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Making Monster Art: More Fun than Scary

ArtPrize Artist Transforms Students’ Creations


Children sometimes worry about monsters lurking under their beds. But when Aaron Zenz projected their imagined monsters onto a big screen, East Oakview Elementary children couldn’t have been more excited.

“Here’s one from Ainsley Rush,” Zenz said as he put up on the screen the first-grader’s fanciful drawing of a three-headed, bird-like creature. “And here is what I made,” he added, showing a feathery fellow with happy-sad-mad faces. “Whoooaa!” the students squealed.

Zenz took drawings Ainsley and other East Oakview students had made and transformed them into his own more sophisticated creatures. A dozen of their drawings, and another dozen from North Oakview students, will be among more than 100 he’s including in his ArtPrize installation at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

The Spring Lake-based children’s author and illustrator visited both schools to show them his versions of their monsters and spur them on to further monstrous artwork.

“Then you’ll be inspired to make more monsters and then it will just be going all around the world,” he told East Oakview first- and second-graders. “Who knows where it will stop?”

Zenz also gave them a sneak-preview reading of his new book, “Little Iffy Learns to Fly,” one of nine he has written and 33 he has illustrated.

Artist Aaron Zenz happily accepts a monster drawing from first-graders Brayden Meadows, top, and Joslyn Wiersum

Fanciful Fan Art

After visiting Northview last year to talk about his book “Monsters Go Night-Night,” arranged by teacher-librarians Kurt Stroh and Carrie Davies, Zenz received monster drawings as thank-you notes. They were “so cool, so imaginative” that he conceived of an ArtPrize entry based on children’s monster drawings. He called it “fan art” of children’s imaginations.

“My experience and imagination is kind of limited,” Zenz said. “When you have a whole school full of kids, they have their own things to draw that are different than mine. It makes me think out of my box and think in their box.”

Zenz invited students from 15 schools around the state to send him monster drawings, and got about 3,000 back. He’s fashioned about 130 into his own versions, which he will display alongside the originals at the Children’s Museum for the ArtPrize competition opening Wednesday. He will also invite visiting children to draw monsters, some of which he will add to the installation with his interpretations.

One of his ArtPrize illustrations is based on a drawing by East Oakview first-grader Brayden Meadows, who said Zenz’s version was “way better.” Afterward, Brayden and first-grader Joslyn Wiersum brought him another monster drawing.

“This is a super-super-scary one,” Brayden declared. “You can keep it for ArtPrize.”

Zenz was pleased.

“So much of art has the potential to shine the light on me,” he said. “My hope is they forget about me, and go home and draw monsters.”

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ArtPrize 2017

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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