Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest Illustrator - Joel Stewart

Last week we featured Michael Rosen for the book Red Ted and the Lost Things and this week we have the pleasure to introduce the illustrator, Joel Stewart. His illustrations are beautifully whimsical.

When did you begin drawing?

I drew from childhood, though in a calm sort of way. I didn't go in for dragons firing lasers and rockets etc, which I think a lot of little boys do. My father still has some insects and wildlife drawings that I'd copied when very little. The thing is, I didn't give up. I don't really remember drawing wildly much before I was ten or eleven, but a lot of people in my family drew, and my grandfather made a living from it all his life, so I never had the all too common idea that it was just a childish thing to do.

What inspires you everyday?

Wow, big question. I think, like everyone, some days nothing does! But in terms of drawing there's just something about the activity that expresses things, and allows me to look at things, in a way that makes me happy. But so many things are inspiring, from all kinds of art and music that I tend to live in a permanent state of distraction. In some ways the times when you aren't inspired, and just get on with finishing what you started when you were, are just as useful.

What gave you the idea for the artistic style for "Red Ted and the Lost Things"?

Mostly my own sketches and paintings. I'd found that this particular shade of indian red had the interesting effect of giving a kind of warm, slightly nostalgic feeling like sepia, but the nostalgia (and that isn't the right word) wasn't specific to a time period, so it could feel contemporary at the same time. Then I also realized that doing backgrounds in a muted range of colours like that allowed me to put in loads of detail, which you need in a lost property office, or to give the feel of a real city, but keep focus on the central characters, who are more richly coloured. In a way I wish I hadn't let the texture of the backgrounds get so rough, because I think it distracts a little, but otherwise I think those ideas came together quite well.

What was the last thing you lost?

Actually, it was my favourite pencil, which I bought in Florence. I managed to replace it with one the same, but then I decided that I ought not to have a favourite pencil anymore because it's too annoying when you lose it.

Have you found it?

Nope. I think it's buried somewhere in a very messy and dusty music recording studio in North London.

Did you have a favorite Teddy Bear as a child? Did it have a name?

Badgie. He's a Badger Glove puppet, but I treated him like a Teddy Bear, and I still have him.

What advice do you have for parents who want to encourage drawing?

The most important thing probably is not to DIScourage it. Otherwise exposure is the best thing. Just to be around as many different kinds as possible, preferably without discrimination. I loved awful cartoons and comics as a child, as well as things that are still important to me now (including cartoons and comics of a slightly higher caliber), and they all fed my desire to continue. My parents were brilliant at not telling one thing was better than another. I imagine I might not be so good at being unbiased.

What can you tell children who have a passion for art?

That drawing (all sorts) is important. They'll already know it. But it can't harm to say it a few times

Teach Well: Do not discourage a child who has a desire or gift to draw. In fact, feed the desire to continue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest Author - Michael Rosen

This week's guest is Michael Rosen, author to Red Ted and the Lost Things. This story is about the journey home for two lost toys. I love that the dialogue between the toys are in a comic book style where you can only see their thoughts (since toys don't really talk out loud). It truly is creative and everyone young and old can relate to losing something special to them!

photo credit
When did you begin writing?

I liked writing when I was at school, but the first time I started writing poems and stories out of school was when I was about 15.

What inspires you everyday?

Hearing other people's poems and stories is a great stimulus. But I'm listening and thinking about things to write about all the time.

What gave you the idea for "Red Ted and the Lost Things"?

I think it was several different things. Lost property offices have always interested me. They seem to say so much about who we are. Then I thought about the way people get lost and how important it is for us to find a home for ourselves. I was also thinking about journeys and how you can never make a journey entirely on your own. You always need help, but the people who help will always have different reasons for travelling with you.

What was the last thing you lost?

My father's autobiography. I can't find the book he wrote.

Have you found it?


Did you have a favorite Teddy Bear as a child? Did it have a name?

I had a teddy but I think he was just Teddy.

What advice do you have for parents who want to encourage writing?

Just keep reading to your children, talking about stories, poems and films. Don't try to control what your children read or in the end it will put them off. Keep taking children to libraries and bookshops. Try to help your children's school keep up a good library, a good school bookshop. Take your children to see authors at book festivals and libraries.

What can you tell children who have a passion for writing?

Keep a notebook. In the notebook, write down your thoughts, phrases and sayings that you hear people say. Write down your favourite lines from poems and books. Collect words and thoughts. Keep reading. Never stop reading what other people write.

Teach Well:  Try to help your children's school keep up a good library, a good school bookshop.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guest Illustrator - Sarah McMenemy

 This week's guest is Sarah McMenemy, illustrator to The Busiest Street in Town. Sarah began drawing houses as a teenager around her community when the word spread about her talent! The Busiest Street in Town is a beautiful story of friends making a difference in their neighborhood.

I can remember drawing as a small child. My mother was very good at drawing and I used to try to copy her drawings and was usually quite frustrated with the results. But I kept going!

