Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peter Catalanotto: Creativity is Messy


In my notebooks I write but I also sketch, because I think with pictures. Actually, half the people in our country think with pictures. If writing is frustrating for you, try drawing your ideas first--then when you write, you're simply describing your pictures!

When writing in my notebook it's important for me to write down imaginary thoughts as well as real ones because most of the ideas for my stories are a combination of my real life and my imagination. No matter how strange or silly a story is, it usually starts with something true from the writer's life. For instance, in my alphabet book, MATTHEW ABC, a teacher has 25 kids in her class and they're all named Matthew. The idea came from the fact that when I was in kindergarten there were two kids in my class named Peter. I was Peter C., the other boy was Peter S. I simply exaggerated real life to create a story!

Try this: the next time something happens in your life that disappoints you or makes you sad, write about it in your notebook--writing often helps us understand our feelings and things that happen to us. Then when you feel better, write what could have happened instead; what you wish happened!

Before I create a picture in a book, I sketch in my notebook how I want the picture to look. Here's a sketch from my book MORE OF MONKEY & ROBOT.

Click to Enlarge this Image

I never use my first ideas when I write and draw. First ideas are not very good. Writers and artists need to find their best ideas! Writing and drawing is exploring ideas. Even though your first draft or sketch isn't the best, don't throw it away! Look at it so you can see how to make it better!

Some ideas in my notebooks are for stories, like these notes for my book EMILY'S ART, and some things are just for fun because I love to sketch.

Click to Enlarge this Image

Remember, creativity is messy. A notebook is a great place to keep your mess! Have fun!


Peter Catalanotto grew up in East Northport, New York. He has illustrated 47 books for children, 17 of which he wrote. Peter has visited over 1600 schools in 40 states. In 2008, he was commissioned by the First Lady to paint the White House holiday brochure and currently teaches the first children’s book writing class offered at Columbia University and his alma mater; Pratt Institute. For more information go to: petercatalanotto.com


Much gratitude to Peter himself for offering signed book giveaways to two commenters on this post.  One will win MONKEY AND ROBOT and the other will win Peter's newest book, THE NEWBIES.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, December 6 to be entered into this drawing.

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10 comments:

  1. An excellent mentor for students who will be the authors and illustrators of their own books!

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  2. I love so many of Peter's books. Two of my favorites that he's illustrated are My Mother's Voice and An Angel for Solomon Singer. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Thanks, Amy and Peter, for this great peek inside a lively creation process! Messy and wonderful. Love the Matthew ABC backstory.

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  4. Great books and even better ideas! Creativity can be very messy. Plus Peter has a great way of teaching drawing a face that is non-threatening. The stories behind the stories are always entertaining, too.

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  5. It's great to see some of Peter's notebooks and here about the sketching help for ideas. That visual look is sometimes the exact thing that helps a story. Thanks Amy and Peter.

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  6. Thanks so much for the glimpse into your notebooks and your process! I appreciate the encouragement given here that I can share with my students and with my own children. My son definitely thinks with pictures and writes to describe his images.

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  7. I've always wished that I could draw. Since I'm critical of my lack of art skills, I never sketch out my ideas. Perhaps I should just give myself a break, try it, and see what happens!

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  9. "Creativity is messy." That's absolutely framable!

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