Category Archives: review

{Review} Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design

Cover image from

Cover image from

Note: I borrowed this book from the library (and plan to buy our own copy soon), and all thoughts on it are my own.

I saw Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, by graphic designer Chip Kidd, sitting on the librarian’s desk, and I couldn’t resist it. The cover looks so inviting, which is Kidd’s point right from the start. Right inside the front cover, he addresses the fact that the reader decided to open the book. Why? “Whether you realize it or not,” he says, “most of the decisions you make, every day, are by design.” The rest of the book seeks to explain what Kidd means by that statement.

The book is a straight-forward, informative introduction to the concepts of graphic design, with chapters covering form, typography, content, and concept. Kidd’s writing style is inviting and clear, and he takes things step by step. This is marketed as a kid’s book, but I’d recommend it for adults, too. We all use design every day, whether we know it or not, in big ways (in designing our blogs, for example) and small. I’m betting that even if you can’t list out the principles of design, you know bad graphic design when you see it. I’ve clicked away from websites, never to return, because I couldn’t cut through the bad design to get to the content.

The flip side of understanding graphic design is understanding how you are affected—manipulated, even—by it. Kidd discusses that, too. The book is full of examples pulled out of real life; many excellent discussion starters can be found here.

Of course, lots of overlap is found between fine art and graphic design. The chapter on form discusses scale, positioning, focus, orientation, light and dark, repetition and pattern, symmetry, asymmetry, color theory, abstraction, and more principles that are useful in approaching any sort of artwork or design. This book covers an impressive amount of material, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

The final chapter contains ten graphic design project ideas—not crafts, as Kidd takes pains to explain: “There’s no ‘one way’ to do these. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. As such, I can’t give you a step-by-step kind of approach because, well, that’s just not what design is all about.” That’s my sort of project. This is my sort of author and book.

You can find out more about Kidd and the book at I’ll be getting our own copy to add to our library of technique and idea books.

{Art Together} Books From Our Bookshelf

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

Art Book List at

Books have come up often in the {Art Together} posts and comments, so I decided to pull some of our favorites off my shelf and share them. I ended up with a huge stack. These aren’t meant to represent books someone must have, or a comprehensive list; they’re just books I own and use. Think of them as a jumping-off point—and it will also give you an idea of the types of books that inspire us. I’ve loosely grouped them into categories. Let’s go!

Philosophy-Type Books (with activities too)

Young at Art by Susan Striker: Striker has strong ideas about art-making (see her 10 Cardinal Rules for Teaching Children Creative Art). I’ve broken a couple of these “rules”—take what works for you. Her book is interesting reading to me not only for the ideas she suggests but for the information on developmental progression in art-making.

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo: This book presents inquiry-based provocations in the style of Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. The activities are open-ended, and Pelo includes her own documentation of actual students’ experiences, which is helpful in its own right if you’re trying to document your child’s learning (and not just the finished product). Part One, Studio Investigations, has sections on textures and movement, color, 3-dimensional media, and representational drawing and painting. Part Two, Moving Art from the Studio to the Classroom, gives examples of how to use art-making in long-term project work.

Posts inspired by this book:
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity
Sunflower Study

Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials, by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini: This is another book rooted in Reggio Emilia philosophy, one which explores the use of found materials with a classroom of primarily four-year-olds. In the preface, they explain, “Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teacher’s processes.” Again, this book offers a glimpse into the process and documentation of project work.

Post inspired by this book:
Working With Found Materials

Don’t Move the Muffin Tins, by Bev Bos: After Karen recommended this one in the comments, I discovered it’s out of print, but my library system had a copy. The book itself seems dated, but the ideas do not, and I found myself wondering why we are still struggling so hard to get open-ended, process-oriented art experiences to children when Bev Bos wrote it all so succinctly more than thirty years ago. The subtitle is “a hands-off guide to art for the young child,” and that sums it up. She presents activities, but they are of the sort that involve offering materials and stepping back. Her preface and first chapter, “Getting the Feel of It,” are worthy reads.

Art Project Books (intended for kids)

I’m careful with these. I don’t want crafts; I want open-ended activities that I can modify so all my kids can participate at their own level. We’ve tried activities from all of these, so I include them here.

Art Lab for Kids, by Susan Schwake: I previously reviewed this book here. The book includes techniques organized into projects, but the outcomes aren’t narrowly defined. I used this one with a homeschool co-op class as well; the “labs” I chose were modifiable across a range of ages.

Art Explorers series by Joyce Raimondo: We have What’s the Big Idea, Express Yourself, and Picture This! Raimondo pairs projects with famous artists, using the latter to inspire the former. Again, the projects are suggested, directed techniques that I can modify across the range of my kids’ ages. She includes examples of actual children’s art and they all look different. (That’s a sign of an open-ended project.)

