Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Roy Lichtenstein

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Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) takes a break in this Roy Lichtenstein-inspired photo paint-over by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

American pop art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein began drawing as a hobby, and enjoyed drawing portraits of this favorite jazz musicians playing their instruments. He enrolled in classes at Art Students League of New York his last year in high school in 1939, but it wasn’t until the 1960s, when he was a teacher at Rutgers University, that he began creating his pop art paintings that incorporated his cartoon-style images influenced by commercial printing techniques.

His portraits often featured thick outlines, bright, bold color schemes, and a pattern known as Ben-Day dots, a printing method named after printer Benjamin Day using dots to give the illusion of color. This method was common in early color comic strips and books.

Lichtenstein worked primarily in oil and an early form of acrylic paint called magna, and incorporated these painting methods to give his paintings the illusion of being a photographic reproduction.

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Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots were always popular. All images: Wikicommons.

One of his best known works, the 1963 painting Drowing Girl in which a singing woman dramatically exclaims “I don’t care! I’d rather sink than call Brad for help!”, was his take on a panel from DC Comics’ pulpy romance series Secret Love #83. Another piece, the Disney-inspired Look Mickey, was the result of his son looking at a Mickey Mouse comic and saying to his dad, “I bet you can’t paint as good as that.”

His painting Whaam!, actually a painting of the word itself in dramatic comic book letters, is considered one of pop art’s earliest examples. Many of his works were very close copies to the image that inspired them, like an ad or comic book panel, and he even worked on a series where he added his own style in reproductions of pieces by other famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso.

Lichtenstein also worked with sculpture and screenprinting, and even in his last decade of life, he was working on new series that turned everyday images into pop art. He died in 1997 at age 73.

Despite his work being shown in galleries from Tate Modern in London to Museum of Modern Art in New York, some critics discounted the comic strip appeal of his works as trite. One Life Magazine article in 1964 posed the question as to whether Lichtenstein was the “Worst Artist in the U.S.”

Today, Lichtenstein’s legacy has risen high above any complaints from his critics, as some of his works have sold for millions of dollars. His style is now copied by many, including a recent trend of recreating his look on real-life people with make-up and face painting techniques.

The Project: Hero Paint-overs

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Scarlett vs. Scarlet….came out bit too “Material Girl,” bit still follows the idea.

Remember, some of Lichtenstein’s most popular pieces were near copies of something else, but were still his original works. (Though this ‘borrowing’ has detractors.)

We’re going to take a cue from the makeup artists who turn real-life models into pop art, but we’re not actually going to use a real face.

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Find a face and get ready for the project.

Instead, print out a portrait photo of a character or personality on card stock or thick drawing paper. Square images look best for this. Make sure it’s printed lightly, because you’re going to paint over it…just like a comic book inker!

First, use a dark marker, like a felt tip, and draw over the contours of the person’s face, so it starts to look like the edges of a coloring book. Do this first, because when you go back to paint over the image, you’ll  have a better guide.

Next, using lighter colors, paint over the face. Then paint the background, hair, clothes, or any larger spaces. Paint thin enough so you can still faintly see the detail below. Primary colors were used heavily by Lichtenstein: Don’t be stingy with blues, reds, and yellows.

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Little use felt tips and acrylics to turn a photo into a painting.

Using brighter paint and makers, outline as much of the face as you can once more, so it starts to look like it was drawn image, rather than a photograph.

Paint (or paste on) a think bubble or quote box, and give that character something to say. It can be sad, dramatic, meaningful, or just plain funny. Lichtenstein used thin, simple letters for his words. They don’t have to be fancy.

Once you get the details you want, add the Ben-Day dots of brighter colors to the skin area of the portrait. This is the hardest part, because you want to keep the dots in fairly straight grid, not just random. This process will take some time and patience. Felt tip markers work well for it, but wait for all paint you use to dry first.

Once done, you’ve done one of the things that made Lichtenstein famous, make a near-copy of something else, but with your own touch to make a completely new work.

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Once the painting process is complete…don’t forget those dots.

Lichtenstein even talked about this, in a response to his critics, in a quote found in a 1972 biography by John Coplans:

“The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content,” he said. “However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different.”

 

Originally ran in Geekmom June 22, 2015.

How the Men of Top Gear Became Part of The Family

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It’s been old and new Top Gear episodes after dinner for some time, bringing our family closer together. Thank you, boys.

I had been planning to write commentary about BBC’s Top Gear as a Father’s Day post long before boisterous host Jeremy Clarkson punched out his producer. It just happens to be perfect timing, when this story first ran in GeekMom on June 21, that Clarkson  got his official “heave-ho” from the BBC with Chris Evans (the British television host, not Captain America) named as his official replacement.

