A Peek at Work in Progress

Scott Freeman-children's book illustrator

Here you can see stages in the development of a finished watercolor illustration.

I’m quite enthused about the storybook I’m currently working on. The book is called Bear Island. It’s a story themed around the idea that we were all designed by God for loving relationship. When I release the book, I’ll divulge more of the storyline.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. Bear Island is a great place for bears to live, but all of the bears are alone. They’re alone because they think that the way to be happy and strong is to be selfish. There’s a lot of fighting and grumpiness on the island. Then one day a very large, new bear visits the island. All of the native bears are afraid of him at first, but he goes against the grain of the culture and models selflessness and love to the island, changing the culture.
Mama Bear-watercolorThe point of this post is to give you a glimpse of how the artwork is coming along. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they would like to see some work in progress. I hadn’t thought of doing this because, well, I see my own artwork everyday. If readers seem interested, I’ll do this with each new book. With each book I plan to employ a different style to fit the attitude of the book – fanciful, or silly, or realistic – so I hope this will help to keep it interesting for you.
Books for kids-Bear IslandBear Island was written to be accessible to a slightly younger audience than were my previous books. The illustration style for Bear Island is simple and pared down, in keeping with the simplicity of the story.
Bear Island-Scott FreemanAs a side note, I’ll mention another hope I have for this book. I designed it with the intention of making it palatable to Black and Hispanic readers. When I worked at Hallmark as a greeting card artist, I learned why greeting cards often feature animals as “spokespeople.” A primary reason is that this allows people of differing races to identify with the character. In the same way, Bear Island is peopled with brown bears, (not polar bears, mind you!) So my hope is that the characters will appeal to kids of any race, enabling them to fully identify with the characters. The story makes a point of affirming intact, loving families as an ideal. Also, after the selfish bear culture has been transformed into a life-affirming, relational one, new and creative possibilities that didn’t exist before emerge on the island.

Christian storybooks-Bear IslandHere you can see some of my favorite illustrations so far. What you’re seeing are the untouched paintings shot with my lame camera, but you can still get a pretty good idea of how they’re coming along. I’m juggling a lot of other work right now, but I expect to release Bear Island by the month of April. Enjoy!

If you haven’t already done so, please visit the home page and sign up on my email list so I can notify you of new storybook releases. I’ll send you an ebooklet as a thank you.

Dinner Table Tales

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner with our foreign exchange student – 2012

Sharing a meal with others is one of life’s great, relational, creative expressions. It goes without saying that mealtimes serve an essential practical purpose – that of nourishing our bodies – but at the same time, sharing a meal is (or can be) a spiritually meaningful and life-enhancing act.

Of course, growing up, I didn’t appreciate this. Our family ate dinner together every evening. This seemed to me to be a routine, mundane part of suburban life. I was more interested in finding a way around eating my helping of canned peas than in relating to my family in a positive way. But I believe the habit of eating together had a lasting and positive effect on me.

There is a proverb of Solomon that says, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1.) We now know scientifically that stress and strife is bad for the digestion. By contrast, relaxing around a table as a nourishing act of mutual enjoyment, and as an expression of unity, is a God-ordained pleasure. It’s interesting that with the establishment of the New Covenant 2000 years ago, Jesus used a meal as a sign by which to remember the covenant; a covenant that was intended to be characterized by love and unity. This meal is often referred to as “the communion meal.”

On an everyday level, one of the best practices we can share as families is to practice the habit of sharing a meal together around the table, looking into each other’s faces, and seeking to enjoy each other’s company.

Meal sharing is an act of communion.

I read an interview in the late 80’s that for some reason stuck with me. Dweezil Zappa was talking about his then-upcoming TV show, “Normal Life,” co-starring his sister, Moon Unit. He said something like, “Our show is going to be about real families, where everyone eats their food in separate rooms in front of a TV.” As though families eating meals together is a cheesy Ozzie and Harriet thing that cool people don’t do.

Whatever. Being cool is overrated.

Eating with actual human beings
Sure, it takes more effort, but relationship is what life is all about, after all. Even as an unmarried college student in midtown Kansas City, when I lived in a 3-story house sharing rent with 6 other art students, this ethic came through. Enough of us had been raised this way that we determined that we wanted to create a community rather than simply serve as a cheap boarding house. One of the first things we decided toward this end was to share a meal together at least once a week.

