Q & A : Debra Franses Bean : Mini Monet Art School : Buckinghamshire


Tell us a little about you, your family, and where you live.

Its me, husband and one son aged 7. We live in Harefield a little village on the edge of London. We moved here for the house, a modernist glass studio on the Grand Union Canal. We would have lived in Primrose hill if we had a few Million but you cant beat a great home – you can always travel into Central London for the cultural buzz. The call of nature was stronger for me especially after living for many years in London, New York, Rome and other cities. We would have liked to have had more kids but we started really late as I wanted to have a career change. So at 32 after I got married and my husband encouraged me to apply to art school. Initially it was just a foundation, but then I applied and got a place at Central Saint Martins to study Fine Art – we decided to give it a shot. Its a big commitment as you really don’t earn money for a LONG time! 
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How did you choose your career in Art, and can you tell us a little about the journey from school to Art College/ Further Education.

I always loved art, from as long as I can remember I wanted to be an artist. I grew up in the Thatcher years and girls were encouraged to pursue a more academic and business path. I first studied Economics and Politics at Manchester University which I never really felt comfortable with. I could have changed to History of Art but was worried that I would never get a job!!!  

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Can you tell us about what you gained from Art College, and who inspired you when you were there.

Art school taught me to fight for my own vision. I had a challenging time there with quite a lot of criticism as I was a mature student and already had quite a lot of life experience. Much of it commercial, media, advertising and I had traveled as a sales representative, spoke languages even was a door to door sales person for a few years in Italy and Spain.  I had a lot that I wanted to say but honestly was so excited to be there, with young vibrant people I loved every battle of every day and made the most of my time there.


Tell us a little about Mini Monet’s, and why you started it. 

When we lived in NYC I used to go several times a week to the children’s museum of art in Soho where me and my son could explore all manner of creative output from Animation to sculpture, painting, music and film. It was such an inspiring space to be in and when I returned to london I couldn’t find anything like it. 

I wanted to use my art school principals to educate children in a conceptual and free thinking way. I was also keen to make my lessons like a mini foundation course where children got to try all medias. I emphasise children not comparing themselves to others and taking pride in their own work. Its quite magical the relationships that I have been able to make with both boys and girls. I teach an autistic boy privately too and even use art therapy ideas to help the children to open up into their art. 

The most important thing is that I teach art as a visual language. This makes the children conscious of their choices and also helps them to dare to go further. Its so important to counterbalance the structured results driven culture in schools. I like to think that they are developing a creative spirit of approval with me and thats why the children and parents love it . Parents are amazed at the work that their children produce and how happy they are to be left with me for 5 hours a day! I have children coming from London and a 20 mile radius weekly for classes so I know that what I am offering is quite unique

I run holiday workshops all year round and have a regular crowd and more new people coming each holiday. Some start coming weekly to saturday school and others save their art for the holidays. The success of Mini Monets has been a great relief for my husband as I promised him that when we moved to my dream home with a glass studio in Harefield that I would set up a business there and give him some time out as a thank you for supporting my art career for 10 years whilst he worked. It has been going for almost a year and we are very happy with the results. He is helping me with my marketing and we plan to franchise the concept over the next year so watch this space!


Which are your favourite cultural/ creative places to take the kids?

The South Bank literary festival, West end theatre and ballet, The Natural History Museum in Tring we are also going to Paris in the springtime and I cant wait to show Newton, Monet’s water lilies in the Tuillerie Gardens. We are also going back again to Marrakech as the Medina there is such a buzz of colour, smell and entrepreneurial spirit its a real mind opener.


Which exhibitions are you most excited about at the moment ?

Paul Klee at Tate Modern, James Turell at Pace and David Hockney printmaker at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The BIll Gates Foundation is giving you a work of art for your birthday, what would you choose ?

Matisse’s Red Studio

Which 3 items are most essential in your art-kit?
sketch book, travelling water colour set & pencil
Where can you recommend is kid-friendly for lunch/ day out  ?

The Tate Modern – take a sketch book and pencils and let them sprawl out on the gallery floor
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Which 3 children’s books are you most fond of ?

Good Night Moon, Puff the Magic Dragon and anything by Michael Morpogo.

What success, personal or business would you like to have achieved in the next 5 years ?

I would like to see my students thrive, publish and write a book on my teaching methods, make my own artwork to be able to take my own family holidays again having successfully franchised MiniMonets!!

Thank you so much Debra.