Go to the 21st Century Dictionary, look up the word Geek, and you will find a picture of someone who looks just like me. Well... perhaps not as cool, slim and stylish, but just like me in most other ways. I live a very technical, IT-saturated life; many hours, every day, in front of the ol' monitor. A digital Left Brain Mecca, so to speak. For some of those hours, I like to rent out my wide spread of IT skills, slowly and consistently developed over decades of exposure to all things in the computing world.
One day, on a third party work site, I came across a request for someone to create a set of kids colouring pages, one for each letter and single number - but not just any pages. This set was to be done with imagery that looks as if it were created from the mind of world renowned pop artist Keith Haring. Naturally, a self labelled geek with nearly zero exposure to the New York art circuit, I tossed him into the search engine, popped over to the Images tab, and took a look. Holy poppin' circles, lines 'n' dots, Batman! The main body of his artwork is so dynamic, with such simplistic, efficient use of line. Plenty of appeal to someone whose modus operandus has always gravitated to the KISS factor. Here, Keith applies that factor to his art, in some visually triggering ways. The next thing that I know, I'm that guy, ready to meet the request. Let's go, Right Brain.
The Dab and Dot Marker set, to me, seemed to nicely complement the 'bigness' and brevity of Keith's style; and fairly conducive to the needs of a small child for a proper, stimulating starting place when learning to add colour. The spread of 8 marker colours, out of the box, adopts nicely to Keith's typically limited number of colours per work. For me, matching up the precise orange on my paper with the shade used by Keith doesn't seem as significant as does the amount of visual contrast achieved by using a few very bright primary and secondary colours. And I think that's how children will see the issue - far more important to put the mind to wondering about just what is going on the image and choosing from among the colours supplied. Then there's the child who wants to mix it up. We know they're out there. The evidence is hanging proudly on the fronts of many a refrigerator across the nation. For them, these markers are just the thing when exploring your way through the colour spectrum.
Here, you can see where I took 4 colours from the more primary end of the wheel and did some colour overlap testing. There seems to be a technique to be considered when mixing marker colours. And that technique involves timing. I found that, the sooner the second colour was applied, the more mix between the two was achieved. In this pic, it would appear that I've waited a few seconds too long for what was necessary to mix, for example, the blue with the green. However, I did label two crossing points where blue mixed well with red, as well as with yellow. At these two points, one can see a nice subtle purple, and a green, that are not the same shades as the purple and green markers out of the box.
Kids can spend hours in experimentation, working on the right formulae for their favourite shades, should that turn out to be their area of interest. Taking the alphabet, paired up with zero through nine, and throwing those simple elements into Keith Haring's world seemed, at first, quite surreal. After the initial feeling of novelty had firmly established itself, afloat in my creative juice smoothy of a work flow, the feeling fairly quickly developed into one of deep, inward creative challenge.
What to put into to all that space? And how much? How long or complex should the pieces be? Does this look like Keith? Haring's medium is so clearly detailed - bold obvious lines, bright colour sets, consistently active figures, pop art simplicity - and all so critically minimized to the most basic and iconic of constructs. In my attempts to bring out the magic of the mind in my creation of the critters, ordinary objects and backgrounds, figure by figure, I found myself deeply immersed in Keith's formula in portrayal of any given subject. I began to notice a pragmatic and almost mechanical feel to the creation, and limitation, of lines and fill objects.
There is a mutual respect for space, piece to piece, in Keith's work. When it comes to his larger works, one can take it in almost the same way that one first interprets a new map, starting anywhere that catches your initial interest and then just letting the lines lead your eyes around the image. If you'd like to let your eyes journey through some of his world, head on over to:
and work that scroll bar. There, you'll also see plenty of his other styles, many from earlier in his life. Some of his work is downright goofy. And I think that is precisely the frame of mind to have when attempting to build on the creative process, as a kid. As adults, we joke in the colloquial about colouring 'outside the lines' and the arguable silliness of that particular fear.
But, for many kids, that fear starts out as quite real - just as strongly as any ol' fear of an unknown. Our job as the mentor is to put the leaner into a mental state that easily dissolves that fear and turns it into excitement. And seeing it done, in advance of one's attempt, seems to be the critical point in setting creation into motion for the first time. Perhaps you might show your child a few examples of similar pieces of his work, in full colour, just before you get started on the pages I've created, all in a black and white, marker ready, state.
You can download the alphabet and number pages for free, here: http://www.doodlehog.com/activity-sheets
I wanted to make sure not to merely use the same ol' subjects, ubiquitous in kids generic colouring books. It was time to break out the dictionary and do some digging in order to find a new set of image subjects that easily condense, pictorially speaking, and don't rely too heavily on the abstract. I did have a little fun, here 'n' there, with contortion, also prevalent in Haring's work.
As a kind of Rorschach test, ask any knowledgeable toddler which animal is on the Z page, or ask a 10 year old in which country one might see a background like that. I bet most kids will score well. Yet, the firmly sardonic adult may assess that animal as a shaggy sack, marked up with a Sharpie, containing 3 really fat coffee beans, with a set of legs. I guess that's what truly separates the men from the boys, but in a good way.
The 'Keith' element that is not present in this child's collection of number and letter pages is any kind of social message or symbolism - two very prevalent influences operating in the background of most of his work - because this is just kids' stuff. In turn, with that burden taken off, my task was one of joy. I had set to taking an adult created realm of style into the Wonderment Zone where kids spend most of their daydreaming time.
I hope you feel as much when you use them in playing around with your own kids. It turned out that just a hint of recurrence within the collection worked fairly well. For F, it's just about the fish (and the hook). For S, the submarine is surrounded by those same fish. But none of them can be seen hanging around the octopus, nor the turtle. Not a bad way to check a child's sense of continuity and see which are tuned in, are keeping track, are paying attention, may decide to pursue art.
Maybe it's the geek in me, but when I grab one of those ergonomically shaped, knobby sausages and look at that fat, nearly flat tip, my first urge isn't to make a dot. Although, the letter dots do make for a good warmup for the markers - and probably the kids, too. For me, it's all about the wispy streaks and other serendipities that I can tease out of the soft piece of foam that's holding back all that ink.
I guess it's also my decades long, professional music background that influences the way I treat the paper when using a marker this big. I hear Miles in the back of my head... the king of 'less is more'... and the argument he's having in there with my inner child, who just wants to soak the place down with colour. In the end, I think Mr. Davis has it right.