I wasn’t happy about this development.

In 2012, BBC new sources announced Top Gear was the most watched factual television program in the world, and now has 22 series (seasons) under its belt, along with several specials. There have even been international versions for the show, including an American one. I don’t really care about those.

For me, Top Gear has simply been a much-needed bonding experience for my father and my family that I’ve valued greatly.

When my mother passed away rather suddenly a few years ago, my parents were well on their way to 50 years of marriage, and were planning several trips. Not long after her death, my father underwent back and hip surgeries as well as other medical problems that put his own travels on hold for a while. It hasn’t been easy on him or any of us.

As much as I complain about the bleary-eyed television culture today, it has been through watching movies and certain shows together that has given us opportunities to talk.

My father regularly joins my family for dinner, and we began watching just one show over dessert, so he doesn’t feel like he has to go back home immediately. We started out introducing him to all my Michael Palin travel videos, then BBC’s Sherlock, Elementary, and especially Top Gear.

I grew up in a car and motorcycle-loving home. My father worked as a mechanic in his early years, and was a member of the Triumph Motorcycle racing team. When he got his first teaching job after college, he special ordered a 1966 Fastback Mustang GT 289. Wow! He drove it to his first day of work. He since went on to being named Superintendent of the Year for the State of Texas in his more than 40 years of education, and drove that same car to work just before his retirement. He still has it today.

I’ve watched him re-build the engine, enter car shows, get a new paint job (in the original color), and was even able to drive it to high school a couple of times. I have to keep my distance from that car today, as my mom promised it to my brother. As a result, I just look at it longingly with a touch of sibling-style resentment. Hey, I’m only human. Also, my father did me a disservice by sharing his appreciation of motorcycles with me, then making me promise not to get one of “those dangerous things.”

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The men of Top Gear have started to feel like family to me. Mind you, we don’t always get along with family, but we always love them. Image: BBC.

He did give me an appreciation for the engineering, physics, artistic value, and practicality of the automobile. I built a few models growing up, and knew some little tricks like turning a little plastic Chevy engine into a Ford by changing where the distributor cap set. My father bought me my first set of slot cars, and my Cobra racing jacket.

It just seemed natural that we’d eventually begin drinking the Top Gear Kool-Aid. We had seen a couple of episodes in the past, but became hooked when we watched them make their way across Africa in their little aged estate cars.

There have been times that show has made us all laugh so hard we’ve cried, including my husband who we’ve had to initiate into the Petrolhead fold. We’ve also been fascinated, amazed, and at times, thanks to Clarkson, a little miffed.

Clarkson has really put off my father, a proud Air Force veteran, with his unsavory comments about the United States, but we’ve learned Clarkson is an equal opportunity offender. He has racked up some nice complaints from viewers worldwide. I think he actually had rocks thrown at him in Argentina, if I’m not mistaken. We’ve just learned to take his talk with a grain of salt.

Despite this, my father has bestowed one of the highest honors on Clarkson and the rest of Top Gear threesome of hosts, he can give another man:

“He knows his cars.”

I do like Clarkson, believe it or not. I like all three Top Gear hosts, and over the past few months we’ve amped up our Top Gear watching, they have become just three more of the men in my life. They certainly all remind me of men I know and knew well.

Clarkson is one of those seemingly pompous jerks I avoid like the plague, but then he makes a comment I agree with one hundred percent, and find out he’s the guy I always end up hanging out with and talking to at parties neither of us wanted to attend in the first place.

James May’s laid back demeanor, and reluctance to completely shake what appears to have been quite the rock and roll past, is also familiar to me. I actually have a bit of crush on this man, but my husband shouldn’t fret. I think I may have actually been married to him for the past 20 years.

Richard Hammond is our family favorite. Even my daughter yells “Hammond!” when he comes on the screen, like she’s the first one to spot a deer. The polar opposite of Clarkson and May, Hammond seems to emphatically love life, and everything and everyone in it. It wouldn’t be a show with his contagious smile. Several “Hammonds” followed me around in college, and I should never have turned one down for that date. It might have been fun.

Then, of course there’s the anonymous racer, The Stig, who makes his way around the track listening to Abba songs in German, while casually tearing up the pavement. Everyone in our home loves The Stig, no matter who is in the suit. We love his international “cousins,” and the Stigisms: “Some say he invented the month of November and has a full size tattoo of his face….on his face!”

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Thank goodness there are 22 seasons of this threesome to catch upon, even if they aren’t in any future shows.

