Tuesday, March 13, 2012

suessian school visits

Thank you, Dr. Suess, for your brilliant birthday and Read Across America. In your honor, I was invited to two schools to read and draw on March 2. First stop was right down the street, to the Peaks Island School, where I was greeted by the cheery principal, Cindy Nilsen, sporting her Suessian best.

I met with 4 classes during the morning, each as eager and energetic as the next. We began by singing happy birthday to Dr. Seuss and then I read one of my favorite stories, Yertle the Turtle.

This parable about a bossy turtle never goes out of style, and ends with the line that all creatures should be free. This lead to reading a poem from Nest, Nook & Cranny about the mouse in the house. Plenty of island homes have hosted these critters, and in mine we have gently brought them to new fields on the back shore, where they can be even..freer, we hope.

I talked a bit about being an illustrator, using models for reference, and drawing from life. I strongly believe in the powers of observation. Pausing for even a few minutes to really look at something is an important act of authentic discovery.

Each student then drew a small life-like animal toy from a bag. I gave a quick demonstration of finding the shape of an object, using simple shapes to begin a sketch.

I made a big sketchy sketch for them, starting with the bear's pear shape from a side view.

Believe it or not, I used a little polar bear for my jacket design sketches for A Warmer World.
That little toy came in handy for finding a variety of compositions from different points of view.

The biggest surprise here is that illustrators do LOTS of sketches. It takes many drawings sometimes to get the right look. I asked them to sharpen their eyes and their pencils.

They dove in with gusto. Here is Noah's drawing, who not only drew the polar bear, but gave him a wonderful habitat.

Maisy drew a lyrical setting for her deer.

Here's a girl like me who loves black and white!

Zeke had time to draw a shark and then write a poem that began with "a shining shimmering shark slooming through the night." Loved his invented word, very Seussian indeed!

This young artist redrew the animal to create a sunny scene. Bravo!

In the blink of an eye, it was time to pack up pastels and paper and head to the ferry. Thanks, Peaks Island School! You're awesome artists, every one.

I crossed Casco Bay and was warmly welcomed to Nancy March's 4th grade class at Yarmouth Elementary School.

Her lively class asked great questions and made their drawings with incredible focus.

This artist also drew a penguin, big and bold as can be.

Love the line quality and expression here:

Artists make visual decisions intuitively all the time: what to leave out, what to put in, emphasis, mark-making, detail. This artist focused on the face, and big, too.

This artist is drawing the subject many times, examining the symmetry and pattern.

Visual awareness is a skill put to task in many areas other than art. I just began reading a fascinating book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, in which Jenny Keller writes:

From Da Vinci to Darwin, drawing has a long and illustrious history as a means of scientific investigation and communication. Although technological innovations have provided powerful new tools for documenting information, all field scientists can benefit from understanding how to think visually and can use simple drawing techniques to improve the way they document their corner of the world.

Have pencils, will SEE!

Here the artist drew just about actual size, but completely changed the scale by adding the rock as a perch. I encourage illustration students to do precisely this: draw with observation and imagination.

Here's another inversion of scale in this coincidental pair of elephants. Najee happened to get an elephant, and drew it about the same size as an elephant that appears on a book he's reading.
I happen to know the author, another coincidence.

I like how his drawn elephant is facing the book cover's elephant. Maybe they will meet in another story, yet to be written.

I was delighted to receive written comments via the teacher a few days later. 

Najee wrote:

“I like your demonstrations on how to draw animals.  When you told me I was doing a good job, it gave me more energy and potential to put a lot of effort into my drawing.”

Ellie wrote:

"Jamie, I like it when you showed us your original drawings for your book about Polar Bears and Butterflies.  I was interested when you told us the process of a published book.  I never knew that it took soooo long for the book to get illustrated.  I enjoyed drawing and trying out some of your ideas.  That made me feel like an illustrator myself.”


It's gratifying to learn that Lauren got a model to pose for her, a very common tactic of mine, as my family will attest. She wrote:

“I loved the way you showed us all your different illustrations.  After I got home I asked my dad to pose for me.  I was inspired by your drawings and now I understand how much it takes to draw a picture.”

Thanks, Yarmouth Elementary for inviting me into your classroom so full of curiosity and cool artists. 

Everybody get ready to sharpen their eyes and their pencils. Oh, the places you will go!

And if you're a fan of animals and the planet we share, flick off your lights at 8:30 PM
on March 31 during World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour.

It's an invitation to change your world.

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