Drawing Lessons with Ed Emberley and Peter Brown

This week, Crafty Cora spent some time with two artists who support the idea that anyone who can make lines and shapes on a piece of paper can make a drawing. Neither lessons was planned, which may be what makes them seem so authentic. And while I thought about sharing them each here as they were happening, it wasn’t until I sat down to write that their overlapping messages became clear.

Monday afternoon Cora came up from the basement with a few books. She set them down on her desk and started going through them. She got out some pencils and markers and started drawing. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention since she was directing herself and didn’t need me but after awhile she asked me to check out what she was up to.

I was excited to see her working through some of Ed Emberley’s drawing directions. Not because I think that following step-by-step instructions for drawing objects in the world is the best way to learn to draw, I’d rather Cora just draw what she sees (a la Nancy Smith), and what she remembers about the things she’s seen, but she hasn’t been drawing much of anything lately so I am at the point where I’ll take what I can get.

And she wasn’t following the directions anyway, she was studying them. See how she circled each step on this page?

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She did that 5 or 6 times that afternoon. “First you do this, then you do this….” she said as she worked.

After a little coaxing, I convinced her to sit down and make some drawings with me, following Emberley’s directions. As we worked, I named the shapes and lines we were making. We took turns adding parts to the characters we made. She got excited and continued on after I left. Copying some of his animals and making up her own.

Jellyfish: After Emberley

Jellyfish: After Emberley

If you’re not familiar with Emberley, here’s an example of how he builds confidence in his followers: “If you can draw these six things, you can draw a spider.” The drawings aren’t realistic or very detailed, but they are enough to get the point across. I remember when I was a kid I’d ask my mother to draw things for me. She’d be the first to admit that drawing isn’t something she does a lot or likes to do. I think she, and parents like her, would find Emberley helpful when hanging out with young artists trying to support their efforts. Which brings us to Peter Brown…

In the fall, I hinted at the fact that if picturebook author/illustrator Peter Brown ever made an appearance at our local bookstore, I would be in the first row. Well, Thursday night he was and we were! (Thank you Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!)

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We were prepared to hear him read a book and that was entertaining and interesting. After a brief introduction to the story and what inspired him to write My Teacher is a Monster (you can read a version here), he read the words, and the pictures. He talked through aspects of the illustrations that helped illuminate the story. This is the heart of what makes a picturebook a picturebook. It’s about a symbiotic combination of words and images. Without one or the other, the story wouldn’t be complete.

After the reading and a brief Q&A (appropriately but somewhat disappointingly) geared towards the kids in the crowd, Brown knelt on the floor and showed us how he drew Ms. Kirby, the monster teacher, using a series of basic lines and shapes. “You can draw circles, right? You can draw curved lines, right? Then you can draw Ms. Kirby!” he told the the kids gathered around him. Like Emberley, Brown was suggesting that anyone can draw something.

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Cora and I didn’t do any drawing today, but I’m looking forward to seeing where all this takes us over the weekend and in days to come. How will these messages resonate in her little brain? Will they manifest themselves in her artwork moving forward? You can be sure I’ll let you know.

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