Saturday, May 9, 2015

Art is about to happen.

Here are some children. Here is a basket of colourful pencils.
Art is about to happen.

The children know exactly what to do with this big basket of colourful pencils: dig with both hands. Dig right to the bottom.
The rattle of pencils is the ritual that has to come before the concentrated frowning and the murmured incantations: This is a lion. This is a lion. This is a lion. This is a tree. This is a tree. This is a tree.

Have you ever used one of those pencils?
Did you think: it's a wonder what a child's imagination can do, I can't draw a THING with this?
No one can. We all tried. Some of us thought it was our fault and stopped trying.

Those are fake pencils.

The reason these children are digging through them with so much energy is because they are looking for one that works. They know to go for the shortest nubbins at the bottom of the box. Ignore the long ones, no one else got anything out of them.

They are foraging, with great determination.
Imagine what that determination could do.

When a child makes art, it's not a case of playing pretend. It's not like playing brain surgery with a spoon and a pudding. It's not like feeding a plastic doll. They are not playing artist. THEY ARE ACTUALLY MAKING ART.

They use what they are given. They scratch faint lines, they rub puddles of chalky water across dissolving printer paper with splayed brushes. They powder fat snakes of glue with scales of confetti and glitter.

What would happen if someone gave you a bowl of confetti and some glue and told you to make art?
You might refuse. (I would.)
Children are generally good-natured enough to at least give it a try. But even the most loving guardian and the children themselves may look at the result and find it hard to see if, in fact, somehow, art has happened.
You stick it on the fridge, and you can tell what it is and everything... but is it art?
Well, it’s creative.
“Creative” often means “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t make that”.
Would you ever wish you’d made something that a child made?
Yeah... this is definitely very creative.
Maybe one day, if those children keep being creative and try very hard, some of them might even become artists...

But - who cares if they may be artists one day? What's the point in telling them they may be artists one day if they work hard? What's that got to do with anything? Is this whole confetti business some sort of test? Are we trying to trick them into law school or something?
It simply doesn't matter what they will be one day.
Art is not just for artists. It's for humans. It's not a privilege. It’s a way to think with your hands (or your feet or your voice or your whole body, depending on the art, but we started with children and a basket of colour pencils, so pictures are trying to happen right now).
Art lets you have a good look at your thoughts, and show them to the world if you want.

You don't need a license to make marks. You just need something that makes marks.

The joy of making pictures is more than an act of imagination. It's physical. Your gestures made visible and permanent, the marks you make, belong to you alone, like your own body. They come before communication, before expression: they are the basis of all those things.

Give them things that leave marks. Try them out yourself. Are they enjoyable to use? Can you get a range of different marks out of them? Are they the marks you expected? Do they surprise you?

In short, do you feel like you are making something - or do you just feel like you are using something up?
Keep trying out materials. You'll know them when you find them.

You don't need to buy whole sets of expensive tubes of paint - or sets of anything, or anything expensive. You don’t need many different colours. Every good piece of art material unlocks endless possibilities. By good I mean anything that readily creates or receives a mark, which may include beetroot juice or a particularly well-charred stick, and the lovely white rounded cards that are used to package tights. Do professional artists paint with their breakfast tea sometimes? Of course they do, if it's nice and strong!

Some good art materials command respect: you must wear clothes that you don't mind staining, and you must handle them carefully. A bottle of red ink could spoil a whole carpet.
You may be surprised how much respect children can show for a powerful substance like that. Being careful for a good reason is fun, and using something that requires your supervision is exciting and memorable.
Those children like to see you deal with important substances, you know.

Art materials often need some care. Brushes need to be washed and stored carefully. Maybe the children have pets, or toys that they care about. Can they look after those? Then they can look after their tools, if you teach them.


