“I’m not an artist. I can’t illustrate my children’s book.”

4 books & a potato to coax your inner artist to come out and play!
Simple Line Art with Ink & Watercolor
Simple Line Art with Ink & Watercolor

As I get ready to start my Make Books Now! Action Program, I’ve been exploring fun and fast ways to create good-looking art that kids will love. I imagine there are folks out there doubting their ability to make art so I always like to provide playful ways for everyone to access their inner artist. While we’ll also be covering how to hire & art direct someone else for those still not convinced they can illustrate their own book, I do always encourage everyone to at least consider making their own art.

There’s something potent about illustrating our own stories that can make us better authors too.

If you’ve ever taken a class with me than you probably already know my first rule, EVERYONE is an artist. Yes, everyone!

Usually it’s not our skill that is the issue but that we’ve lost our sense of play, our trust in our hands and our ability to let go into freewheeling creativity. When I teach my classes that’s usually where I start; learning to trust our hands and PLAY PLAY PLAY. Kids are experts at this. They haven’t yet learned to second guess or think that something has to look perfectly representative. They can see into the art and play around inside it. My 2 year old draws a squiggly oval and says, “whale!” Kids’ imaginations are alive and fresh.

A sense of play when making art lets us drop back into that space where anything is possible.

I often hear folks say that they can’t make their art look the way they see it in their heads. A lot of times what they see in their heads are classic, more formal children’s book art. They immediately dismiss the art that is naturally theirs to express. We all have our own perfect style and way. If we take the pressure off how art looks and focus more on expression and play we enter the realm of children and open up new possibilities of expression and exploration.

Here are 4 children’s books that beautifully play with & expand the idea of what art needs to look like for kids to thoroughly enjoy it.

1. any book by Todd Parr!

Artwork by Todd Parr

2. Happy, by Pharrell Williams.

Yup it’s more than just a catchy song!

Happy by Pharrell

3. Otter and Odder written by James Howe, illustrated by Chris Raschka

(I’m a terminal Raschka fan!)

Otter and Odder

4. The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade written by Justin Roberts, illustrated by (the brilliant and award winning) Christian Robinson

illustration by Christian Robinson

What’s great about art like this is that it’s accessible to kids. They see it and say, hey I can do that! I mean what’s better than inspiring our next generation of storytellers and artists?

Lately I’ve been exploring Potato Prints to illustrate a book. Besides being fabulously fun for me they’ll be hilariously fun to share doing with kids in the classroom.

Make art for your children's book with Potato Prints

You don’t feel like you can draw. Not a problem, how about playing with photos or cut paper collage? Or breakout the crayons and let your hands play freely. Or maybe a potato is what would unleash your free side. Who doesn’t love potato art?! The possibilities are endless. You could even consider it a challenge to find the most fun, or most silly, or most weird way to make children’s book art. Kids LOVE that!

And if the art’s all that’s stopping you from publishing your book this year, well … why not come play and see if just maybe there’s an inner artist just waiting to burst onto the pages!

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