A Visit With the Kraken

©Viviane Schwarz, 2015

Viviane Schwarz is a CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shortlisted writer/illustrator. She also designs games and interactive installations and runs workshops. Recently she set up Kraken Studio with theatre designer and artist Ellan Parry and poet/theatre-maker Sarah Grange. Helen Maier met up with Viviane at their South London studio to learn more about what Kraken do and how they got started.

What is Kraken Studio?

 Viviane: “Kraken Studio provides bursts of really useful arts education for children and adults. We offer tangible knowledge and practical advice that people can experiment with and explore for themselves.”.

“Art is not just for artists. It’s for humans. It’s not a privilege. It’s a way to think with your hands - or your feet or your voice or your whole body, depending on the art.”
- Viviane Schwarz


Kraken Studio provides three different types of workshop:

School workshops - tailored to fit schools’ needs.

Kraken come prepared with a portable art studio: a suitcase full of good quality basic arts materials that can be used to make anything from pop-up picture books to puppet theatre performances. The workshops are designed to boost literacy and encourage collaboration and to help all children to express themselves. With art education getting less space in the curriculum, many children find that they have no way to express themselves in school. The Kraken encourages, enjoys and appreciates engagement, experience and participation.

Family workshops – run in community venues
Affordable and accessible creative workshops that encourage the whole family (whatever that means to you!) to make things together, within an environment of mixed ages and abilities. Among the activities is a kite-making workshop.

Master classes for adults – various venues
5-hour master classes led by at least two artists from different disciplines offering the opportunity to learn new techniques and processes to inspire practice. An important aspect of the Kraken philosophy is an interest in how different practices can intersect in unexpected ways to inform and inspire. With connections to many artists and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds and working practices, the opportunities for new cross-disciplinary discoveries are great.

Setting up the studio

Kraken set up official headquarters a few months ago on the ground floor of Viviane and Ellan’s South London flat, which has become a hive of creative activity. Ellan even employed her scenography skills in the layout of the studio, building a model and shifting around the miniature furniture until the space felt just right. There’s a large table (decked with Viv’s homemade tablecloth) for brainstorming and meetings. Beyond that are Ellan’s desk, surrounded by miniature set models and costume drawings, and Viviane’s, covered in an amazing variety of brushes, pens, inks and books, plus a bewildering assortment of technical experiments. Sarah’s never enjoyed working at a desk - her comfy corner armchair in a nook next to the bookshelves is rarely occupied as she roams different parts of the studio depending on whether she’s doing creative writing, audio work or performance research. A much-loved orange sofa is usually inhabited by at least one of the Krakens, or Pixie the cat who provides much-needed distraction and the occasional paw-print on a drawing.

Viviane at her desk with Pixie the cat. © Helen Maier, 2015


 The rise of the Kraken

When Viv, Ellan and Sarah started Kraken it was important to have a shared space they could work from, but they also needed to find a structure for how to run the studio together, which is where the name Kraken comes in – a legendary giant squid that is said to live off the coast of Norway and Greenland.

Viviane: “We needed to find a way to work together where we could collaborate whilst having a clear sense of what we can and can’t do”.

Viviane, Ellan and Sarah are the head of the Kraken from which multiple arms can grow - they are all multi-disciplinary practitioners, and want to encourage cross-practice dialogues as part of the workshops. As a many-tentacled Kraken, they can oversee what each “arm” is doing but aren’t always all directly involved. If an arm is becoming too disconnected from the overall idea of Kraken then it’s easy enough for it to detach and go its own way.

At the moment Kraken has two main tentacles:

Kraken Studio - set up by Viviane to provide creative workshops, making use of the variety of practices and skills accrued by all the studio members and their colleagues as guest practitioners.

Kraken Salon - mainly run by Ellan and Sarah, the Salon is a gathering of like-minded creative makers and educators to share work in progress and discuss ideas. Taking inspiration from the Open Space events that Sarah runs for the theatre company Improbable, Kraken Salon invites people to share ideas and create things, but there’s no set agenda or schedule, it’s up to the participants to self-organise. You can bring work you want to show and discuss or just come along to see what happens. Aside from the need for a friendly and open space to share ideas and show early-stage work, the hope is that this will generate interesting conversations that may then lead to ideas and collaborations for future workshops and events.

