Thursday, April 10, 2014

How Artists Work

Three recent children’s picture books do a great job of answering two questions: 

1) Just how does an artist become an artist? 
2) And how does an artist create?

Stone Giant, a new picture book from Charlesbridge.
One answer comes from Jane Sutcliffe’s brand-new Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, illustrated by  John Shelley. Sutcliffe helps us see the world, and a block of stone, with an artist’s eyes:

There was a giant in the city of Florence. It had been there for nearly forty years. And no one knew what to do about it. The giant was an enormous block of stone—marble, to be exact. It stood three times as tall as any man in the city. It was the color of cream. And it was a troublemaker.

Why a troublemaker? You’ll have to read Stone Giant—and pour over the artwork—to find out. Just as it was worth the effort to chip David out of a block of stone, it’s well worth paging through Stone Giant to see how a masterpiece comes to life.

Inside Stone Giant, where we see the artist at work.
Shelley’s illustrations draw readers into the time and place, where amid all the noise and dirt of sixteenth-century Florence, Michelangelo is driven to create. For more on Shelley’s illustrations and the choices he made (to show the Full David, or not to show…?), there’s an informative interview at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog.

A picture book auto-biography from Lois Ehlert.
Lois Ehlert’s autobiographical The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life  looks at how a person becomes an artist—maybe not a Michelangelo, but a very accomplished artist nonetheless. In simple prose, Caldecott-award-winner Ehlert shows us glimpses of her childhood:

I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands.

One of the many colorful spreads in The Scraps Book.

Ehlert also opens up her drawers and baskets of scraps, spreading color across each spread, and making frequent allusions to her many books for children. There’s a bookpage interview with Ehlert by Julie Danielson (of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) that digs deeper and is well worth checking out.

Who wouldn't want to pick up this visually appealing and down-to-earth story of an artist's life?
Jen Bryant’s A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, succeeds in making an artist from the past feel totally contemporary. It’s partly Sweet’s very accessible illustrations, and partly Bryant’s down-to-earth writing. 

We see Pippin first as a boy, sitting on the ground and drawing charcoal sketches on any bit of paper he can find:

He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him.

There's Horace Pippin, driven to draw, even when his "table" is the floor.
Pippin perseveres against seemingly insurmountable odds, finding fame and recognition only late in life.

Bryant and Sweet give readers great insight into the artist’s process in Splash, but it’s just as fun to read about their very unusual collaborative process in this interview at the Two Writing Teachers blog.

Gather these three picture books together. Read them to kids. Give those kids paper, drawing materials, modeling clay and space to create.

It all adds up to ART!

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