A doodle a day online for kids

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 10:08 PM

Children's book illustrator Nancy Carlson sketches out a new venue by doing fanciful drawings to post on her blog every day.

Having published 61 children's books, Nancy Carlson always has been prolific. But as impressive as that output is, it pales in comparison with her current production level: She publishes something every day, and has done so for the past 528 days.

Every morning by 7 a.m., she posts a drawing on her website, www.nancycarlson.com. She posts it under "Nancy's Blog," but words usually are kept to a minimum. This is a picture blog, with subjects running the imaginative gamut from roller-skating squirrels to chickens in outer space.

"It's been really freeing," the Minneapolis artist said of the daily drawings. "It's fun to see what comes out each day."

She was hesitant 18 months ago when her editor recommended that she post something on the Internet or Twitter regularly as a way of keeping her name in the public eye.

"I don't know very much about computers -- I was just learning e-mail -- and I certainly don't know anything about tweeting," said Carlson, 57. "Then I realized that there is something I do know: how to draw."

She calls her daily posting a "doodle," but it doesn't fit the traditional definition of a drawing that is scribbled while the creator's attention is elsewhere. She focuses intently on the drawing, but uses the term doodle because she spends only about 10 minutes on it and it lacks the usual detail associated with professional illustrating.

"If you look at the pictures in my books, they're filled with stuff, to the point there's no white space," she said. "I can let myself loosen up a bit here."

That includes experimenting with different styles of drawing. The pictures in her books have a distinctive look, and neither her fans nor her editor will tolerate much variation in the appearance of their favorite characters, animals that include Harriet the pup, Henry the mouse, Loudmouth George the rabbit and Louanne Pig.

The doodles, on the other hand, "can be different. I can use new styles because I'm not dealing with my regular characters. And I can play with media. I can do one doodle in ink and the next in paint."

It also has opened new creative avenues. Illustrators are used to producing pictures that accompany printed material, but the doodles come out of pure imagination.

"I teach an illustrating class at MCAD [Minneapolis College of Art and Design], and I've asked the students to try doodling," she said. "Some of them will say, 'OK, but what do you want me to draw?' This is a good lesson that an artist doesn't have to be told what to draw. I draw because that is what I do."

What she originally feared would become a chore has turned into something she looks forward to. She likes to do the doodles in the evening when she can reflect back on the day.

"It's almost like a journal," she said. "This is a visual journal. If you follow the pictures closely, you can tell what's going on in my life."

For instance, there was a doodle about the opening of the Twins' season, as well as one about the day her family's 17-year-old dog died. Lately there have been a lot of doodles about spring, and she's working on a series of doodles that will form a serialized story during the week before Easter.

"I also love finding out about weird holidays," she said. Among those she has celebrated in art are National Get Over It Day (March 9), National Tooth Fairy Day (Feb. 28) and National Blow a Huge Bubble Day (Jan. 29).

She occasionally makes references to items in the daily news, including Justin Bieber's recent haircut and the upcoming royal wedding. The latter didn't resonate with her young fans, but anything involving Bieber tends to elicit a strong response.

"Apparently I have a knack for drawing Justin Bieber," she said with a shrug indicating that she has no idea how that came to be. "So I do a lot of Justin Bieber" doodles.

At the same time, she's careful about what she lifts off the daily news. "I'm very, very aware of my young audience. I'd never do anything political, if for no other reason than it's too serious. Kids should not be worrying about anything except having fun."

Ironically, she's starting to worry about her fun distracting her from her work She has two book projects in the works, but her mind still drifts toward her doodling.

"Sometimes I just want to doodle all day," she said.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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