book review

book cover

Drawing Projects For Children by Paula Briggs.

Black Dog Publishing.

Reviewed by Julianne Negri


How would you like a drawing book that encourages risk taking in art? A book that emphasises process over product? A book that encourages experimentation within guidance? A book that is full of messy-get-your-hands-dirty drawing projects? In short, a book with smudgy fingerprints all over it? Well if these things tick your boxes like they tick mine, Paula Briggs’, Drawing Projects for Children published by Black Dog Publishing is the art book for you.

Paula Briggs has not only created a beautiful object with this book. She has created a welcome antidote to a world (wide web) full of outcome based children’s activities that seem to be all about the photo opportunity to display on whatever platform – blog/insta/facebook/twitter – a parent chooses. She says in the section aimed at the facilitator:

“For children to get the most out of drawing, they need to be encouraged to push beyond what they consider ‘safe’ (‘safe’ drawings are those in which we know what the outcome is going to be before we have even started making them) and to take risks. By doing so they will widen their concept of what drawing is and what they are capable of achieving.”

DP4K-JN- Review pic1

This is very much a gorgeous(smudgy) hands on book, divided into two sections – warm up drawing exercises and more in depth projects. So the only real way to review this book was to try it out. First – rustle up some children (fortunately not a challenge for me). Here are two I prepared earlier. Pepper and Wanda are active creative 7-almost-8-year-olds.

pepper and wanda final

The book is firmly aimed at children but without any dumbing down of language or “fun speak” or the sort of cutesy Dr Suess sort of language you often find with this target audience. For example:

“All of the projects in this book also use a huge range of drawing materials from inks and watercolours to graphite and pastels. Remember, great drawing experiences are not always about the outcome, but often about the things you learn when you experiment. So get ready to try out some new techniques, and make some wonderful creations!”

This tone generates respect for the child artist, for the materials being used and for the activity being undertaken. I read sections aloud to the kids first and we discussed some of the concepts – risk taking, process, not worrying about “mistakes”, no rubbing out etc. These are hugely neglected concepts in the world of a 7-almost-8-year old’s art practice. They are at an age where they lose the earlier wildness of creativity and have been firmly indoctrinated into school ideas of right and wrong and drawing like the person next to you, with a seemingly strong preoccupation on getting eyes and noses especially “right”!

While Paula Briggs suggests this book is aimed to be used independently by children, I found it does benefit from focused facilitating. And for kids this age? Fairly strong facilitation is required. Fortunately I had a background in art and understood the materials and requirements of the tasks, but it is written with point by point instructions, a colour coded idea of levels of intensity and a material list like a recipe and is therefore very accessible. For preparation we made a trip to the local art shop with a list in hand – lots of newsprint paper, various pencils, charcoals and pastels and some ink – and we were ready.


We began with some warm ups which were wonderfully fun and challenging. Just look at the concentration on these faces.


This “continuous line drawing” warm up was a terrific way to display process over outcome. Pens, paper, still life and go. The kids had to look at the object and draw it while not lifting their pen from the page. They were happy to keep trying this for ages!

drawing warm up final

Our second warm up was “backwards-forwards sketching”. This was a good way to focus on looking and observing while slowing down the hand and creating texture.



My kids are very physical and these drawing ideas are also very physical – hand-eye coordination, large gestural mark making and sustained concentration. We interspersed the activities with kicking the footy in the back yard to freshen up.

We enjoyed perusing all the projects in the book and the kids have ear-marked many they want to try asap. But the obvious “project” to undertake right away was the “Autumn Floor Drawing”. We ran around the house and street collecting leaves, seed husks, plants and all things Autumnal.

autumn box final


I found myself joining in and rediscovering the joys of charcoal and of delicate lines and shading in a way I hadn’t indulged in years. It was so relaxing, for me and for the kids, to play with the materials without any pressure on the result.

autumn3 final

Drawing Projects For Children, while not completely independently accessible to younger children, actually benefits from involving a facilitator as well as the child. I found that Paula Briggs language and ideas generate an inspirational and stimulating practical art experience. Through warm ups and projects she extends children’s idea of mark making and drawing into a new realm. It challenges children (and teachers and parents) to explore, take artistic risks and to discover the fun inherent in drawing when there is no pressure for the outcome. It is a book we will return to and from just one day of experimenting it has already inspired these two kids to observe things a little differently and to think more about how to represent their world through art.

