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Best-selling illustrator and author visits Woodbury Elementary

Local author and illustrator Nancy Carlson visited Woodbury Elementary on Oct. 17 where she conducted a drawing sessions with the school's fourth graders. Students drew along as Carlson taught them how to draw several of her signature characters - Harriet the dog, Loudmouth George the rabbit and Arnie the cat.

Woodbury Elementary students tested out their drawing skills last week when author and illustrator Nancy Carlson conducted a drawing session for students.

Nancy Carlson spoke with classes in the morning on Oct. 17 before doing drawing sessions with the fourth and fifth graders in the afternoon.

"I just love seeing them get excited and empowered," Carlson said. "It's really fun to hear them saying 'I want to do what you do, I want to be like you.

"It's fun to make them feel like they can do it."

A love of drawing

Carlson, who lives in Bloomington, said she can't pinpoint when she first started drawing because it was something she had always done.

"Ever since kindergarten I wanted to be an artist," she said. "It's just what I've always done.

"I'm creative, I have a good imagination, so drawing is a good outlet for my imagination."

Carlson attended Minneapolis College of Art and Design where she earned a degree in printmaking before working at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

It was at the Walker Art Center when Carlson was introduced to illustration.

"Initially I got into it as a way to make a living but then I fell in love with it," she said. "I love how challenging it is to have the pictures tell the story and not having a need for words.

"It's really a fun challenge to try to have very little words and have art guide the entire story."

Carlson started writing and illustrating her own books with her second book.

"Most illustrators become writers," she said. "Writers never become illustrators."

To date, Carlson has written and illustrated, or just illustrated, a total of 63 books.

Carlson said she gets a lot of her inspiration for characters from her family, her own life and even school visits.

"When I'm at schools I get inspiration form the kids I meet," she said.

Carlson's inspiration for storylines comes from her drawings, she said.

"You have to know your characters," she said. "Once you get to know characters, your characters can guide you to story ideas."

Coming up with story ideas is never a challenge for Carlson, she said. In fact, the biggest challenge is getting her books out there.

"I'm having a hard time selling my ideas right now," she said.

Carlson's books usually have a message or theme to them since her characters often have fears, anxieties and disabilities.

Carlson also said she likes to have her characters convey positive messages without being "preachy."

"I have a message in most of my books," she said. "If I didn't feel the need to help children go through certain issues in life, I would probably just go back to fine art.

"I want child to come away with a positive feeling about themselves when they're done reading my book."

Carlson's books have received recognitions including: several "Reading Rainbow" selections, the Children's Choice Award from the International Reading Association and Children's Book Council and the Minnesota Children's Museum Great Friends to Kids Award.

Carlson's advice for budding artists: "If you want to be an artist it's a lot of practice," she said. "It's a skill that you may not have intuitively, but if a kid starts drawing and doesn't miss a day they will improve and become a good artist."

Visit for information on her and her books.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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