Logo of Big Brother Mouse, publishing books in Laos
 

Art contests, and more

FINDING ARTISTS, AND ART

An art contest for children in Luang Prabang. Finding good writers has been a challenge. Finding suitable artists for our books has been far easier

Before Big Brother Mouse ever existed, as we were preparing the first sample books, Siphone and Khamla helped me set up art contests at the Children's Cultural Center in Luang Prabang. We set a theme for each contest, with two goals: To require creativity, by having them draw something they couldn't copy from anywhere else; and to see how they drew emotions and expressions, since those were important for the books we were preparing.

The first contest had a "Scared Monkey" theme. We had three age groups. While we didn't expect to find anyone in the 5-8 group who was ready to do work for hire, they had fun and got to stretch their imaginations. Tha Thao, the winner in the oldest group, went on to illustrate 5 books for us.

The next year's theme was "The Surprised Chicken." We explained, "A chicken's egg has just hatched, and what was inside is not what she expected!" Chittakone, at age 14 the winner in the 14-18 group, had never had an art lesson, but his natural talent came through vividly. Another contest asked kids to select a favorite proverb and write about it, which resulted in a book.

An art contest for children in Luang Prabang. Both Luang Prabang and Vientiane have art schools. We have asked teachers there to recommend students who they think are outstanding. Others have come in by word of mouth.

I try to provide some advice for writers, but as someone with no art talent, my coaching is usually limited to saying, with whatever balance of firmness and supportiveness seems suitable, "I know you can do better." I think most of them have never heard that before. A first draft, of a story or a painting, is considered the final and only draft; that it might get better, with another try, is genuinely a new concept.