Drawing Projects for Children is highly recommended for those who love messy art. For those who want to encourage careful observation, thoughtful mark making and inspire artistic processes. For those who understand that experimentation and sustained exploration of a medium is more important than a quick simple art activity that results in a picture perfect photo opportunity. Go get the book, some supplies, some kids and get your fingers dirty.





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For more kids craft, creative ideas and activities go to the Action Pack website

November (and a little bit into December) is book month at

The Art-Full Tree; ornaments to make.  Jan Gilliam and Christina Westenberger.  The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2011.

If your thoughts are turning to decorating your tree this year, you might like to have a look at The Art-Full Tree, which is inspired by objects in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

The book begins with a quick history of the museum, that was started by Abby Aldrich Rockerfeller who started collecting and exhibiting folk art in the 1920’s, at a time when common crafts and amateur arts were not highly valued.  She left her collection to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and this collection forms the core of the current Folk Art Museum in Willamsburg, Virginia.

The museum has had a long and treasured tradition of decorating a holiday tree every year with ornaments made by staff, volunteers and guests of the museum.  Some of these ornaments are inspired by items in the collection, and others are based on the skills of each contributor.

The Art-Full Tree presents 33 ornament projects that have been inspired by some of the most popular items in the museum collection.  The book is an interesting combination of museum catalogue, inspiration notebook, project instructions and stitch guide and template sections.

Each project features the original artwork, with a short history of the item and some information on the artist or style of art.  There is a very detailed materials list, and step by step instructions and photographs on making each ornament.

There is a wide range of crafting techniques used in the creation of the ornament projects, including needlepoint, paper craft, punch needle embroidery, foil work, metal punching, painting and collage.  My favourite ornaments are Recycled-Card star (inspired by a compass design quilt), Scherenscnitte Birds (inspired by a cutwork picture), and Aluminium Butterfly (inspired by a metal weathervane).

I really like the process of taking a formal artwork in a formal setting, that is meaningful to the people around it, and appropriating all or part of the work to inspire the creation of anther objet, in this case tree ornaments.  I feel that readers of The Art-Full Tree will be inspired to look around them, in their local museums, public spaces, or around their own treasured and meaningful objects, and to create ornaments for their own family trees that are small and perfect reminders of things that they love.

To win a copy of The Art-Full Tree, please leave a comment on this review.  The comments will be open for 72 hours, and a winner will be selected at random.  Good luck!  Congratulations to Becky!

About the reviewer: Kate is a busy mother of four with many craft projects on the go, including, but not limited to, crochet, knitting, sewing, dyeing, paper making, spinning, felting and bookbinding. Kate has challenges in the areas of finishing things, saying no and craft supplies storage. She also has a very very patient and tolerant husband.




Sockupied Spring 2011, Interweave Press, 2011.

At the moment my knitting is all about socks, so I was pretty excited to get to have a look at Interweave Press’ latest e-zine Sockupied Spring 2011.  I hadn’t played with an e-zine before, and it really feels like fun playing with this one.

Like ordinary paper magazines, or magazines published in .pdf format, this issue of Sockupied has a contents page, articles, patterns, featured products, readers contributions and interviews.  Unlike ordinary paper magazines or magazines published in .pdf format, Sockupied is interactive.  There are videos embedded into each article and pattern, so you can experience a technique being demonstrated, such as how to use one or two circular needles for sock knitting, or unusual stretch bind offs, on the same e-page as the article.  I felt I was a bit like a Muggle reading a Harry Potter-esque wizarding magazine, with the people right there doing their stuff on the page in front of me.  Other interactive elements in this issue of Sockupied include skeins of yarn that bloom onto the screen when mousing over the swatches of silk sock yarn, a great calculator for converting heel types from top down to toe up and back again, and a design template for creating a colour palette for knitting your own version of the included argyle sock pattern.

