Miffy has always been there.
If you met her as a child, you won’t have forgotten her.
Each time you see her iconic face – two simple dots and a cross for her mouth – in books, on posters, in the toy shop, it’s like running into an old friend. You can almost see her wave.
I almost didn’t want to watch it, for fear of spoiling the magic. But Bruna is just as charming as his creations, and full of wisdom for creators. Here’s what he had to say.
Less Is More
When I’m drawing Miffy, just the face, the two eyes and the little cross, it can take forever to make her look a tiny bit unhappy or a tiny bit cheerful. I spend ages working on these minute details.
Miffy’s Mum and Dad, for instance, being a little older, have an extra line on their crosses, a wrinkle.
The less you do, the more it matters. And the more you do, the less you need to do.
Aikido master Gozo Shioda said he was better in his seventies than in his eighties – he was wasting less effort, doing only what was absolutely necessary to throw his youthful opponents as they huffed and puffed.
Bruna is a master of minimalism. The less he puts on a page, the bigger it looms. Miffy is tiny and enormous at the same time. She is unmistakeable.
Takeaway: Each time you start a piece of work, resolve to do less than last time. Only do the bits you absolutely have to. The bits that would leave a hole if they were missing.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
When I’m sitting at my drawing table it sometimes feels as if a child is standing there, looking straight at me. It’s one of the reasons my figures are always facing you. Children have this great directness.
I’ve heard this before, from the many writers I’ve coached over the years. I’ve seen writers get stuck when they have the wrong people in mind as they write – the critics, their peers or the academics.
But when the right person walks into your mind, it’s as if a switch has been flipped. When you focus on them, and what you want to say to them, the words become obvious.
Takeaway: Who are you creating for? Before starting work, call them to mind. Look at them. Listen to them. Notice how they feel, what they want from you. Then you’ll know what to do.
Learn from the Masters
You’re always trying to improve, achieve greater simplicity. It’s been a process, getting to this plane surface. As it was for Mondriaan and many others. This has become my style. I very rarely use perspective.
Matisse of course taught me simplicity and the use of colours. In his final years he made these cut-outs in plain colours on a white surface. I really liked those. In my work I’ve also tried to reduce things as much as I could, leaving only the bare essentials.
We’ve all seen the works of Mondrian and Matisse. But how many of us have looked at them like Bruna?
We revere Bruna’s work because he revered his own masters. He followed in their footsteps until their path became his own.
Takeaway: Out of countless artists in history, there are one or two with something important to teach you. When you find them, devour their work. Look at everything they did. Study it. Copy it. Memorize it. Stay with it, until you learn your lesson.
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? I know I go on about it, but creativity really is work. But not just any work. Work that you love. Work with meaning and purpose.
Bruna is in his eighties and still working seven days a week. I doubt he needs the money. He’s doing it because he loves it. Because he wants to keep bringing joy and wonder to countless children and adults across the world.
That’s something to aspire to. I hope I’m still hard at it in my eighties, doing something I enjoy that people are pleased to see.
Takeaway: What are you spending your time on today? Are you following a path you can see yourself treading for the rest of your life? If not, maybe it’s time to switch.
More Miffy marvels at Miffy.com.
What Do You Make of Miffy?
What stood out from the interview for you?
Have you ever created more by doing less? How?
Who are your creative masters? What have you learned from them?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet and creative coach.