I had a busy day yesterday at Ranvilles Junior School in Fareham tackling four different topics across the four year groups. It was Book Week, so the children had come back from their Easter break to a (hopefully) fun day of me leading cartoon workshops and guidance on character creation.
The first session was with Year 4 who were looking at the Ice Age. We started off doing step-by-step drawings of commonly known Ice Age creatures that the children suggested before making up some utterly fictional animals along the lines of Ice Age's Scrat - so part one animal, part another. This resulted in a sabre-toothed mammoth and a Podo (possum and dodo).
Year 5 had just started studying Animal Farm, so it was my task to show them some cartooning tips for drawing pigs and horses, plus a last minute speed-drawing session of a cartoon bull.
After lunch I got to see Year 3 who were looking at The Gruffalo, and the brilliant way in which Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler introduce the character by describing his various monsterous body parts. We had a go at creating our own monsters with the children making the suggestions and me drawing them onto large sheets of paper. By far the weirdest was the creature whose body consisted of a ring doughnut with sprinkles.
Finally Year 6 were after cartooning tips to help them more accurately depict a 'good' character from a 'nasty' one, so we looked at face shapes, facial expressions and body language, creating an example character of each as we went.
All-in-all, a very busy but rewarding day and a lovely school to boot!
I had a great day yesterday at Orchard Infant School on the edge if the New Forest. As part of World Book Day the staff and children would be dressing up as their favourite storybook characters and they asked me to come in and work with children on how to create their own.
After a rather mad and funny assembly of staff hamming it up in their costumes, where I was somehow turned from an author into being a visiting Arthur, things settled down somewhat into class by class visits.
To get the children thinking the classes were divided up into groups of three with each child in that group being given a number, 1, 2 or 3. If the child was number one they had to think of the first name of the oldest person they knew (possibly a grandparent). If number two they had to think of an adjective, and if number three they had to think of a body part. When all put together we had some excellent character names, such as Victor Curly-Arms, Richard Tall-Heart (a knight if ever there was one), and Jenny Long-Fingers (a witch, I reckon). We picked one per class which I then drew, attempting not to do the obvious each time, and then they got the opportunity to draw theirs but on the understanding that each member of the group took their own approach to it. The children were encouraged to think about what sort of adventure the character might have to help influence the look too. The variety and inventiveness was brilliant, with princesses, robots, heroes, cats, and all manner of new characters exploding upon the pages. Incredibly good fun!
Today was spent with the children of Bartley Junior School who were celebrating the tenth anniversary of the opening of their school library by author Michael Morpurgo. To mark the date the children would be creating their own stories throughout the week, so I was asked to go in and give some cartooning and illustration tips on character creation. It was undoubtedly a packed day, starting with a presentation in assembly and then visiting each class in turn to show how to give their characters a bit of personality plus a few tips on improving the children's drawing skills. Plenty of bubbly enthusiasm from staff and pupils alike, and I was well looked after too - thank you, Bartley.
Yesterday morning was spent with twelve gifted and talented children from Orchard Infant School, Manor Infant School and Waterside Primary School as we got stuck in to a writing workshop.
The session started with a brief introduction to me and my books, with me reading The New Forest Friends & The Litterbugs. I then explained how I went about writing them and my inspiration for the stories.
Then, using some large sheets of paper, I invited the children to help me create a couple of cartoon animal characters that they could then use in their stories. Some brilliant suggestions followed, with us settling on a hamster that could swim underwater called Libby and a life-guard Octopus called Harry.
We then constructed a bubble map of possible directions the stories could take, additional characters, various settings, and different story genres to encourage the children to come up with their own unique perspectives. They then went off to construct a story hill ("story path" or "story mountain" I heard used too) where the children map the outline of the tale by identifying the beginning, middle and end.
We then managed a quick break for squash and biscuits before sharing our ideas with the group and then plunging properly into the writing. The children all had their own pace, so some managed to complete a story within an hour whereas others had something of a much grander scale in mind so needed to take theirs away to complete. We had cave fires, magic whirlpools, mean sharks, volcanic danger, snow and much more, so it was encouraging to see the diversity of their ideas. Bearing in mind these were infant-aged children, reminders to include good description and use similes cropped up several times, but where they did use them it was great to see their adventures become more vibrant.
It was great fun, not least because the children were enthusiastic and eager to take part, and I'm looking forward to receiving all the completed stories via the adult representatives from the three schools in the coming days.
I spent this morning at Hardley School, a secondary school near Southampton, talking to pupils in Year 7 about cartooning and children's book illustration.
The session was part of the Wessex Schools Literary Festival where authors and illustrators go into schools and share their work with the students. In my case it was with twenty-or-so talented artists in the library, and the enthusiasm and talent was apparent from the start.
We used the first part of the session getting the children confident in their drawing by teaching them how to cartoon with some simple rules and observations, including how a cartoon differs from other types of illustration and looking at different styles of cartooning, and then putting what they'd learnt into practice with some character design. All the children achieved some great results, absorbing what I'd said and incorporating it into their work. The really successful ones were the ones that didn't do the obvious, with a green troll creature, a worm-like beast with a head that reminded me of Les Dawson, and a superb evil scientist called Dr Chaos particularly standing out.