Posts inspired by these books:
O’Keeffe Leaves
Marker + Watercolors
Matisse-Inspired Collage

Art Project/Technique Books (intended for adults, but used by all of us)

Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim: Another in the “lab” series…it has 52 drawing prompts in it. Flip through it, find something interesting, and…go!

Post inspired by this book:
Watercolor Blot Animals

How to be an Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith: Anything by Keri Smith is worthwhile to spark creativity and thinking about things differently.

How to Make Books and Magic Books and Paper Toys, by Esther K. Smith: I love her books. You’ll find lots of ideas in here to make books or other paper things that can be used in open-ended ways or combined with your art ideas or artwork or words…just fabulous books.

Water Paper Paint, by Heather Smith Jones: As I mentioned in the watercolor post, this book is a useful compilation of information on materials and techniques, with different explorations to try. Someone who is interested in going deeper with watercolor work will also find helpful advice here.

Print Workshop, by Christine Schmidt: I am a big fan of printmaking, and this sparked lots of ideas for me. It’s full of information on materials and techniques. It’s also full of very product-oriented projects, which I ignore. I bought it for the methods. There are many books like this out there—on first glance they appear to be very step-by-step, but I’m thinking this is a publisher demand, because they think most people want to know how to re-create something exactly. If you look close, you can tell which ones are also giving you the skills to use the method to create whatever you want. Those are the sorts of books that come home with me.

Posts inspired by this book:
Carving Stamps
(You Can) Carve a Stamp (tutorial)
Labeling the Studio

In addition to these, we like books that show artwork itself, for discussion and inspiration–art history books, books devoted to a specific artist or style…the library is a great source of these. I’d love if you’d share in the comments–do you have favorite books you use for adult/child art inspiration?

Project-Based Homeschooling {Book Review}

I’m so happy Lori Pickert of Camp Creek Blog has returned to the Internets this summer. She took a break, understandably, while she was writing a book. Now the book, Project-Based Homeschooling, is finished and available and she’s back with a new website. The blog is back, the forums are back, and I couldn’t wait to read her book, too.

During my first stint of homeschooling, Lori’s blog and ideas really inspired me. I kept reading even when we enrolled the boys in a local charter school, because there is plenty to delve into there whether you’re homeschooling or not. Anyone who considers themselves the ultimate guardian of their children’s education—and I never felt I relinquished that role just because they went to school—will find ideas to think about and act upon. Now that I’ll be officially homeschooling at least one child this academic year, I’m excited to really dive into project-based learning.

In fact, one of the reasons I felt like I could adjust to schooling the boys is because the school stated it had a project-based curriculum. Unfortunately, over the past three years I’ve realized that schools and individual teachers within schools may define that term very differently. Ultimately, I don’t feel that my children were experiencing true project-based learning. I feel I was completely misled, and I’ll leave it at that.

Because this particular blog began as a documentation of parent/child explorations of open-ended, process-oriented art activities, the quote I want to share with you from Lori’s book pertains to art:

Draw and paint and create alongside your child if the spirit moves you. Don’t worry about being “better” than he is. Art skills are no different from skills like reading, writing, cooking, or driving. You aren’t afraid your superior reading skills will make your child reluctant to read…Draw and paint together. Enjoy each other’s company. Your competence will inspire, not inhibit him, especially if you communicate your confidence that he’ll steadily grow as an artist, designer, and builder.

I was so thrilled to read this that I emailed Lori to thank her for writing it (and the book as a whole, too). That’s another thing about Lori—she is entirely accessible as a mentor. At any rate, this entire blog was built upon the idea that my children and I were being creative together. At a time in my life when I was not finding time to be creative on my own because of the needs of my children, being creative alongside them saved me in so many ways. I would read (online, usually) how parents mustn’t draw the same things as their children, mustn’t let them see our work while they were still working, lest we harm their fragile self-esteems or unduly influence their natural development of artistic skills by tempting them to copy our styles…that sort of thing.

That never felt right to me. While my kids and I were enjoying drawing or painting together, we were all of us, from the toddler right on up to me, inspiring each other, giving each other new ideas, marveling at each other’s own unique ways of seeing the world.  It only ever felt good, for all of us. I consider myself very in tune with my children, and not once did I feel I was doing them any sort of harm by sharing the joy of making art alongside them. It became a wonderful family activity, actually.

Art-making is only one part of Lori’s book, which is all about how, at home, to implement project-based learning—the deep investigation of a subject of the child’s choosing, with support from an adult mentor who walks the fine line of supporting without directing, encouraging without coercing. I am so excited to make this type of learning part of our home education.

