Suquamish school drawn into ‘Cartooniversity’

SUQUAMISH — A kid’s world today is full of cartoons. They live at school, in magazines, on TV and, of course, inside young imaginations.

Editorial cartoonist Jeff Johnson reached for cartoon culmination Jan. 17-20 when he helped turn Suquamish Elementary into a Cartooniversity.

The first thing he taught Bonnie Hoiness’ kindergarten class was that there is no such thing as an ideal cartoon when he asked the class to abandon perfection and replace it with imagination.

“By telling them there is no such thing as a perfect cartoon, then they can use the techniques I’ve taught them to develop their own style and therein lies the success,” said Johnson. “They can put those (to use) on virtually any object.”

The soul of a toon begins with its expression, Johnson said. With basic shapes and lines, he guided the students through a multitude of sketched out attitudes. Happy, sad, angry, glad, Johnson showed that nearly every expression can be depicted with eyes, eyebrows and a mouth.

“I like to focus on the fact that we’re telling stories without words,” Johnson said.

In addition to making faces, Suquamish students also learned techniques for sketching bodies to make their toons really come alive.

When Johnson asked the class if anyone had ever drawn a stick person, he received a flood of raised hands. Johnson then taught the class the process he has coined with the phrase “stick people to thick people,” which expands a stick figure to a dynamic character.

“I drew an alien,” said Suquamish kindergartner Che Todd. “(Johnson) taught me how to make him more life-like.”

Johnson taught each class at Suquamish in two 35-minute sessions during the week, which he said is one of the shortest sets he has done. Though he wasn’t sure if the short amount of time would allow for constructive progress, he was pleasantly surprised.

“At the end (of each session,) I always ask how many people think they got a little better and they all raised their hands,” Johnson said. “When you see the light turn on and (students) really start to understand, that’s what it’s all about.”

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