The second part of the session involved children's book illustration which I demonstrated by using my own books as examples, explaining how the pictures grow out from the story and what they must depict in order to be successful and engaging. I then made up a few lines of verse and invited the children to interpret it however they wished whilst bearing in mind what we'd just shared. The page designs they created were brilliant to watch as they appeared, with the students taking the idea in all sorts of different directions. My personal favourite is pictured and was the only not to take the last line "onto her head" to mean the head of another character.
Really enjoyed the whole morning and would have happily done it all again, so now really looking forward to next Monday where I'll be at another school taking part in the Literary Festival at Applemore College.
Yesterday I spent the day with the children of Beaulieu Primary School. The principal reason for going was to talk to the children about how children's books are created and to assist them in creating their own superhero so they could make a story of their own.
It's by no means a large school, so I was able to get to know the children really quickly and spend time sharing cartooning and illustrative tips, flesh out stories and give feedback. It was one long workshop broken down into class-sized chunks with everyone mucking in.
As always, the most off the wall session was with the reception children (always a favourite year group) who got me to draw a superhero for them on the spot made out of various types of fruit, veg and sausages. His name? Rockstar Potato. Curious as the potato was one bit of veg that didn't feature on his body, but hey, they were the collective boss.
At the end of the day I'd been invited to sell my children's books in the hall, and that fortunately coincided with me taking delivery of my new book, On The Banks Of Hatchet Pond. I've only illustrated this one, with the wonderful words coming from first-time author Val Anne Lee (who I'm sure you'll read more from in the coming years - she's brilliant).
It was great to share it for the first time with the children of the school and sign a few copies too!
I really enjoyed the visit and I look forward to seeing some of the children's finished creations.
This afternoon was spent in the good company of Orchard Infant School's Reception classes. They've been looking at telling stories, with an emphasis on a few popular fairy and traditional tales, and they will ultimately be creating their own books with what they learn.
I love going in to Reception. The children are still familiarising themselves with how a school works and sharing their time and space with a large group of their peers, so something always happens that you could never predict. Always a giggle.
I was asked to go in wearing my author and illustrator hat to talk about why I like writing and illustrating stories, why I enjoy it, and how I go about it. Obviously there's only so much you can share with four to five-year-olds, but they were wonderfully responsive and attentive. I then did some large cartoon illustrations to show how the story's words become a picture, and on both occasions I was asked to draw the three Billy Goats Gruff and the inevitable troll (clearly a current favourite). The children then set off to have a go on their own, and the pictures they created, bearing in mind many of them were still getting to grips with the motor skills to wield a pen, were fantastic, from Big Bag Wolves to Goldilocks, and from Jack to the Golden Goose; there was oodles of imagination and a palpable sense of fun. We even managed to embrace diggers and Spider-man into the artwork.
So, for a change, I've not illustrated this blog post with one of my cartoons, but with one of the children's pieces of art from today - one of the three little pigs. I think it's great.
Had a great time with Year 2 at Southsea Infants in Portsmouth yesterday. We started the day with cartooning tricks and tips to help them create their own cartoon superheroes, looking at everything from different ways to draw cartoon facial features to how to cope with that tricky cape hanging down their character's back.
In the afternoon the plan was to create a forty-minute six panel cartoon strip about a woodlouse, with the children making the suggestions and me cartooning on a huge sheet of paper. It was an opportunity for them to see how a strip is put together, and get their heads round visual narrative (we even managed to give it a great punchline in the final panel too). Really good fun, and splendidly different, so thanks for having me Southsea.
A couple of weeks ago now I spent the day at Ranvilles Junior School in Fareham as part of their Big Button Day. Children arrived at school only to be ushered into an urgent assembly in the hall. Once there the headteacher told them of some strange goings on in the school over the half-term which concluded with what sounded like giant footsteps thumping across the hall's roof and local police officers telling the children that a giant button had been found and partioned off in the playground. Whatever had made the noise and lost the button was long gone, so I was there to help children visualise what they thought it could have been.
Groups of children joined me in the hall and made their suggestions, then I had a stab at drawing them while the children copied. It was a great opportunity to share cartooning tips, and we got through several drawings with each group, ranging from giants and ogres to witches and aliens, and even a giant centipede. My favourite was the Vampire Viking which was a right giggle to draw.
The purpose of the exercise was to not only build on the children's drawing techniques and confidence, but give them some visual pointers to help them develop their story writing as they were going to be challenged to turn that morning's events into a work of fiction.
It was a busy, intense day, but a lot of fun and a great excuse to let imaginations run wild. Certainly one of the most entertaining events I've taken part with at a school, and that's saying considering how much I enjoy them.
I've already read one of the stories - very funny - and I'm looking forward to seeing more.
Enjoy the photos.
A couple of weeks ago I had to race back from a weekend away with the good folk of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain to spend the day with the equally wonderful people at Foxhills Junior School.
We had a great day, with three large groups of children taking turns to join me in the hall for some cartoon tips and tricks, including a few on how to draw secret agents and criminal masterminds, a topic the school had been using to fire the children's imaginations.
I was also intensely grilled by the journalistic talents of three intrepid Tintin-like students, determined to get to the bottom of what made me tick.
I was made to feel very welcome, and along with all these photos the school have sent me a short note:
"Hi Simon, just wanted to email you to say HUGE thank you for visiting our school on Monday 17th October. The children really enjoyed your visit and it really kick-started our book week fantastically. Your influence showed in the comic strips that the children produced during the week, which was brilliant".
Thank you, Foxhills!
« Back to all posts