Kids' monsters reimagined by adult artist

(CBS News) Dave DeVries paints lots of creepy, crawly monsters.

He does it by tapping into his inner child and the creativity of children.

You could call DeVries the pied piper of paint because when he puts on a clinic, kids go crazy. And it's not just that he's produced some of the world's most famous superheroes for Marvel and DC Comics, it's because he makes children's art come alive.

DeVries told CBS News kids' minds are "so much different from ours." "They don't have the critical judgment that we do," he said. "We'll sit down and start doing a project and we'll say, 'That won't work.' They just do it. And there is something really powerful about that."

He calls his project The Monster Engine, and the concept is simple: a kid draws a monster, DeVries takes that drawing and paints it with ghoulish realism. The results are stunning.

The idea first came to him by accident when he brought his sketch book on a family beach vacation.

"When I came out of the ocean I saw my 6-year-old niece Jessica drawing in my sketch book, and you gotta understand about kids, they don't draw, they carve. I was just like, 'Ah! No! No! No! And that's where the idea started."

That was 14 years ago, and since then, The Monster Engine has become a book and a website and a growing collection of drawings and paintings.

DeVries said the drawings take people back to their childhood.

"They're looking at something that they used to do and they are seeing it the way that an adult illustrator can render it and it's a connection between those two worlds, adult and child," DeVries said.

When asked if he's into the weird and dark, DeVries said, "From the time I was a little kid. I like things that are odd, things that are weird, things that are absurd, and I've always been like that."

As one might expect, DeVries' studio is an homage to childhood, with toys and comic characters all around. Something his wife Michelle - an interior designer - takes in stride. She said, "This is so not strange to me that I sometimes forget that average people would think this is really weird, but I'm comforted by it. I don't have a problem with it, I actually like it."

Watch DeVries at work in the time lapse video in the player below.


But not everyone likes The Monster Engine. Some critics say it sends a terrible message to kids: that their work alone isn't good enough.

DeVries said he finds it's the complete opposite to be true. "The drawings themselves are the basis of the painting, and they realize that," he said. "The kids know that I couldn't do the painting without their drawing, so it's a very important part of the process."

He said he believes he's inspiring children. As proof, he showed me the pile of thank you letters and monster drawings he received after visiting a school in March.

The kids inspire him too, and help him to continue to see the world through young eyes.

"You can't erase being an adult, you just can't," DeVries said. "And I think that there is something lost when you get to be 12, 13 years old. That perception just, it's really hard, I've tried hard to try to maintain it, but, you'll never be a kid. You'll never see it like that again."

To see Whit Johnson's full report, watch the video in the player above.

  • Whit Johnson

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