Introducing Modern Art to Preschoolers: “Mousterpiece”

Jane Breskin Zalben. Author/Artist

1. How can your books be used to teach a love of art (Mousterpiece) and performing (Four Seasons)?

I have been told that both are perfect venues to teach the love of art and music. All I can say is that if you do something that it meaningful, write about it, and it comes through to the reader, then in essence, it teaches a lesson and shows without telling in a heavy-handed way what it means to be an artist, to do what has meaning in life, to make a life of art. Art was always my life since I was little. I think that comes through in Mousterpiece. It is who I am. It is who the little mouse, Janson, is. She discovers what it is to be a true artist. I also played the piano as a child. In the same vein, Ally, the main character in Four Seasons: A novel in four movements based on the seasons of Vivaldi’s sonata, is a child piano prodigy at Julliard in New York City and learns to discover, like Janson, (I just realized this link!) what it means to be a true artist for herself. I was not a child prodigy, but my younger son went to Juilliard as a violinist and composer for nine years as a child so I knew my “material” to say the least.

2. What do you see as connecting threads in your work?

The common thread is emotion. I do not avoid inner feelings and how people interact or relate to each other, whether it is for young children or young adults. We are complex human beings whether we are three or eighty-three. Some of us just choose to forget or deny the inner workings of who we are. I like to tap into and remember those feelings of separation anxiety or fear or heartbreak, and of course, empathy and love.

3. How does your work as an artist inform your book publishing?

Well, I am an artist – a painter – who happens to do books and am passionate about the form and structure of a book as an art object. I loved slip-cased books, books tied with silk ribbons, ragged thick paper on the trim, marbleized endpapers, embossed cloth bindings, vellum over a title page – that is why I originally fell in love with bookmaking. Of course books look different now, and that challenge I appreciate as well. Every detail down to the spacing of the typography on the page. Now, I like experimenting more in a book. With both the ideas and the materials used. I have done work on the computer, overlays like an animation, mixed media, collage, but in the end for me there is nothing like the water color on a gorgeous piece of paper painting with a triple zero brush taking my time with my nose to the surface for hours hunched over a drafting table! I consider it “serious business” and don’t take lightly the years spent on creating a book. I have done around 50 books – all kinds – and I like to push myself as an artist and a person to experiment and challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before. To grow.

4. Do you cross-promote the two?

I try, but it is almost like two different fields with different editors with their own passions. Some are better at novels, while others at a shorter form. I love music. Many people have mentioned it enters a lot of my work, in timing, space and intensity. I have used it in both age groups – novels and picture books. Sometimes people know me as a young adult / middle-grade author, and most know me as a picture book author/artist. I began my life as an artist, but felt I needed to say more so I began to write novels when my children were little and napped. I had stopped doing picture books for a few years to get away from all that! They no longer are small; I feel even more intense now about writing novels. The link between the two is that in a novel you are there visually with the characters, and in a way, it is like doing art. I disappear into another place that feels real in that fictional world. I love being in it and feel consumed by writing the story when I am working on a novel, like Four Seasons (Knopf 2011) which took about 3 or so years, and Leap (Knopf) before that, which I developed into a screenplay – another visual form with dialogue. I have had eight published between doing the picture books.

5. Is there an art technique you’ve learned recently that you’d be willing to share tips on?

I have experimented so much in these last ten years with so many different techniques that I find it actually interesting. I get bored when I look at some illustration work and the style is the same again and again. For me, it personally shows no growth. I know people often want the same old thing from an artist, but for an artist, that is not always exciting.

What is exciting is the journey, the process of working, revising, and knowing there is never an end because even when the book is done, it could always be redone in another way. There is a time though, you have to say, move on to the next one.

As a former art director, teacher at the School of Visual Arts, chair of the Society of Illustrators, I can say I have seen a lot of techniques, and in the final analysis the tip is what works for the individual. There are no rules. The key is to wake up and do what you love and keep trying to make it better. I think that is the plight of the artist. The process. The work. The time alone in a room to create.

