At my Chelsea Young Writers holiday workshop this week I started with a question. I knew they were ‘writers’ but did they enjoy drawing? A big cheer – yes!
That was a relief, as their mission I explained, was to make an illustrated picture book in 3 hours.
We talked about different ways that pictures can be used to show the story – showing rather than telling – and how the pictures can show something quite different from text. And who are picture books for? Several wanted to make a book for their younger siblings. Some said they still loved reading them, alongside longer books (just like I still do!).
Pictures are a great route into storytelling and drawing can help open imaginative doors. And it felt appropriate to be focusing on drawing as well as writing during for this ‘Big Draw’ month of October with this year’s theme ‘Every picture tells a story’ introduced by journalist Andrew Marr.
To warm up we did some character drawing. That’s what I do to spark ideas for my own stories – I sketch lots of characters and see where they take me. I showed them a quick recipe I’ve developed that uses the simplest shapes to create generate all kinds of characters with different expressions that can be drawn quickly over several pages. Keeping to the theme of our workshop – Animal Antics – the big table soon filled with a veritable zoo of animals.
Then comes the real story-telling spark. Put two characters together and see how they connect or relate to each other. I show children how they can do this with eyes – carefully drawing the dots – the pupils – of their character – in specific areas of the eye socket. The exchange of looks – the gaze meeting or turning away – is a powerful tool that actors also use to reveal relationships. Are they avoiding a direct gaze, looking intensely into each other’s eyes, or looking up to the sky in desperation? I’ve demonstrated this in adult workshops too. Not every child – or adult – gets this straightaway – but when they do, it can make their character come alive. And then the characters start to ‘speak’ to each other.
That sparked them off, writing and drawing across folded books of 6 pages plus cover and back cover. The concentration was amazing. More than half the children wanted to continue with their stories over break time. They all got carried away into the story, just like the two characters in my latest picture book Tiz and Ott’s Big Draw which they asked me to read to them. Some worked fast, like high energy Tiz, and others preferred to take their time like Ott. All the stories were unique – one picture book touchingly drawn for a younger sister even rhymed.
I think many of the books would stand a good chance in this years children’s picture book South Ken Kids Festival competition.
And coincidentally this year’s theme is ‘If I were an animal’. Which reminds me – I hope to see some talented Chelsea Young Writers at the South Ken Kids Festival at the French Institute on November 21- 22 where I’ll be doing live drawing and other events alongside a fabulous bunch of French and English author-illustrators.
Bridget Marzo is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and author of 15 picture books published by US, French publishers and UK publishers including the Tate and Bloomsbury. After an Art History degree at King’s, Cambridge she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and lived in France for over 2 decades. Alongside writing and illustrating she taught narrative art and design to art students at Parsons Paris alongside weekly workshops for bilingual children. She has also worked for interactive media, and children’s magazines including Bayard’s international Storybox. Now back in London working on new book projects, Bridget also gives workshops internationally both for children and adult writers and illustrators, and recently led illustration workshops at CWISL’s Shoutsouth writing festival for schools at London Southbank university.