When Mollie and I got married, we decided early on as our young family began to grow, that we would try to make it a practice to always eat meals together around the table as a family, with TVs and electronic devices turned off, and earphones pulled out.

A Story About Dinner and Art
Many years later, Mollie and I moved our family to Colorado so that we could pursue careers as fine artists. Some of our old college friends from the 3-story house, now a married couple and living in Loveland, had offered to let us stay with them for a few months until we could get ourselves established. They had 3 kids, and we had 5, and their house was probably too small for this endeavor. But they welcomed us in nonetheless.

One of the first things we did was to fix the situation with the dining room table. We knew we wanted to share meals together, and our host’s dining room table was too small for all 12 of us. So my friend Mike got a nice 4×8 ft board, and, since we were all artists, we decided to turn the table into a community art project involving all the kids.

We thought it would be fun to get everybody’s handprints on the table, as a small monument to our love and friendship. We had all the kids and adults interlace hands and arms around the table, something like this:

Tabletop design ideaThen we spray-painted over everyone’s hands to create a handprint border around the edge of the table. (We first applied lotion to everyone’s hands so that the paint would come off easily.) On the underside of the table, each kid wrote their name under their handprints to identify them. Then, back on top, we helped the kids stencil some primitive animal shapes running through the center of the table to complete the design. I designed the stencils to be suggestive of Native American art imagery.

Below is a shot of the finished tabletop.

colorado animals-tabletopI will always fondly remember that crazy season of starting over in Colorado, made possible because of the friendship of this family.

Some sad observations from across the pond
I recently read an article by British doctor and psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels, who has worked extensively in some of Britain’s deeply impoverished areas. His duties required him to visit the homes of his patients, and to personally interview them. Daniels recounts some universal patterns he saw in Britain’s underclass:

“Everyone lived in households with a shifting cast of members, rather than in families. If there was an adult male resident, he was generally a bird of passage with a residence of his own somewhere else. He came and went as his fancy took him…

I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home…Few homes were without televisions with screens as large as a cinema – sometimes more than one – and they were never turned off, so that I often felt I was examining someone in a cinema rather than in a house. But what was curious was that these homes often had no means of cooking a meal, or any evidence of a meal ever having been cooked beyond the use of a microwave, and no place at which a meal could be eaten in a family fashion. The pattern of eating in such households was a kind of foraging in the refrigerator, as and when the mood took, with the food to be consumed sitting in front of one of the giant television screens.

Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining room table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialization is now unknown. Here I should mention in passing that in my hospital, the illegitimacy rate of the children born in it, except for those of Indian-subcontinental descent, was approaching 100 percent.”
(
Imprimis: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass)

What a sobering glimpse of a government welfare state. The government has essentially become the household provider, the nuclear family has disintegrated, and there consequently isn’t even a table around which to share a meal.

Rise up and share a meal!
My purpose here is not to criticize Dweezil Zappa, or the underclass of Britain, or TV watching. My point is simply to encourage connection and communion within households. Whether you are living with family or friends, if you are currently not connecting with those around you, why not start the adventure now? If you are already committed to meal sharing with those you love, then may these thoughts serve as affirmation that you are doing a good thing. Keep it up, you crazy radicals!

Sometimes we do good things almost by accident, or by inertia, or habit. This is certainly better than not doing those things at all. However, at times I have found that doing those same things with intentionality and purpose reminds me to make the most of the moment. Meal sharing is one of those things. Reinforcing your values by reading stories regularly with your kids or grandkids is another. In this blog I’ll periodically share encouragement on other life-enhancing practices.

May God strengthen you to create a culture of life and love within your own family!
A Happy Thanksgiving to you,

Scott

Animal stencils-detail

(Tabletop detail.) Feel free to share a dinnertime story or memory below…

 

 

 

 

A Creativity Game To Play With Your Kids

DG covAs an artist, I am sometimes asked by parents about how they can foster creativity in their kids. Do I teach children’s art classes? Can I recommend a great art curriculum for home-schoolers?

Ironically, since my wife and I are both professional artists we may not be the best people to ask. Art was simply part of the environment within which our kids grew up, and we naturally incorporated the arts into life because that’s what we do. I would say as a general rule, though, parental enthusiasm plays a big role in fostering creativity. My wife and I both happen to love children’s art, and we did get pretty enthusiastic when our kids would create things we thought were cool. We hung a lot of it, and saved some of it.

