Each year, Lower School Visual Art Teacher Sarah Garner brings in a local artist to spend time with our youngest learners. This year, Beasley students received an extra treat: a second guest artist virtual visit! Last semester, the Seeds of Happiness Guy (a favorite at MICDS) shared a pre-recorded video for a virtual assembly.
This semester, St. Louis author and illustrator Dan Killeen did the same.
Killeen recorded a video introducing himself to Lower School students, who are already familiar with his work since they’ve read the first half of his book, Robert and the Robots. He shared a bit about his own childhood, his process, and his journey to becoming a writer and illustrator.
He encouraged young artists to find a bit of quiet time every day to read, write, or draw. Do something with your mind, with your fingers, so you’re not always in front of the television or playing video games. When he was little he would practice drawing by imitating the comic strips out of the newspaper. He had his own space in the form of a desk where he kept markers and pencils. Since he’s one of eight children, this desk was probably pretty important to him! His father brought home recycled paper from the office, and Killeen used the blank backs to draw and color.
Killeen showed how he starts working on a book, with rough sketches and notes about how he’d like the story to play out. It was a great example to show students that art isn’t created perfectly all at once but is a working process. What it takes, he said, is sitting down by yourself, turning off the television and the internet, and having some quiet time to write and come up with ideas. As he reflected on his own childhood, he advised that it’s good to have your own quiet space in your house, without any distractions, where you can think and create.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create books, he said, and suggested that students could set aside a drawer with books, paper, pencils, and markers. He also said that students shouldn’t wait for their teachers to assign a story. Write and illustrate your own stories, and if you have a stapler, you can even make your own book.
Beasley students also spent some time in front of the camera before Killeen’s visit, asking him questions. Killeen was happy to answer them. He spoke about how his Tillie, Clementine, and Mikey books are based on his brother’s family, and the title characters are his nieces and nephew.
He considers himself both an author and an illustrator and explained that as he’s coming up with ideas, he writes and draws at the same time. Sometimes his ideas bubble up as he’s drawing, and other times he writes the story first and then creates drawings to illustrate it. “I connect with all the characters. I think each character has a little bit of me in them,” said Killeen.
He offered some advice on how to come up with a story idea. “The recipe is to take something you’re kind of familiar with, maybe a friend of yours, and you’re walking down the street, and then add something silly. Like suddenly a giant chicken jumped out and started chasing them. Right there you have the beginning of a story. Or you could write a story about something that happened at school, or something that happened at the swimming pool. Anything in your life is fair game to make a cool story out of,” he said.
“I hope reading my books makes reading fun and it might inspire some kids to write and illustrate their own books.”
He recommended that students ask their teacher or librarian to find more fun books to read.
Killeen then demonstrated how he draws a robot and a dinosaur (two of his most favorite things to draw), and how he draws Tillie, Clementine, and Mikey. He finished his video by reading the second half of Robert and the Robots to students (they read the first part in anticipation of Killeen’s visit).
Thank you to the talented Dan Killeen for visiting our Lower School students and sharing great stories, helpful advice on how to read, write, and illustrate, and his creative process! Please visit happyfunbooks.com to explore more of Mr. Killeen’s books and creative ideas.