Do you ever have writer’s or artist’s block?
I know I do!! Not so much with thinking up illustrations but the times I have tried to sit down and write a story I am as much use as a chocolate teapot. I used to love writing as a child so you would think this would come naturally but I find it very hard to get that initial concept for the story line down. Once I have it then it all flows but getting it is the tricky bit! I tried writing my first book around five years ago and I really struggled.
So what did I do? I asked my son Dylan who was five at the time to come up with a story. It took him seconds to come up with an idea and went something like this…
“so there’s this penguin who wants to fly but he can’t… so he travels to the jungle and meets a peacock and he teaches him how to fly”
My initial thoughts were… Okaaaay! … that was a pointless exercise! But at the time Dylan had a fascination with peacocks and I couldn’t find them as a character in any picture book out there so I sat down and I started writing and you know what.. we came up with a really cute little story called Flic’s wish. It’s a book I would still like to illustrate one day. That was my first attempt at writing as a grown up and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it but full credit goes to Dylan as I would never have thought the initial idea up in a million years.
It’s a similar story with my latest book Animania. The original idea is something Dylan came up with a few years back. We were having one of our nonsense chats on the way to school and he mentioned how strange it would be to mix animals up. So we landed up discussing what animals we could make up, what we could call them and what they would look like etc We came up with characters such as the prickly python, antosaurus and fluffa fish. A little light bulb switched on flashing “picture book” So I was going to write a story based on that idea but after doing some research I noticed that there was already a book out on the market like that… typical!. So I have now gone with a rhyming animal alphabet book with a twist. Making it a fun educational tool, if anything I actually prefer this concept so it was a blessing in disguise.
My daughter Felicity aka Flic also has her characters included which are the tickly bears and hefty weirdos. These names came up when we were reading one of her bedtime stories. I can’t remember the exact wording but the characters were a hippo and a panda. She muddled her words up some how and came up with the names hefty weirdos and tickly bears. I fell in love with them and they have been used many a time ever since. So when Animania came up it was only natural that they were to be included.
My children are a massive part of my inspiration, I very much doubt I would have thought of these ideas up myself and I am sure my illustrations are influenced a lot by them. So how can you too gain inspiration from the little people in your life…
The old saying goes: Know your audience! And what better way to understand young readers than to make them a part of your creative process?
How to get children involved with the creative process
Have brainstorming sessions
Children love being part of the creative process and they have the best imaginations in the world. Make the most of this and utilise it. If you have absolutely no idea of a concept then ask them to come up with a story, simples… you will be very surprised with how quick they can do this. Or start off with a main character, discuss what they should look like, do they have any special talents? What kind or personality do they have? What do they look like? What do they love doing? etc From there you can start to build a story. You will be very surprised how a little brain storming session like this can open up a floodgate of inspiration.
I tend to have our little “chats” on our walks to and from school or while they are having a bath etc. The key is for them to enjoy the experience so by turning it into a “game” you will most probably find the best ideas come up. I find this works better for us rather than sitting down with a notepad and pen and quizzing them, this turns the experience more into a homework session, and that is a big no no with my lot. So try to make it as relaxed as possible, and keep mental notes that you can jot down after.
Turn it into a game
One of the games my children enjoy is making up a story by taking it in turns to come up with the next scene in a story. So for example I will say “Once upon a time there was a little mouse called tufty who lived with his mum dad and sister in an old abandoned farm”
Then they would then continue with the next scene… “ Tufty loved going on adventures with his best friend Chip, one day they decided to go to the seaside.
You get the jist. More often than not the stories just get ridiculous and make no sense whatsoever but you will be surprised how they might just trigger something off for a concept.
All children will enjoy doing this, they don’t have to be a budding author or illustrator. Dylan doesn’t enjoy writing but he has such a good imagination on him and is a fantastic story teller so if you see this in your child please encourage it. If they aren’t a keen writer then play games like this to feed their imagination.
Photocopy your sketches to use as coloring pages
Some children enjoy drawing more than others. Flic loves drawing and painting and will more often than not sit with me while I am painting. I let her colour in my sketch book so when I have my pencil draft I will transfer it over to my heavyweight paper and work on that and she will sit there and colour in my original sketch.
I also try and get photocopies of my initial sketches as they make great colouring in pages. Their friends often ask if I have any of my colouring sheets to use so if your child has an interest in drawing this would be a great way to get them involved in your creative process.
I always feel guilty when I am working on a book that I am not spending enough time with the children but by doing things like this you are making the whole experience more interactive, they get a bit more mum time and you in return are rewarded with the best inspiration available out there!
If you don’t have children then there are plenty out there you can borrow he he! Nephews, nieces, cousins, everyone must have a tiny person somewhere they can reach out to. Now go out there and get inspired!