September 11, 2011

old school

Lately, my four-year-old has been getting frustrated with his drawings.  He can't get them to look like the rich and complex images he has in his head, and it annoys him to no end.  A kid who used to fill every square inch of his sketchbooks, he's been pushing the paper away, saying, "I want you to do it."  I thought that maybe a simple drawing book would kick start his creative engine--something with instructions simple enough for him to follow on his own, that would give him a way to make representational drawing that better reflected his ideas and give him the confidence to move forward.  That's how I rediscovered Ed Emberley.

Ed Emberley is a Caldecott Medal-winning Massachusetts artist and writer who has published scores of books.  If you were a child in the 70's or 80's, you would probably recognize his work even if you don't recognize his name.  My art teacher mom is a big fan, and I have great memories of making thumbprint drawings like those in his book Ed Emberley's Complete Funprint Drawing Book.  His drawing books for children take basic shapes that young children can easily draw and shows them how to combine them to create a million different things.  No reading necessary!

After mulling it over as if I was choosing a spouse, I settled on Ed Emberley's Picture Pie as our jumping-in point.  The concept of this book, originally published in 1984, is that a whole world of creatures can be created by taking a circle and cutting into eighths or quarters, then reassembling the pie pieces in certain ways.  My kids love punching circles and using their little scissors, so I knew they'd love this book, and I liked the math element as a kind of added bonus.  When the book arrived in the mail, my sons both spent hours poring over the colorful images.  Emberley's tone is gentle, empowering, and accessible.  We got ourselves a big pile of scrap paper and got to work.  My two-year-old needed a bit of assistance, but both kids were absolutely thrilled with their work and as busy as little bees.  This book has now become a part of our daily routine.

No matter the age of your children (or yourself!) this book has something for you.  Emberley's shapes would be fun to decoupage, applique, or quilt.  You could make the shapes from felt and allow your children to assemble them on a felt board.  Use tissue paper on wax paper, brushing the glue on, and make a stained glass for the window.  You could use any kind of paper at all--old catalogs and magazines, greeting cards, product packaging--the variations are endless! 

I'll be picking up more Emberley books for our house, and I hope you'll try one out in your house, too.


  1. Brie, Ed Emberley saved me from not giving up on art entirely. GREAT thinking. You and the boys always look like you're having the very best time.

  2. We have the thumbprint book and it's awesome! The kids at school loved creating little thumbprint bugs for an adorable end of year teacher gift.