Perhaps indicative of our enthusiasm was that our most entrepreneurial son used to try to sell his drawings to people who would come over to our house. I suppose because that’s what he saw me doing. (For a living, I mean. Don’t worry – if you come for a visit I won’t try to hard sell my art to you.) He would make little pictures of cellos (we don’t know why) and write “25 cents” at the top of the page. When people would come over he would show them, and ask them if they would like to buy one of his cello pictures. We like to think this was a reflection of our supportive parenting, rather than our poverty-level artist income.

When I was a kid, I was obviously artistically gifted, but my parents had no clue as to what to do with me. What they did right was encourage me, not only with their words, but also by making sure there was always plenty of paper and art supplies on hand. Even though my dad was a manly, blue-collar guy, he never gave me the impression that he thought I was an overly-sensitive, skinny, weird little artistic kid. (Even though I was.)

Looking back, I think what my parents could’ve done better was to provide some art materials other than the usual color pencils, which tend to be not very visually impactful and may be a bit tedious to use, depending upon a child’s personality. We usually supplied our kids with Crayola markers because of their bold and bright colors, especially when the kids were small. We would also let them paint, but this requires more time, supervision, and commitment, especially for parents who may not be as comfortable with paint.

Also, it might have been nice if my parents had exposed me to some fine art, but I think this was simply outside of their bandwidth. (Mostly I pored over my big brother’s Marvel comic books.) My third grade teacher, whom I did not particularly like, once got permission from my parents to come to my house and take me to the St. Louis Art Museum, which kind of freaked me out in general. Miss Cunningham. I suspect she must have been an art-lover. I now think this was a pretty amazing and outside-of-the-box thing for her to do.

A Simple Game to Play With Your Kids
Today I want to share with you a simple art game that I often played with my kids. We think we invented it, and we called it “The Drawing Game.” (Admittedly, not a terribly creative name for a game about creativity.)

It’s not much of a game, really. The main point is to think creatively and to make each other laugh. It is also a bit of a challenge to keep the game going, because it’s possible to shut the game down by limiting possibilities too soon. The game also teaches patience and forbearance in relationships because the other party will be taking something you’ve drawn and changing it, usually not in a way that you would’ve chosen. Kind of like in life.

I was reminded of the game in my previous post. You may recall that I quoted a researcher who said that over the past decade American children have become:
“…less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” The largest drop has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way…”

Well, The Drawing Game is all about thinking creatively, synthesizing, and expanding on an idea, just for the fun of it.

You will need:
A piece of paper
A pencil or marker
your kid or kids
yourself
your creative minds

How to play:

  • Someone starts off by drawing one simple shape, geometric or organic, on the page.
  • That player passes the page to the next person, who adds a new, simple element to the page.
  • The page is passed to the next person, who adds a new element. The page may be turned sidewise or upside-down to help in imagining new possibilities, and to keep the game going.
  • Continue on in this way as long as everyone is having fun, or until the page becomes too cluttered. Your kids can color the picture in when the game is over.

Rules of play:

  • No making fun of anyone’s lame drawing. The point is to enjoy each other, not make awesome art.
  • No obliterating anyone’s drawing. You can only change the drawing by adding to it, or changing the context. (For example the scene may suddenly become an underwater scene if someone adds a waterline.) If you feel you would like to cover part of someone’s contribution, ask their permission. Like in real life.
  • Be complimentary when someone draws a creative idea. Say things like, “That’s a great idea.”
  • If you have boys, you may want to place a limit on the number of times they can add blood or projectile vomiting to the drawing.

Example:
I asked my 17-year-old daughter if she would play with me, so that you could see an example of how the game is played. It was still fun.

I drew the circle first. I thought it might become a sun. Or Renee might have added a long string to it to turn it into a balloon. Or it might have become an eye on a giant face. Or the wheel of a car. Part of the fun is seeing how other people’s minds work, and watching the “story” develop.

Drawing Game-1
Below I show the subsequent stages without comment…

DG 2-3DG 4-5DG 6-8DG 9-11DG 12-14Let me know if you tried The Drawing Game, and if you and your kids enjoyed it!

 (Click the Book Store tab to order my new kids’ storybook, The Cocky Rooster.)

Dad Notes: The Safety Police

Cowboys & Indians

The author as a politically incorrect child, apparently unable to choose a side.

I read an interesting article at the gym last weekend that resonated with me. Both the artist and the dad part of me liked it, mostly. My wife can tell you that for years I have railed against “the Safety Police.”

