eric carle art

May 31, 2009

A few weeks back, Mr. T and I watched a video from the library called Eric Carle: Picture Writer. It’s a movie I watched years ago with H and Lulu, about Eric Carle’s art, and his stories about how he became an artist. It’s a quiet, sweet film. One of my favorite parts is the story of his kindergarten teacher, and how she saw that he had a gift for art, and urged his parents to nurture it. Carle believes it’s what led him to become the artist he is.

The other fascinating part of the film is watching Carle in his studio, painting the tissue papers that he uses to make the collaged art of his picture books. It’s so fun to watch him, and then to study his books, and see how he uses those papers. At the end of the film, Mr. T said definitively, “I want to do that.”

So he did. I pulled out paints and papers and brushes, and a few other tools like toothbrushes and combs for making texture in the paint. I offered Mr. T plain white paper; I was afraid tissue paper might be too delicate.

And oh boy, did he go to town.

painting papers

It wasn’t long before his sister had joined him at the table. I love how having a younger sibling gives an older one “permission” to do something that might seem to babyish to do on his or her own. 

painting together

When H and Lulu watched the Carle film years ago, they made Carle-style papers too, and then used them to illustrate a book about the sea called, “Over by the Seashore”. It followed the pattern of the old folksong, “Over in the Meadow,” and I helped them make up verses about sea creatures. This time, as Lulu and Mr. T worked, they came up with a grand scheme of writing a new book together called, “Over in the Jungle”, which would be based on jungle creatures from India.

They made papers to use for monkeys, tigers, elephants. They wrote the first three verses together.

painting together

blue hands

They worked at it for two mornings straight, and Mr. T made more papers on a third.

And then the project died. Lulu lost interest. Mr. T decided that he didn’t want to use the papers to make animals. He just wanted to make more papers.

I’ll admit it: I had a hard time with this. They’d spent days making the papers, and I hated to see them give up before making something with them. I tried to encourage Mr. T to use the papers to make something: a galaxy scene, some imaginary creature. I pushed too hard and he got mad. It was making the papers that he’d originally wanted to do. That was what captivated him; that was what he’d enjoyed.

So I let it go. We now have a nice collection of art papers for some future project–maybe. Then again, if making the papers gave two kids born six years apart a few mornings of shared joy, I suppose I should be satisfied. 

eric carle papers

And you know what? I am.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

stefaneener June 1, 2009 at 2:38 pm

That’s what doing projects with my kids is ALWAYS like. I gave up long before you did — but those are truly spectacular art papers.

I’ll have to check out the movie, and make sure I have paints mixed beforehand.


patricia June 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm

We have far more dropped projects than followed-through-on projects around here too. But that’s the nature of projects, I suppose. I don’t follow through on most of my brilliant ideas either! So long as the kids are at least excited by ideas, and following through on them occasionally, I suppose that’s pretty rich.

The Elmwood library has the film, if your library doesn’t. I’ll bet Thing 4 would love it.

Did you see the boys in my Flickr photos in the sidebar?


Kristin June 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

That’s good enough all right. I like how film was used as a learning tool and that the content in it became an inspiration for an activity.


patricia June 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

You never know what will inspire them, huh? I just showed him the film because I remember liking it a lot.


susan June 1, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Do you still have their Over by the Seashore book? Our family has sung lots of our own versions of Over in the Meadow! It was a favorite bedtime song of Evelyn’s, but always with a new biome and creatures. The papers are beautiful. I’m putting the movie on my list, too.


patricia June 1, 2009 at 9:19 pm

We do still have their book–which was all the more reason that I wanted Mr. T to have his own. But, alas, it wasn’t what he wanted.

I love that we aren’t the only ones making up new words to that old song!


melissa s. June 1, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I’m adding the movie to my list, too. Will also try to remember it’s all about the process, not the product (I forget that one constantly!)


Carrie Pomeroy June 7, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I felt inspired by a lot of things in this post–the sibling bonding, the obvious enjoyment of creativity in the photos of the kids painting, and I think most of all your admission that it was hard for you when they didn’t “follow through” and make something out of the papers. I can relate to the difficulty of letting go, but you’re right–most of my projects are lying around half-finished, so it would be an unrealistic standard to expect my kids to always bring things to completion as initially planned.

My son and I had fun doing Eric Carle-style art years ago when he was three. He painted with Brillo pads, pine branches, sponges, and all sorts of other things to get different textures. I made a collage out of the papers I made. He resisted cutting his up–like your kids, he appreciated the papers themselves as art.

Thanks for sharing!


wanderingsue January 19, 2013 at 4:10 am

I have a friend who is a professional graphic designer, actually she’s the Mum of an old friend of mine. I said to her once, as a frustrated 20-something, “I have all these great project ideas, and I keep trying things, and probably nine out of ten I end up binning in disgust!” I was looking for advice on how to know in advance if something’ll work or not, if it’s worth my time and effort, and she thought about it and said, “yeah, one in ten, that’s probably about right for me, too.”

So now I try to value the unfinished things as part of the journey, and keep all those bits and pieces for future inspiration. Heaven help us when I really start keeping the kids’ stuff too!

Also forgot to mention when I was gushing earlier, how much I enjoy your specifics of what you enjoy in the essays you’re reading. I seem to remember “unpeaching the peach” and “fun, fun, fun!” It sort of gives me a way in, if that makes sense. I remember high school English, disliking pretty much everything (except Jane Austen, loved her always,) we studied, as we began, and really enjoying all of it by the end of each unit, once I had some idea what they were on about. John Donne, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, even Catch-22. I need really enthusiastic and funny tuition, even now. Had an awesome teacher, despite her scathing attitude to my, well, um, Steven King habit. Must find sources of that, for mine.


patricia January 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Hey Sue,

I am a big believer in the notion that artists do a lot of work that doesn’t please them in the process of creating something that does. It’s a good reason for not worrying if kids don’t want to finish every project they start. They shouldn’t have to!

Good writing is all about the specifics, if you ask me. Hope you’ll look up some of those essayists if their details intrigued you. I wouldn’t be so sure about needing to find awesome teachers to enthuse your kids about reading and writing–you may be that person, if you learn to enjoy literature together!


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