{As always, I bought the book myself and my opinions—and biases—are all my own.}

Review: Art Lab For Kids

Note: I purchased this book myself via Amazon. All views are my own.

When I ordered Drawing Lab, Amazon suggested I might also like Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake. I was skeptical. I don’t much differentiate between art activities for kids and those for adults; my kids (especially my older ones) and I use the same quality materials and do the same activities, so I’m a bit wary of “for kids” books. But eventually I ordered it anyway. Turns out, this is the book I wish I’d had a year and a half ago.

I began this blog because I wanted to make creating art together with my children a regular occurrence. I wanted to make use of the space we had and introduce my kids to different materials and techniques beyond the usual art supplies that were always available to them. I was hoping I could find a more or less sequential presentation of art activities–not crafts–that covered the basics (drawing, painting, printmaking) all in one place, so that I could gather materials and follow along without having to re-invent the wheel. I didn’t find that. Instead, I pulled together ideas from various sources, my own experiences, and my own head, and decided to document them here for my own use and anyone else’s, if anyone else was interested. But if I’d had this book, it would have done nicely.

The Lab series of books all present 52 “labs” or lessons in the chosen subject matter, so if you chose, you could proceed through the book using one lesson per week. The Units in this book are Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media. Theoretically, you could start anywhere. Pick and choose what interests you and your kids the most. But if you’re looking for a book to lead a group, or to build a homeschool art plan around, or to get started with family art making (like I wanted to do), this would be a great guidebook. Although the title says “kids” right in it, the activities look interesting and inspiring to me, too.

The first unit deals with setting up a studio. I suspect this section will look overwhelming to many, especially if you are new to the world of art supplies. She lists everything needed for all the units–you don’t have to have it all! I’d suggest figuring out the first few lessons you might want to start with, and gather those supplies. (Quite frankly, it’s a little astonishing how many of these items I have in my basement already.)

I think we’ll be working our way through many of the activities in this book, all of which meet my desire for open-ended art experiences for my kids and myself. I love books as resources. The Internet is wonderful, but it’s also huge. Trying to piece together ideas from here and there can be overwhelming, and it’s great to have everything all in one place–to let someone else plan the lesson and just follow along and have fun.

Further links about Art Lab For Kids:

Author Susan Schwake’s website
Art Lab For Kids website
Guest post on Whipup
Review on Maya*Made

Matisse-Inspired Collage

From What's The Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo

The kids each received a Joyce Raimondo book for Christmas; this activity is from What’s The Big Idea? Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art. The books are suggested for ages 5-12 and are full of techniques to try based on famous artworks. The activities are open-ended, just the sort of thing we like here, and the books are a great addition to our idea shelf.

Materials: Colored paper, glue sticks, scissors

A busy table. My beach scene is in the closest corner.

The book suggested thinking of a place to represent with organic shapes cut from paper. The Matisse shown in the book (which is also on its cover) is Les Codomas, which shows a circus scene. I decided upon the beach. V decided to map out the living room. N didn’t want to think of a place, explaining that he likes to just jump in. (I knew that.) G, being 3, just cut and pasted.

I’m usually pretty open in the studio, but I did insist that the kids not use pencils to draw their shapes first, explaining that we were going to follow the guidelines in the book and “draw” with our scissors. N wasn’t too happy about this, but I held firm. I told him it might feel like a stretch, but stretching was good, and it forces us to figure things out in different ways. He had the option to stop if he wanted, of course, but he kept on. Here’s his finished collage.

N's (age 7)

He was most pleased with the spiral that has different colors peeking through. I agree–pretty cool!

Here’s V’s map of the living room.

V's, age 10

I think he has inherited my love of straight lines! “Organic” is not his natural inclination. (If only his room were as orderly.)

And here is G’s collage.

G's, age 3

While she’s younger than the age range of the book, and can’t be expected to fulfill the guidelines exactly, cutting and pasting is certainly something she can join in on. There are many activities in the Joyce Raimondo books that I can adapt so that all the kids can participate at their own level. That’s something I really appreciate in an art book. I found these while browsing the art section in the kids’ room at one of our local libraries while G was in story time and decided it was worth ordering our own copies.

You can read more on Henri Matisse’s cut-outs here.

Favorite Projects of 2011

I hope plan to get back to regular posting after my big kids return to school in January, but meanwhile, I wanted to share some of my favorite projects from this past year. Looking through the posts reminds me of all the neat things we tried!

In January, we tried our first tape resist project, which led to many more experiments with resist, including scribble resist (scribbling is so much fun!). We also tried shadow drawings for the first time.

