CREATIVE CLAY STORIES WITH JEANETTE CANYON
by Didi Hari Krishnan

Illustrator-in-residence Jeanette Canyon visited Singapore American School in February. The colorful and textural illustrations Canyon creates for her critically acclaimed picture books are relief sculptures made with polymer clay. During her two weeks of residency, Canyon worked with elementary students in our art classrooms as they created fun stories and poems to match their art which was later displayed on the second floor of central administration.

We had the chance to learn more about the energetic and lively Jeanette Canyon:

1. Can you tell us about yourself? As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I am the oldest of three sisters and grew up along the windy shores of Lake Erie in Willowick, Ohio. As a child, I always loved to share my imaginative stories through pictures, songs, drama, writing, and dancing. My parents and teachers supported my interests by humoring my theatrics, and also by providing me with creative opportunities and encouragement. I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind and explored my visions of being an architect, a painter, and even a dancer.

My husband, Christopher Canyon (also a creator of children's books) and I met as art students at the Columbus College of Art and Design, in Columbus, Ohio. We have lived in Columbus ever since. We've been married for over 30 years.

2. Where and how did it all start?
My love for picture books started as a young child when my parents regularly took my sisters and me to our public library. I truly loved the story times and the playful ways the librarians would share stories. They would often be adorned with costumes and props, inviting all of us children to enter through a Hobbit-size door hidden behind one of the movable bookshelves. I could not wait to find out where our next story adventure would take us! Those magical experiences sparked my imagination and inspired my own creative journey.

3. When did you first realize that this is what you’d like to do? How did you end up being a children’s book illustrator?

Before I began creating children’s books, I was the studio art teacher in The Program for Young Children at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio (a Reggio- inspired early childhood program). In college, I majored in fine arts. Soon after graduating, a magical door opened for me when I was introduced to the educational philosophies from the preprimary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. These philosophies of education have shaped the way that I look at the world, relationships, education, languages, the arts,—and most importantly, the capabilities of all children. I will forever be inspired by the words of Loris Malaguzzi, philosopher and founder of the early childhood schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

During my years as an arts educator, my husband was enjoying his creative career as a children’s book illustrator. The Reggio Emilia philosophy of education transformed my life as an artist and arts educator. As an art teacher, I absolutely loved inspiring—and being inspired by children, so I decided to join my husband and began my own career in the wonderful world of children’s picture books. It is my hope through the books I create, that my work will offer children a sense of wonder, joy—and the belief that they are filled with endless creative possibilities. My intention as a visiting artist is to continue to provoke, inspire, and encourage children to look at the world and themselves in a positive light, and to see and believe in the endless potential they have.

4. You have a very distinctive artistic style. What’s your inspiration? 
I create all of my illustrations as relief sculptures with polymer clay. I have always loved to sculpt and paint. When I discovered polymer clay, it combined these two artistic loves together. With this wonderful material, I can create very colorful and textural relief sculptures.

I have always been inspired by the beautiful, colorful and intricate patterns all around us. I believe it is important to always keep my eyes, ears, and mind open to everything around me, because I never know what might inspire me to look at, think about or try something in a new or different way!

5. Do you ever have roadblocks during your creative process? What are some of the roadblocks you’ve had to overcome?


Yes, indeed, I experience roadblocks! When this happens, I find it is important that I try out one or more of several different strategies. First I think it is important to step away from what I am working on and work on or think about something completely different to clear my head. It may be another creative endeavor, an important task, or just resting my mind, eyes, and hands. I find that when I return with fresh eyes that I am often able to more easily move through the thing I was struggling with. Sometimes I ask my husband for his creative input and perspective or just decide to try a completely different strategy to get around the roadblock that I’m faced with.