Jane Breskin Zalben the author/artist of more than 50 children’s books. She’s just published “Mousterpiece: a mouse-sized guide to modern art,” which is receiving starred reviews. Her young adult novel, “Four Seasons” had jacket blurbs from Judy Blume and Gordan Korman and fan e-mails from Bunnicula author, James Howe. She travels around the U.S. and abroad to talk about her children’s books.

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Creating Documentary Theater on Civil Rights: Mike Wiley

Mike Wiley, Actor and playwright

Brown Versus The Board of Education

 

Blood Done Sign My Name – credit Steve Exum

1. Why did you choose to go out on your own?

I got started out of necessity, drive and hunger – the reasons everyone does! But also, I knew I didn’t want to have to wait for someone to give me a job, and I didn’t want to have to work in another field, just to be able to afford to work in my chosen field at night. So many people end up waiting tables or getting jobs sitting behind a desk, just so they can do theater.

I felt if I did that, it would be easy to start to fall in love with the ease of regular work, and it would take the edge off my desire to work in my chosen field. I’ve seen it happen with others where after a while the day job increases and other becomes hobby.

I knew I wanted to work in theater, act and be creative and steer my own ship all at the same time. I didn’t have a Masters in acting – I had a communication degree, which someone talked me into doing. So, it was good that I understood advertising, marketing, and the skills of design to be able to funnel that into my theater work and to build it about myself.

For several years, I was an actor in New York looking to play multiple characters because I realized, if I could do that, I could do solo plays. I knew I could write, and I just wanted to write pieces I could use full-length or for short, 45-minute performances. Plays that could be performed at a theater, school or college, in regional theater, or on tour.

I wrote, One Noble Journey about Henry Brown. I wrote it because it was a slave narrative that was incredibly moving with things that rang true and funny to me. I hadn’t come across slave narratives that were funny before, so my reaction to Henry Brown’s was sort of nice. It’ s the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who decided he was going to actually mail himself in a box to the North in the middle of summer to escape, which was crazy, but it was the only way he could find to free himself.

For me, writing my own pieces was a way for me to free myself – so Henry Brown was that for me. Before that, I was a sort of a slave to type – I was expected to play an African- American man of certain age and build, whereas now, I didn’t have to be a certain sex, height, type, or color. I could do a solo show and be a white or black male, even female, or child – I could play all of the characters! Doing a one-man show allows me to bridge the worlds of theater and storytelling with few props and no costumes changes. I found I don’t need much of a back drop, just me using mostly voice and posture, and a willing audience.

What I’ve learned, is that the audiences are interested in me and in watching the transformations I make from one character to the next – how two seconds ago I was a young African American male, then seconds later an elderly female pretending to be a white male. What the audience is attracted to is watching the act of becoming the other.

2. How would you suggest someone get started writing their own work?

You just need a pencil and a library card. There are so many true stories out there waiting to be told. The same is true with oral histories, they’re out there waiting to be picked up and be told. If an artist comes along and illustrates or adapts it, then the story lives again, but now it has dimensions it didn’t have before.

I’ve found it’s important to make the commitment to do the research, and then, to get meaningful feedback once you’ve written the 1st, 2nd or 3rd draft. At that point, you or another person should read the piece aloud – so skip the step of having someone read the text you written, you’ll get more across if it’s done aloud.

3. What are your feelings about what’s happening now with performing arts & the arts in education? How has that impacted your work?

I was just reading now in our area about some regional theaters having closed. I’ve found the business model I have has worked because it can go to where theater is wanted and needed. You don’t have to bring in bus loads to a place to see it – and you don’t have to go to a metro area. I bring theater to where people are. Sometimes it’s in a theater, sometimes a local cultural center, other times at schools and libraries – I’ve performed in galleries too. The objective is to give them a great cultural experience, presenting arts and history, and to make it enjoyable and even funny. It can be done affordably, so they don’t need to go to the school board for funding and approval to do it. That makes sense strategically, and I can do it because it’s just me and a stage manager to cover for us to make the trip and mount the performance.

Mike Wiley is an actor and playwright, who’s spent more than a decade fulfilling his mission to bring educational theatre to young audiences and communities across the country. In the early days of his career, Wiley found few theatrical resources to shine a light on key events and figures in African-American history. To bring these stories to life, he started his own production company.

