Thursday, 2 May 2013


The last couple of posts have centred around encouraging writing in schools in a more creative way and suggesting that drawing in childhood often forms a basis for writing later.

Like Anna my first love as a child, was drawing. I grew up with the smell of paper and inks and blueprint architects' paper that when soaked became magically transformed into soft, white linen and left a trail of inky, starchy vapour in the house. I had my own miniature version of a draughtsman’s drawing board but I seem to recall that most of my work was done lying flat on my tummy on the floor. (probably why I can still do a good backbend in yoga but nothing else!)

I had black India ink, which is traditionally made from soot but apparently in India the carbon black in earlier times was obtained by burning bones, tar and pitch. I also had every shade of brown ink from peat, through sepia, to burnt sienna and my father wasn’t precious about me using his nibs.

What’s fascinating is how a child tells a story through drawing. My son produced ‘taking my snail for a walk’ at age 3.

One of the hazards of being an art teacher is one tends to analyse your child’s drawings. How well adjusted are they? How do they relate to their environment? What patterns are emerging in their work? And why? So I could easily have panicked. Yet when I look at the drawing now, I wish I had thought to take snails for walks. It must be a wonderfully slow way of looking at the detail of the world and his snail looks pretty perky.

This week I went into a school and spoke on one of my books, THE FARAWAY ISLAND, where a shipwrecked sailor starts to grow exotic plants brought to him by sailors passing his island en route to India or back to Portugal. I opted out of doing a creative writing session and instead we drew the pomegranates and pineapples that began to flourish there. They were 7 and 8 year olds and although they weren’t necessarily telling a story I think the textures they’ve managed and the form and intensity of the drawings are marvellous for children this age.

So when in doubt, let them draw.


My latest picture book, THE MAGIC BOJABI TREE is illustrated by Piet Grobler and published by Frances Lincoln


michelle lovric said...

beautiful evocative post. Ruskin said 'Painting is the way the Venetians write' - maybe children too, or adults who can remember how to be a child, like you.

Elaine Smith said...

I loved your son's snails, turned in protectively, and full of trepidation, but putting it out there and going about their lives anyway.
Have you seen how a snail eats - all those almost invisible teeth? Try feeding a snail a marshmallow.

Sue Purkiss said...

I agree, Dianne - those pineapples are terrific!

Joan Lennon said...

Your session sounds wonderful, and I will have the words "Taking a Snail for a Walk" in my head all day! Thank you!

Emma Barnes said...

I had a huge thrill recently when a school sent me a batch of drawings that their children had done for my book Wolfie - the scene where Lucie meets the wolf. They were amazing, and each of them brought something a little different to the characters and the feeling of the scene.

I wish I could draw!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

And my son (of now 40) loved your comment Elaine. And I'm going to try the marshmallow trick!

Penny Dolan said...

Delightful snail drawings: such acute feelings of their smallness and roundness.

Such careful pineapple pictures too. (Did they eat all the fruit afterwards?)