I’m sometimes challenged with finding the best tool or technique to represent whatever it is that I am creating. I try different tools and techniques until I find the one that I feel works the best for what I am creating. While at SAS, one of the students was trying to figure out how to best represent the feathers on her bird she created with clay. She was very patient with the process of experimentation, trying not just one or two or three ideas—she eventually tried six ideas! She was open to suggestions of tools and techniques from her classmates. After trying the fifth idea, she looked around the art room and said, “I see it!”. She went over to the counter, took out a dry paintbrush, tested it on a scrap piece of clay and then with a huge smile on her face, indicated that she figured it out! She carefully stroked that dry paintbrush several times over her bird, until she had represented all of the feathers in a way that pleased her. It was inspiring!

6. Tell us something no one knows about the Jeanette Canyon we see.
I really enjoy singing. When my husband and I visit schools, he plays his guitar and leads sing-alongs with the students and teachers for some of the John Denver songs he has adapted and illustrated as children’s picture books. I love to sing-along. I also love to sing around the house and in the car. My husband and I are working on a book together that I’ll be illustrating with polymer clay. It is a song written by my husband—and we are really excited about sharing this new book project, and singing it together as we share it with children.

7. What gets you excited about working with students?
I love discussing the creative process with children. They have an innate sense of wonder, expression, style, design, and composition. I truly believe that we all can learn so much with (and from) each other, no matter how young or old we are, no matter what experiences we have—or have not had.

I absolutely loved spending two and a half weeks learning with and from the wonderful students and teachers at SAS! It was a great pleasure hearing and seeing how excited everyone was to share what they had already started working on, as well as what they were looking forward to exploring in the days and weeks to come. I also loved seeing the excitement on students' faces when they made a new discovery with a material, tool, technique or compositional design. During the process of designing and creating their clay relief sculptures, elementary students made so many new discoveries. They experimented with and extended the different techniques that I shared with them, all the while exploring and sharing their fabulous stories with one another. Pictures can share and communicate stories on their own as well as support and enhance a written story. Some students created clay pictures to illustrate stories they had already come up with, while others created written stories to accompany their clay pictures. Others told every-changing verbal stories during the construction process of their relief sculpture. All valid, all important, all creative, and all fun!

8. Any advice you could give to aspiring authors/illustrators?
I encourage all of you to always explore your thoughts, ideas and stories through journals. Your journals can be the bound paper kind, or digital journals on your tablets. Allow yourself plenty of time for experimentations and explorations. Explore ideas that are familiar and interesting to you, as well as ideas you have a great desire to learn about. Be patient with your creative endeavors, taking time to try out many different possible ways to communicate your stories through your words and pictures. Perhaps you may even want to try to work with another student, as an author and illustrator team. One of you can write the story and then pass that story along to the other student to illustrate. As you are working on your written and pictorial stories, take time to share your process with others, seeing if the ideas you are wanting to communicate are understood by your audience.

I wish to thank the SAS community for inviting me to spend time with your fabulously fun and creative family, as part of your Academic Visitors-in-Residence Program! I absolutely loved spending 12 incredible days in your beautiful art rooms and working alongside the remarkable elementary students, art teachers, and librarians. I am proud and inspired by the clay relief sculptures that every student created! What a wonderful opportunity you are given, to delve more deeply into learning about—and exploring the artistic styles of a visiting artist! It was my great pleasure sharing my art and techniques with all of you—and learning with and from all of you! 

PTA SPONSORED VISITORS-IN-RESIDENCE PROGRAM

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is one of the key pillars of the SAS community. The countless volunteer hours committed on the part of hundreds of PTA volunteers helps to raise money for investing in community building activities across campus throughout the year. The PTA donates the balance of its money to the school at the end of each year.

In 2018-19, the PTA contributed remaining funds as a gift to the SAS Foundation. This $300,000 gift was earmarked for the signature academic visitors-in-residence program, bringing renowned authors, illustrators, artists, actors, and dance professionals to campus to work with students in all three divisions.

The comprehensive academic visitors-in-residence program allows students to deeply understand the craft and work of professional artists and develop a lifelong appreciation for the arts. Students are able to develop relevant learning skills in relation to creativity and different modes of communication. These visits result in a greater sense of community that connects the head and the heart.

 

 

  • art
  • clay modeling
  • elementary school
  • visiting artist

 

 

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