Friday, 10 February 2017

#PowerofPictures and connecting characters

This week I've been drawing and 'connecting characters' with students up north here...

with illustration students at Huddersfield University,
and down in South London for a book week at Smallwood Primary, Streatham - drawing characters with every single year group from Nursery to Year 6 (age 11).
 Here are some of Year 3's quick draw characters done in the hall at Smallwood Primary.
I ran one- hour workshops for whole Years 2- 6 plus  individual classes from Nursery to Year 1.
(Big thanks Smallwood's Literacy officer John Griffiths)

For every session we looked at the simplest tool that I use as a narrative illustrator in my own books to get
characters really connecting to each other - or avoiding them: eye direction.
Som of my quick sketches to show (top) head - example of 3 simplified animals
(below) profiles showing a few simple ways to vary characters as springboards for stories

You could say it is about getting your characters to focus.  
Who is looking at whom (or not) and why and how? Such fun to see how a character comes to life when you place the dot of the pupils in a specific part of the eye socket!
The fun and stories really starts when you get that direction to a look. Then you can draw another character alongside, responding to that gaze - looking back or away. How do they feel about each other? Where will they look next?   It's a great springboard for story writing too as I've shown in more detail here. (And in a shorter quick tip here)

No matter how simple or elaborately drawn, how schematic or sophisticated it's amazing to see how a focused gaze brings a drawing to life.  "Like magic" as a Year 1 pupil told me, as she turned a round shape into a face and added a dot to the corner of each eye socket. 

Part of a Year 1 class  of 5 and 6 year olds in Smallwood - 45 minutes to
connect characters  (adding expressions).


Even some of the talented Huddersfield illustration students preparing final year books were struggling.  They tend to obsess on technique, the pressure to 'brand' your work or at the very least evoke an atmosphere.  It's so easy to forget how identifying with characters can help them and their readers to enter into and point the way (literally, you could say) through a story.

Coincidentally after this busy week I learnt about the #PowerofPictures initiative on Twitter.  Turns out that the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, the CLPE  in collaboration with Dr Sue Horner and Janet White have been doing some great research into the power of picture books over the past 3 years - with the help of some much-loved author-illustrator colleagues. 

Their report proves that 'getting under the skin' of characters in picture books can be useful for children in so many ways, well beyond 7 or 8 when kids are wrongly thought to be 'beyond' picture books. Many of us in publishing and in education know this but we have to convince others, especially parents anxious about their kids' reading level.   Here's to #PowerofPictures  - and the power of pupils (excuse the pun)!
But it's not just helping literacy levels. You could say it's  about encouraging the development of that bit of the brain that's crucial for the survival of the human race - empathy.

Here are a few glimpse of 'looks'  empathetic - and threatening - from some illustrations I did a while back
to Claire Clement's story that's just been published by Bayard France,  Le Doudou du Loup



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