I’m a picture study rebel. A mom who wants to do art study but can’t follow through. Anyone else?

When I discovered Charlotte Mason, I loved the inclusion of art study. I’ve always enjoyed art museums and frequently take the kids to them. I bought the big coffee table books of the masters, the Usborne art cards, art puzzles, hung up my college Van Gogh poster in my kids’ room — I went all out. Truth: I don’t use them.

At home, I bought some beautiful art prints from Simply Charlotte Mason and hung up eight pictures from a specific artist near our dining rom. The kids walk past them several times a day, and I know that they become familiar with them. Even when we haven’t specifically studied an artist, they will pick out paintings that we have seen hanging up when we are at an art museum, telling me when and where they saw it in our house. 

However, despite my good intentions, as far as artist study, copying the paintings, and learning about the artists – I’m not very good at follow through. It’s just not the structured study I had planned. Because of that, I felt like a failure. Just another something I didn’t follow through with.

But then I realized something. We are doing art study. In our way. How it works for us.

What do we do really well? Reading lovely picture books together at morning time. Where is some of the best modern art? Picture books.

“But that isn’t art study!” Who says? Is it teaching your kids to look at art? Analyze art? Love books and the pictures in them? Yup. Does composer study count if it’s John Williams and not Mozart? Absolutely.

In the same way, art is still art even if it accompanies words written on a page. The illustrator is considered an artist even if you hold his pictures in your hand instead of staring at it in a frame. And even better, this is art that I can see frequently in real life, not just once at a snobby, high-stress museum. I dare you to tell an illustrator he isn’t an artist but “only” an illustrator.

As an unintentional result of all the books, my kids have become picture book snobs. If the illustrations are computer generated, babyish, or ugly, none of us want to finish reading the book. They will actually complain about the book. While I try to push through sometimes for content alone, other times, I just have to give up. And that’s okay.

Favorite Illustrator Studies of 2020

Jim LaMarche

Jim LaMarche Book Illustrations

This very nature focused artist has three books which he has both illustrated and written: Pond, The Raft, and Up. While these are our favorites of his books, he has also beautifully illustrated King of the Bees, Winter is Coming, and several more. His naturalist tendencies gives us homeschoolers the desire to get out in nature, collect specimens, and sit and draw what we find. Additionally, they speak to the relaxed childhood I want for my kids: exploring, creating, and just being kids.

Chris VanAllsburg

Mr. VanAllsburg is a Caldecott Award winning author and illustrator of 19 books and as well as illustrator only of several more. When the books have been made into movies, it’s even easier to get the kids interested. Jumanji, The Polar Express, and Zathura might sound familiar and bring up some great comparison between the movies and books. His books like The Wretched Stone and The Stranger do tend toward the fantastical, and some of them have made us unsure about the meaning behind certain elements. However, I kind of think that’s part of the fun and leads to many discussions of your kids’ opinions. We loved looking at the shadows in his books. They are amazing. Hint: look for the white bulldog making a cameo appearance in all of his books.

How to Pick an Illustrator to Study?

When you read a book, if you like the paintings, voila! You have found an illustrator to study. Look up other books by the artist. Make your lengthy library list for the week. Buy your favorites. Done.

If you need further inspiration, this is a book we currently own and am using to find other artists to explore.  Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art

How Do I Talk About Picture Books?

Even if you aren’t currently collecting all the library books from a particular illustrator, that doesn’t mean you aren’t “doing” illustrator study. Any book you have can prompt discussion. Start with one question. Just try it out, and use it to tie in other aspects of art and artists in the world. Don’t ask the yes or no question? Ask with the intent of conversation.

While I read aloud the book, we are talking about the art as much as the words. When my kids have stopped paying attention, I will comment on the picture to help bring their attention back to the book. It usually works. They want to look at the pictures. To be really daring, tell them you don’t like it (when you really do), close the book, and set it to the side. Let them tell you why you should keep reading.

Try Out These Questions

  • Is this abstract? Realism? Folk art?
  • Compare it to an artist study you have done – See how this looks weird like Picasso? Does this bridge remind you of Monet?
  • How do these paintings compare to others by this illustrator we have looked at?
  • What are the artists favorite colors?
  • What details did the artist add in that aren’t important to the story? Why?
  • Why do you think they are looking at the picture from this angle? Perspective?
  • How is this painting made? Paint? Watercolor? How can you tell?
  • Can you tell where the light is coming from? Look at the shadows.
  • Why is this part of the painting in focus and this part blurry?
  • Do these paintings remind you of any other books we have read?
  • How would you research this book if you were the illustrator?
  • Do you like it? If no, why not?

Now, my one complaint about learning about book art? I can’t hang up our favorite illustrations on the wall. Until I figure out how to do this, I guess I’ll just have to buy some of our favorite books. Blast.

Who is your go-to illustrator whose books you always know will be loved by all?

11 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Illustrator Study with Picture Books

  1. Yes! She’s very distinctive isn’t she? The more intentional we are, the more we can pick out the illustrators we’ve seen before and connect them. Allows for automatic review and recall of topics and books we might have otherwise forgotten about 😉

  2. Love this and your blog! So glad we connected. I’ve enjoyed Lois Ehlert from a young age. I love the super colorful images and as an adult I’m still drawn to similar art!

  3. I’m taking notes! Can’t wait until we can do some family road trips too. I’m inspired!

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