I’ll never forget my son’s first grade one report card. He got a D in art. I was shocked – he’d spend hours drawing at home. At my parent-teacher interview I was told that the major offender was his self portrait. Instead of doing ‘what he was supposed to do’–-color his eyes and hair brown and his skin pink-– he drew antlers and tentacles coming out of his head. Upon hearing this, I was doubly incensed.
As an artist myself, not only do I believe that there is no right or wrong way to create art, but I also felt that if there’s any time a child should be able to express themselves freely, a self-portrait was it (and for the record, my son is a quiet, well-behaved kid who wasn’t intentionally going against the teacher’s wishes. He’s just quirky.) I was beside myself and prepared to call the principal, the school board, the prime minister if need be, before my husband finally managed to convince me that my son’s mark in grade one art was not necessarily going to keep him out of Oxford and maybe I should let this one go.
While I appreciate the need to follow guidelines in class, I still strongly believe that art is deeply personal and that we should encourage our children to think outside the box when it comes to expressing themselves creatively.
Make your own comic books
Here’s an idea to get your child’s creative juices flowing. Creating their own comic books encourages their story-telling skills and teaches them about character development. It also gives children the freedom to explore their own drawing style and experiment with different techniques.
Freedom to create
A comic book can be as structured or unstructured as your child would like. You could help them along by printing off a grid on some paper for them to use as their storyboard. Or perhaps they just enjoy the process of drawing freestyle and making up the story and would rather create their own framework. I know my own children like to start with a blank slate so there is plenty of space for some Batman-style BIFFs and POWs.
Draw inspiration from others
No doubt your kids will sometimes come up with their own original characters but don’t worry if they take their favorite superhero or cartoon character and set them in a new situation. There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from elsewhere, and trying to master technique by copying artists they admire teaches your children discipline. I have a stack of my own childhood Betty and Veronica sketches to prove it!
Storytellers in training
When they create their own comic book, kids are learning about story structure –-setting up the scenario with an introduction, establishing a solid storyline in the middle, and building up to a climax at the end. Given the freedom to invent their own narrative they learn that each character has its own unique voice and instinctively understand that different characters will react differently to a situation depending on their motivation. While creating stories and characters are just part of the fun, your children are developing skills that will transfer over to writing essays and interpreting literature in class.
Foster a love of reading
By encouraging kids to create their own comics you’ll be growing their interest in reading at the same time. There are many excellent graphic novels and comic books out there to inspire. Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Bone are just a few. You can find many more at your local library.
And you’ll be happy to know that my son successfully managed to navigate grade one, and elementary school for that matter, despite that D in art. He was even the inspiration for this article – years later,one of his favorite hobbies is making his own comics.