We love the set up of the show, and how everyone gets to gather around the cars like the many conversations we’ve had standing around in the garage. We love the Celebrities in the Reasonably Priced Car segment…and all of us agree we really want to give that test track and its “Gambon” turn a go.

The show has also opened my mind a little, too. I’ve always been a bit of a prejudice when it comes to cars, as my dad was a loyal Ford Man. How can you not be when you own one of Carol Shelby’s creations? Now, I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a McLaren 650S.

No matter what happens in the future of the show, whether Evans brings it to a refreshing new level or the lack of Clarkson’s lovably offense baritone brings it down. I’ll personally miss the personality clash and camaraderie between the three current hosts, and seeing all 6’5″ of Clarkson try to squeeze into little compact vehicles.

I’ve heard, just in rumor, that Hammond and May are planning on leaving as well, and joining Clarkson on a new venture to rival the show. The future of the “new” show doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is what it has done for my family in the past.

It’s brought us together, educated us, embarrassed us, insulted us, and flattered us. It has given us reason to smile, cheer, and think. It has made us want to turn our backs on it once or twice, but always drew us back with its charm and wit. In turn, it has been like a member of the family. We don’t always get along, but we wouldn’t be happy not having them in our lives.

Thank you, Top Gear, with your juvenile phallic jokes and Clarkson’s self-righteous smirk you just want to slap off when he wins a challenge. Thank you for tempting us with cars we couldn’t afford even the tire rims to, and going to beautiful places we may never get to see in person. Thank you for letting me see what a disappointingly bad driver my favorite actor and Time Lord is. Thank you for that awkward moment when my 5-year-old asked “what’s a bellend?”

Most of all, however, thank you for consistently entertaining us and, when real life isn’t always that agreeable, thank you for giving us and my father a place to escape to, at least for a half hour.

Clarkson’s final Top Gear episode aired on BBC on June 28, and the original cast will announce their new endeavor soon.

Bonus DIY: Lego Stig!

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My little Lego Stig, joining the legion of these little brick racers everywhere.

The Phenomenon of the Lego Stig is something Top Gear fans have been doing for some time. Hit Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr with #legostig and BOOM!… he’s out there.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Every Top Gear fan should have a Lego Stig. Just put together plain white Lego figure pieces and astronaut or racer helmet, or spray paint them all plain. Use a black face piece, or color a clear one with a black marker.

Now you have your very own Stig!

Some say he’s really only one nanometer tall without his platform boots…and that he’s planning on revealing he is actually being made of Mega Bloks!

All we know is…he’s called Lego Stig!

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Corita Kent

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Used inspiring words in artistic way, as artist Corita Kent Did. In this project, this using favorite inspiring phrases from fictional characters.

The Artist: Corita Kent

Kent incorporated her Rainbow Swash design in items like the 1985 Love postage stamp and a Boston water tower. It was even used on the cover of her book,Kent was born in Iowa in 1918, and entered the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles in 1938. She lived and worked in the community for 30 years, eventually as head of the Art Department, and moved to Boston in 1968 when she left the Order. She lived in Boston until she passed away in 1986.

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Kent incorporated her Rainbow Swash design in items like the 1985 Love postage stamp and a Boston water tower. It was even used on the cover of her book, “Learning by Heart.”

Kent was often considered in the same realm of influential pop artists like Andy Warhol, particularly for her silk screen work, and did use logos from advertising in some of her works. She would often use logos and symbols or mottoes of American consumerism alongside spiritual texts, and would manipulate the image by ripping or crumbling it before re-photographing it to create a new image for printing.

Two of Kent’s most famous works can be found on everyday items. The water tank in Boston is one of her most famous. There were even some who believed there was a hidden image of Vietnamese Leader Ho Chi Minh as a protest to the Vietnam War, although Kent denied any intentional meaning. The original tank, created in 1971, was demolished, but the image was recreated on a newer tank in the 1990s. Her other design is the simple design for the 1985 “Love” United States postage stamp. Both of these incorporated her “Rainbow Swash.”

No matter what her subject, her symbolism, source, or style, many art experts and art lovers will remember Kent for the optimism in her work. One word often seen in her work was “love,” a beautiful sentiment on both sacred and secular grounds.

She even kept a list of “Art Department Rules” from Immaculate Conception College, which put into play many of her rules for a positive, creative attitude and hard-working ethics. The full list can be seen the book by Kent and Jan Steward, Learning by Heart: Teachings To Free The Creative Spirit.

“Be happy whenever you can manage it,” Kent’s Rule Nine stressed. “Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.”

The Project: Fictional Character, Real Inspiration

Even through Kent’s most famous works were serigraphs, the feel of brush strokes was often part of them, as was in her “rainbow swash” pieces. This project will take advantage of the look of free-spirited brush strokes and give young artists a fun break from crayons and markers.

