Handmade Conversations: Susan Schwake, Artist and Author of 'Art Lab for Kids'

Posted by on Apr 17, 2012

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In our "Handmade Conversations" series, we ask amazing people in the craft, food and fashion industries a few questions that provide you with a glimpse into their world. 

This week's featured person is Susan Schwake, artist and author of "Art Lab for Kids." A New Hampshire resident, Schwake finds inspiration in everything from nature to YouTube. In her new book "Art Lab for Kids" she collects 52 art projects (one for every week of the year) and includes references to established artists (like Jackson Pollock) to get young minds thinking. She helped co-found Artstream Studios in Rochester, NH, with hopes of revitalizing the area by enabling community involvement through the arts. At the studio she works with artists of all ages to experiment with a variety of mediums.

What are good places to find inspiration for projects?

Everywhere. I live in New Hampshire so I find inspiration in gardens, oceans and in nature. There are also a lot of good books out there. And a lot of blogs. The internet has a lot of great projects. Sometimes you can take a fine arts project from YouTube and modify it. You should always try a project first.

Do you know any kids' art projects that can be done with items you find around the house?

There are lots and lots of them. Paper mache is useful because you're always building up an armature of things. Plastic containers and egg cartons are great too. Egg tempera is a fun project. You mix egg yolk, pigment and sweetened condensed milk to create a glossy paint.

Have any projects been more successful or popular with kids?

The book contains the 52 best starting points for projects to do with kids. All of the projects are two dimensional art, and we're moving towards working in three dimensions. We often work with printmaking. Paper mache and plaster are also popular. Everyone has a material they gravitate towards.

How do you get kids or teens excited about crafting when they may not be interested?

I work with young children, teenagers and adults. I might have a classroom of 30 children, and some might have little confidence or are afraid. Usually starting out, I draw people out with a story from a book or with examples from other artists. Usually people are unsure of their own style. They've never seen other styles, so it's good to look at other work.

Have you collaborated with other artists to create a joint project? 

We started a group of artists called Art Espirit. It's a nonprofit. We create public art, visual art, and literary art. We've made sculptures and poetry. In June, we're opening a new project called mythology of Rochester, where stories will be woven together.

Do you have a favorite artist or artistic movement?

Paul Klee and Franz Marc.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

Fear no art, be fearless. Take chances. Don't be afraid to try something new.

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