Author/Illustrator Peter Catalanotto recently visited Granby and Fairgrieve Elementary schools to talk with kindergarten through second grade students about his stories and where they originate.
The acclaimed author explained how some of the stories he writes are true, while others are make-believe. Ideas for his stories come partly from his own life, with added bits from his imagination.
All stories must have two essential elements; a character that wants something and an obstacle or problem they must solve to get what they desire.
To use his own work as an example, in Ivan the Terrier, Ivan the dog wants his own story. After interrupting three separate classic fairytales, the narrator gives up and starts a tale about a dog named Ivan. Students in the audience giggled in delight when Catalanotto showed an illustrated page of Ivan’s hind end, leaving his own story to catch a nap.
In Dylan’s Day Out, a story of a bored Dalmatian that sneaks outside, Catalanotto uses his imagination. While the author does own a dog who always wants to be let out, his dog in real life never tended goal in a soccer game with penguins.
Catalanotto encouraged students to try looking at things in a new way. In the story Dylan’s Day Out, he used black and white animals with colorful backgrounds, something he’d never seen done in a dog book before.
Catalanotto also showed students the process in which he illustrates a story. First he mocks up a storyboard, and quickly jots down ideas. He circles words that he’s misspelled, that will need attention later.
A storyboard does not look like a book, but it’s a visual aid for an author to see what he or she has already written. It also allows Catalanotto to see his best ideas.
He also illustrates in pencil in the rough or dummy copy, which makes elements on the page easier to alter. Catalanotto drew a Dalmatian about to be hit by a soccer ball for the student audience to see. He first works in light pencil, and traces over his lines more firmly once he’s satisfied with the page.
Catalanotto showed off some of his own tricks that students can use in their next work of art. For instance, instead of drawing lines around a soccer ball to show movement, Catalanotto uses an eraser to blur a pencil line. In doing so, the eraser becomes dirty with smudge marks. To clean the eraser, Catalanotto “drew” with it, making a spot on the dog’s nose.