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Choose phrases, words, or even letters that represent a favorite quote or inspiring message from a real or fictional source.

Use acrylics or other opaque craft paint for look that better resembles the screen print process, but avoid watercolors or other softer, lighter media that won’t stand out as well for this style.

It is always easier to use pencils and markers, but running a brush along a page can be very therapeutic and makes you feel, as our youngest daughter says, “like a real artist.” This experience can be taken even further by squeezing out several paint colors on a paper plate, for a make-shift artist palate.

First, find a quote, letter, or word related to a favorite superhero or character, that is particularly inspiring. There should be a deep, deep well of these from which to choose.

Use a thick piece of drawing paper or canvas and draw a pattern, symbol, color scheme, or image that represents the source of the quote. If the quote will be written over the image or pattern, let it dry completely before painting on the words.

When you look at Kent’s work, she often let the words flow organically onto the page, and didn’t try to force them onto one tidy line. Don’t try to create a “meme;” paint a picture. If the word is too long for the canvas, continue it on the next line as if it were the most natural thing in the world. One of Kent’s works, “I Love You Very Much,” is a perfect example of this type of word flow.

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“Hero” was the word of choice for both my daughters, but they each interpreted it in their own way.

Don’t necessarily go for the obvious images. Both my daughters decided to interpret the word “Hero” for Captain America with the same red, white, and blue color scheme using the same type of background. While my oldest drew the more familiar shield, she added an American flag. My five-year-old also chose a flag (without knowing her sister did, too), but created and entirely different piece.

Same word, same colors, same image… entirely different styles.

Kent might have have liked this, as she listed in Rule Four: “Consider everything an experiment.”

Originally ran in GeekMom on June 13, 2015.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Pablo Picasso

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Picasso could take a few simple lines, or even one continuous line, and create a recognizable image. Pictured are Picasso-style line drawings of “monsters” Cousin Itt and a one-line Mike Wazowski.

The Artist: Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was an interesting man from the day he was born in 1881 in Spain, as his full name is 23 words long: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

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Images: Wikicommons

It was evident early on he would be an artist or writer, judging by his first word, “piz,” short for “lapiz,” the Spanish word for pencil. He also had the advantage of having an artist as a father, and began formal training at age 7. He had surpassed his own father’s talent by age 13.

Art critics often separate Picasso’s different phases into “periods,” his most famous being his Blue Period in 1901 to 1904, a time characterized for his somber paintings often rendered in shades of blue, blue-green, or grey. This was followed by a Rose Period from 1904 to 1906, with more of a French influence with brighter colors and more pleasant themes.

He worked in several styles including etchings, linoleum cuts, pochoir stencil, sculpture, and collage, but he is most remembered as one of the founders of the Cubism movement. In this avant-garde style of abstract art, objects are broken down, so that the viewer may look at them from all angles at once, rather than just one.

The site Picasso Head allows artists to try their hand at Cubism with different types of faces, facial features, and abstract designs to use.

As Picasso grew older, his work became more daring, as he used more color and expression. He also enjoyed mixing several styles.

Picasso lived a long life, and continued to entertain friends until the end. He and his wife were hosting friends for dinner in France when he died in 1973. He was 91.

As dark and solemn as some of Picasso’s most famous works are, his lighter, joyous side is recognizable even to young art lovers, and Picasso was always an advocate for art being something everyone can… and should… enjoy. He said as much in an interview in Time magazine in the mid-1970s:

“All children are artists,” he said. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

The Project: One-line Mythical Creatures

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Once you’ve drawn your beast, add some color or leave it simple. On the hippogriff and Cornish Pixie, for example, the main animal was drawn with just one line.

Picasso may have mastered some pretty complex-looking methods, but his simple form of line drawing demonstrated how a form can take shape, even with just one continuous line. Many of his images, like his familiar Animals series, were done with just one line, and other works are just a few simple lines and strokes of color.

We’re going to try what Picasso made look the easiest, the “one line” drawings. I say “made look” easy, because creating an image with just one continuous, simple stroke may take little physical effort, but much thinking through beforehand. The lesson here is knowing what you want to draw in your head before your hand puts it onto paper.

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Five-year-old Erin tries her hand a drawing a “magic flamingo” with just a couple of lines.

First, and most importantly, think of what creature you want to create. Make sure it’s simple, like a basilisk or leviathan. Don’t try to do any mutli-headed hydras your first time out (although by all means, feel free to get more complicated as you gain more confidence). Use a toy, photo, or book illustration as a guide if you need, but don’t try to copy it perfectly. Instead, take a marker, crayon, or paintbrush and try to recreate this creature without lifting the drawing implement off the paper.

