Studio: A Place for Art to Start – Emily Arrow and the Little Friends of Printmaking (JW and Melissa Buchanan), Tundra Books, 2020
Children’s books about art often focus on one or two media. One of the many welcome qualities of Studio: a Place for Art to Start, is its simple and patient explanation of creativity itself. What is a studio, who works there, and what exactly do they do? With boldly outlined and brightly colored animals as a guide, and plenty of objects connected with designing, making, and performing, this is a perfect introduction to how artists work, as they follow a path from idea to realization.
Combining general ideas, “A place to be creative, wherever that might be,” with specific examples, “A habitat for makers/with string and sculpting clay,” Emily Arrow’s words and the Little Friends’ pictures teach by example. Making art is a joyous project where individuals dream and groups collaborate.
The story begins as one grownup and one child rabbit enthusiastically approach a building bustling with activity. The authors sets the broad parameters: “A place to build and dream and move,/A place for art to start.” Silhouettes in the windows portray animals engaged in music, painting, and sewing. Art is definitely not just one thing, and artists don’t only use paint! In another engaging image, an airy skylight and tall shelves stacked with tools and paint impress the reader with the scale of some artists’ work.
The tallest character in the room, a painter bear, seems small by comparison with his own canvas, and the smallest character, the child rabbit, even seems intimidated. Don’t worry. From towering attic to “tiny nook,” there is an appropriate setting for everyone’s creative impulses.
By the time the young rabbit arrives at the sculptor’s studio, she seems entirely comfortable. While her parent learns about how to use a potter’s wheel from a duck, she is happily seated at a table experimenting with the clay and kaolin stacked beneath. The stuffed rabbit which she has been carrying for security is now sitting by itself, while a goose in a tutu can be seen dancing next door. Different types of creations, visual and performative, can take place at the same time. While that may seem obvious to adults, children will find it encouraging that not everyone’s needs for self-expression are the same. Arrow helpfully reminds them also that sometimes artists need a break, as they “simply stop to play.”
Caregivers may feel saturated with books about STEM; welcome to Studio, where scientists don’t have a monopoly on group-centered innovation. The mice in their printmaking workshop are generating ideas, some of which are clearly represented on a small whiteboard, and using trial and error to dream up, produce, and improve their projects. The small details in each picture who the illustrators’ attentiveness to a child’s point of view. Ink puddles on the floor, a mouse hauling jars on a shelf, and another mouse storing their work on a specially designed tray, are as significant as the big picture of creating beauty.
The universal language of music, performed by animals in wild costumes, has the young rabbit dancing. Meanwhile, a sewing machine, tailor’s shears, and other tools provide a visual explanation of how the arts are interrelated. Every image in the book reflects both the individuality of art and the distinctive personality of its practitioners. The tailor cat quietly smiles as he watches the band perform.
Art is about freedom, and the author and illustrators know how important this idea is to children. Some of their education must be geared towards productivity and success, while Studio emphasizes exploration. Each artist learns that her environment is unique: “Make it your own, an artists’ home,” where splashes of paint can tell her story, and the audience is unlimited. This unusual book for children generates excitement and affirms the importance of art, tracing the different routes imagination takes for each of us.