I Can Do That

blog drawing linesWhat is perfection, and should we aspire to it? My illustrations show action, colour, empathy, but never perfection. It is not my aim. It is important to me that my art for children is ‘accessible’.

I like to imagine that with pencil, paper, pen, paint and water, they too could begin to illustrate their own stories. I imagine a classroom teacher saying to the little ones “Can you see the pencil lines? What do you think she did next, after drawing the picture?”

I could remove all the pencil lines when the paint holds the form. In fact, I did remove most of them, but then added some again. If you look closely at the image you might see where some have been lightly erased, where the wrist and the sleeve meet. It is a calculated choice, what to leave, what to erase, what to put back more strongly to be read in the picture. It is this kind of interpretive interaction that brings out the creativity in little ones. And, perhaps, in the big ones too.

Once the brain engages with a process, or with imagining what might be in a space, the imagination is captured and brought into play. I don’t think that happens quite so much when everything is perfect; you are more likely to look, appreciate, and move on without actively engaging with the creative process.

As with all art work, illustrations have at least three aspects; what the artist intends, what the viewer sees, and what happens in the space in between. In shared reading there is yet another dimension, with the reader leading the discussion. I have considered putting in a page of discussion starters at the end of my stories, and more educational facts that I find in my research, but so far (apart from in the true story, Michelle and the Bumblebee) I have resisted this temptation. The readers will find what they are ready for, when the time is right.

But I digress. Back to the illustrations. In this digital age I think it is important that young children look at original art, and at the process of creating art. Art that is not ‘perfect’ with every line defined, every colour and shading transition smooth. I would like children to see my construction lines, and to think “I can do that”.

jamie helping Nonna blogSharing the process with a young reader. Quality time for both of us ūüôā

The Research Stage

Is it a case of ‘once a teacher, always a teacher’, I wonder?

One of the things I aim for in my books is to educate, or to at least provide space for learning and discussion. Michelle and the Bumblebee is an example of this.front cover 2

When I agreed to write the story, I wanted to complement the true story with accurate pictures. I was surprised at how little I knew about the bumblebee. I had painted them from “life” (actually from corpses I had found in my garden) many years ago, but couldn’t remember the details. How many segments are there in the bumblebee’s legs? Which way do its ‘knees’ work? How many stripes does it have? Are the stripes all the same colour? Is it ‘bumblebee’ or ‘bumble bee’?

I enjoyed the research, which started a little like this:

bee details

As the story developed I also tried to give Mr Bumble Bee a persona. He became more of a cartoon sketch, his stripes became more random as his face took on more expression and his wings varied in size to create the effect I wanted. bee face

Despite this evolution, I kept the details of his body structure and legs accurate.


The teacher in me also had the last word. I concluded the story with a diagram illustrating the pollination cycle, and gave the last illustrated page to a realistic bumblebee.

bee small for blog

All of the illustrations were fun, but this last one was the illustration I enjoyed the most.

A Book I wish I Had Written

Art for Kids


The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Be the Artist You’ve Always Wanted to Be.

by Kathryn Temple

kathryn temple book   kathryn temple book 2

I was recently browsing the shelves of a public library and discovered Kathryn Temple’s Art for Kids Drawing, (2005, Sterling Children’s Books, New York. ISBN 978-1-4027-8477-4).

The subtitle of the book says it all: The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Be the Artist You’ve Always Wanted to Be.

Oh how I wish I had written this book, or at least had it when I was a child. It is simple, yet comprehensive. Although written for children, it is exactly the resource I love as a teacher. The diagrams and sketches are relevant, the language plain, and the drawings delightful.

All the important issues are addressed in the foreword (don’t skip reading that) and the eight chapters cover all that anyone needs to know to develop excellent drawing skills

unnamed2      unnamed1   .

From the table of contents to the index I am impressed, enjoying every page. Those of you who are (like me) fans of Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain will recognise the wisdoms described so simply here in Art for Kids Drawing.

The book is a useful size, soft cover, portable. It is not at all intimidating but makes drawing well seem the most natural thing in the world – which it is for children, until we “squeeze it out” of them in our urgency to educate using the left side of the brain.

In the delightful and informative foreword Kathryn writes “…”everyone starts out as an artist – it’s just that some people have most of the artist squeezed out of them by the time they grow up.”

Page 9 (in the edition I have on my lap as I type) gives a list of “Drawing Rules to Live By or Life Rules to Draw By. These five simple rules would serve well on the walls of classrooms everywhere.

You can be sure that this one is on my shopping list for when my grandchildren are a little older. Everything I would like to teach them is here, and in the meantime I am going to enjoy some revision myself!