Don’t use a pencil or source you can erase. Challenge yourself. If it doesn’t work out, draw another. Keep the older drawings and look at your progress when you are done.

Once you’ve mastered a simple creature, branch out and try one-line or two-line dragons, orcs, gargoyles, minotaurs, or whatever strikes your fancy. Branch out beyond the Greek and Roman to more “contemporary myths” like Pokemon critters to Monsters, Inc. scare floor employees.

You don’t have to just use black lines. Try different colors or add an extra line or two of color when you are finished. Not too much, though. Remember, the beauty is in the simplicity.

Picasso demonstrated the importance of keeping good ideas in your head in a famous 1949 image by Gjon Mili for Life magazine, in which he was photographed drawing a one-line centaur in the air with a small light source. This “instant Picasso” was thought up, created, and gone in a few seconds.

If he was able to do this without even seeing what the finished product would come out like until the photograph was printed, just think about what can be created when you can see the work in progress.

Picasso was never one to shrink from a challenge.

“Others have seen what is and asked why,” he said in Pablo Picasso: Metamorphoses of the Human Form: Graphic Works, 1895-1972. “I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”

Originally ran in GeekMom on June 4.

Doodle Lit Gives Readers of All Ages Interactive Experience

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Catch the Doodle Bug with Doodle Lit, the recent publication by the creators of BabyLit.

The colorful simplicity of the Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver BabyLit series has been introducing beginner readers to the world of classic literature since 2011, by teaching simple concepts like counting, weather, colors, and opposites with classics like Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, and Anna Karenina.

Now, readers of all ages can increase their literary appreciation through the ageless practice of doodling with their interactive book, Doodle Lit.

The book includes several doodle prompts based on the works of authors like Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Charlotte Brontë, and others.

Doodlers can doodle some autobiographic sketches inspired by illustrations from Jane Eyre’s life, compose a Shakespearean-style love letter, try their hand at tattoo design inspired by Moby Dick character Queequeg, and even “Hot Rod” up an 18th century buggy.

Both Adams and Oliver explain the importance of the act of doodling in the book’s introduction, as well as what this simple artistic practice means for them.

“Doodling is such a simple form of being creative,” Adams says in her introduction comments. “When you doodle, you usually allow yourself to do it freely—you’re not worrying about trying to make a final piece of art or worrying what someone else will think.”

This book maintains the simple look of the BabyLit series, only in the black-and-white line style indicative of the many popular “doodling” books available from different authors and publishers.

Another nice feature are the periodic “historical footnotes” included throughout the book. Young doodlers can learn such diverse facts as what a scrimshaw was to sailors and what the national bird of India is (peacock), as well as which Brontë sister wrote what.

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Fans of the BabyLit series will recognize the clever minds behind Doodle Lit.

Although the BabyLit series is geared towards toddlers and beginning readers, don’t make the assumption that Doodle Lit is also just for children. The book may be created with the intention of helping get kids more excited about classic books, but this is something even adults will love doing.

Young children will relish the sheer pleasure of coloring, drawing, writing, cutting out masks, and creating collages using classic literature as source material. Tweens and teens can even get into the prospect of adding their own contemporary creative aspects to timeless classics. This will even be a gateway for young adult readers to be inspired to learn more about the stories and books behind these projects.

For adults, it is a chance to rediscover the classics they may have already read, as well as have an incentive to read those classics they may never have gotten a chance to yet. This would be a fun coffee table book to add to now and again, or you could keep a set of drawing implements nearby for guests to contribute their own “works of art” to a favorite story.

Adams has written two classic lit-inspired books for adults, including Y is for Yorick: A Slightly Irreverent Shakespearean ABC Book for Grown-Ups Hardcover, which would be fun companion gift with Doodle Lit.

There are plenty of books and authors who seemed to be noticeably missing from this series. J.R.R. Tolkien and Jules Verne come to mind, but there is only so much space in one book. This volume is primed for follow-ups; maybe with some focused on specific genres, like poetry or science fiction. Adams and Oliver have certainly opened up the possibilities.

Whether Adams and Oliver ever decide to create a second Doodle Lit volume is up to them, but as for the reader, the question remains “To “Doodle” or “Not To Doodle.”

The answer is clear—and written plainly on the cover—by all means, “Doodle.”

“When you’re young, you’re smart enough to know that art is fun,” Adams says in the introduction. “When we get older, sometimes we forget that. Art is fun. Just doodle.”

Review originally ran in GeekMom on June 1.