I find drawing very exciting, I am most often inspired by beautiful architecture, people's faces, or nature.

The illustrators from the Festival of Britain era were my early influences, Edward Ardizzone, John Minton, John Piper. I absorbed their wonderful line work through old children's books and looking at the dust covers of novels on visits to the library with my Grandmother. These days I still love work from that time but I admire the work of contemporary illustrators like Emma Chichester-Clark.

I work with mixed media, gouache paint, black ink and coloured paper collage on watercolour paper.

My favourite colours are prussian blue and venetian red.

The busiest street I've been on is Oxford Street in London.

If I could plant a garden in my neighbourhood it would have plenty of trees in it, silver birches, maples, oaks, robinias. It would also have a wide variety of flowers, it would look like a cottage garden and would be alive with bees, butterflies, birds and squirrels.

My favourite type of cookie is homemade shortbread. Rub 100g of butter into 175g of flour until it becomes breadcrumbs, then add 50g brown sugar. Press the dough into into an 18cm tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 150c.

I have a best friend called Ella. We love to dance together. I dont think we've ever played Parcheesi, I'm afraid.

Teach Well: Check out the post about the author, here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summer Party Eye Candy

Are you ready to get outside for those summer birthday parties? Here are some of my new favorites...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guest Author - Leigh Hodgkinson

This week's guest author is Leigh Hodgkinson, who is also an illustrator and animator. Boris and the Wrong Shadow, is about a cat named Boris who wakes up from his nap having Vernon's shadow! Boris finds out what it is like having a shadow of a small mouse instead of his own. Not only is the story delightful, humorous, but the illustrations ROCK! Here's what Leigh had to say...

When did you begin writing and drawing?

I have always drawn and made stuff… as long as I can remember. A drawing or a painting or a collage or whatever, was never just that, there would always be a story to go with it… even if it was only in my head!

Can you explain a little bit of the process it takes to create your images? (Do you tend to use mixed media most of the time? Why do you use the media that you do?)

I love using an assortment of bits and bobs…. Scanning in textures (from potatoes to sequins to a nice piece of lace), using photographs, doing nice scribbly drawings and using paint and glue. What ever I feel like at the time! Then I never get bored or precious about what I create and I think (hope!) this makes the artwork feel fresh and fun. Then, once I have everything in the computer I can play with colour, scale, composition, and smarten it all up untill I get the image exactly as I want it. This way of working gives me a freedom that perhaps “traditional” artwork wouldn’t give me. I always feel little scared of a very clean and white piece of paper… I feel like I might make a mistake and muck it up. So I always like to scibble or paint or stick something on it just so stop the paper being quite so new to stop me worrying, then I can get on and enjoy being creative!

When did you begin making your images into movies and can you briefly tell the process of creating them?

I first studied animation at art school. This is when I got a taste for the magic of making things move… it got me hooked! After that, I went on to study animation direction at film school before then going on to work in the animation industry.
I make my animation in much the same way as my artwork for books and animate them in a styalised cut-out way in the computer. (where all the elements on screen are cut up into pieces so have the potential to be animated) I like working in a kind of 2.5d way! The animation is flat (2d) yet placed in a 3d environment. This way I can play around with lights, shadows and camera moves to add atmosphere and drama.

Where did you come up with the idea of “Boris and the Wrong Shadow?”

I have always liked shadows, whenever I am on holiday I always take photos of peoples shadows. I like the shapes they make, how they stretch and squish around things. Also, in “Peter Pan” I loved the bit when Wendy sews Peters shadow back on him… that idea that a shadow was part of you, but could be something detachable I found really interesting.

For me, the story isn’t just about shadows, it is about feeling happy and confident and happy with who you are. Venon tries to be something he is not, and that never works out well in the end. So Boris teaches him that being a small mouse is actually fine. I used the shadows as a way of visually showing that idea.
I also wanted to do a story where a cat and a mouse were friends. Boris is such a happy-go-lucky kind of a cat that he doesn’t care if you are a mouse or an elephant. If you are nice and interesting and fun to be with… that is all that matters.

If you could trade shadows with anyone or anything, what would it be?

Probably a giraffe…. I love their necks and would be an amazing shadow to have! I am not sure a giraffe would be so impressed with my shadow though!
When I had long hair I used to like putting it up in little scrunched up bunches that always reminded me of the funny nodules giraffes have on their heads. When I wore my hair like this it always made me smile when I caught sight of my shadow.

Do you have any pets?

No I don’t…. but I do have a little baby which nearly the same!
I really wanted a cat, which is why I wrote the origional Boris story (Boris and the snoozebox) about a cat who didn’t have a home and was sent around the world in a parcel. I would love it if a cat who didn’t have a home came to stay with me.

When I was a child we had siamese cats… and for a while, stick insects and silk worms!

What are your hobbies? (Do you love a home makeover like Vernon?)

I like swimming, listening to old records in the shed, making new things out of old things, sitting in cafes with friends, having baths and sleeping!

What do you like to do with your friends? (Tea please?)

