Saturday, March 12, 2016

the Scraps book: A Review

I think I'm a little in love with the Scraps book: Notes from a colorful life by Lois Ehlert. I've always enjoyed her books for children that use a "scrappy" approach to illustration. She has a long list of fun books she has written and/or illustrated. Some of my favorites include Growing Vegetable Soup, Hands, Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, Leaf Man, Snowballs, Planting a Rainbow, Boo to You! and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. She has plenty more I would like to explore as well. Maybe we just need to have a Lois Ehlert week where we read her books and try her approach to illustration.


the Scraps book is part autobiography, part art and nature journal. Ehlert describes her beginnings as an artist as a young child. Her parents cultivated this affinity by giving her a space to work, her own art table, and allowed her to collect those scraps of life that make her illustrations so enchanting. She shares pictures of her family and spaces intermingled with illustrations from her books. For example, near a picture of her parents after hunting for wild asparagus, she has a lovely illustration from Eating the Alphabet. She shows the tools such as scissors and brushes. She talks about her parents love for sewing and wood work, which allowed her access to fabric scraps, buttons, wood scraps, and more. Her parents taught her how to paint, sew, and use a hammer. 

Ehlert took her art table to college with her as she studied art. She explained she didn't have book illustrations right away, but kept working and playing with her art. She found ideas from the world around her. She finds ideas in her garden or the produce section at the grocery store. 

In Nuts to You (illustration below), she was inspired when  squirrel snuck into her house! I love that many of her books include nature and understanding the world around us. 


Ehlert also shows her process for making some of the art and how she chooses the words. In explaining Fish Eyes, she has a list of "fishy" words, how she was inspired on a trip to the aquarium, and a tutorial of how to make your own fish aquarium art project! She also shares her collection of ice fishing decoys, which are part of her inspiration. 

She shares different perspectives from Feathers for Lunch, writing from the cat's viewpoint and the cat owner's viewpoint. She shares the process of sketching out a whole book. I love how it shows who she will put together various birds, like the Northern Flicker. She studied one in the Field Museum in Chicago to make hers realistic. She shares the process of negotiating the words and pictures to make the story come to life. 


Ehlert explains the process of collar and bringing all the scraps together to make a picture, interspersed with her rough drawings of how she hopes the illustration will turn out. Examples from her books abound. On one page, she makes a collage of the bottom of her shoes as scraps always stick there in the studio. It sounds a little bit messy of a project and she says she's messy and her wastebasket overflows. 

She even includes a recipes for a bird treat, using a slice of bread, cookie cutter, egg white, and bird seed. Her love for nature is evident in the details of her work. She shares tools she uses for textures, such as a toothbrush or grater. She shows inspiration from folk art and toys. She even scans in basic items like a bottle cap, pencil, cinnamon stick, evergreen branch, or pinecones for use in her illustrations. She might go for a walk, looking for specific natural items in her work, like black locust seed  pods or crab apples. She states, "Mother Nature gives me free art supplies" as she describes Leaf Man. 


She shares that art chose her. :-) She encourages others who feel art may have chosen them to "find a spot to work, and begin."

The pictures from her life, collages, sketches, and planning pieces come together for a delightful look at the process Lois Ehlert uses to create her work. What an inspiration! 

I always like to look at how I might use a book. Additionally, each book by her would have specific activities to try. Here are ideas I found for the Scraps book:

Discussion Questions and Learning Activities to extend the book
Interview with Ehlert
Readers Theater
Interviews, Activities, and Collage Suggestions

We would definitely do edible art, a nature walk with a collage art experience afterward, and a "scraps" station for inspiration. I love that this connects so much to nature!


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