my mouse on a log, after Leo Lionni

Earlier this summer I taught a 5 week kids’ art class called “Young Illustrators,” at the art museum.  The aim of the class was introduce the students to a number of children’s book illustrators and their books, and then to create artworks using the techniques and the materials that those illustrators employ.  The class of 13 was the perfect size, and turned out to be an enthusiastic group of 6-10 year olds.  Preparing for the class was almost as much fun as teaching it, as I whittled down my illustrators list with numerous trips to the library and stack of picture books piling up on my studio floor, reading and studying new and old favorites.  What accumulated there was a treasure trove of talent and diverse approaches to art making and storytelling.

The first week we made “mouse in a maze books,” and to get ideas looked at dozens of different illustrations of mice from “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” by Beatrix Potter, to “Stuart Little,” by E.B. White, and many more.  The kids started by making fast tiny sketches of their own mice, then we created paper mazes for them to inhabit.

The photos don’t do the books justice as the room was dark, but you get the idea!

mouse maze books

student's book covers

My guys at home, always interested in the art project at hand, contributed their own mouse drawings to my mouse maze sample book.  I love how each of them already has a distinct style of his own!

L's cover illustration

M's mice scurry by

Three mice by T

T mouse meets L mouse

mom's mice at book's end

Leo Lionni has got to be one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, and with his beautiful combination of simple collage and thought-provoking animal stories, he was the perfect illustrator to start us off.  We read “Matthew’s Dream,” the story of an artist mouse, and the kids made paper mouse collages to begin a five page accordion-style book:

contrast mouse!

The next week we drew Wild Things, in the manner of Maurice Sendak…

pencil first

K's wild thing

and here’s my painted  example to show watercolor and pen and ink texture techniques:

unfinished sample

L tries a Wild Thing at home

The third week we finished our Wild Things, then moved on to painting paper with various textures and colors to get us ready for the work of Eric Carle.

Wild Things by Ben age 6

collage mouse & wild thing by Marvin

Eric Carle paints his own paper for his collaged illustrations, and he often incorporates shaped or otherwise cut out pages.   We did the same thing in our books:

Lionni style, Carle style, by Natalie, age 8

Sendak influence, Carle influence, Ariana age 8

books in progress

For the final week, rather than focus on one illustrator, we looked at Fairy Tales as a genre, and some of the different ways they have been interpreted (and taken liberties with!) over time.  We read “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig,” written by Eugene Trivizas and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, to get the creative juices flowing, then the students chose or imagined a fairy tale to illustrate.  A few kids brought original stories into class to share with me.  Very fun.

Our Fairy Tale illustrations included decorative borders around the main picture, and metallic watercolor paint to add that Fairy Tale Feel.

A illustrates her Fairy Tale

finished books laid out

more finished books

Keeping up with the class meant that I made an accordion book of my own complete with versions of all of the above.  As you can see, I enjoyed myself just a little…

Wild Thing

Lionni, Carle, Sendak...

more like Carle...


the book

The end of the class is just a beginning, as I barely scratched the surface of all that I love about children’s book illustration.  Next year perhaps I will teach another Young Illustrators session with the same format covering different illustrators.  And for myself, I hope to develop more illustrations of my own and take real steps in that direction.

admiring the finished work