Illustrator shows students how talent can be fun

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Children’s book illustrator Michael P. White paid a visit to the Demopolis Public Library on Tuesday to show the children that they are also illustrators.

The children in grades 3 through 6 enjoyed following White as he drew several unusual and not-so-unusual pictures, from a pirate bear and a frog holding French fries and a tomato (“That’s a fried green toad-mato!” he said) to a sunset scene.

White used several media, from airbrushes to pencils and pens to White-Out.

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White has illustrated “The Library Dragon” and “The Secret of Old Jeb,” both written by Carmen Agra Deedy, and “Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day” by Dawn Lesley Stewart.

“During the year, I do a lot of school programs,” said White, a native of Atlanta, Ga. “During the summer, of course, ‘ Make a Splash’ was the them for libraries from coast to coast, and I try to go to libraries when I can and do this.

“If you like to draw, it’s a fun job. I got involved with children’s books when I met Carmen Deedy, who has written tons of books found here in the library. She saw my funny chickens and took me to Peachtree Publishers. That’s how I got my first big break as an artist.”

White is almost finished with his work on another Deedy work “The Library Dragon 2.” He has other projects lined up as well, including a book about school cafeteria food.

“We’re going to pump it up and make it fun!” he said. “You would think I would pick, but we do the opposite. It’s going to be like ‘Cavern on the Green.’ It’s going to be very funny!”

White spends eight hours a day drawing and has other works going on outside of book illustrations.

“Books came later,” he said. “I did a lot of art festivals for years, like Fairhope, and I did Magic City six times. Alabama has some of the best art shows on the planet. They’ve got Glowing Rock and Northport — I did Northport’s Kentuck show. A lot of my friends do that folk-art festival, one of the top folk-art festivals in the United States.”

Growing up, White knew he would be an artist, but he wasn’t sure what kind of venue would lend itself to his style. He earned an associate of arts degree in graphic design and visual communications at the Art Institute of Atlanta.

“I wanted to get my artwork into galleries — which I did,” he said. “At an art show, I met Carmen Deedy, who took me to a publisher.”

Working with kids is White’s favorite thing about drawing.

“I had no idea that I would go across the world and show students that, ‘Hey, they’re a comic book artist,’ or ‘Hey, they’re possibly an architect.’

“You have so many talents in this room today: the young lady who drew a fish that was amazing. I love when they do their own thing, too, that they have the courage to do something that they want to do. They might be in graphic design; they might design logos for companies and stuff.”

White said that he would encourage budding artists to show their work as much as possible and keep themselves open to whatever opportunity may arise for them to use their talents.

“Every artist has a different path,” he said. “For me, it was meeting a famous author. I would tell students, ‘Exposure, exposure.’ Show your art in as many situations as you can. If there is a contest at school, enter that. If you actually Google ‘art contests,’ you will see that some magazine like Crayola Crayon will have a contest across the nation for a new shirt that they want to do. Enter that.

“The more people see their art — it doesn’t matter if they win or lose — the more they will start to know you as an artist. That’s a great way to get your art out there. You’ve got so many things in Demopolis that I could sit and paint for two weeks!”

White and the students didn’t concentrate on what they were drawing, but they had fun being creative. Those students may or may not find a career using their artistic talents, but they found they can have fun creating a new artwork and are encouraged to continue trying, which leads to succeeding.