I love having tea parties and picnics. This gives me a perfect excuse to make cakes and biscuits. A few years ago I had a “Cake-off” cake baking competition. It was fun, but there were about 20 different ones to try- everyone ate too much cake and felt a little bit sick! My husbands lemon drizzle cake won the first prize (and he hasn’t stopped showing off since!)

What advice can you give to children who love to draw and create?

Just enjoy the process of drawing and being creative. Don’t worry about whether it will be any good, don’t worry that it has to be the best thing you have ever done. Even if you make a mistake or think it is rubbish, you will learn from it. Some of  the best things I have made have come out of doing something I didn’t mean to do. For me, the experimenting and the playfulness of creativity is what I find most enjoyable. So the most important thing is to have fun with it!

Also, be confident in your own ideas and ways of being creative. There is no right or wrong. That is what is so exciting about art. There is no one else like you in the world, so your way of seeing things and drawing things is unique. It is good to be inspired by others, but try not to copy. Anyone can copy, but not anyone can do what you do.

What advice can you give teachers about going that extra step to create movies of their classroom’s illustrated work?

Keep it simple. Animation is very involved and time consuming… so quite a lot of patience is needed. Perhaps start off with good old fashioned techniques that show the potential of animation to get pupils inspired….. zoetropes, flip books, then perhaps some simple under the camera cutout characters. Digital technology is making it easier for people to make their own movies which is fantastic. But it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve in the time so that pupils don’t get dissappointed. After all, one second of animation is 24 frames… which is 24 different images!

You can check out Leigh's other books and some of her animated videos at her blog, Wonky Button.

Teach Well: Have your child choose different items around the house, scan them, and create illustrations with them.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Borders Summer Reading Double Dog Dare

At Borders today, I noticed this great reason to start your summer reading program with your children today! You can pick up forms in the store or online. All you need to do is write down the titles of the ten books your child read and turn the form in to get your free book. Check out the list of the free books they are giving out!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guest Author: Mara Rockliff

Welcome to Teach Often's new series featuring author's and artists that inspire us and encourage our children to read! Today's guest author is  Mara Rockliff of The Busiest Street in Town. This is a beautiful story of friends making a difference in their neighborhood.

When did you begin writing?

Hmm…well, the first time I remember writing a story, I was about seven or eight. The story was about a man who accidentally put pepper in his pipe and started sneezing. Unfortunately, I got my facts mixed up and made it salt instead of pepper, so no one understood why he was sneezing. I’ve been struggling with plot details ever since!

What authors inspire you?

I love Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. It’s about a little girl named Alice who plans to do three things: visit faraway places, return home to live beside the sea, and (as her grandfather, a painter, says she must) do something to make the world more beautiful. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book without feeling inspired.

What inspired you to write “The Busiest Street in Town”?

I got the idea for The Busiest Street in Town one day while pushing my daughter’s baby stroller down a busy street. (By the time the book came out, she had started first grade, which gives you an idea of the publishing timeline for picture books!) Anyway, this street was lined with charming little houses on both sides—but it was split by several lanes of honking, rumbling, exhaust-spewing traffic. It was as if a human neighborhood had been invaded by an army of machines. I wondered what would happen if the humans got together and decided to take it back!

What is the busiest street you have ever been on?

There was a street fair in my town a week or two ago and it was very busy! In fact, I bet more people walked down the street that day than usually drive by in their cars. And they were definitely having much more fun!

Do you have a best friend like Agatha does Eulalie? What do you like to do together?

I don’t have a lifelong friend like Agatha, because I haven’t always lived in the same place. Actually, I just moved to Pennsylvania this past summer! But I’ve been lucky enough to find lots of new friends who are just as cheerfully offbeat as Agatha and just as loyal and fun-loving as Eulalie.

What is your favorite board game? (Parcheesi, please?)

I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t played Parcheesi since I was a kid! I don’t even remember how to play. It’s just such a fun-sounding name. With picture books, I like to pick fun, colorful words that make kids smile. Like “poodle.” Doesn’t the word “poodle” just sound funny? Our puppy is a poodle/spaniel mix, and we call her a spoodle, which sounds even funnier.

What is your favorite cookie? (Recipe?)

I don’t know if I can pick a favorite! I love all kinds of cookies—baking, eating, sharing, and of course, exchanging recipes. Here’s an easy one that’s fun to make with kids after reading The Busiest Street in Town:

Agatha May Walker’s Sweet and Spicy Ginger Snaps

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg

• Mix dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls, then combine.
• Refrigerate dough for a while so it’s not too sticky.
• Preheat oven to 350ยบ F.
• Roll into balls, place on greased cookie sheet, and press down with fork dipped in sugar.
• Bake until they look done. (Or not so done, if you like chewy cookies.)

If you could have your own neighborhood block party, what would it be like?

We have lots of parties in our neighborhood, and they’re terrific! Fantastic food, people laughing, kids running around…the only thing that’s really missing is the mariachi band. :)

Teach Often: What can you do in your neighborhood to make a difference?


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