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October 26, 2016

Illustrators inspire students to explore their imaginations, tell their stories

The eyes are critical when drawing a character, illustrator Janet Stevens told the Cottonwood Elementary fifth-graders carefully sketching bears in ties, diapers and T-shirts.

“One of those things that’s really important in illustration is feelings and that comes from the eyes,” Stevens said. How full or bright the eyes look, even the angle of the eyebrows, can change the whole appearance of a character, she added.

Stevens is one of four award-winning illustrator/authors who visiting each of the district’s 16 elementary schools as well as Chinook, Desert Hills and Horse Heaven Hills middle schools; Mid-Columbia Partnership and Phoenix High School.

The visits are an opportunity for the illustrators to talk about their craft as well as help students try their hands at it during workshops. Along with showing illustration as an art form and potential career, the visits also inspire students to read and to tell their own stories.

“This is a great way to get them thinking in pictures first,” Stevens says. “And then the words come.”

This is the second year the district has worked to bring illustrators into the schools. Mark Fearing, Daniel Kirk and Jeff Mack were the other illustrators brought into the district to meet with students.

The visits are more than just an assembly for students to attend or opportunity to get an illustrator’s autograph, said Cottonwood librarian Kathy Jensen. Teachers coordinate lessons that use the illustrator’s work as a launch pad. Cottonwood kindergartners, for example, used an illustration of a bear Stevens drew when she met with them to write a story about him.

“They need to see an illustrator in action,” says Jensen.

The visits are rewarding for Stevens as well; she says she rarely gets to work with students on their own illustrations and she said she was impressed with the work she sees during the workshops.

“It’s really fun to let them have the opportunity to explore illustration,” Stevens says.