We can all use a reminder that there is hope when mistakes happen, or life presents its obstacles. Corinna Luyken’s gift of these messages is in her children’s books, and they reach out into the world like a beacon. Right here in Olympia, she is embracing creativity, creating new works of art and literature that reach everyone.
Luyken has loved books and drawing since childhood. She and her mother would read and re-read their favorites and laugh and laugh. “Rootabaga Stories” by Carl Sandberg, “The Wizard of Oz” and works from Shel Silverstein are some of her favorites. Drawing in middle school and high school, she pursued every opportunity. Any free class period or lunch hour was a good time to be in the art room. Encouragement from her ceramics teacher, noting her potential, was an inspiration. Ink, pencil and watercolor are her primary mediums. She feels that play and fun show in her illustrations, that the whimsical lines and the physical uniqueness of characters are recognized by kids, and they relate to it.
Coming full circle, Luyken visits schools herself. Whether it is an assembly, small group work or a book making project, she has been there leading the drawing. “I love being in classrooms, and talking with students about their drawings,” says Luyken. “Some of my most meaningful time in classrooms has been working with students who are frustrated because they don’t like something they’ve drawn. I love looking at their art and brainstorming how they might transform their drawing. I often start by saying that you can turn pretty much anything into a bush or a tree, and we go from there. We ask, what else could this become? I love sharing this approach with students because this is a very real part of every artist’s process. All professional artists make mistakes. And often, whether it is because of the cost of supplies or the timing of a deadline; you can’t start over. Often, you have to find a way to transform the unexpected mark into something new. And the wonderful thing is that often, you will end up with something even better than your original idea.”
Working in a school isn’t new. She was a teacher’s assistant at one time. Career experiences are just one of the things that feed into her creativity toolbox and provide possible inspiration.
While attending Middlebury College in Vermont, Luyken sought classes with creative expression, such as modern dance and dance improvisation. Though free in form, improvisational dance has an underlying structure and principles around which the creativity happens, a lot like in drawing. She studied creative writing, poetry and printmaking. To add to this dynamic of study, she went with her Middlebury class to the Dominican Republic for a writing workshop abroad.
When it is time to plan for illustrations, Luyken immerses herself in the process. She has read through quilting books to observe patterns while brainstorming artwork for a story. When thinking of ideas for “Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse,” she went on walks to observe the grasses and fences she passed and pondered what they might look like to the characters.
“I find inspiration comes from paying attention to the world around me,” says Luyken. “Mindfulness, if you will. It really can be anywhere— in the most ordinary moments and simplest things. I have found it in a heart shaped piece of gravel in a driveway; in the frustration on a child’s face as they crumpled up their drawing because they thought they had made a mistake; in the beauty of grass that has gone to seed next to a broken down fence; in light as it filters down through the leaves of a tree; even in an argument over brushing tangles out of long hair.”
Luyken says that the art and the story are the first steps and her style shifts with each book, current interests often influencing artistic choices. From there, the heartwarming messages develop.
“I believe it’s important not to start off making a book with an idea of a ‘message’ that it will convey,” she says. “I think most kids, and adults, can sense when you are trying to do this, and it tends not to make a very good book. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think beautiful books can end up carrying a message within them. But I think an artist should always put the art and the story first. This means being curious first and foremost and following the story where it wants to go.”
Luyken is thoughtful in creation and thoughtful in expressions. Each book leads readers and listeners down the path of a story that each will learn a lesson from and in the process grow closer together. Her stories depict people learning about themselves and the world. A continuing theme is to step back and consider the bigger picture, a lesson Luyken feels is valuable to have and one we can teach young children.
Information about Corinna Luyken’s artwork, books and school visits can be found on the Corinna Luyken website.