Dominic Wilcox returned to his home town of Sunderland to ask over 450 children across the city and in nearby South Tyneside to draw their own invention ideas. He then asked local makers and manufacturers to make a selection of them into real things.

The background
When Dominic Wilcox left school as a young man, an artist and tutor called Charlie Holmes showed him a book of odd inventions. He asked Dominic to think up his own ideas and draw them. Dominic came up with some good ideas and realised he had a previously undiscovered talent for thinking of innovative and creative things. His art and design work has since been exhibited worldwide in museums and galleries. In 2015 he appeared as a guest on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York showing his creations and had work exhibited at London’s Design Museum and the V&A. The importance of how one person can influence a young person’s creative life forever simply by showing what is possible, has stayed with Dominic.

While at a STEAM co event as their ‘Inspirator’ Dominic led a couple of workshops where he asked a group of children to think up their own invention ideas. He noticed how interesting and imaginative their concepts were. The idea for the INVENTORS! project emerged. Instead of just putting the drawings on the fridge door as most adults do with a child’s drawings, why not push the ideas as far as they can go? Taking the power of children’s imaginations seriously and see where it leads to.

Commissioned by The Cultural Spring, Dominic Wilcox’s INVENTORS! project was born. The aims of the project are to inspire and encourage children to believe in the power of their imagination, find some great ideas and create some wonderful objects.

At the beginning of the project Dominic led 19 inventing workshops for children from age 4 to 12 that lasted 2 hours each. During the workshops he showed his own designs and inventions such as the Reverse Listening device and Cereal Serving Head Crane. He then asked the children to think of their own invention ideas and draw them down. The ideas could be crazy or useful and functional. Dominic asked the children to start by thinking about problems they have or a member of the family may have that they could solve with an invention.

Dominic also got some invention contributions from enthusiastic parents, carers and teachers. He also lead a workshop at Ocean Arts an organisation that supports people with learning disabilities.

He gathered just over 600 invention drawings from the odd and absurd to the brilliantly clever. Dominic picked out around 60 that he thought had great potential. At a meeting at Sunderland’s Fab Lab, Dominic showed the drawings to the local makers who wanted to be involved in the project. After great discussion each maker showed their preferences for ideas they would like to make into reality.

The young inventors were invited to meet the person who would make their idea, and describe in more detail their invention drawing and idea. Of fundamental importance to the INVENTORS! project is that the inventor is the designer and the maker makes whatever the inventor has designed and discussed.

The makers then had 4 weeks to work on the project (at the same time as doing their usual work!). It was a short deadline for the exhibition.

A large vacant shop was hired on Sunderland’s busy Fawcett Street and transformed into an INVENTORS! exhibition of wonderful ideas and creations. The front windows and signage was designed and drawn by Dominic Wilcox and attracted great attention from local people.

The exhibition opened on the 16th January 2016 and runs until the 30th January. The exhibition attracted a wide range of people from all types of backgrounds. We even had people coming in with invention ideas of their own and others who tell us extra ideas, inspired by an idea they saw in the exhibition.

The children’s excitement at seeing their idea made real was wonderful to see.

On the 29th January there will be a INVENTORS! STEAM co Day, a conference for those interested in the subject of ‘Inspiring tomorrow’s innovators, creative thinkers and inventors.’ Get free tickets and more details here.

The INVENTORS! project was commissioned by The Cultural Spring who are an organisation engaged with bringing creativity and culture to the North East England area of Sunderland and South Tyneside.

The INVENTORS! project was commissioned by The Cultural Spring, the Creative People and Place Programme for Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Watch the short documentary by Liam Saint Pierre about Dominic Wilcox to get an idea of his approach to creativity.