“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”– John Quincy Adams
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”– John F. Kennedy
Taken in 2012. Click on images to enlarge. Photos ©ARHuelsenbeck.
More Sunday Trees.
Last November among the booths at the Tempe Festival of Books, some adorable puppets caught my eye.
I was hooked. I had to know more.
Vicki Riske, long time puppeteer, had recently written and illustrated a children’s book about the characters she had created as puppets many years ago. I was so impressed with Riske that I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: How long have you been a puppeteer?
Vicki Riske: I have been making puppets for about 50 years.
AL: How did you get started?
VR: I started making puppets in undergraduate school for plays.
AL: Are your audiences mostly children?
VR: Yes, most of the time my puppet audience are children, but I have also made puppets for adults, who have used them for theatre and television.
AL: Describe your puppet-making process.
If the puppet is for a play, I read the play and analyze the character that the puppet is playing. I also imagine the actions that a puppet needs to be able to do. Is it necessary for the puppet to have a mouth that actually moves? Does the puppet have to carry objects? Then I do a series of drawings, first just pencil and then I may add color to the drawings.
AL: How do you come up with their personalities?
VR: Every puppet that I make has a specific story that they are telling. The puppet characters relate to other characters in the story. They may have a specific characteristic that can dictate the design, such as Leo, my lizard. He needs to do push ups, so he needs to have joints that allow that activity. He is also a lizard, so he needs a texture consistent with ideas about lizards.
AL: Have you worked in television?
VR: Yes, I had my own TV show back in the 70s for a CBS affiliate in Fargo, ND. I created two owls, a dog and a worm for the show.
AL: And you also worked in movies?
VR: Yes, I worked as a scenic artist on commercials and movies around Arizona. I have a film credit on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
AL: Tell us about We Are Puppeteers.
VR: We Are Puppeteers is a small company. We write books, make custom puppets, and we do puppet shows with children. The children are the puppeteers. We have puppet shows that we have written and puppets that the children use to act out the stories. We usually rehearse with the kids and then they perform for their parents or other kids. We do the shows for events such as birthday parties.
AL: Who are some puppeteers who have inspired you?
VR: Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Jim Henson, Edgar Bergen, Caroll Spinney, and many more.
AL: What do you like most about puppeteering?
VR: I like the magic around puppets. You have an inanimate object that you can bring to life to tell a story.
AL: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in making puppets and/or performing with puppets?
VR: Don’t be afraid of your own style. You maybe inspired by someone and copy for a while, but let your creativity come out.
AL: Now you’ve branched out to writing and illustrating children’s books. You’ve used the same characters as your puppets. How did you come up with the idea of The Polka Dot Tea Party?
VR: I have a granddaughter who loved tea parties. We would have one tea party after the other. She was 3 years old at the time. So she was my inspiration. I love the desert and would see shapes in nature, so I thought polka dots and tea parties was a great combination of topics.
AL: What is the hardest part of the writing process?
VR: Editing is the hardest. Once I have an idea it usually flows, but reworking the text can be a challenge.
AL: Did illustration come naturally for you? Have you always drawn, or is it a new skill for you?
VR: I have been drawing my whole life, but had never illustrated a book before.
AL: How long did it take to write and illustrate The Polka Dot Tea Party?
VR: It took about 6 months to write and illustrate the book.
AL: What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an illustrator?
VR: I would tell them to look at books that appealed to you. And daydream about your book. I find that ideas come to me when I am cleaning house.
AL: What was your publication journey like?
VR: I learned a lot about publishing a book. I think I was a bit impatient at times. The process for publishing took a long time.
AL: How did you connect with Outskirts Press?
VR: I found them on a recommendation from a friend.
AL: What will your next book be?
VR: My second book, Grandma Bibi, was just published in December 2019. It is a children’s book about shared memories and love. It tackles memory loss as a family issue and opens a dialogue for families to discuss what is happening to grandma or grandpa. I self-published this book. I found a printer in Michigan, 360 Digital Press, that has been great to work with.
AL: What do you like most about writing?
VR: Puppets need stories to tell and I enjoy writing them. I also like the fun of sharing my ideas with young people and bringing them joy.
AL: What do you like most about illustrating?
VR: Illustrating is challenging, creating an emotion with a drawing is the best. Illustrations set the tone of the story, whether it is light or serious. I make many drawings until I have the right one for a page.
The Valentine’s Day edition of CJ. Wishing you lots of love.
- You could do this during the next solar eclipse.
- This man hangs out with giant cats.
- An artist’s valentine.
- Happy Valentines’s Day from lots of illustrators.
- Love from the animal kingdom.
- Valentine quilts.
- Photos that didn’t see the light of day until after their photographer’s death.
- I never knew about the relationship between Khalil Gibran and his patron.
- These paintings look so real and very surprising.
- Award-winning photos taken by kids.
- How to get into the flow.
- My daughter is getting married this year. I hope none of this happens at her wedding.
A few years ago I started a tradition of posting a bunch of Zentangle® valentines in February. Last year I thought I coined a new term: Valentangle. This year I discovered there has been a Valentangle challenge for several years already, so I didn’t invent the word.
