For today's post, I'm absolutely thrilled to be interviewing my dear friend and accomplished artist, Jan Croteau, as she shares with me her best tips for fostering a love of art in our young ones, and raising a new generation of brave artists.
Originally published March 2019. Updated Sept. 2021.
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Jan, you’re one of the most deeply artistic people I know. I remember going to your house as a kid, and feeling like I was walking into this absolutely magical, creative world, filed with art that YOU MADE. Living with your own art was a new concept to me! Did you always know that you were an artist, even when you were a child? Or was it a calling that you found as an adult?
Thanks Anna, what a lovely introduction.
I knew I was an artist as a child. But I must clarify I think ALL children are artists. Creativity is our super-hero-strength when we are young. As children we revel in our imaginings. I see my grandchildren do this all the time.
The call to art, however, grew more insistent as I entered into adulthood. Really, for me, resistance was futile. I was not happy unless I was painting, writing, working in the performing arts…reflecting the world back onto itself. I have to create, it’s the reason I’m here on earth.
I feel like most small children inherently know that they’re born to be creative…it just seems like most of us lose confidence in that somewhere along the way. I’m really curious about what helps a person NOT lose that confidence as they age. Were there any events, or things about your own childhood, that helped you maintain your identity as an artist as you grew to adulthood?
Picasso once said…”Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
I think for me, I was able to retain my creativity by accepting the notion that I was never going to be a “normal kid” because I didn’t want to lose the ability to strongly imagine my world.
My parents gave me free reign and supported my artistic life by sending me to art school while I was in high school.
Then I went to college and majored in fine art. I seriously wanted the training and I took as many art classes as one person could possibly manage. Working with others in a large collective studio was really stimulating. My creative mind caught fire and I learned to love collaborating with others to create something bigger than any one of us could do alone.
When you were parenting your own young children, were there any ways that you specifically tried to help foster confidence in creating art, in your kids? Do you have any pointers for those of us who see an artistic bent in our children, and want to help them grow into brave artists, if that’s something they choose - but just don’t know where to start?
Yes, being brave is a BIG part of the picture of being an artist.
Here’s what I did for my own children.
I always had a studio. I remember when my husband and I first talked about marriage I said to him, “You have to understand what you’re getting into. I will always need an art studio.” (He has built three for me.)
I always made an area of my studio a place for their creative endeavors. I filled their space with art supplies, and a worktable, and enough room to do their projects. They always had a well-stocked creative environment. They had clay and paint, and sketch books and rolls of paper and collage materials etc.
I loved the energy and beauty of their work. I decided to reserve a spot at the local library so that I could put together a show of children’s art work one month every year. (Maybe you remember this?) My kids not only painted and did drawings for it but they also matted and framed their creations. We had an opening reception each year and all the kids would show their art. It gave everyone a sense that their creative work was valued and loved.
I also made Fridays our Art Day. We worked in the studio and really put focused time into learning about art and artists in history, adding everything that we felt was pertinent to our history-timeline we had on our wall. But my children also saw me working as an artist, bringing income into the family and making it a business. I was very committed to my work and they respected that.
Now I see my daughters creating their own lives, one has two young children and she has a place in her kitchen where the small art table she used as a kid (that her father built) sits between drawers and shelves of art supplies for her own children. My other daughter loves photography and I watch her derive a great deal of meaning from her artwork as she works in the high pressured environment of emergency medicine.
So often, it seems like siblings can have very different personalities. One might just live for art time, but another might sit down with a new tray of watercolors and not know where to start. I can remember that as a kid, I was one of those who had a terribly hard time thinking of anything original to create, and so it really just seemed like I wasn’t much of an artist…but I wanted to be. Do you have any suggestions for helping kids discover a creative side, when they don’t think they have one?
Yes! I have tons of ideas!
Keep it loose and playful. I like to start off with color. Kids love color. I use watercolors a lot with kids. Ask them to paint the sky, any color they want, heaven knows, skies are not always blue….show them different techniques for how to make clouds… dab that wet richly colored watercolor paper with a dry paper towel or a little ball of cotton to make clouds. Or on wet watercolor paper sprinkle salt onto it after they have added color to it… or wet the paper first and then add dabs of color and watch them bleed into each other creating new colors.
Kids quickly see that anything can be a painting or drawing technique and they can invent their own. Use small sea sponges to make different shapes. Just make sure all your art supplies are for children and are non-toxic. When you start with color kids get excited about what happens on the paper without fretting about trying to make a painting that looks like something specific. Ask them how the different colors make them feel. They intuitively know about color which is a big part of the language of art.
Then move on for the next creative time and do some simple still life art.
Give them one object. Like an apple, ask them to paint that. But before they do ask them about the apple, ask things like…notice the shape of this apple, is it round? Is it bumpy? What colors do you see? Are there any shadows? Etc.
A big part of being an artist is training your eyes to REALLY see what’s in front of you not what you THINK you see. There is a huge difference.
In my own life, I’ve always felt drawn to art - but absolutely, terribly insecure about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting so far - it’s that my kids pick up on everything! And so my little habits and mannerisms that I’m not even aware of, get mirrored right back at me by my two sweet little monkeys. I don’t want them to emulate my insecurities about art, so I really want to work on building my own confidence. Do you have any tips for boosting confidence about art in adults who have NO art training or background - so that we can model that confidence for our kids? (
Yes, this is a wonderful question! So many times friends and colleagues ask me this question. They didn’t have much exposure to art as children so they feel insecure about it now. That is what’s inspiring me to put together Creativity Classes.
My first class is Unleashing Your Creative Genius: Six Lessons For Liberating Your Creative Genius From The Clutches Of Mediocrity! J I’m now working on my next class which will build on the first one. All of the classes are way-cool-affordable.
I’ve taught art classes for 40 years to adults and children. I love working with adults to help them get back in touch with their own creativity. Even if you don’t want to be an artist, being creative helps you to think differently about every challenge you encounter in life. Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
I see it this way. Creativity is like electricity. All of us are totally wired to be creative, but some of us have forgotten where the switch is located. Once we find it, the creative light brings new ways of our being in the world.
Turning on the creativity switch not only makes us happier, but it gives us a sense of connection to beauty and reminds us that we are all creators.
We inhale our world and exhale our creations. When we forget to express ourselves, or worse, when we think we have nothing to express, we feel empty and disconnected and it can lead to depression. Each one of us is an artist in our own unique way. Be playful, have fun, and create.
Jan Croteau is a professional artist, who's done a lot of other amazing things along life's way. From founding and directing a children's Shakespeare company, to publishing an award-winning book, to raising her own two brave artists - Jan has inspired artistic confidence in countless lives, through many different forms and outlets. Check out her gorgeous work (and her new online art course!) over at www.janhcroteau.com
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