In February, my then-toddler got sticky hands with yarn art, and the following month, we tried to paint like Monet after digging into some art books.

April is National Poetry Month, so we made some paintings in response to a poem. In May, we had a ball with scratch foam printmaking, and we got outside to draw the irises once they bloomed.

1. shadow drawings 2. yarn art 3. Monet painting 4. poetry painting 5. scratch foam printing 6. iris study

In June, inspired by an Eric Carle book, we made peek-a-boo paintings, which were so much fun to plan, execute, and view. We also oohed and aahed as we colored on hot rocks with wax crayons.

Summer, finally! In July we played with sun print paper and began designing and decorating t-shirts in various ways. Two of my favorite methods used freezer paper stencils and scratch foam printing.

Heading into fall…I liked my daughter’s painted jar-o-lanterns and her color mixing adventures. And, of course, we celebrated the winter solstice with homemade lanterns.

1. peek-a-boo paintings 2. hot rocks 3. sun print paper 4. freezer paper t-shirts 5. scratch foam t-shirt 6. jar-o-lanterns 7. preschool color mixing

What an artful year we’ve had! I wish you a happy, creative, and inspiring 2012!

Review: Create With Me

When I saw that Stampington & Company had a new magazine, Create With Me, dedicated to “Artistic Adventures with Children,” I was pretty eager to get my hands on a copy. (I bought it myself, at Joann’s; all opinions are solely my own and influenced by nobody.) Most of what I do, especially with my older children, is either an artistic collaboration or creating right alongside them. It’s one of my goals, right there in the About page. While the Internet and even bookstores are full of creative ideas geared towards toddlers and preschoolers, I’m not always successful in finding examples of process-oriented (or at least open-ended) art for older children, so I was excited at the idea of a magazine that included kids of all ages and was not craft-oriented. And I’m happy to say that this magazine delivers what I’d hoped: inspiration and ideas that I can use with all of my kids.

This first issue draws on some successful bloggers, such as Maya Donenfeld of Maya*Made and Jennifer Casa from JCasa*handmade. There are some articles on how to be creative with children and how to be creative when you have children (definitely a delicate balance—part of my solution was to decide I was going to create alongside my children and put my own projects on backburner, sometimes for years at a time). And then there are the projects, which go all the way up to high school age and run the gamut from crafty (paper dolls, fabric wings) with a child-executed component, to collaboration, to completely child-executed process-oriented art—and my favorite here is definitely  the abstract textured painting done by author Danielle Henriksen’s son Liam. She writes, “This project is an example of a painting that is fun, process oriented, and always has a unique outcome. We love projects like this that allow for freedom of expression.” YES! And, she introduced me to acrylic molding paste, and I can’t wait to get some for my kids (and myself!) to experiment with.

I can’t quite tell if the magazine is lacking an editorial focus, or if the focus is to be all-inclusive, mainly because of the disparity in advice given in the various articles. For instance, the “words of wisdom” in one article includes, “Be sure to let the child you are crafting with help you gather everything. Part of the fun is helping choose colors, stamps, and objects.” The very next article advises the parent to get everything out and ready ahead of time. That same article states that “often, young kids want to run on ahead and get their artwork done as fast as possible; they are happy to slop something together and call it good.” I find this to be a pessimistic view of children and their artwork, especially as the article in question isn’t presenting a project for what I’d consider a young child—say, five or under. It looks far more in depth, more suitable for an elementary-age child, and I’ve never seen my own children “slop something together” (oh, that word slop, it’s so insulting) and rush off, but perhaps that’s because they are given latitude to choose their materials and their project and they’re invested from the start. In fact, when N was working on his Collaboration entry—which eventually won first place overall–he refined his ideas and process over three pieces before he was satisfied. The ideas, execution, and desire to participate were all his own, as I feel it should have been.

That was the only article that I felt really advocated for the parent taking total control of the studio setting, and that’s certainly one point of view…which is more or less my point: there doesn’t seem to be one cohesive viewpoint throughout the magazine, so as with any other child-related advice, follow the “words of wisdom” that speak to you. I, clearly, fall more in line with the process-oriented folks who give their kids choices; I have an obvious bias. (It’s also helpful to know your reviewer’s biases, don’t you think?)

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kristen Robinson’s instructions for creating various art kits for gift-giving. They’re wonderful; I’d like one of each for myself, please. (You can see a picture of them in the main link to the magazine above.)

I found many ideas for things I’d like to share with my children here, including some materials completely new to me, and I found some blogs I’d like to start reading. Fifteen dollars well spent, if I come away feeling inspired.

How about you–will you be getting a copy? If you already have one, what projects are inspiring to you?