You can give them a load of fake colourful toys that don't make a mess because they don't actually leave any traces at all - or you can let them make art.
A real brush costs no more than a pack of toy ones. A box of decent watercolours costs more than a pound shop set – get one with fewer colours. Find some bright colours that mix well, and you’ll suddenly have a whole range. Or pick just one single colour, but one that leaves a mark. Get to know that colour. Ask that colour what it can do, and you will be surprised.

By all means and of course: check if the paints are toxic. If they eat paint, they aren’t ready for paint that must not be eaten. But don’t underestimate them as they learn. If they can learn to deal with boiling water, and learn to deal with cleaning products, they can learn to deal with art materials. You'll be there to help them with the messier ones, and find ones that are safe enough as long as the area is covered against smears and splashes.
You may well find that as soon as they are actually making marks that are meaningful to them, the children won't be anywhere near as messy as you fear because they won't have to make up in dramatic performance and make-believe for what the material denies them in actual experience.
They will WANT to make something beautiful rather than just have a play-time with colourful sticks that are better for throwing than drawing with.

Maybe you don’t have a budget for art materials. Don't forget about all the good stuff you can just use for free. If you have a pair of scissors and some paper glue, anything colourful in your paper recycling may be a collage picture waiting to happen. A felt-tip pen and some scrap paper is better than that whole basket of useless crayons.

One last thing: Don't just hand everything over to the children. Why should they have all the fun and education? Make some art together. And I mean: each make their own piece. If the materials work, you probably won't need to help them to make it look good any more. Of course you can also collaborate on things, that's part of the fun. But above all, respect each other's art: you make your thing, they make theirs. You will find that you can teach one another a lot.

It’s amazing what a child’s imagination can do - but don’t let them imagine that they can’t make art.
Make those fake pencils into a tiny fence for a herd of amazing beasts painted with tea stains and thumb prints, pink highlighters and ink.

Art is about to happen.
Don't miss out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Observational Sketches

Here are some of the sketches I've recently been doing.
I do a lot of observational drawing using a fountain pen and a portable watercolour set.
I tend to draw people as cats.


Icons of Elegance performing at Jamboree

Audience
Supporting act

Audience




PICTURE BOOK MAKERS BLOG - There are Cats in these books.

I did a rather big guest blog over at Picture Book Makers about my series of interactive books featuring cats.

I’ve been working as a picture book writer and artist for about fifteen years now – that is, as a published one. I’ve been making books all my life, pretty much. Before I could write, I drew and dictated them. My mother pierced bundles of my stories with a cast iron hole punch, and she said: “Behold the strength of your mother’s arms.” My father gave me binders to keep them in and said: “What are you going to make next?”
A page from Viviane Schwarz's diary
A page from my diary.
I was surrounded by books about everything that anyone in the family had ever wanted to know. Our walls were lined with bookshelves. My parents took me to the library weekly to take out as many as we could carry. It was awesome. I taught myself to read very early, because I had the notion that I could find anything I would ever need in books.
I was sure that I needed a cat.
Read the rest at Picture Book Makers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I AM HENRY FINCH - The Making Of (well, my bit)

"I am Henry Finch" seems to be doing well since it was published earlier this year, it's getting good reviews and I keep meeting it in bookshops. - People have asked me about illustrating Alexis' texts, how we work together seeing that he is also an illustrator and I am also a writer. So I thought it would be good to write this MAKING OF.


So, first of all Alexis wrote the text - I had asked him to write something about finches because I like them. Then he showed it to me.

I could see the book straight away. It made me laugh a lot. It was pretty much perfect.
At the first few presentations, people weren’t sure about the philosophical aspect, whether it would get across to small children. I was sure that it would, and kept crudely fingerpainting rough illustrations on my ipad. “Look, look, this will be awesome!” I insisted, drawing more and more beady-eyed lumps with stick legs. The monster was just a wild scribble, and the night paint-bucketed in. I drew a picture of a finch thinking of himself, and Ben Norland, the art director, laughed and said: “Oh, I think I see…” so we started working on it. After that it seemed like every week there was someone else who saw the latest version, went “Oh I see…” and started laughing.


