Heather Cahoon, mom to a houseful, is a children's book illustrator and author. She shares family play and art ideas on her blog, wordplayhouse, and sells her own designs in her shop, you make do. Here she talks a bit her home as a "workshop of creativity" and her ideas on cultivating creativity in children.
***Note: Readers will have a chance to win some of Heather’s party printables and play kits at the end of this interview.***
JEAN: What in your life has led you to illustrating and creating children's books?
HEATHER: I was drawn to drawing from the time my little fingers could hold a crayon. We had a one gallon ice cream bucket filled with the crayon wax rainbows most children begin creating with. My father brought home boxes (and boxes!) of computer paper from work I mostly drew on. But, like many toddlers, some of my very first "masterpieces" were not on paper—I contributed to my mother's home decorating with my crayon drawings on our wood stairs too. Yes, she noticed my remodeling work—after I was finished.
I often wrote stories as a child too. And, I remember wanting, really wanting, to one day publish a book. Just one book. Because, I thought a grand dream like that was just like my other grand dream—to be a real princess. The real kind with a castle, a moat, knights, a prince, and of course the princess dresses. And, you know how many of us get to be a real one of those. So, I hoped for just one single book to be published. I wrote and wrote and drew and drew, not because I was trying to become better at it. Though, that is what happened. But, because it was my very favorite thing to be doing. And, it still is. And, yes. I got that one book published—plus many more of my books published. And, that more than makes up for never getting a closet filled with princess dresses. Because, remember what I told you was my favorite thing to do (drawing and writing!)? I get to do that for work.
JEAN: You've called your home a "workshop of creativity." I LOVE the image those words put in my mind and am very tempted to borrow the phrase. Can you tell us a bit about what this workshop looks like? What happens there?
HEATHER: Our kitchen table is the center of the activity in our home—the place where we roll out our dough when baking, and the place where we often paint, draw, and write. Beside our table are drawers—antique wood file drawers with our most used art materials at hand. On one side of the long table is a long bench where the children sit (the youngest kneel or stand). And, below the bench we have pots filled with table activities—our favorite is the pot filled with our homemade play clay. For floor projects, usually building or working large scale, the children like to create in the "yellow room"—our sunny room off to the kitchen, equipped with large flat files. These map file drawers are filled with paints, art papers, watercolor papers—shared art supplies I use for my own illustrations and the children use for their creations. Our art materials are within reach of even our youngest creators; so, they can make art when they feel the love to.
Because I illustrate and design, my artistic work often draws the children to their own creative work. If I am painting with watercolors, they sit alongside me with paper, and we share paints. They watch as I work and emulate the way I paint. We share art materials because it is often easier to create when using quality materials. If you have ever tried to use the most inexpensive watercolors and the cheapest brush; then, try creating with better paints and a better brush, you will see how much less frustrating it would be for a child trying to learn to handle art materials. So, we share my good quality supplies. My painting, and even my computer designs, always begin with pencil sketches. This too draws the children to our workshop with their own paper and a pencil, watching as I draw. And, they join in with their own sketches. When I work, our wall beside our worktable is pinned up with my work to dry, and to size up for revisions—right amongst their paintings and drawings they pin on a whim. The children's own joy in creating extends beyond accompanying my illustration and design work. Even if I am in the kitchen cleaning or preparing meals, they will join in my company to begin creating on their own. Each has a propensity to create in their favored way—one prefers drawing, one gravitates towards painting, and another likes to sculpt with wire or folded paper. With our supplies within reach, all are self-sufficient at collecting their chosen creative materials and working independently.
JEAN: What's your philosophy around children's creativity?
HEATHER: Be a creative companion, not an instructor. Draw or make beside your child, not for the child. Children do not need as much direction as many teachers and caregivers give them. Let them explore the art materials on their own, create on their own, discover what they can make on their own. Too often, well-meaning teachers and caregivers have too much of their own hands in children's creations—And, it becomes more of the instructor's work than any opportunity for a child's own creativity and creation. We share the way we encourage open-ended, unassisted art play in our home in our post paper play.
JEAN: I love the name of your shop you make do and the way it puts the possibility and responsibility of creativity fully on our own shoulders. Can you tell us a bit about your shop and your choice of products?
HEATHER: We often make our own toys here. And, the children plan their own birthdays that we design together. So, we had all these things we have made; and we decided to share them. Not everyone has the time to design birthday parties from scratch, but our paper kits let families have handmade parties they can make together just like we do. And, really, making the special celebration together is as memorable as the celebration itself. Our instant download you make do™ kits in our shop are wonderful for last-minute party planning and on-the-spot project making. I don’t know who has more fun—me, when I am designing them, or those that download them and make them at home!
Our printables were designed the same way my children's book illustrations and graphic designs are—with our children around the table working with me. These designs are ones we used for our own celebrations and play. So, when one of our children has an upcoming birthday, they choose their own theme and help me shape how they wish their designs to be. We sketch together. Of course, once the designs are printed, they want to help make their own decorations. So, the printables are made to be simple enough for even children to help cut and assemble. Our introduction to our sail away paper play kit says what we especially want you to do with what we design—Explore our ideas to get you started. Follow your wondrous imagination, most of all.
JEAN: Thanks, Heather! I think we all need to remember that —to follow our imagination—and to encourage our children to do so as well.
Heather is offering a total of $50 towards any handmade printables in her shop you make do —$25 worth of handmade printables for the winner and $25 in printables to a friend of the winner. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment here by Friday, August 24th at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be chosen by random number generator and announced here on Saturday morning (I will also e-mail the winner). Giveaway open to readers anywhere.
Giveaway now closed.
The random number generator gave me #57, so Kathy Balman wins the giveaway. Congrats, Kathy! (I'll e-mail you…)
Kathy Balman says
Very nice stuff please enter me.