UK and across the world, from libraries to schools, from shopping centres to art galleries, from theatres to outdoor spaces. Our work is for everyone regardless of their language, age or background. I suppose that is the dream: for every single person to be able to access and enjoy the work.

Ready Steady Go! Photographer: Martin Brown

Have you always had a love for all things creative? Was there a light-bulb moment when you knew what path you wanted to follow? 

I have always loved making and creating things and this has always been encouraged by my parents. As a child I often used to set myself projects such as making a world of bottle people; drawing millions of 5 legged dinosaurs (many are now framed!) and creating crazy assault course installations! I wasn’t highly academic and I always had to work very hard! So, I think I always knew I would go into something creative. At secondary school I loved painting and creating HUGE drawings, murals and installations and at that stage I thought I was going to be a scenic artist which isn’t too far off what I do now! I have always been inspired by the brilliant Keith Haring. I love his energy and innovation, the thick black lines, the references to cartoons and the performative aspect of his very public works. He was utterly brilliant and a huge influence to what I do now.

What do you aim to achieve with your work? 

My aim is to inspire and encourage creative play for children and their families. Accessibility is key to my illustrative style. My hand drawn aesthetic can be seen as childlike and naive (even though it has taken me years to perfect!) and therefore anyone in the room, adult or child could have drawn what I have drawn and that allows anyone to give it a go! I believe everyone can draw, make and play and this is what I want to encourage when people interact with my work.

Why do you love what you do? 

I love that every day is different. I could be sat in my studio drawing next to a pile of children’s picture books, coming up with ideas for a new book, or making a model, or painting giant murals, or teaching in a classroom or performing in a shopping centre. No one day is the same as the last and that’s something that all artists have to get used to; for me, it’s part of the fun. However, the main thing I love is meeting new people and seeing people playing, interacting and creating new games inspired by my work. I love seeing families jumping, dancing, wiggling on my illustrative games, laughing whilst having fun together. It really is wonderful seeing 30 children running around in drawn cardboard box cars, or flying around in cardboard rockets whilst singing along to our songs! The fun and playfulness can be seen on people’s faces and this is why I love what I do.

Jimmy Choo Dog Party: Photographer: Nick Harvey

Do you draw every day? What does drawing mean to you? 

Yes, I draw every day. Some days I’m on a roll and I can draw and draw and draw! And other days it’s only a few squiggles! I love exploring different materials, paints, pens, stickers, crayons, lettering, movement… all kinds of mark making. My english teacher at school once looked at my palm at the age of 15 and said you’re going to make money from your handwriting! Haha! So ever since my handwriting has become part of my process of drawing. I can write/draw the same word 100’s of times a day so I can get the perfect drawn hand writing! I love this meditative and repetitive process which gives me time to think as well as to have fun.

These past few months have seen many of us taking up new hobbies and pursuing creative endeavours as a means of getting through. Have you found that this period of lockdown has changed your relationship to drawing and making at all? Do you think it has highlighted an innate need for creativity?

Yes, the past few months have been very strange indeed! A roller coaster of feelings! Most of our work involves creating work with lots and lots of people in real life and this has all come to a standstill. However, this period has given me the time to re-invent, and it has made me realise that us artists are brilliant at innovating, creating new things and leading the way in the world! I have spent even more time drawing and creating which has been wonderful. As soon as lockdown happened there was a whirlwind of artists and creatives offering online activity packs, books, videos, drawing classes, shows, discussion groups etc… so much kindness and generosity, which has highlighted the need for creativity in the world. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what age you are, creativity is key. 

Fold Your City: Photographer: Jon Oliver

And how has the lockdown affected your work? How have you overcome some of the problems that you’ve faced as a result of the pandemic? 

We have all had to reinvent what we do, which has been a little bit scary and not great financially! However, it has been a wonderful opportunity to have the time to explore new ways of working. We were fortunate enough to receive some emergency funding from Arts Council to create an online TV show called ‘Anna and Arji’s Broom Cupboard.’ A series of 21 webisodes where we share interactive playful arts and craft activities, poems, stories, music, games for the whole family to make and play at home.             

As well as this I have been researching and developing a brand new playful, interactive environment called The Wriggle and Scribble Playground. The playground will encourage families to have shared connected experiences as they jump, wiggle and dance whilst keeping socially distant in the new world we are living in. The model will be tested at the end of the year with plans to recreate in Surrey locations throughout 2021. It’s a really exciting project and thanks to support from Farnham Maltings and Esmee Fairbairn.

However, I think the most exciting thing which has come out of this period for me is that I am having my first ever picture book published by the wonderful independent publisher Graffeg. Whoop Whoop! The book is called Fun for Fingers! It is an activity picture book which aims to develop fine motor skills, co-ordination and concentration for 3-7 year olds, whilst having fun! I am so excited to see it in print in a bookshop later in the year. It really is perfect timing as I have a few more books that I am working on up my sleeve, so I am hoping the direction of my work goes towards the picture book world, which feels a bit more realistic than doing live events at the moment. Fingers and toes crossed! You can pre-order the book here……..

Illustrations from Fun for Fingers (c) Anna Bruder, published by Graffeg

What is it that motivates you to take part in The Big Draw Festival? 

I love The Big Draw. The first time we worked with The Big Draw was in 2015 when we set up our make-believe colouring restaurant ‘Ready Steady Colour’ in Granary Square. We have worked on many Big Draw Festivals and I think one of my favourite Big Draws was at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester in 2016 where we set up our driving school ‘Ready Steady GO’ in the most amazing art gallery space with wonderful lighting. I always remember seeing all these young children wearing their cardboard box cars driving around the gallery! They were like moving art pieces! It was brilliant! I love The Big Draw for its creative energy, inspiration and passion. Anyone thinking of doing a Big Draw event MUST do it! Think BIG, invite everyone and have fun!

Could you share your thoughts on this year’s Festival theme The Big Green Draw: A Climate of Change? Do you think that drawing and activism can go hand in hand? 

I am really excited about this year’s theme. An incredibly important theme and very relevant to our current situation. I am particularly excited as earlier in the year I created a giant interactive board game called ‘Climate Challenge’ which toured various libraries in Havant alongside The Spring. Participants can play on the giant board game whilst learning and discussing current issues on Climate and our Environment. I love the idea of being able to inspire and encourage discussions on such important issues through drawing and playing. This recent surge in interest in artistic activism makes complete sense. Today, we live in a highly mediated world where the political topography is characterised by signs and symbols, stories and spectacles. And if facts are to be heard they need to be made into engaging stories and compelling images that capture attention and resonate with ways that people make sense of their world. This is why drawing and activism go hand in hand.

Climate Challenge: Photographer: James White

Finally, what would be your advice to all of the aspiring makers and creators, young and old, who are just finding their creative voices? 

My art teacher always used to say “Always do things in your own way and in your own time” and “Dare to Fail!” I still keep this with me now and with every project I do, and this would be my advice to others. The main thing is to enjoy, have fun and try things out. Don’t try to be too serious, and don’t worry if it doesn’t go quite to plan! 

Thank you Anna!

If you were inspired by this interview with Juliette and would like to find out more about her work, head to her website here.

Pre-order Anna's picture book 'Fun For Fingers', published by Graffeg, here!

Registrations are now open for The Big Draw Festival 2020: A Climate of Change! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.