And that’s when Tentacles and Tea happens.

Viviane: “We get a few artists from different disciplines around the studio table and work out how to draw together our different processes to make an interesting and useful workshop. For example our next master class explores the parallels between theatre design and making a picture book, but it could be anything, like: can we use the principles of gaming to write a recipe book? Let’s find out!

“If we think it can go somewhere, then we make a Kraken recipe card and we try it. The idea is for a workshop to be a learning experience for the tutors as well because they are collaborating with another artist from a practice they don’t know so much about. They come to the workshop prepared with their own expertise but that other, more unknown part, means you let a bit of chaos in and you start creating spontaneously with everyone else.


Viviane’s sketches for Kraken recipe cards. ©Helen Maier, 2015

Viviane: “With each new workshop I run it’s like I have this big creative people engine that I can power with ideas and be amazed by what comes out. The different things people get excited about, the new discoveries they make, all that feeds back into my practice. I need to be working with children so I stay in touch with how they think and make and are.”


Viviane and Ellan went to this year’s Manx Literary Festival on the Isle of Man and spent three days testing workshops. It was an intense few days and an invaluable learning experience.

Viviane: “One of the school visits we did, I planned to just do a simple book reading and cat drawing session because people had told me: ‘That school might be difficult, keep it simple.” But after I read There Are Cats in This Book to them they asked, ‘Can we make a book?’ and I said ‘Yes, why not!’.
I showed them how to fold sheets of paper into a book and we supported them and answered their questions along the way. By the end of the 2 hour workshop, each of the 50 children had made their own book and made plans to exhibit them in the school library so other children could read them.

making an interactive dinosaur picture book at school.

Viviane: “The materials we use in our workshops are really important. They should be affordable but good enough quality to do justice to the work the children are making, anything that readily creates or receives a mark. We owe that to them”.

One reason many people get the idea that they’re ‘no good at art’ is through frustrating experiences with unsuitable materials. Viviane has spent a lot of time researching materials that are both affordable and rewarding to use. The materials that the Krakens bring to a workshop are all thoroughly (and gleefully) tested by the Krakens themselves to make sure they’re up to scratch - one day we may find out what sugar paper is for, but good for painting on it certainly isn’t!

Kraken’s ‘portable art studio’ that goes with them to every workshop.


So far the biggest challenge for Viviane has been finding venues where she can run workshops. With space in London at a premium like never before, finding friendly and accessible spaces that can be hired at a rate that still makes the workshops accessible to the general public is a priority. The Centre for Primary Literacy in London is hosting the first official master class and the search continues for community venues that welcome family workshops, tolerate a reasonable amount of chaos and provide an affordable space.
Hopes for the future include popping up at larger established venues such as the Tate, the British Library - plus adventures further afield...

Tips for anyone wanting to start their own studio:

Find a structure that works for you

Kraken have their head and many tentacles. Communicate, collaborate and find the best way to remain functioning.

Get good materials

If you’re running workshops, source good quality materials, especially for children who don’t have easy access to them usually. Brands like Pelikan, Faber Castell, Stockmar, Berol, all make affordable supplies that last and are worth the investment. Also “ikea paint brushes are surprisingly good” says Viviane. 

Kraken's website is here.
You can also find Kraken on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook.

(All images © Kraken Studio, 2015 unless otherwise stated)


Helen Maier is a writer, illustrator and designer living in London. Half of the time I create character-led experiences that help families with young children deal with daily difficulties at home through stories, song, play and making. The rest of the time, I write and illustrate my own picture books. I also post mini stories on instagram @Storyflakes


  1. A really excellent thought provoking feature Helen, well done! Kraken is an inspired idea, hat's off to Viviane and the team.

  2. The Kraken Salon sounds like terrific fun! What a shame the next one's on at the same time as the SCBWI Conference.

  3. That sounds amazing, it's a shame I live so far away.

  4. So glad someone picked this up and wrote about it. Love the tentacles and tea concept. Great article.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.