For you, dear readers (and, I have to say, for myself, too), I interviewed Amanda Blake Soule, author of the soon-to-come-out book, The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections. Many of you know her as SouleMama.
(Note: readers have a chance to win a copy of Amanda's book at the end of the interview.)
JEAN: Hi Amanda, Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview on The Artful Parent. As you know, I just finished reading an advance copy of your wonderful book, The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections.
I can't tell you how inspiring I found the book! I started making a list of all the projects I wanted to try and all the activities and traditions I wanted to start doing in my own family, and realized I was writing EVERYTHING down. So I know that I'll be refering back to your book again and again! Although I want to ask you about everything, this blog is mostly about art and children, so I'll try to keep my questions focused on those subjects. So, first of all, can you tell us a little about your Family Drawing Time and how you fit that into your life?
AMANDA: Sure! Family Drawing Time is a frequent occurence during the winter months in particular. It's a designated time for quiet drawing. I lay a few books of inspiration (nature field guides are always a favorite) in the center of the table, and sometimes a bowl of bits of nature (pinecones, acorns, leaves, etc). Everyone brings their special drawing book and chosen pencils and we have a session of drawing together. Everyone is working on his or her own separate project, but we're gathered together. There is a lot more information in the book about how to make Family Drawing Time a success. The key, of course, is to keep it loose and flexible, and if it isn't working, try something different. I would never want 'art' to be something forced for my little ones. It's purely about fun, and trying to create in a different environment than the wild, messy, and totally 'free' creating that takes place the rest of the time.
JEAN: In your book you talk about how you turn your dining room into your art space. Will you describe your art space for us?
AMANDA: Well, it's more that it doubles as our art space. Like most families, I'm sure, our dining room table is where much more than eating happens - it's also where many of our art and craft projects take place throughout our day. We have an art cabinet in this room - which is really just an old pantry with lots of shelves and doors. A hutch or credenza would work well too. The doors are essential - so when they're open, we have full view and access to all the materials we need, but when they're closed - it doesn't feel like we're eating in an art studio. Inside the shelves are lots of tins and canisters containing all of our materials, with a sticker label on each telling us what's inside. Though I hope that someday soon we'll have a separate space for art as a family, I do love that right now all of the 'creating' that we do together happens in the same space where we gather and nourish our bodies with food as well. So much 'living' happens in that room - it feels like the very pulse of our home.
JEAN: What are some of your family's favorite art activities?
AMANDA: Our favorite activities are probably those that are inspired by nature. So much of our inspiration and fodder for creativity seems to come from the natural world.
So, for example, we go for a walk in the woods nearly every day. Or we visit a beach or a favorite trail. Upon returning home, some form or art or another usually happens. Be it drawing, painting, crafting, collaging, bookmaking or clay. The actual medium changes often. But the constant is the shared experience of nature, followed by the translation into 'art' or 'creative play' in all it's different forms - different from child to child and different from day to day.
JEAN: How about favorite art materials?
AMANDA: Colored pencils and paper are probably the most commonly used in the day-to-day. I love the Lyra Ferby pencils for little hands, and then the regular size Lyra colored pencils once they reach four or five years old. We also do a lot of really simple book making (I've written about that here if your readers are interested), so books are a commonly reached for material.
And then there's string, tape and cardboard - the three things I can never seem to keep enough of around. And then there are the tools - good scissors, of course, and staplers and pencil sharpeners. I haven't met a child who doesn't love a stapler and an electric pencil sharpener!
JEAN: I think many of us are interested in finding inexpensive art materials and in recycling/repurposing art materials. Can you talk about finding art materials at thrift stores and other places on the cheap?
AMANDA: I don't think children need a huge supply of art materials at the ready all the time. Keep it simple, stick to the basics, and get quality materials for the things you choose to buy. Their imaginations need room and freedom to create - not a whole plethora of materials that can be overwhelming and challenging to use. Given the opportunity and sometimes a little guidance, they'll find everyday materials to use in their creations. I cannot count the number of times my children head to the recycling bin looking for 'something', and return with a cereal box that becomes a barn; or an egg crate that becomes a plane. Keep your eye out for things you might otherwise throw away from your own projects as well - fabric scraps, yarn, paper - all of these in the right moment of a project can be useful. And while thrifting, I often pick up paper of all kinds - notebooks, stationary, folders etc.
JEAN: I loved your Art Night idea, especially mixing kids and adults and having an "anything goes" attitude. Any advice on having an Art Night for the first time?
AMANDA: Oh, Art Nights can be so much fun. Gathering together with many ages to just 'create' - with no expectation of the results. It always results in a wonderful time - and some really good art too! There are some ideas on getting started in the book, but I will add that the most important thing is to just keep it simple, especially as you're starting out. Try it with just one other family, and slowly grow from there. And keep in mind the participants ages when setting up your Art Night - sometimes with the littlest ones among us, Art "Night" might be better suited for an "Art Morning" to avoid the challenging hours of dinner and bedtime.
JEAN: What are a few of your favorite books on kids' art and creativity?
AMANDA: I have a lot of vintage and thrifted activity books from the 50's and 60's that we browse through for projects - I like them for the simplicity and use of materials that are often found at home. As for contemporary books, my favorites would be:
I love my Martha Stewart Kids magazine back issues (out of print now, but many of the projects are available on the website - www.marthastewart.com)
And I can't wait for I Love Dirt - which will be released this spring, and includes 52 nature-inspired activities for families.
JEAN: How do you find the time to keep your blog updated, write books, do all the arts and crafts that you do, AND raise three children? I'm struggling with one kid, a blog, and a few articles!
AMANDA: There are so many 'mundane' moments in daily life when our bodies are busy, but our minds are not - washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning, pushing the stroller, and on and on. Much of my writing is done in this time. I roll ideas and sentences around in my head and hope desperately that I'll remember them later when I have a quiet moment to write them down. (I do carry a notebook with me everywhere - which is really helpful). All of that said, it's definitely a little bit of a juggle, and I must admit to looking forward to a little break after this manuscript is done. Writing two books back to back was so rewarding, but not without it's challenges!
JEAN: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with Artful Parent readers?
AMANDA: I think just as important as the making of art with children, is the second part of what we DO with the art of our children. The way we handle the results of our children's creativity tells them so very much about what we value - how important it is to us, and how important they are to us. Display your childrens art, turn it into new creations (the book has some ideas on doing this), and talk about their art. Together with providing the materials and creating with them, they'll be encouraged to develop their creative selves for years and years.
JEAN: Can you tell us what the new book you're working on is about?
AMANDA: Sure! It's full of sewing and craft projects for all aspects of the family home - both for parents to make with and for their children and themselves. There are elements of repurposing, community and history, and it's full of lots and lots of photographs. I'm just wrapping up the manuscript now, and the book will be published in 2009.
JEAN: Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your creativity, insight, and warm family with us, through your interview, your book, and your SouleMama blog. You're an inspiration to us all!
All photos are from SouleMama. Thank you, Amanda, for letting me use them.
If you would like to win a copy of Amanda's book, The Creative Family, post a comment before Tuesday, February 12th, midnight, Eastern Standard Time. Winner will be chosen in a random drawing and notified via e-mail. The book will be officially released on April 1st, and the winner will receive the book at that time, or possibly shortly before, directly from the publisher.