“There is no line between fine art and illustration; there is no high or low art; there is only art, and it comes in many forms.” ~ James Gurney
This past week the children in my class have been creating their own unique works of art, inspired by pictures found in the books written and/or illustrated by Barbara Reid. For those who don’t know of her, she is a Toronto artist whose illustrations are made from plasticine. In particular we have looked at such titles as Have You Seen Birds?, The Subway Mouse and Gifts (though there are many others). I think the illustrations are wonderful on many levels. They are, on their own, beautiful to look at; I observe that children also like to touch the pages because the pictures have such texture. And of course they help children to make logical connections between the illustrations and text, and to engage more in the story perhaps by imagining themselves in the picture. For the purposes of this blog post, I’d like to focus on how picture book illustrations can be a launching point for encouraging children to explore art techniques that are linked meaningfully to their reading experiences.
Picture books are often children’s first experience with the world of art. This is a reason I like to choose beautifully illustrated books to read. Barbara Reid’s illustrations are particularly captivating because they have rich details, gorgeous colours and they have texture, which has strong appeal for young children. Throughout the week, plasticine was placed on the art table, along with some of Reid’s books, to encourage the children to look at the pictures for ideas. Some children attended to the shapes that could be made, others to the layers and still others to the markings that could be made in the plasticine. In her book, Playing with Plasticine (Kids Can Press, 1988), Barbara Reid describes how to make basic shapes, tools that can be used for plasticine play (e.g., pencils, wires, toothpicks, combs, hands) and different things that can be created (e.g., plants, animals, people, buildings). There are many ideas that can help children discover the possibilities for working with this medium.
At the end of the week I read Picture a Tree to the children. In addition to exploring plasticine, the children have also been talking about the concept of change. What made this book so perfect was that it showed how trees change through each season, but also how our perceptions of trees change, depending on how we choose to look at them (e.g., as protection from the sun, as a place to hide, as a home for different creatures). After we read the story we viewed a video which allowed them to watch Barbara Reid create a scene from one of her books. The link can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4aOMVZLEpw. Reid talks about how to work with plasticine, how to combine colours, how to create layers, and how to use drawings as a starting point for creating her art. The children were very interested in watching the first of three videos and it was my hope that what they saw would add to what they had already learned by exploring on their own. I was thrilled when three children who had not yet visited the plasticine table selected this activity, and created art, applying some of the ideas and techniques that they had just learned.
I feel really encouraged to continue with this idea because there are so many illustrators that provide inspiration for learning about particular techniques and using them as a source of personal expression. Stay tuned for future posts on this topic!