Creativity helps kids develop mentally, socially, and emotionally. Illustrator Dustin Hansen gives tips on how you can help your kids bring their art to life.

By Dustin Hansen
April 22, 2020
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Emma Darvick

I love art—everything from finger painting to sculpture and animation to comic books. I love the process and the result. I like creating it myself as well as admiring the work of others. Basically, I'm an art addict. Gimme all the art!

The thing I love about art most is its ability to tell a story. I'm sure a huge part of this is that I am dyslexic and when I was in grade school (back when the dinosaurs walked the earth) it wasn't commonly diagnosed, so I turned to visual cues to help me both tell and read stories.

We've all heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think that's just scratching the surface. And if you, like me, have children that are curious problem solvers, then you've experienced their joy when they make this connection as well.

All of my children (now adults) are artists, and while some of it was by accident, for many years I worked hard to keep their creative bug buzzing by giving them new goals and ideas to work on. Here are five of my—and their—favorites. (Yes, I interviewed them for this article too.)

Add more oomph by asking, 'What if?'

I think one of the hardest things about making art is knowing where to start. I'm sure you've filled a table full of paper, pens, crayons, scissors, and glue, just to be stumped by this question from your child: "What should I draw?" I find giving suggestions of what to draw usually isn't as productive as helping them answer the question themselves. It is difficult to draw something on demand, but if their imagination is along for the ride, things can blossom quickly. Instead of suggesting they draw a sunny day, try asking something like, "What if animals wore clothes? What do you think they'd wear to the beach?" Or instead of suggesting they draw a superhero, ask "What if you had superpowers? What would your costume look like?" Questions like this can really get the brain gears cranking.

Give them a problem to solve.

Illustration is the result of trying to solve a visual problem. It's really what separates illustration from gallery art. They both tell stories at varying levels, but illustrations are specifically there to solve problems. For example, in my book My Video Game Ate My Homework, Dewey, like me, is dyslexic. So, when he mistakenly reads the words on a button he presses, it leads to his demise. (Don't worry, it happens in a video game. He'll be fine!) But rather than write about it, I was able to show him making the mistake.

Giving children a visual problem to solve can be a great way to watch their minds work in action. Asking, "How would a thick-fingered pirate get a ship inside a tiny glass bottle?" can generate a load of fun images and ideas.

Exaggerate.

Who doesn't like to laugh? Or maybe a better question is, what child doesn't like to make someone laugh? Showing them or drawing a funny picture, or series of illustrations like you'd find in a comic, can make sharing art even more fun. Exaggeration is one of the best tricks in a humorist's tool bag.

Instead of a picture of a cat sitting on a windowsill looking out at some songbirds, opt for a scene that is … well, funnier. A cat staring out at a flock of pterodactyls is certainly a different story than a full-grown, king of the jungle, African lion staring out at a couple of terrified sparrows.

Push the limits until your kids are tickling their own funny bones and I promise they'll want to show you their art—whatever it might be.

Give and ask for feedback.

I've often said that the difference between an amateur and a professional artist is one's ability to accept criticism, and perhaps even more importantly, critique their own work. Not that going pro is the goal here, but there are a lot of benefits from commenting, approving, and appreciating the work your children create.

A little "Wow, this is amazing" goes a long way. But asking them what they like, and what they'd like to do better next time, is a great way to encourage them to keep creating.

On that note, be careful—young artists can be tender. But showing them you are invested in their creative goals can be one of the best gifts a parent can give.

Get your hands dirty too.

Creating with your children is a great way to listen to them talk about their problems. There's something about sitting shoulder to shoulder with a handful of crayons that lowers barriers and builds better bonds.

Have fun and stay creative!

Dustin Hansen is an international award-winning video game developer who has directed, wrote, and created art for many bestselling games like The Sims and Madden Football before launching EA's more kid-friendly, story-driven Street Sports franchise. Lately, Hansen finds himself taking his most direct approach to storytelling as an author and illustrator. He is the author of the bestselling book Game On! Video Game History From Pong and Pac-Man to Mario, Minecraft and More, and the illustrated chapter books, Microsaurs. He recently released his debut middle grade graphic novel, My Video Game Ate My Homework. Follow Dustin on Twitter and on Instagram.

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