I tried to join the Valentangle2020 Facebook group (in fact, I tried several times), but I never got approved. I don’t know if it was a glitch, or I missed a secret deadline, or they really don’t want me.
Anyway, I’m still calling these Valentangles.
This one uses the pattern Ixorus:
This one combines Snail and Florz:
This design is called Pepper. Doesn’t it look like a zebra?
This one uses the design Mistrel:
This one is filled with Double S:
This might be my personal favorite of the group. Drupe:
I am calling this one “Heart Attack”:
This one uses Puffle, Onamato, and Luv-A. Puffle reminds me of ribbon candy.
Which one do you like best? Vote in the comments.
Poetry is a powerful outlet for a student’s expression. As a poet myself, I take great joy in introducing the power of the craft to the classroom. Admittedly, this can be difficult. While some students cannot wait to start learning about writing, others audibly groan at its mere mention. Others sit in silent indifference. So how exactly can a teacher start their students on their poetic journeys, or encourage them to begin loving the works of poets like Mary Oliver?
I’ve outlined some activities that have had great results in my classroom — regardless of students’ preconceived notions. The goals of these hands-on lessons are to have students appreciate the craft and get them inspired enough to write some poetry themselves.
Activity 1: A Poetry Tournament
This activity is a fun and engaging introduction to poetry. The poetry tournament takes very little class time each day, and it exposes students to poetry in small doses while also planting the seeds for independent exploration.
The idea is to create a basketball-like tournament-pairing chart using poems, determining a final winner by reading the poems as a class. Locate sixty-four poems and pair them off, just like basketball teams. Read two poems each day and let the students vote on the “winner.” Do this until you have a final four, and then the final winner.
I’ve found it most helpful when a combination of teacher and students choose the poems. I ask the students to browse and choose a poem from poets.org or poetryfoundation.org that they enjoyed reading, for whatever reason. When the students choose the poems themselves, they are actively engaged and feel some ownership over the activity. A combination of teacher and students read the poems out loud each day.
You don’t have to do more than just read and vote on the poems before moving onto something new — the simple exposure to poetry and the gamification of the activity has plenty of its own benefits. Still, I like to ask my students to choose one in a set of questions to answer in their notebooks about the poem that they vote for. We discuss as a class, then vote.
As an extension activity at the end of the week, I sometimes ask students to write poems inspired by one they read that week — incorporating similar themes or techniques we may have discussed. A great time to start a poetry tournament is during the spring, when both college basketball’s March Madness and April’s poetry month happen.
Activity 2: Black Out Poetry
A blackout poem is a type of erasure poem, formed when a poet takes a marker (usually black) to an already established text and redacts words until a new poem is formed. Because the text is already in place, this activity has an easy entry point and is not too intimidating for students to try.
I photocopy and repurpose pages from texts we’ve read throughout the year and hand out black or dark markers. Next, I ask students to identify words that resonate with them, then “black out” parts of the page around those words to create a poem within the text. Sometimes the poems’ meanings are similar to the original text, and sometimes completely new meanings are formed. As an extension, you can ask students to add an illustration or design to the poem that connects to their newfound meaning.
Activity 3: Paint Chip Poetry
This is a fun activity that requires some out-of-classroom resources. However, you can pick up some paint chips for free at a home improvement store, so don’t worry about cost. In this task, students engage in their own word play by selecting a card with at least 3 different paint names. They will then incorporate these words into a poem of their own.
Students will write in each section on the actual paint chip card, making sure to include the paint color in their writing. They can change the form or tense of the word, or even make it a name. The idea is to let the constraint open avenues for their creativity. For example, if given a card with shades of blue, the colors may be named: ocean view, seven seas, and planetarium. A poem could be formed as follows:
I look at the ocean view
my mind escapes to the seven seas
the dark blue of night spills across
the ocean floor
while inside a planetarium
a little girl sleeps
There are multiple other activities you can center around paint chips: working with metaphors and similes, or simply meditating on a color and its mood.
Activity 4: Found Poetry
Just as it sounds, this poetry activity involves students “finding” poems — often in places they least expect it. Have students choose words or phrases from texts around the room or cut out words from magazines or even maps. Students can also listen to a podcast, TED talk, or song and write down some of the words they hear.
Once students collect a certain amount of words (I recommend 15 or 20), ask them to use these words to form a poem. It is helpful to have students write these words on slips of paper that they can rearrange in whatever order they’d prefer.
It is up to you if you’d like the students to add their own words to the poem, or restrict the poem to only the words that were found. With either method, this activity invites students to look at the pedestrian world through a poetic lens while freely expressing their creativity.
After trying one or all of these activities, students will have some wonderful work to celebrate. Once finished, you can create an anthology of student work, or have students assemble collections of their own that they can share with the class. You can also direct students who are particularly motivated toward writing contests to submit their finished works. Poetry is sometimes a difficult topic to breach, but these fun and creative activities prove that with a little inspiration, anyone can become a poet.
Tess Patalano is a writer at Reedsy, a marketplace giving authors and publishers access to free educational content on self-publishing, along with an avenue to hire talented developmental editors. She has taught writing to students in South Korea, Hawaii, and China.