I think that moment is heart of the whole story. A finch, hardly more than an anonymous scribble, sees himself and realises that he is somebody. His thought is identical to himself in that very moment. Truth, but no meaning, no future, no past… he could stop there. It’s a perfect moment. But he goes on, and that, I think is the greatest thing he does: he keeps thinking when he doesn’t need to, that’s what leads to all the rest.


I wanted the finches to be all the same but every one unique, that’s why I used fingerprints. Henry is always printed with the same finger, actually, and no one else has that particular print. While working on the book I started to recognise my friends’ fingerprints. I fingerprinted everyone who came to the house or the studio for a few weeks to get a good collection - I needed big thumbs for finches in the foreground and daintier ones for the background, also different shapes for different moods. Finches change shape a lot. I used to keep finches myself, so I know. I love finches more keenly than any other kind of animal, I think, they are amazing little creatures, brave, resilient and funny.



The linework is drawn with my favourite fountain pen. I always carry that one.






The beast is painted in watercolour because that’s how I instantly imagined it. I have a fear of marine invertebrates which I know most people don’t share. I figured that referencing them, I will be able to feel scared enough myself to draw a convincing monster without making it so frightening that small children will hide from the book. - Its internal organs are a mixture of drawings of sea creatures and cross sections of the human inner ear. It’s just a particularly odd-looking organ, the inner ear, and it amused me that the beast has one in its guts.
The actual design of the beast is a collaboration with Alexis - we spent an afternoon playing a drawing game with watercolour blobs, and I assembled the parts that seemed right.





I put a lot of little interactions in between the finches so that the book would be fun to look at even if you don’t follow the text, and tried to make the more conceptual philosophical pictures accessible enough that each one could be discussed separately, in simple terms, without the text. The page where Henry understands the circle of life pertaining to his part of the world is supposed to be like a little story in itself, but one that you can grasp in one moment, like a thought. Comics are great for that, showing any amount of time presented as one moment, and not even linear but as we experience it - everything interrelating. The rest of the book is paced in a linear manner, mostly by page turns, but on that spread you can spend a moment or an hour, see all at once or follow the threads, say “It is!” or speak about everything you see.

click to make bigger!

I am very glad about the way this book came together. If I hadn’t been so excited that I fingerpainted those hurried digital scribbles on the spot and made someone laugh with them, I wouldn’t have known to keep the art this simple. If Alexis hadn’t been doing workshops turning blobs of watercolour into creatures, I wouldn’t have thought of making the design of the beast into a drawing game. - Working with Alexis makes these accidents easy because he really knows how to improvise.

I hope that people will like Henry Finch as much as I do. I had him tattooed on my arm, to remember what I learned. Keep thinking, keep listening, speak, because You Are, and It Is.




Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Shark and Lobster - a diary sketch book of character development work

One of my first books was Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure - a tale of Shark, who is afraid of Tigers, and his best friend Lobster.
It was very hard to write - I had already written one draft years before when I was still in school, and now I had to learn how to rewrite and edit and make a picture book story of it.
One thing I did then, which I've kept up since, is make a diary for my characters to see what they got up to and who they actually were.
I did find out a lot about Shark and Lobster this way, almost none of it made it into the book, but that's not the point of character development work.

I thought it would be nice to stick it on my blog so that you can see how I work (or how I worked when I was starting out in 2001 - I've gone lest wistful over the years, but my approach is still very similar).
Here you go!





















Monday, March 2, 2015

Doing the Promo Thing

I'm making animated GIFs of all my novelty books.
Please send help, or cookies, or say well done or something.

If you think that having books published means that people do all your promo for you, boo you are wrong. Almost all of us need to sort out our own author pictures, websites, reading tours and whatnot.

In good news, the basement now has a light tent.

MORE SOON.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Hourly Comic Day 2015

In which I draw a comic every hour that I'm awake.














 So there's a typical Sunday, I guess.