Fueling the Creative Flame

Robert Sabuda

A bestselling author and renowned pop-up book creator, Sabuda's works include The Christmas Alphabet, The 12 Days of Christmas, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up, and Arthur and the Sword.

What did your parents do to encourage your creativity?

My father was a carpenter and a mason, so I was always surrounded by some kind of project that involved building or making something. My mother was a part-time dance teacher, which definitely influenced the way I view the combination of art and movement.

When you are a kid you're always interested in what's happening and how something is working. I would go with my dad to his jobs in the morning and watch him. The work that he was doing was so precise and that precision continues today with the work that I do. There's a tremendous amount of initial foundation work for the pop-ups to work. My mother taught different kinds of dance. There was never a sense of "this is the only type of dance" or "I'm a mason and I only work in natural stone." That attitude never existed when I was young, so as an adult artist now I never feel hindered or restricted.

Who were the adults in your life who most encouraged your creativity?

My teachers all enthusiastically encouraged me with my artwork. I grew up in a very rural area, and if any child seemed to excel at anything in such a challenging environment the teachers tended to encourage him with the hopes that he would succeed.

My teachers would ask me to decorate the bulletin board and I thought that was the greatest honor in the world. They were like, "Here's the theme; do whatever you want."

Which books and other materials inspired you most as a child?

I have been an avid reader my entire life. In fact, I don't even recall learning how to read; it seems like I just could! I read a wide range of things from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad to Mad Magazine. My parents felt that any young-reader material was appropriate as long as we were reading. Of course, pop-up books held a special place for me because of their fantastic movement and surprises.

Whenever I saw something that I liked or was excited about, I was like, "I'm going to try and make that." It never occurred to me that I couldn't make something. It was like, "At least try and see where it goes."

If you could share one piece of advice with a child about being creative, what would that be?

Never stop being creative! A lot of young people feel that they should outgrow their creativity as they age. Nothing could be further than the truth! Young people should become more creative as they get older.

Part of that comes from the pressure we get from society. There's still this idea that if you're a certain age you should be doing these more serious things. Especially as kids enter high school or if they're looking toward college, creative interests fall completely by the wayside because parents, understandably so, are concerned about their kids making a living. I meet people all the time who say, "I was thinking about art school or I was thinking about being a writer and then I went to business school." It just crushes me when I hear somebody say that-especially if they're unhappy. So the bottom line is keep following your creative dreams at any cost.

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

The fact that I am a self-taught paper engineer. When I was learning how to make pop-ups there were no books to help me.

Why do you think encouraging creativity is important, and how has it helped you in your life and career?

If we don't encourage young people with their creativity, where will the world's future artists come from? When I decided to go to art school there were many people who said I could never make a living as an artist. Fortunately, there were just as many who told me to push on. Those people were right and I'm the living proof.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I do very little creative work outside my studio. I save all my artistic energy for my books.

Truth be told, I'm never for lack of inspiration. It's a blessing and a curse. I have a million projects in my mind that I would love to do, and who knows if they'll ever get done. I never get artist's block. I think part of the reason for that is because I work in the children's field, so there's always that child within. When you're a kid, you've always got creative things going on, you've always got ideas for this fun new thing-the well just fills and fills and fills. And since I'm a big kid in adult's clothing, the well is still full.

If you have children, what have you done to encourage their creativity?

I don't have any children, but if I did I would try to raise and encourage them the same way I was. I would give them the creative freedom that my parents gave me. They felt I was responsible and capable enough to handle my creativity. Let children discover on their own, let them find challenges, let them make mistakes, and let them learn from those mistakes.

What do you think are the ideal toys, games, books, activities, and art supplies for promoting creativity?

I love interactive toys and books, but prefer that their main focus not be electronic. There should be much more imagination-based play instead of toys and games that do everything for the child. Interactive toys mixed with imagination allows for a greater sense of self-creative-discovery.

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