Your sister/mother/father/cousin is the artist. Your drawing is terrible. You’re hopeless at art. These are the things that you may have heard. Especially when you were a child. Voices that you’ve carried along allowing an important part of you to be silenced.
In some ways, as children’s book creative, our jobs are about accessing that child-like place of curiosity, wonder, and joy. That part that can spend solid time squatting in dirt watching a worm wiggle around in the earth and then reach out and touch it.
Making art is a bit like that. Mucking around in sometimes yucky materials, seeing what will happen if you add a touch of ochre to that blue with some titan buff instead of titanium white. Suddenly your sea is more sea like. Suddenly the endorphins are flowing and you’re in that place of child-like wonder wandering around in the right side of your brain where emotion and intuition hang out. After a while you consciously or unconsciously remember these experiments and how when you do this that happens and the colors, patterns, shapes, compositions you like, become ingrained as habit and begin to develop into your personal visual vocabulary or style. In many ways, it’s like driving a car. Alien at first then effortless after a while. If you do this, that happens. But unlike driving a car, artists are always evolving, trying new moves, new materials, new styles and new combinations. Playing in the dirt.
Playful illustrators whose style epitomizes that child-like delight with a more child-like style include the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney, Naked and I’m Bored by Debbie Ohi, Mo Willem’s Pigeon books, Lauren Child’s books, and Todd Parr and Lucy Cousins wildly successful work that kids often look at and go “I could do that!”
These days, like never before, publishers want author/illustrators. These days publishers are also embracing artwork that may not be technically perfect but whose spirit and originality is totally, playfully, perfect!
While realism will always be greatly valued in the exquisite works of artists like John Muth, David Weisner, Julie Downing, E.B. Lewis and many others, there is a new embrace and desire for wild, spontaneous, fresh looking art that mixes it up. Try combining different materials with collage, try standing up and using your whole body to draw with freedom, or try creating loose ink or charcoal drawings like Chris Raschka does. Try playing with new materials that you’ve never used before so that you are more willing to be a child learning new things without judgment, experimenting in the dirt. Watch that worm wriggle. Then gently reach out and touch it.
Years ago Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In the 1960’s Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-genius’s them.” Who’s ready to reclaim or revitalize their inner artist, childlike joy and visual genius? Take a walk on the wild side.
Mira Reisberg is the Director and founding instructor of the Children’s Book Academy. She has been involved in the children’s book industry since early 1988 as an illustrator, writer, editor, and art director as well as working as a kid lit university professor. Over the years she has taught many now successful children’s book writers and illustrators.
Starting November 3rd, Mira will be co-teaching the Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books with Chronicle Books’ Design Director and Art Director extraordinaire for fearful beginning artists, multi-published illustrators, and adventurous writers. Find out more here.