N.L. native turns finger paintings into modern art

Published on July 3, 2013
Newfoundlander and Jellybeanstreet founder Ian March stands with his family in front of the canvas that started it all: son Tyler’s first doodle-turned-modern-art. — Photo submitted by Ian March

A new business based in Australia that combines children, parental pride, charity and modern art gets its name from a popular St. John’s neighbourhood.

Jellybeanstreet is run by Newfoundland native Ian March.

“The name came about because my wife is from Australia, so we’ve been back (to Newfoundland) about four or five times since I’ve been here,” March said.

“The first time we came back there, one of the things that she really noticed about St. John’s is all the colourful houses all lined up. I believe they call it ‘Jellybean Row’ back there, but she just said to me, ‘This jellybean street that you guys have, it’s just beautiful. I love the colours of it,’ and when we were thinking about a name for the company she said, ‘Why don’t we call it Jellybeanstreet?’ It just made so much sense.”

Jellybeanstreet deals with brightly coloured paintings — the kind you might find tacked to the wall of a daycare or the front of a fridge. March, a graphic designer, takes children’s finger paintings and digitally alters them before printing and selling them online.

Would you pay $50 to $350 for a child’s finger painting? What if it looked like you paid thousands, and the majority of the proceeds went to children in need?

“A lot of abstract art is very similar to kids’ finger paintings,” March said.  

“In Australia you can go to a shop and buy abstract art for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Rather than do that, if you’ve got kids, why not have abstract art from your own child, which will mean a bit more and you’ll have it forever, put it on your wall?”

In the two months since March launched his business online, it has gathered steam. But March has been in the business of turning children’s art into professional-looking wall hangings for three years, unofficially.

“The way it all started, we’ve got a three-year-old and a five-year-old, both in daycare,” March said.

“When we used to pick up our kids from daycare, they’d always come home with these little finger paintings and artwork. My wife wanted me to do something with them for Mother’s Day. So, being a graphic artist and a web developer, I kind of put them through all these filters and Photoshop, and created some really nice artwork, and we printed them on canvas. It just came out amazingly, had all these friends and family wondering who the artist was, and we said, ‘Well, it’s actually from our kids. We just kind of transcribed them into modern art.’”

When other family members and friends started to want to buy his then-two-year-old son Tyler’s souped-up artwork as well, March and his wife decided to start to sell it online and give the money back to children’s charities.

“At the moment we’re supporting a charity in Australia called the Starlight Children’s Foundation and also children’s hospitals,” March said.

“And we’re trying to get into charities all around the world. We’re getting interest from the U.S., from Canada, from Ireland, France, Germany. Anybody in the world can buy it and it delivers free. It’s been working really well, and the kids just love it when they see the artwork online.”

Once a child’s artwork is submitted to Jellybeanstreet, the “modern art” March creates is not only available for purchase by the parents of that child, but also by any customers who are interested in it. For every individual who purchases that artwork, the child painter actually receives twice as much money as March. While he keeps 20 per cent of the total cost to cover production, the child artist is given 40 per cent, and the remaining 40 per cent goes to the charity chosen by his parents. Families submitting the artwork can also opt to forego their 40 per cent and give it all to charity instead.

March has big plans for the company. He’s looking to franchise it within the next year. He also has plans for submission boxes that could be positioned in daycares, special edition artwork designed by the children of celebrities, and an attempt to get a Guinness Record for the largest number of children’s finger paintings in one place at one time. All these plans should mean more clients, and more money for charity.

At the moment, March receives finger paintings by mail, but he and his wife and two small sons — now three and five, —have different ideas for the future.

“I want to come back to Newfoundland, possibly next year,” March said.

“Who knows, we may open up (Jellybeanstreet’s) first physical shop back in St. John’s.”