This issue of Sockupied includes 5 sock patterns, each with a downloadable .pdf patterns, and each with options such as a range of sizing or heel construction choices, or unusual construction elements such as Belgian braid or a sideways cuff, or the option to knit the one pattern from the top down or the toe up.

Like all magazines, Sockupied has some advertising, in this case for other Interweave products, but this magazine is largely content and little advertising.  Being a thrifty lover of free online content, I know that I can find most of what I want or need to do with knitting online, either on YouTube, Ravelry or one of countless knitting blogs and websites, and I wondered if it would be worth paying for an e-zine full of stuff I could get for free.  On sitting down with Sockupied and investigating every article, pattern, and click on feature, I have decided that I quite like having a wealth of information in one place, and with lots of detail, video instruction and photographs all there for me without having to look for it.  I will still be scouting around the www for free and interesting sock knitting resources, but I will be keeping my eye out for the next issue of Sockupied and investigating the other crafting e-magazines that are available.

[You can read more about it here on the Knitting daily site – and read what others are saying in the comments section too]

Title: Sockupied Spring 2011 For Windows PCFor Macintosh
Publisher: Interweave Press
Format: eMag; Requires Adobe Air (FREE Software)
Approximate Retail Price: $14.97
Craft: Knitting (Sock)

About the reviewer: Kate is a busy mother of four with many craft projects on the go, including, but not limited to, crochet, knitting, sewing, dyeing, paper making, spinning, felting and bookbinding. Kate has challenges in the areas of finishing things, saying no and craft supplies storage. She also has a very very patient and tolerant husband.

Disclosure: Interweave Press provided reviewer Kate with a free review copy of Sockupied Spring 2011 eMag.


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Little Green Dresses: 50 Original Patterns for Repurposed Dresses, Tops, Skirts, and More by Tina Sparkles. Taunton Press (September 14, 2010).

If you are into refashioning / diy fashion you will love this book. With 50 designs – including tops and skirts as well as super cute dresses you will never have to buy your clothes again. Tina Sparkles definitely has an eye for 80’s fashion verging on the cuter side of trashion – for the younger refashionistas I think.

With so many patterns and ideas in here there is a style suited to you – while I didn’t love everything (ie all the bows, lace and frills) this is mostly a taste thing and nothing that couldn’t be adjusted with a different fabric and a bit tweaking. There is a lot to love in this book – lots of make-from-scratch patterns, but also lots of tips to refashion classic styled thrift finds. With a big intro on ‘rethinking your shopping’ which includes how to buy quality, fair-trade and eco clothing and fabric – as well as how to use what you already have in your wardrobe!

Yes there is a techniques section – explaining how to identify which way the grain runs – how to use knit fabric and some tips on how to ‘refresh’ your wardrobe. Explanation of technical dress making terms, accompanied with illustrations will help those new to making clothes traverse this new world of diy fashion.

I definitely recommend this book for newbie clothes makers, young folk just starting out or anyone wanting to freshen up their wardrobe with a bit more style.


The New Crewel: Exquisite Designs in Contemporary Embroidery by Katherine Shaughnessy Lark Books (November 1, 2005)

Artist and master embroiderer, Katherine Shaughnessy, is pushing embroidery into the 21st century. Without being able to find any modern how-to books on embroidery, an unsatisfied Shaughnessy set out to make one herself. With 30 practice designs with easy instructions for any new beginner embroidery enthusiast, crewel is a great intro into the sewing and craft worlds. Since crewel has no counting, grids, or cross stitch technicalities, this embroidery is just fun hip design from the point of view of a true connoisseur.

I particularly enjoy the layout and organization of the book. Shaughnessy, begins with a brief history of crewel and covers all the basic of the craft from thread, to purpose to origins. The majority of the book is filled with short how-to’s for specific designs like the Tulip Tops, Snow Shoes and Chainlink Pink. It is apparent throughout the book just how dedicated Shaughnessy is to the craft and how in awe she is of the background and traditions as well as giddy and excited about redefining this grandma past time. An inspiring work for the inspired crafter.

About the author: Kendra is a native southerner from Atlanta, Georgia and instinctive writer and crafter. She’s been working with threadbanger since August 2007 and is still at it.