Anthony Meyer and 17 other Ford automotive designers in the U.S., Germany, Australia, China, England and Brazil have taken a break from designing vehicles that will carry people to work and school to instead creating coloring book pages and activity mazes for children stuck at home.
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At 3, Carter Meyer wants to spend every minute of every day together.
"She'll say, 'Daddy, look at this, look at that. Let's dance!' " Anthony Meyer said, laughing. "I'm working at home. Daddy has got some stuff he’s got to do."
Realizing that he isn't alone in balancing childcare demands while working full time during a pandemic, the 32-year-old father decided to collaborate on a tiny little idea that has blossomed into something much bigger.
He and 17 other Ford automotive designers in the U.S., Germany, Australia, China, England and Brazil have taken a break from designing vehicles that will carry people to work and school to instead creating coloring book pages and activity mazes for children stuck at home.
► WANT TO DOWNLOAD THE PAGES? Follow this link.
It's important to note, the sketches these designers usually make are top secret. The rest of the world waits years for the company to reveal their creations, and spy photographers steal images when they can before official public release.
But times are, well, unreal now.
Car factories are shut down all over the world. Schools are closed. And just about everyone it seems is restricted by a stay-at-home order designed to drive down the spread of the coronavirus. But projects and work demands continue. So how do busy parents occupy their curious kids?
A 26-year-old guy with no children came up with the brilliant idea of creating this project, which includes original mazes and word puzzles and connect the dots. All easily downloaded from the Ford website. For free.
"I see and hear designers and people I work with who have all these young kids and I imagined them pulling out their hair while trying to get work done as kids run around the house. I sort of created this, at first, to alleviate their pain," said Austin Stowe, a Ford design communications lead who lives in Ferndale.
"I reached out to all the designers, saying we should do this cool thing. And everybody started sending me their different sketches," he said.
Carter often watches her daddy draw, recommending that he color the vehicles orange or green. "Yeah, Daddy's boss doesn't want me to do that," Meyer explains.
"My wife and I, we're both working at home right now, obviously. She's in advertising. And we're trying to get our work done during the day and it's difficult. So I started throwing my daughter extra sketches that didn't make the cut," and she quickly sat down with crayons or markers or paints, said Meyer, a senior exterior designer who has been working on the hot new Ford Bronco SUV. That vehicle's unveiling has been delayed by COVID-19 and restrictions on media travel.
Then Meyer started to think, what if he drew child-like drawings of SUVs? So he did. And his work is part of a 21-page collection of artwork that includes classic Mustangs and F-150 pickups, and there's more to come. But just since April 2, hundreds of pages have been downloaded just through word of mouth and social media buzz.
The project continues to grow, with plans for iconic buildings like the Michigan Central Station in Detroit and the Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, as well as science and technology activities, all meant to stimulate the minds of young children.
Meyer, who lives in Royal Oak, said, "I feel like it’s an uncomfortable situation in time and everybody is just trying to figure out how to get by. It's cool to be part of this project."
Meanwhile, Kevin Ketchum tapped his childhood memories for inspiration.
His popular depiction of a rhino riding in the bed of an F-150 actually carries a real disclaimer from the corporate legal team at Ford: "Please don’t actually drive with a rhino in your pickup bed. It is dangerous to ride in the cargo area and always consult the Owner’s Manual to properly load your vehicle."
Ketchum, 51, of Rochester Hills is a creative digital designer with three kids.
"When I first saw the invitation to contribute to the project, I was trying to adjust working from home," he said. "Having worked from home for several years, I remember when my children were much younger that my wife would juggle everything — keeping everybody at bay, so I could work from my home office without distractions. She would let my kids know I can't play even though dad's at home."
Young kids need to be able to turn off the exterior ambient noise and just find calm, Ketchum said. "I remember playing with trucks and cars and little play sets when I was little. I grew up in a home where a lot was going on — and the trucks and cars helped me go into that other world, use my imagination."
He recalled his 1973 Ford matchbox yellow truck with a lion in the bed. "I always remembered, like, saving the lion from poachers. Here's this little flashback. Why not bring that back and re-imagine it?"
So he did, with the rhino. And Ketchum created a series of rhino sketches, which have been a popular download from the site. These days, it all makes him think of his father, a single parent who worked for a phone company back in Tucson, Arizona.
Another designer drew a Jurassic Park-like image with a Ford Explorer.
And then there's the premium Lincoln brand designers who played off the Nautilus SUV, combining the design with the classic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" book, with a deep sea diver looking for his car keys — held by a little crab.
"We make it more coloring book oriented versus an illustration for a manual or a glam shot for a magazine," Ketchum said. "It allows you to slip away to that time you once had a giant box of Crayolas."