The library has lots of nifty how-to-do-art books for kids of all ages that are technique oriented. There are some books, however, which are more about getting children to think about art: what it is, who can do it, what it can look like, and where inspiration can come from. Here are some of my favourites to share with budding artists.
Eric Carle has such a distinctive style of illustration. I think of his pictures as colourful, free, and joyful. It might surprise you to learn that he was raised in Nazi Germany where art education was severely circumscribed. When Carle was 12 years old, his art teacher secretly showed him some "forbidden" art, risking his life to introduce this gifted student to new ideas. Carle now sees that encounter as a pivotal point in his artistic development, and his newest picture book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, is a celebration of the path he was set on that day. The artist the title refers to is Franz Marc, a German painter who died in WWI and was famous for painting animals in unusual colours. He was especially well-known for his blue horse series, one of which is shown below.
The text of The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse is as spare as many of the other books Carle has written for the youngest child ("I am an artist/And I paint/A blue horse/And a red crocodile/and ..."). His illustrations are big and exuberant, and they look like they were a lot of fun to do. I recently read this book to a kindergarten class and it kicked off a great discussion about art that shows things the way they are in real life, and art that shows what is in your imagination. We all agreed that a polka-dotted donkey would be a lot of fun to draw.
If your child likes this book, you can also check out Eric Carle's Draw Me a Star, a simple, classic story about an artist and his creations over the course of a lifetime.
For slightly older children, Peter Reynold's picture book The Dot is an optimistic take on the the kid who is convinced she just isn't an artist. Vashti is frustrated in art class and crossly refuses to draw anything, because "I just can't draw!" Her teacher encourages her to "just make a mark and see where it takes you" and Vashti is off to the races, turning a simple dot into an artistic exploration of colour, size and design.
Response to The Dot has been extraordinary, and it has been well used in the classrooms as a springboard for various art projects. Candlewick Press even sponsored an International Dot Day last year. Take a look at some of the results:
If your child likes The Dot, check out another of Reynold's books on fostering creativity, Ish. Don't forget to check out Reynold's The Dot Website as well as his general website for lots more to think about the creative process. I'm thinking an all-ages Dot Day art program might be fun at Riverdale. Stay tuned!
One book that I thought never got the attention it deserved is Just Like Me: Self-Portraits and Stories by Harriet Rohmer. Good for children in the mid-to-upper elementary school years, this book features fourteen artists of different cultures and backgrounds who create a self-portrait and discuss how it relates to their lives. The art shows a lot of stylistic variety and the text points to how certain parts of the self-portraits can represent feelings, experiences or history that are part of the artist's identity. We also see a photograph of each artist that shows the difference between their "real" face and their "portrait" face. It can be fun to read the artist's story first and then guess what their portrait looks like--this activity can help your child develop art-related vocabulary.
Another way to draw inspiration is by seeing the work of one's peers. Alexa Kitchen's how-to-draw comics book, Drawing Comics is Easy! (Except When It's Hard) was published by her family when she was seven years old. A self-taught artist, Alex's style is still definitely that of a child's, but her scope in this book is quite comprehensive. Drawing Comics is Easy covers how to make a drawing out of basic shapes, the steps of pencilling, inking and colouring a comic strip, how to draw figures and expressions, how to design backgrounds, how to create stories and gags, experimenting with different styles, and much more. What I like about this book so much is that it presents the finished comic at a realistic, attainable level. When my daughter was in kindergarten she was given a book on how to draw Disney Princesses, and she became incredibly frustrated at the difference between her attempts to follow the instructions and the polished, computer-generated illustrations in the book. No child will have that experience with Kitchen's quirky how-to manual.
For older children, Gillian Wolfe's award-winning Look! series can generate some interesting ideas. Using examples from a variety of well-known artists, the books invite young readers to look at how artists achieve various effects. The latest in the series, Look! Really Smart Art discusses action painting, x-ray style, pointillism, and other styles and techniques in a clear and engaging way. Gillian Wolfe is a highly respected art educator currently working out of the Dulwitch Picture Gallery in the UK.