A Canadian Illustrator's Tips for Inspiring Young Artists

Filed under: Amazing Parents, Books, Cabin Fever

"When my daughter was about ten years old, she introduced me to some of her classmates: 'This is my mom. She's fifty years old, with the brain of a five-year-old,' " recalls Jirina Marton, who recently won the prestigious Governor General's Award for illustration for her work on the children's book, Bella's Tree. "For a moment, I hesitated. How should I take it? I took it as a compliment."

Originally from Prague, Jirina now lives in Canada, and has illustrated many books for children. Bella's Tree is a poignant tale about a plucky girl who goes in search of the perfect Christmas tree for her grandmother.

Cabin Fever spoke to Jirina about her "five-year-old brain," and asked her how to nurture artistry in our own children.

Q: As a child, were you encouraged to express yourself artistically? If so, how?

A: My mother was an opera singer and I spent lots of time in the theatre with her. It certainly had an influence on me. When I decided that I would like to study art, my parents were not so keen on the idea, but they let me do it.

Q: How much parental help do children really need in order to express themselves creatively?
A: Creativity comes naturally to children. Sometimes art is their only means of expressing their feelings. Parents should provide their kids with simple art supplies, and let them play. If you see that your child shows talent, encourage it.

Q: How can we do this?

A: Find a teacher who can introduce your child to art. Their guidance should be very delicate, as the child's imagination should not be destroyed in the process. But I don't think that one can kill real talent. There are many examples of talented individuals who were unable to study art officially, or who did so against parental demands, and who were nevertheless able to overcome these obstacles.

Q: How did you learn your craft?

A: I studied at an art school, and still today am grateful for it. Talent is one thing, but one must learn how to express it. It is like having a mind full of stories, but being unable to write.

Q: Why were you particularly drawn to illustrating for children?

A: I was always "good" at drawing. In primary school, kids would come to me and ask if I could draw this or that for them. When I went to art school, I loved it, and I thought I would be another Picasso. That didn't happen. ... When I was over thirty, a friend suggested: "Why not illustrate children's books?" This resonated with me because I love children, love their way of seeing the world, love their imagination. For a long time, I was unable to have a child of my own, so illustrating children's books was like having lots of children. It took perseverance to have a first book published, and even the second and the third. Sometimes I was so discouraged, wondering why am I doing this? Fortunately, I did not listen to myself.

Q: I love your story about your daughter's introduction: "This is my mom. She's fifty years old, with the brain of a five-year-old." Not all of us would accept that as a compliment. Tell me why you did.

A: Yes, she understood. I am connected to my childhood, indeed I never left it. There is a child in me, a child seeing and understanding things in her own way. Without this "brain of a five-year-old," my illustrations could not be what they are.

Bella's Tree, written by Janet Russell, with pictures by Jirina Marton, is published by Groundwood. It is available now in bookstores everywhere.


Flickr RSS



AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.