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Children’s author teaches kids how to illustrate cartoons

-Messenger screenshot by Kelby Wingert
Children’s author and illustrator Mike Artell read part of his book “Petite Rouge,” a cajun-style version of the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” story during a virtual author visit with Fort Dodge elementary school students on Thursday morning.

“You don’t have to be a great artist to be a good cartoonist.”

That was the lesson children’s book author and illustrator Mike Artell shared with several Fort Dodge Community School District elementary students during a virtual author visit on Thursday morning.

Typically in the springtime, the FDCSD brings a children’s author or illustrator to the elementary schools to visit with students. The Fort Dodge Senior High School Alumni Association pays for the visits.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Jen Cole, district library media specialist, had to think outside the box.

That outside the box thinking led to Thursday’s virtual author visit using the video teleconferencing platform Zoom to connect with students. A few dozen students participated in the two Zoom sessions held on Thursday.

-Messenger screenshot by Kelby Wingert
Author and illustrator Mike Artell showed Fort Dodge elementary school students how to illustrate things like a bouncing basketball during a virtual author visit on Thursday morning. Using the Zoom teleconferencing platform, Artell shared his screen with the participants, walking them through the steps of drawing cartoons while the students practiced at home with pencils and paper.

“We had fun with the little kids this morning and I’m excited to see your guys’ drawings today,” Cole said to the second group of students.

A Louisiana native, Artell has written and illustrated more than 35 children’s books, ranging from storybooks putting a Cajun spin on many classic children’s tales, to informational and educational books on animals and insects, to joke books, to cartooning books.

Artell read his Cajun version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” titled “Petite Rouge” to the students before getting started on showing them how to illustrate cartoons.

“If you can draw really well, that’s great, but this is more about being creative and having fun than trying to get this exactly right,” he said. “The whole idea is to be creative and fun and to make people laugh.”

The students at home with their pencils and paper followed along as Artell shared his computer’s screen on Zoom and used his digital drawing tablet to show how he draws cartoons of people.

-Messenger screenshot by Kelby Wingert
During a virtual author visit, author and illustrator Mike Artell showed excerps of some of his books on animals and bugs. In this book, Artell teaches about different animals’ skulls.

Many kids draw people with their faces looking straight out or in profile, the illustrator said.

“And that’s fine,” he said. “But that’s not actually how we see people. When you see people most of the time … what you usually see is their head turned a little bit in what they call three-quarter view. I’m going to show you how to turn that head in different directions.”

Artell encouraged the students to look at drawing subjects in new angles and different perspectives and drawing them that way.

“There’s all kinds of ways to draw things,” he said. “How you look at things makes all the difference.”

While teaching the students how to illustrate a fast-moving racecar and how to show a bouncing basketball, Artell emphasized that to be a good cartoonist, they don’t have to be a great artist.

-Messenger screenshot by Kelby Wingert
Author and illustrator Mike Artell uses his screen-sharing to teach Fort Dodge elementary students how to draw a cartoon of a person looking down and to the side during a virtual author visit on Thursday morning.

“But you must be able to think funny,” he said. “So don’t worry too much about drawing perfect eyes or perfect noses or perfect ears. What’s more important in getting across in your drawings is imagination.”

Artell also shared some of his favorite jokes from a kids’ joke book he’s published.

“What kind of a sea is polite?” he asked. “A courte-sea!”

Artell wrapped up the visit by asking the students to practice a few tongue-twisters from another one of his books.

“Six snakes sniffed six sticks,” the kids said three times fast, to varying degrees of success.

Artell told the students that they could use their creativity to come up with their own tongue-twister and illustrate it themselves.

They all did one last tongue-twister before signing off.

“Rear wheel rims.”

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