When I meet parents at events they often say,
‘my child loves to draw/write/create. How can I encourage their interest?’
Best-selling Australian author Matthew Reilly says, ‘never underestimate the power of your encouragement.’ He writes it in the thank you section at the back of every one of his books; he knows that it got him to where he is today. Encouragement is an incredibly powerful thing; young artists grow when they know that people believe in them and support their interest. (The same goes for adult artists, too!).
My advice comes from my work as an artist (who was once a young artist), my studies in primary teaching and psych (though I’m not a child psychology expert by any means), and my experience of working with kids in workshops. Here’s 9 things you can do to encourage the young writer and/or illustrator in your life … or even your own inner artist.
1: encourage the making of art for the simple joy of it.
Young artists create because they want to. It feels good to make something.
Let me pass you over to the very wise Mr Rogers:
Creative work is not necessarily about making things perfect, or trying to please others. Ideally it’s about play, and the great feeling you get when you try to make something (even if you muck it up).
So please please please, don’t ever shame a child for trying to express themselves by making art. If they learn to associate the creative process with shame, it will stop being fun, and they will most likely stop trying.
2: reward their dedication to the craft.
That last point is great for really young kids. But the older they get, the more they’re likely to start comparing their art with that of others. They’re going to want to be good at what they do, to be better at what they do. It’s important to remember that art should be joyful. At the same time, if you’re trying to get better, then the creative process will usually involve some disappointment and failure. Things won’t always work out the way your child wants them to; they won’t be quite as good as their ambitions (to paraphrase Ira Glass). It’s just how it goes. The more work they do the better they will get, but it will take time, so praise your child for sticking at it when things don’t turn out the way they want. Art takes dedication, and dedication deserves praise. For dedication inspiration, watch this video.
3: treat mistakes as ‘happy accidents’.
On a related note: I once heard a primary school art teacher substitute the word ‘mistake’ for ‘happy accident’. At the risk of sounding like a hallmark card, it’s true; what first seems like a mistake will often turn out to be a blessing. The happy accident might reveal an exciting new technique, or take the piece of work down a different road than you intended. At the very least, mistakes show us how we can improve things next time, so they’re another necessary part of the creative process.
4: make a space for them to create.
Give your child a special space where they can write and draw – a desk in their room, a space on the kitchen table, an easel outside … somewhere where they are encouraged to make things, to make mess, and to play.
5: source the best kids’ creative supplies that you can afford.
This piece of advice comes from my writer/illustrator buddy Samantha Hughes, founder of the kids’ art studio Inkling Art Space. She says that sometimes young creatives are frustrated by cheap, scratchy pencils, a clog-happy pen, coarse brushes and smudgy paper. Kids can get more enjoyment (and make better art) using better quality materials. Get them a nice sketchbook or notepad to jot down their ideas. Having said all that – you can also make some pretty damn good art using just about anything around the house, too (see the instagram of another author/illustrator buddy, Kylie Howarth, for examples of how she makes art with her kids).
6: find kids’ books on how to write and draw.
School libraries and public libraries will always have these. There are so many books on how to draw cartoons, how to draw manga, how to draw animals, how to draw vehicles, etc etc. They’re a great resource, and kids can easily teach themselves from these. I did.
7: take them to creative classes.
Quite often your local library will run sessions on creative writing and art during the school holidays. If you’re in Perth, sign them up for classes at childrens’ art studios Milktooth Project Space (in Bayswater) or Inkling Art Space (in Fremantle). Some of these classes are even for parents and kids to participate in together.
8: help them to share their art (if they want to).
One of the scariest and most rewarding parts of making art is sharing it with others. This can be very daunting, even for adults. We all need lots of encouragement, because sharing our art means making ourselves vulnerable. We can’t escape the fact that not everyone will like what we make. So if the child can accept this, and is willing to be brave, then maybe they’re ready to take the next step and share their art with others. Could they hold an art exhibition for friends? Enter a local short story competition or art award? Read a poem at a family gathering? Sell copies of their comics to friends at school? The key is to start with small, supportive audiences first so they can build their resilience.
9: let them meet professional authors and illustrators.
Take your child to your local writers festival. The major capital city Australian festivals all have a program specifically for children and families.
Many childrens’ writers and illustrators also run workshops and give talks throughout the year – including me. See my upcoming events page for details, or sign up to my free quarterly newsletter ‘The James Foley-o’ to hear about events via email.