Fueling the Creative Flame

Eric Carle

An author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle is the co-founder, along with his wife, of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. He is also the father of two grown children.

What did your parents do to encourage creativity?

I was born to German immigrant parents in Syracuse, NY-where I went to first grade in Miss Frickey's sun-filled classroom with large sheets of paper, fat brushes, and colorful paints. Miss Frickey recognized my talent at drawing and painting and told my parents to nurture my creative interests. And they did.

Also, when I was a small boy, my father would take me on walks in the woods and introduce me to the small creatures who lived under rocks and beneath bark. I have very fond memories of these times and how my father helped me to see the beauty in the natural world. In my books, I honor my father by writing about small living things.

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

I didn't have many books as a child. But I grew up in a four-family house. We sat together and my aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents talked and argued about various topics, the whole time telling stories. Their voices and stories made up a kind of oral tradition within the family. At some point I realized that this is where my ability as a storyteller came from.

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

If you love to do something, like draw or paint or play music, do it. Roll up your sleeves and begin your work! Also try to remain open and see the beauty in small things that are easy to overlook in nature and in the world around you. In a museum, I like to look closely at a large masterpiece and study a very small area of brush strokes. I am fascinated by the small world of brush strokes isolated from the painting itself. Try it sometime and you too will be amazed.

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

Of course, my books. But one thing that is not book-related, which I am most proud of, is designing and creating the costume and scenery for a production of The Magic Flute for the Springfield Symphony. It was performed as a semi-staged opera for only one day, but it was most satisfying and gratifying. And the opening of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I feel a connection to the child in me still, and I try to entertain that child when I am creating my books.

What have you done to encourage your kids' creativity?

I have tried to listen to my children and understand who they are as unique individuals. They are both adults now and have done creative work at different times in their lives.

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

I personally think a simple set of paints or box of crayons and paper can be the best way to begin.

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