I don’t know exactly who the Safety Police are, but apparently they hold positions of influence, because pretty much every playground in America is now coated in rubber, and padded underneath.

The article was about fostering creativity, courage, self-confidence, and problem-solving skills in kids. Hanna Rosin, the author, contends that the current trend of parents scheduling every minute of their child’s lives with closely supervised activities is robbing them of the chance to explore and take risks in life. (See full article here.)

Her article is centered around a visit with her son to something called an “adventure playground” in Wales. Such playgrounds are designed to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with a minimum of adult supervision from the trained adult staff. The idea is to allow kids to experience a sense of danger and risk, and to learn how to deal with these situations themselves. These playgrounds include an area with moveable elements such as tires and wooden shipping palettes. She describes another area where some kids were starting a fire in a metal drum. Part of the playground runs steeply down into a shallow creek, and includes a rope swing, which may or may not get you across.

Stay with me here. I’m not on a campaign to litter our playgrounds with glass shards. I just think it’s a worthwhile discussion.

Rope Swing

Dangerous…

I think of my own childhood, which included long, unsupervised hours away from my house and my parents, engaged in creative play. Admittedly, some of my activities with young friends were less than brilliant, but that’s kind of the point. We figured it out and lived to tell about it.

Sand Dune Natl Monument

…also dangerous.

I think of my own kids. How often – regularly, in fact – Mollie and I would be outside somewhere and we would hear the words “Hi Mom!” But these words would sound much farther away than they should’ve, especially coming from overhead. We would look skyward to find our second-born son high in a tree, as high as he could possibly go. (Higher than we were comfortable with.) Of course, as soon as his little brother grew old enough, he was right behind his big brother.

There’s no question that there was very real risk there. But it never seemed quite right to me to tell them, “YOU KIDS GET DOWN FROM THAT TREE RIGHT NOW!” even though Mollie and I wondered out loud to each other if all of our children would make it to adulthood. I guess I’m still not sure whether or not we should’ve forbidden extreme tree climbing. I do remember instructing them to make sure that they always had a firm grip on a strong branch so that they wouldn’t fall.

At one point in our downstairs bathroom, the bathtub contained one turtle, two large toads, and several garter snakes, all found in and around our inner-city yard. (The kids thought it was great that these animals couldn’t escape the tub. Eventually we released them when the bathroom started stinking.) None of these animals were dangerous, but I suppose it still seemed exciting to the kids since a certain percentage of the population is either freaked-out or grossed-out by such creatures. We did instruct the kids to always wash their hands after handling the reptiles because there is a real risk of contracting disease from the salmonella bacteria carried by reptiles.

Rosin quotes early childhood education professor, Ellen Sandseter. She has concluded that children have a sensory need to experience (perceived) danger and excitement. Sandseter has identified 6 categories of risky play, including exploring heights, and exploring on one’s own.

I have to think this must be true of a lot of kids, based on what I’ve seen in myself, in my own kids, in conversation with others, and in watching other families. And I don’t see any reason to ascribe this “need” to our sin nature.

Rosin also cites the research of Kyung-Hee Kim, an educational psychologist who has found that over the past decade American children have become:
“less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” The largest drop has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way. Practicing psychologists have also written about the unique identity crisis that this generation faces—a fear of growing up and, in the words of Brooke Donatone, a New York City–based therapist, an inability “to think for themselves.”

Given the context of the article, it seems that Rosin thinks over-protective parenting is the culprit.

What do you think? Are our children over-protected? How do/did you as a parent strike a balance between safety and controlled risk with you kids? How do you avoid being a “helicopter parent”?

At the recent release of my new kids’ book, THE COCKY ROOSTER, I described its underlying theme as “the need for young children to submit to their parent’s loving authority in a broken and sometimes dangerous world.” In my opinion, it is essential for loving parental authority to be in play first before we can responsibly allow our young kids the freedom to explore, and to have their own “lion and bear experiences.” Such experiences will prepare them to go out and face giants someday. But risk is always part of the picture. Even as adults, living a life in submission to God-given authority, and to God Himself, does not equate to a life free of risk. Being under right authority helps us to discern the difference between foolish and worthwhile risks (Prov 10:23.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Long's Peak Summit

My daughter, Sierra, on the summit of Long’s Peak, elevation 14,259 ft.

Next time I’ll share with you a simple game my kids and I used to play, designed to foster “creativity, imagination, synthesizing, and elaboration.”

Grace and peace – Scott