Through his performances, Wiley has introduced countless students and communities to the legacies of Emmett Till, Henry “Box” Brown and more. His most recent works include a one-man play based on Tim Tyson’s memoir Blood Done Sign My Name and The Parchman Hour, an ensemble production celebrating the bravery and determination of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives to desegregate Southern interstate bus travel in 1961.

Mike Wiley has a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the 2010 Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to his numerous school and community performances, he has also appeared on Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and National Geographic Channel and has been featured in Our State magazine and on PBS’ North Carolina Now and WUNC’s The State of Things.

 

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Art for Public Spaces: Isabelle Garbani

Isabelle Garbani, is an emerging artist who lives and works in Brooklyn,
NY

1. When did you get your first opportunity to do a public installation, and what was the objective?

My first opportunity was with a non-profit group called Figment, for
their sculpture garden on Governors Island in New York City.

Their objective is to make art more accessible to the general public,
and they work very hard to make that happen every summer.

I share a lot of their philosophy about art: it should be free and
accessible to all, and engage the public in a non-intimidating way.
My exhibit called Knit for Trees was entirely made with plastic from
recycled bags, and wrapped trees in tree “sweaters”.

Every weekend, I set up a knitting circle and invited park visitors to
knit with me or learn how to knit. The panels created during the
summer were added to the installation, which kept growing over time.

2. What permissions, specific guidelines do you need to have work in a
public space?

I generally work with larger groups (a city commission, or a non-profit
art group) so all the permits and publicity is taken care of in advance
of the work being installed.

As a one person operation, I find it more manageable to go that route
because it allows me to concentrate on the work without having to do
any paperwork.

When my career is further along, and I can see having folks working
with me, then I can start thinking about finding more specific sites
and asking for permits.

3. Are there safety or aesthetic considerations that influence this
type of work?

Safety is always an issue with public art: both for the public and for
the art!

The work must be sound and be able to withstand un-monitored pedestrian
high traffic.

There’s always some risks that the artist must take because of that,
and a certain amount of letting go, because one cannot control all
events.

I have had one installation vandalized in the past, which is
heart-breaking, but is part of having art in the public realm

4. How is it different for you as an artist to do these types of
installations?

The main reason I chose to go to public art is that I wanted to avoid
going the gallery route.

Galleries cater to a very specific clientele, which I feel is limited,
and I wanted my art to be visible to more people.

I spend a lot of time sending proposals which tend to be site specific,
and those can take a lot of time to put together.

I am however getting better at it!

Isabelle Garbani has had exhibitions at Payne Gallery in PA, Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn, the New York Academy of Art and the Benrimon Gallery in New York City. She had her first solo exhibit in 2008 at the Earlville Opera House and her second in 2011 at her gallery, BoxHeart Gallery in Pittsburgh.

Her work from the 2010 show Single Fare was shown in the New York
Times. In 2011, she completed the public installations Knit for Trees
on Governors Island in New York City, and Forces of Nature for the
Sculpture Center in Vermont. She has recently returned from Taiwan
where she participated in the 2012 Cheng Long Environmental Art Project
with the installation Invasive Species.

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Singing for Arts in Education; Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

Neil Brewer, Professor, poet and songwriter

If you’ve been to school, have siblings who annoy you, or want the arts to be integral to the curriculum, meet Neil Brewer, whose album The 8 O’Clock Bell, came from a poetry book of the same name that prompted Former First Lady Barbara Bush to say, “I love this book.”

Brewer’s day job is educating college students who are training to become teachers and his specialty is showing them how to creatively incorporate arts into the core curriculum. A poet, musician and songwriter, Brewer uses an arsenal of creative talent to bring students, teachers and the public he performs for to think in new ways, and he does it in ways that are so entertaining that they often don’t notice they’re learning. When not teaching, Brewer takes his songs and presentations on the road to promote book and music sales, then he donates 100% of the proceeds to The Harvard Stem Cell Institute to fund research to end muscular dystrophy.

