Friday, December 17, 2010

Creative Prompt - Start with Illustrations

Creative Prompt - Start with an Illustration
by Susan Stephenson,

Before I get to today's creative prompt, I saw a slideshow recently which emphasized for me the importance of creativity. It's by Betsy Streeter, and won the Creative category in a Slideshare Contest. 
Today, I want to suggest that a great prompt for our own creativity can come from somebody else's illustrations. I know I've introduced the idea of using photos, pictures and other art work in my own prompts, and I loved the picture prompt ideas in Sandy Fussell's guest article, Becoming a Story Detective.  But by illustrations here, I am suggesting we start specifically with the work of illustrators, and allow them to inspire us to create something new.

The two obvious ways to do this are with children's picture books, and online.

Literature: combining literature and creativity is to me such a simple, natural process. Of course, it doesn't need to be an illustration from a picture book that starts you off. If your children love characters in chapter books, they might want to use them as a jump off point and begin a new story set in an author's world. But picture books are such a wonderful way to teach visual literacy that I find I tend to automatically analyse the art work and what makes it effective. Involving kids in that process encourages them to get the most out of a picture book. So I suggest you use picture books to encourage kids to become aware of different artists' styles and techniques.

They might like to go on to experiment themselves with those same techniques, or jump off into a new direction. A picture from Jeannie Baker's Mirror might spark a desire to dabble in collage creation, or perhaps to explore other creative ways to portray landscapes - with words, or oils, using toys and cardboard maybe, or even sculpting with sand.

Online: There are generous artists who allow us to use their own art work online without violating copyright. (With all of these, you need to make sure you understand the rules of the site, particularly if you intend to re-publish the work online.)


I just love the range of top class illustrators and styles available at Storybird. It's a wonderful place to encourage kids to make a book of their own, using art work provided by adult illustrators. They choose pictures they can then drag to each page of their digital books. Perhaps you're thinking it would be more creative for your child to draw his own art work? Probably, but I think kids can learn a lot by looking at all sorts of art, whether it be in a real life gallery, in books or online.

Comic Creators

Many of the online comic creators allow us to use their own art work. Children just need to choose backgrounds, characters, props, speech bubbles/captions and then organize their stories and write the dialogue.

One of my favourite comic creators is Toon Doo. I used Toon Doo to illustrate yesterday's post, Are Manners Important? Toon Doo has several artists who supply different elements which are simple to drag into the panels. There's also a book making feature at ToonDoo where you can combine your single cartoons into a book.

Others I've recommended are Comic Master, Stripcreator, Beanotown, Creaza's Cartoonist, Story Maker, StoryJumper, Make Beliefs Comix, and Myths and Legends.

What I did

I decided to create a new book at Storybird, mostly because I found some gorgeous illustrations by Nakisha (bluedogrose) that I fell in love with. Without being derivative, there's a lovely Beatrix Potter feel to them. I'm sure you'll see what I mean when you look at my embedded book below. I examined all her illustrations and started dragging them into sections of my canvas as a story began to tease out for me.

As an adult, I find the bookmaking process at Storybird interesting and enjoyable. It's a bit like working on a puzzle. I look at the available art work and try to weave a story around the pictures. This is not the way it's done in the real world of publishing - usually a writer creates the word layer, then an illustrator creates the visual layer that accompanies it. But I find the process both challenging and creative, and recommend you try it soon with your kids.

Here's my new Storybird, Hold Tight to your Dreams

Hold Tight to Your Dreams on Storybird
My article today is the fifteenth in a series of prompts that I hope might spark some creative expression in your kids, and maybe you too. I hope you'll join me so we can all challenge ourselves to be more creative. You can catch the rest of the prompts at the first post in the series, by scrolling down to Update.

If you and/or your kids respond to this prompt and you'd like me to showcase it on my blog, I would be thrilled to do that. If you post it on your own blog, please let me know (in comments or email, via the Contact Me tab), and I'll add your link to the relevant post.

Update: Here's a lovely Storybird by a young reader, Jemimah, whose mum writes A Peaceful Day blog. Isn't it great to see children using online resources like this to create story!

A boy and his dog on Storybird


  1. Thank for putting my book on. I didn't know it was that good. It was fun to do but it was a bit hard to type because I can't type yet.

    From Jemimah

  2. The Book Chook17 December, 2010

    Typing is really handy for a writer, Jemimah. There are games that let you practise typing and try to improve your skills. I was doing really well on one but I got lazy and now I am back to two fingers, just like pigeons pecking.

    I'm glad you had fun making a Storybird!


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