My kitchen counter is currently submerged beneath a rising tide of art supplies. This means only one thing in our home: a new school year approaches! While I wrest the counter free from the clutches of colored pens and puck tempera, I’ll leave you with this post: an old one, but one of my very favorites. Though I’ve found several noteworthy art books since this post appeared in November 2014, the books on this list remain my trusty sidekicks in the art room. May your first weeks of the school year be colorful (but only in the best way)!
I am a writer. An artist. A musician. A singer of ridiculous songs. Drinker of tea. Dedicated fan of Foyle’s War. I am not—or had always maintained that I was not—a teacher. But then God said, “Ha!” And now I’m a teacher.
I mentioned before that my daughter attends a small university model, Classical school and that I am the makeshift librarian there. But as of this year, I am also the art teacher, a plot twist that I have enjoyed quite a lot and that now means that not only are there books on every available surface of our house but also pans of watercolors, oil pastel trays, and paintings laid flat to dry on our counters and tables and floors.
I test a lot of lesson plans (translation: I paint a lot!), but I also read a lot of picture books about art, because I’m finding that books are a great way to introduce an art lesson (or anything else, really) to a group of kids. And I’m finding that there are some really excellent books about art out there. In a departure from our usual fare (we seem to be making quite a few of those lately, which must mean that I’ve reviewed most of my very favorite books and am now looking elsewhere for inspiration), I have decided to share a list of my five favorite finds from the art section of our school’s small library:
1. MIX IT UP!, BY HERVE TULLET
How do you teach color theory to kids when they don’t have paint on hand to mix for themselves? Tullet gives us the next best thing: a book that the kids can interact with.
I read this book to all three of my classes, grades pre-K through 4, walking up and down the desks so that each student got a turn to press, smear, and shake the book, and I just loved watching how differently the students responded to it. One thing was universal: they adored it. One kindergartener looked at me wonderingly and said, “That book is really magic.” (I let her take it home for the weekend.)
2. LINES THAT WIGGLE, BY CANDACE WHITMAN
This playful book introduces children to the many, many ways we use lines both in art and everyday life. I just can’t get enough of the illustrations. The colors! The creativity! The wiggly lines!
I haven’t read this one to the students yet (or to my own children, one of whom is a student after all), but I am definitely looking forward to sharing it with them.
I didn’t immediately see the appeal of this book: at first glance, it looks like a slightly-larger-than-normal board book about colors with no discernible story line at all. But the magic of Pantone Colors is in the color squares: they have lovely names like “Orangutan Orange” or “Mitten Purple” and practically beg you to sit with your kids and study them.
We like to name our favorite color on each page, or guess each other’s favorite color, or choose our favorite color name (mine? “Wet Sidewalk Gray,” followed closely by “Grandma Gray.” Also, “Teapot Blue”). I originally bought a copy of this book for the school, but then . . . we kept it. So I had to buy a different one for the school.
4. BEAUTIFUL OOPS!, BY BARNEY SALTZBERG
This book is a tremendous gift for kids who struggle with perfectionism in drawing, as it explores mistakes and the various opportunities they provide. It’s a charming book, full of pop-ups, overlays, and clever three dimensional pages, like this one:
Beautiful Oops! encourages us to view mistakes as unexpected opportunities, and that is sage advice (delivered in a creative package).
5. SACHIKO UMOTO’S ILLUSTRATION SCHOOL SERIES
These books are great for slightly older kids (or adults, for that matter. I originally bought these for myself). Sachiko Umoto’s illustrations are fun to duplicate, and she walks readers through each one step by step. One thing I specifically appreciate about this series is that even though she draws stylized illustrations of people, plants, and animals, she pays special attention to the anatomy of the object under study: she doesn’t teach readers how to draw a flower, but how to draw a poppy, or a hyacinth, or a daffodil.
Likewise, she not only teaches how to draw a person or a dog, but demonstrates the underlying skeleton, so we readers can see how the figure should move and why the limbs are placed the way they are. Her lessons are simple, but thorough.
Here is my favorite series to work from while creating lesson plans for art class:
20 WAYS TO DRAW A CAT (OR A TREE, Tulip, MUSTACHE, AND MORE)
The 20 Ways to Draw . . . series is fun because it doesn’t actually tell you how to draw a shark, but instead gives you a double-page spread of twenty different sharks, shown from various angles and drawn in various styles, to use as inspiration for drawing your own shark (or jellyfish or pine cone or fern).
I pull from these books when looking for a clear, simple way to draw, say, an apple, and my girls love to flip through them and request lessons on how to draw a specific picture. (On a related note, I have drawn a lot of cats since we got that book.)
If you would like more artsy inspiration, you can follow me on Pinterest. My feed is chock full of art for (and by) kids!