There comes a time in every children’s librarian’s life when she needs to take a break from comics, programs, and kids, and do something completely different. Do something different? That’s crazy talk. Instead, I and two elite members from my Team Of Experts spent our Saturday afternoon attending the “How to Draw with Your Kid/How to Draw with Your Grown-up” class taught by cartoonist Betsy Streeter at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. My nieces, Elsie, age 9, and Cecile, age 7, are both enthusiastic artists, but I’m a much better reader than I am a drawer, so I was a little nervous about participating. The class description promised it wouldn’t matter that I’m a bit artistically challenged and the fact that the kids would totally outshine me shouldn’t keep me from participating. So I took the description at its word, and lo and behold, it was right.
We arrived about ten minutes into Betsy’s presentation. (One of my experts was hungry, so we stopped for some take-away pizza, then the other expert decided she didn’t like the pizza, so stopped every four steps to carefully pick off some offending bit. Some members of my Team Of Experts have prima donna tendencies.) Having missed the intro, I was afraid we’d missed some vital instructions, but it soon became clear that the whole point of the class was to have fun drawing together. That in a stress-free, correction-free environment, kids and their grown-ups can come to know each other better and communicate in new ways just by pulling out some pencils, crayons, and scratch paper.
Betsy created the correction-free environment by starting with an exercise where we were asked to illustrate our feelings. By drawing what angry feels like, or happy, or confused, without drawing an actual person or event, we were able to look at how differently we all “see” how we feel. Not wrong, just different. Inwardly, I was afraid the class would now spiral into a touchy-feely mess of pseudo-therapy, where we would have to talk about times when we were angry or confused, and start sharing with each other, and crying, and passing kleenex. But Betsy didn’t go there. Instead, once she had established that we all could draw, that none of us were wrong, and that different was OK, she jumped into a series of exercises that were, well, fun.
For the first time in a long time – probably since I was a kid myself – I had a ton of fun drawing. The kids were having fun drawing, too. There were gales of laughter coming from some of the tables, with the adults giggling as much as the kids. Parents were debating with their kids about who was funnier, Calvin or Hobbes, and the adults weren’t pushing to win. We worked on group drawings, where everyone seated at our table contributed, as well as worked individually. Each exercise was loosely directed, leaving the majority of the creativity up to the artist, and all around the room kids and adults were rising to the occasion. Whether the assignment was to randomly select two word cards from a deck and draw what the two cards said, or to take the blob the person next to us had sketched on a piece of paper and try to turn that blob into a story, we were all game and having a blast. And at the very end, Betsy showed us all how to make a simple flip book, introducing the kids to basic animation and giving us all something to expand upon at home.
So many kids want to do more than just read comics. They want to create comics, too. Classes like this one give kids a place where they can get enthusiastic about art and drawing and comics, even if they never go on to become professional artists. And parents are given an opportunity to see their kids excited about art in an environment where it’s clear that art is not a waste of time. That art is never a waste of time.
Being so busy putting on children’s programs at the library, it’s been ages since I’ve had the time or opportunity to attend a program as a participant. It was a fluke that I found the class announcement from the Cartoon Art Museum, but I assure you I’ll be looking around for more opportunities like this one. I’ve come away from this event excited about the day I shared with the girls and full of new ideas I can bring back to the library to use in my own presentations. I may not have taken a break from comics, programs, or kids, but sometimes more of the same, with a twist, is all it takes to come back refreshed.