His 8 O’Clock Bell, has been called, “a delightful journey through the life experiences common to all of us.” And his sibling smack down song, Three Kids in a Car from his Neil Brewer and Friends are Back in School album, is now a Night Mill Productions animation.

Neil Brewer spent the first twenty years of his teaching career in 5th and 6th grade classrooms, and has drawn from that journey with students on many occasions in various written forms. For his epic thematic adventure, The Travels of Harmon Bidwell, Neil received The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship.He teaches graduate and undergraduate education courses at Indiana University Southeast in Indiana.

10 Tips Selling Art to Galleries

 

Mindy Yanish, Owner, Offerings Gallery

What do artists have to know about working with retailers and gallery owners?

  1. Don’t think having friends and family like your work means you can succeed in selling to others on a regular basis.
  2. Know that being talented is not enough to be successful.
  3. Don’t treat all retailers or gallery owners the same; like artists, every retailer or gallery owner is unique and should be approached that way.
  4. Don’t assume the store or gallery owner doesn’t understand what it is to be an artist. Just because I own or run a store doesn’t mean I haven’t lived that struggle – in fact, I have and it’s been a double roller coaster.
  5. Don’t believe if you’re an artist you can’t be good at business. Operating a successful business is as creative as anything else you do in art. It’s a living thing like a painting, and you have to be very creative to make it work – the skills are very complementary.
  6. Realize that the relationship is not just about selling art – it’s much more than that. It’s collaboration between the store or gallery owner and the artist. The more I understand about you and your work, and the more I love it, the better I can translate and convey that to potential buyers.
  7. Understand that for the relationship to be successful there should be an emotional and I believe a spiritual connection between you and the person selling your work. Your work is much more than a physical product.
  8. Know I need to be able to convey information about your art and about you as an artist – art is part of a person’s soul, and if the artist realizes I’m not just a business person, and we connect, I can sell and speak about who they are in a meaningful way.
  9. The art world hasn’t to do with proximity (where you live), who refers you, or how much you sell. If you are producing art true to who you are, you are succeeding. You must, as an artist, do your most authentic work.
  10. Someone else can’t tell you how much you can get for your work. I can guide people, but it depends who you’re painting or creating your work for. Ask yourself: Who do you see as your audience? Are you doing it for the masses as a product, or are you creating for another type of buyer? How much time have you put in? What do you think your art is worth?

What, in addition to quality of work, makes you want to work with a new artist?

One word – Humility!

For me, that’s the sign of advanced art making. Once an artist thinks they’re past the point of accepting feedback and critique, then they’ve hit a wall and boxed themselves in. Those who are going to grow more are open to teaching.

How can an individual help you once her or she becomes one of your artists?

The artist should be willing and able to nurture the relationship with me through ongoing dialogue and communication as their work evolves. I want to know how and why that is happening.

This continues an exchange of ideas and keeps the relationship alive. It enriches both of us and lets me be part of the evolution of the person’s work. The artist’s authenticity must be heart-felt, and that can’t be faked. It’s about connection, not just the piece. Creativity is a gift you can’t own it.

Mindy Yanish is proprietor of Offerings Contemporary American Craft & Fine Art Gallery located in Katonah, New York north of New York City. Offerings specializes in local art as well as American hand-made jewelry and antiques, collectibles and contemporary fine crafts. Mindy holds a Master’s Degree in painting from the School of Visual Arts.

 

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If you draw well, you’ll work: Phyllis Pollema-Cahill

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill, children’s book illustrator

What’s made the most difference in your career success?
A mentor told me years ago that if I could learn to draw the figure well, then I’d always have work. Drawing the figure well takes a lifetime, but I think he was right. Other things are: just plain hard work, marketing myself, always trying to do my best, meeting deadlines and being easy to work with.

What organizations do you find useful and would be accessible to newcomers?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) without a doubt. The information they offer in their newsletters and at conferences is invaluable, plus you can make wonderful new friends and contacts.

What are common pitfalls in managing your time and career?
It took me a while to get over this one, but fear which causes procrastination was a big pitfall. I could find a million things to do before doing creative work. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron was a big help to me. Another pitfall is being too focused on day-to-day business instead of planning for the future. I’m still working on that one.

