“For me, practicing drawing is like practicing eating,”  says children’s book author and illustrator Kevin Hawkes. That’s how much he enjoys his craft, and his enthusiasm was obvious in his May 9 presentations to Vinalhaven School’s students. The Maine author spent time with students in every grade level at the school, telling about his life, explaining his illustrating process, giving students artistic advice and leaving lots of time for questions.

Second grade teacher Samantha Carter was thrilled with Hawkes’s visit.   “I thought he was fabulous!” she said. “He was very personable and funny, as much fun for the adults as the kids, I think.  I wanted to hear more and more from him, from his story ideas, to his Maine tales, to his artistic perspective.  He put on a great presentation that the students will remember for a long time.  I know I will too!”

Hawkes’ latest Maine tale is “The Wicked Big Toddlah,” a picture book that he wrote and illustrated about an unusually large baby born to a family in Maine.  When the baby, Toddie, arrives, Uncle Bert declares, “That’s a wicked big toddlah ya got theyah, Jessie!” The book features Hawkes’ signature big round shapes and rich colors.

Perhaps the most popular parts of Hawkes’s presentations were his drawing demonstrations. With an easel, paper and chalk on stage, Hawkes showed how diagonal lines give motion to a drawing, how any shape can be a head, and he explained the importance of the relationship between white space and picture size in creating excitement in a drawing. During the kindergarten through fifth grade assembly, Hawkes invited first grader Marina Davis to help him with a drawing.  Davis chose to use pink chalk and was instructed to draw two lines on the paper any way she wanted. She drew a long zigzag bisected by a curvy line. Next, Hawkes asked the audience to imagine what those lines could be. As the students thought and shared their ideas, Hawkes chose another color and began embellishing Davis’s lines. The students “were impressed with his ability to turn a first grader’s lines into a lady with a hat,” said fourth grade teacher Stormy Dyer.  “The kids’ reactions when they realized what Kevin was illustrating were priceless.”

Carter also saw her students’ amazement with Hawkes’ talent. “The kids really enjoyed watching him draw,” she said. “They were really awestruck when he created his drawings before their eyes – the picture from the lines and seeing how you can change the emotion of the character or create movement in a drawing. The kids always want to ‘free draw’ and I can see a lot of them doing those activities during their free draw time.” 

Hawkes’ talent for reaching kids of all ages was evident during his day at Vinalhaven School. The father of five children, ranging in age from 5 to 20, entertained the high school art students as easily as he did the younger kids, it seemed. As with the others, Hawkes talked to the high schoolers about his influences, his process and his interests. He also gave them some drawing tips and “sensitively critiqued their work, reflecting on the strengths he saw and challenging them to go further,” according to art teacher Erica Hansen. The art students “were impressed by the fluidity of his technique,” Hansen said.  “They said they could tell he had been drawing all his life because of the immediacy and ease [with which] he could pull from his mind onto the paper.

         In fact, Hawkes credits his third grade teacher with encouraging him to draw. She told him he drew monsters well, but these days he enjoys drawing animals the most. He gave students a sneak preview of a picture book he illustrated called Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black. It is a silly book entirely about animals, and will be published next year.

         Teachers noted how valuable it is for students to see and hear from a professional artist. “The opportunity to meet a working artist is fabulous for high school kids,” said Hansen. “It is important for them to see that people can build a life and career around making art.”  Dyer agreed.  “The exposure to a possible career was great,” she said.  “Kevin Hawkes said he loved to draw and loved books, and that guided him in his career.”

Hawkes advised the students to “develop your imagination by reading as much as you can and by creating things.”  The point was not lost on middle school science teacher Amy Palmer.  “The best part about [the presentation] was his point that the kids could create fabulous stories.  He said that there are clues for at least a hundred stories right in this room,” she said.  “He inspired me to be creative, and I hope he inspired the kids.”

         Hawkes’s appearance was sponsored by Partners in Island Education through Vinalhaven School Enrichment. VSE hopes to build on the interest sparked by Hawkes’s visit by hosting several more authors next year. They are awaiting approval of grant money to make that happen.  Hawkes helped in the effort by signing the drawings he made throughout the day, which VSE will use in some fundraising capacity in the future.