Pen, pencil, charcoal, crayon: when we think of drawing, we picture a tool we can control with our hands. Not so for Italian design duo Mathery Studio, whose immersive art space for kids, Pastello: Draw Act, rethinks the act of drawing, literally turning it on its head, elbows and feet.

Installed at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Pastello: Draw Act was the first large-scale spatial project for Erika Zorzi and Matteo Signelli, who call themselves Mathery Studio. Soon after finishing their studies at Milan’s Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, the pair worked for a while in Milan before setting out on an extended sojourn through Asia, followed by the Australian outback. Armed only with backpacks, cameras, a ‘beautiful old van’ and a camping stove, they wanted, says Erika, to ‘get away from all things design for a while’. Rejoining the modern world in Melbourne, Zorzi and Signelli began working with local artists and design studios, one of which connected them to the NGV, which happened to be planning the latest reincarnation of its dedicated kids’ space.

A series of meetings followed, which included presentations of various concepts for the space. Eventually, Pastello: Draw Act was commissioned, and Erika and Matteo got to work. Or play, it could be argued.

‘We had to design a space for kids, so we literally started playing with something that every child knows: crayons,’ says Erika. Crayons are made from coloured wax that can be melted and moulded into infinite shapes and sizes. Using the same camping stove they had used on their road trip through Australia, she and Matteo ‘melted every single crayon we could find’. To make their first prototypes, they poured melted crayon wax into various makeshift containers, such as ice trays and world globes.

Pastello had to be kid-friendly, so Mathery devised a floor plan with lots of empty space that allowed children to sit, sprawl and, inevitably, to run around. Astroturf gave the floor a soft, safe, sound-absorbent surface. Green turf indicated walking zones, and pink turf defined areas for drawing. ‘Astroturf doesn’t get dirty quickly – most of the crayon dust was simply trapped in the grass, so people didn’t tread coloured dust all over the museum,’ says Erika.

Photos Mathery Studio