Where do you see growth potential in the field now?
It seems publishing apps is creating a lot of interest now. I’m doing more digital art and learning about apps. There’s a lot of growth potential in new technology.

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill has been illustrating for children full-time since 1995, after working for many years as a graphic designer. Her degree is in illustration from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver. She’s illustrated over fifty books for children and regularly illustrates for children’s magazines. She loves to draw people and research different cultures and historical periods. A step-by-step demonstration of how she works can be seen at www.phylliscahill.com. Also see her Great Sites for Art Directors and Editors and Great Sites for Children’s Authors and Illustrators. Some of her clients include: Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Scott Foresman, Scholastic, Zaner-Bloser, Highlights for Children and Spider. She lives in the Colorado mountains with her husband and two cats.

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Using Art to Help Kids at Risk: Jami Taback

Jami Taback, Artist and Founder/Director of Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking

Flowers of Fire; World Trade Center; Storm Warning

 

With arts education facing funding cuts in many schools, what can artists do to make a difference in their communities?

It is difficult to get into a school program without a not-for-profit status because it validates the program. Funding has been cut drastically and the schools and shelters have not been able to write these programs into the grants they receive. Speaking with your local representatives helps to get them acquainted with you and the program and sometimes a discretionary fund is set up. I tell everyone I know what I do and ask them if they know teachers or school officials for an introduction. I always feel that once they meet me and hear about the Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking program, they are at ease and willing to help.

How has teaching informed your own work as an artist?

This is a powerful question in that first I introduce the children to a process with my own idea in mind, however, in turn; they create artwork from their own interpretation which is often exciting and inspirational for me. This is the beauty of the work I do. I am constantly affected by their work, the way they absorb the mission of the program and interpret it in their own art making. It reminds me every day to preserve the creative force of my inner child in order to keep my work fresh and interesting.

Are there organizations you recommend getting involved with to make connections in this area?

Many of my connections have come from people I know. When I am involved in a program, I call the local paper and ask for a writer to come with a camera to document the experience.

This includes donations of art materials from stores.

I also have a separate website for the program I offer that is exclusively for donations. In return for the donation, artwork is available for different levels of donations. This approach requires an email list, sent out to inform everyone you know about this worthwhile cause. There is a video where I talk about the program.

What techniques are you exploring in your own work, and has digital played a part in your art?

I am currently attending an Artist in Residence Program at The Lower East Side Print Shop in NYC. In this atmosphere I am able to explore different techniques in the hopes that a new process will emerge from me, a new way to express myself while staying within the scope of printmaking which is my favorite medium these days. From the prints dealing with a specific subject matter, I can move to painting, drawing and digital explorations. Digital processes have played a part in printmaking. I do incorporate this imagery very carefully and sparingly in aspects of my work.

I once listened to a terrific talk by the artist Claes Oldenburg. He said that an artist need not search for new ideas and that one good idea can last a lifetime. I often think of this when wondering about where my next idea will be. I was showing someone the kids’ prints dealing with Crystals and Gems. After looking at them I decided to explore this subject further in my own work. This is what I am working on at the residence.

 The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best. —John James Audubon

Jami Taback is an artist who produces artwork through a unique process of creative collaboration with children. She visits alternative, public and private schools, shelters and foster homes using art to establish meaningful connections with children. The activity of making art serves to gain their interest, involvement and trust. She says, “I use my creative talent and sensitivity as a printmaker and painter to forge these connections. To date, I have taught and interacted with over 500 children in the last few years. This program is based on an intensive mentoring relationship with youth, particularly those with behavioral problems and special education needs. Through learning about the art of Printmaking and its history rooted in ancient civilization as a tool for communication, students immerse themselves for several weeks in the arts and education. A printmaking studio with a portable table press is set up at the school for the duration of the project where the youth visit for several hours each week to learn about and produce their own work which is then incorporated into a museum quality mural, a public installation at their school. Sometimes, it’s just to engage the kids in something creative, to think about things differently, to meet an artist, but sometimes it sparks an interest, and they find out that they are artists too.”

Donations to Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking, are used to help to fund art supplies such as ink, paper and various printmaking tools for kids.

 

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