Thursday, October 20, 2011

Incorporating a Place you Love in your Novel

I love Wisconsin. I know it's because I grew up there and now that I live in California I miss Wisconsin even more. 

I spent my first 24 years in Madison, a good size city in the south eastern part of the state. We were surrounded by lakes, green, snow, ice, and lots of layers of clothing during the grey season (which was around six months.) I celebrated many days with minor frostbite on my toes, and huddled in the basement hoping the thunderstorms wouldn't become tornadoes.

When I talk to friends that have never been to Wisconsin, they often pictures farms, cows, and overalls. Quite understandable, it is after all the dairy state. But Madison doesn't fit that description. It is the capital of the state, with a Washington D.C. capital replica in the center of the city. It also has an enormous university (go Badgers!) If you grow up on the West side of Madison, it was a no-no to go to the East side of Madison, and visa-versa. Can you hear the West Side Story music in your head?

So, why do I sit here and reminisce? Because I miss it. But also because I've incorporated Madison into my novel. Three-quarters of my entire book is set there. I get to dive into my memories and explore a place that shaped who I am today. It brings my childhood to the surface which helps me remember what it feels like to be a teenager in love, in pain, lost, and angry.

The masters say to write what you know, including setting. The more I tap into where I'm from, the stronger my characters become, and their setting becomes a character in of itself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fostering Children’s Love of Art & Animals

I have yet to meet a first grader that doesn't love animals and art. I've worked with a lot of students to come to this conclusion. This past year has taught me how important creative expression is to our youth, and how creative time is dwindling for them. So many elementary schools in the U.S. don’t have art rooms, let alone art teachers. Some teachers are able to incorporate art into their curriculum, but it sounds like it’s getting harder and harder to do that, and adhere to strict state-wide standardized tests. 

Giving kids a place where there isn’t a right or wrong answer, or good or bad solution, is healthy and necessary. How else will people be able to think-outside-the-box? So instead of complaining, I decided to start an after school art program at my children’s elementary school. And all I can say is that children around me are starving for art.
It takes a few classes before my students get excited by the words “free draw,” which I start most of my classes with to get their creative brains working. At first, many look at me for answers, they beg me to tell them what to draw, like they’re afraid to try and fail. But, once they get into the groove, there’s no stopping them. They can’t wait for free draw. I hear muffled giggles. I see big grins.

My favorite drawing exercise is one that was inspired years ago by an illustrator being interviewed on National Public Radio. I place long pieces of drawing paper on four tables. Each paper is given a title across the top: “Fish on Parade,” “Insects Everywhere,” “Reptiles Wearing Hats,” and so on. I break the kids into four groups and give them three to five minutes at each paper. They are supposed to draw whatever the title inspires.  Often it takes two rounds for the kids to get ideas. I usually add a little something on each paper to help get the wheels turning.
I’ve started to expand my art program to weekend workshops, and summer camp. I only take seven students at a time and invite kids from 6-13 years of age. Being a wildlife artist, I incorporate animals in many of the projects I do with my students.
I figure with a little effort we can inspire a child that loves art and animals, to continue to love art and animals. Earth knows we need environmentally passionate kids now more than ever.