Why do you think creativity is so important, especially for children?
I grew up being very creative, and it has always been important in my life, especially in my career. I think kids need to get their hands dirty -- to paint, sculpt, create -- in order to express themselves. As adults we're told we need to color inside the lines, but I don't think you should ever tell a child that. Let them scribble-scrabble like crazy and see what comes out.
What sort of projects do you do with your kids?
All sorts of things! We have an art teacher in L.A., Shakuntala Zakheim, who has been coming to our house since my oldest was 3. We've done everything from art with pasta or shells to creating cities out of juice boxes to making our own stationery.
How do you encourage your sons and daughters to think outside the box?
I have a whole closet devoted to crafts, with sparkles, rhinestones, paints -- you name it, I have it! I also made a special table for my kids' playroom that has storage space underneath that they can reach themselves. So their projects aren't only made from the pieces that you put out for them, but they get to decide what inspires them, and that way each child's art will look uniquely different even if they're working on the same craft.
What's your most prized possession that your kids have made you?
My last birthday present was probably the most elaborate gift they've ever made. Each of my kids made a clay mold of one of their hands; then they each painted their hand and all four of them were placed in a shadow box. Henry, who is rowdy and has a hard time sitting still, actually broke his and had to do it over!
How did Johan end up designing shirts for your Truly Scrumptious collection at Babies "R" Us?
Johan was in his monster phase -- well, he still is. While the other kids are watching a movie, he'll sit down at his desk for 45 minutes and paint monsters one after another. I like that you can make monsters look cute by giving them crooked teeth or two bunny teeth, one eye or five eyes, or a goofy-looking antenna. So he inspired me to create a line around monsters. Johan's very proud he was a part of it. Sometimes he wears his shirt and tells everyone, "I painted this shirt!"
Other than Johan's monster, how have your kids inspired your designs?
They love accessories and bright colors. Henry will wear a T-shirt with no collar with a bow tie. At first I thought, "That's odd!" Then I thought, "I quite like that!" Leni is all about comfort. Even if it's the cutest print, she won't wear it if it's itchy. For me, it's not about comfort. My shoes have to be super-high. It doesn't matter if my feet hurt; I wear things because they look good. So they've inspired me to use bright colors, mix patterns, and use yummy fabrics that are soft.
Why was it important to you to have other children join in with the Project Doodle Contest?
I wanted to inspire kids and moms to get creative. So we had kids draw doodles and moms submit them, and we narrowed it down to one boy design and one girl design and both were printed on T-shirts that are sold at Babies "R" Us. In support of the initiative, Babies "R" Us donated $50,000 to Save the Children. I really liked the idea of children helping children, and having parents be able to tell kids when they bought the shirt how they were helping other kids, and it would start a conversation about the importance of giving back.
How has designing your Truly Scrumptious line been a creative outlet for you?
For me, it's the same as painting or doing arts and crafts. As adults, we start to wear more black and dress in a boring way, so it's fun to create clothes for kids. Sometimes I have to hold myself back, though, because I want to BeDazzle everything and make it look like a circus.
When you're so busy, how do you recharge to get your creative juices flowing again?
I don't think my creativity ever shuts down. It's always working! A funky outfit one of my kids wears inspires me to do a certain color combination, or I see a tattoo or graffiti on a wall in New York City and think, "I want that on my next shirt." Random things will inspire me, and I like to take pictures of them. Then I gather all of the photos and start designing!
Heidi's Halloween Plans and Sources of Inspiration
You're known for throwing an annual Halloween bash and always having an elaborate costume. Why do you love the holiday so much?
It's the one day a year adults get to act like children. Wigs, face paint, costumes -- what's not to love, really?
Are you throwing your usual Halloween party this year? Can you give us a hint about what you're going to wear?
Of course I am throwing my annual party. I haven't missed a year yet -- this will be my 14th! I have started brainstorming about my costume but, as in all the years past, it's a big secret. I will say it may be my creepiest one yet!
Do your kids get as excited about Halloween as you do?
Definitely! My girls like to dress up as witches, and Lou was a bumblebee once. But Johan and Henry are into Spider-Man, so that is what they want to be every year.
How do you get the kids involved in Halloween decorations?
Instead of painting a pumpkin or carving it, Shakuntala taught us how to make it three-dimensional. We made a gigantic witch hat and nose out of clay and added it to a pumpkin, for instance, just by using toothpicks. Once it was dry, we painted it. Then you can add googly eyes and sparkles -- however your kids want to personalize it.
What do you do with your kids' decorations and artwork?
I display their gigantic canvases, watercolors, and three-dimensional art on a big wall at home, like at an art gallery. Not only is the whole thing beautiful, but it makes the kids feel proud to see what they did hanging on the wall, and that really builds their confidence.
We all have an art project in our head that we're waiting to get around to. What's yours?
I want to make a BFF blanket for each of my kids, with a collage of pictures of them with their pals.
Your two television shows, Project Runway and America's Got Talent, each give people an outlet to express their creativity. Do you feel yourself getting invested in helping people realize their creative dreams?
Yes, I think everyone likes to root for someone who is passionate about what they love, even if they're bad at it. And when they are good -- and on both shows I see people who are really, really good -- I can't help but want all of them to go on to do great things. So I encourage them to not give up just because they didn't win the competition. With practice you get better. I think that's true with everything in life.
Ways you can amp up your children's creativity level
- Come up with a theme. Heidi says: "My girls will love anything to do with Hello Kitty or Dora the Explorer; Henry was obsessed with dinosaurs for the longest time, and Johan can't get enough of monsters. Encourage your kids to draw, paint, or sculpt their favorite characters."
- Get physical. Heidi says: "One of our favorite things is to put music on. While the kids dance, I say, 'Okay, now do... a lion, now be a butterfly, now a bird.' Grown-ups have a hard time letting go because they think it's embarrassing. Kids don't have that fear."
- Push the boundaries. Heidi says: "Creativity is about trying something new. We went to a French restaurant and I wanted the kids to try escargot. They went, 'Ew, icky!' But they all tried it. I think that says a lot about having an open mind."
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Parents magazine.