Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Draw It: Teen Summer Reading Challenge art contest

Teen librarians are always trying to find a way to get teen involvement.  The 40 developmental assets tell us that having teens involved in the planning and creation of activities geared towards them helps self-esteem and decreases their participation in risk taking activities.  We also know that since teens are so peer oriented, having teens involved increases teen buy-in and participation.  That is why I decided to hold an annual conference to let teens produce the artwork for my teen summer reading challenge.

The way the contest works is this:

In February I put together my promotional materials.  This includes a contest entry sheet with very specific guidelines and a letter to all my area art teachers asking them to help promote the contest.  I also secure a good prize; typically a $50.00 prepaid gift card.

In March I distribute all my entry forms in the schools, in-house and online.  This give teens the entire month of March to come up with their artwork.  In order to get the best artwork possible, I do not limit the number of times a teen can enter.

In April we pick a winner.  You can do with with a teen advisory board or upload your top 5 choices and have teens vote online.  I always make sure and pick my winner by middle April so that I have plenty of time to create my posters, flyers, and entry forms.  The artwork is depicted on every piece of promotion materials that we put out with the winners name, grade and school.

In May I launch full blown publicity for my TSRC.  Teens are always excited to see that the artwork for the program was done by one of their own.

Entry Guidelines:
All artwork must be original (and I have teens sign certifying that this is the case).
No copyrighted images can be included without proper authorization.
Digital or hand drawn artwork is accepted.
You must use 4 colors, one of which should be black.
The artwork must include whatever that year’s slogan is: Get a Clue @ Your Library, for example.
The artwork must somehow clearly represent the year’s slogan.

The benefits to doing this type of a contest are many:
By promoting the TSRC in the art contest, you are generating some good pre-publicity.  It’s like a presale.
By allowing teens to generate the artwork, you are generating teen buy-in into your programming and giving teens an opportunity to express themselves creatively.
By involving the school art programs, you are building networking and community partnership opportunities.
By getting the contest into the press, you are generating good publicity for the library and demonstrating that the library is a positive force in the community and in the lives of teens.

You will need access to a scanner to scan your winning image into your computer system to use in your publicity materials.  After the first time you will have all your information formatted so all you will have to do each year is upload and change the image and the dates on all your materials.

Graphic Design for Teen Librarians (or any other non designer)

I am not a graphic design artist, but I play one on the Internet.  In fact almost all teen librarians are forced to play one at some time or another in their career as they make program flyers, teen area displays, and put stuff up online.  Over the years I have learned some basic design tips, primarily from my husband who was an art major (I don’t always appreciate the way the tips are delivered, but they do always make my final product look better).  And at one point I was even able to arrange for a local graphic design professor to come do some hands on training with some of our library staff.  If you have a local college or university, this is a great idea for some basic training.

For the purposes of this blog post, we will limit our discussion to the creation of flyers and posters, although many of them do also apply to displays or web pages.

Graphic Design 101

1.  Fonts and Colors

You want to limit the main scheme of your piece to 2 or 3 color and font choices.  They should be complimentary colors and readable fonts.  A lot of online sources says no more than 2, but sometimes you can make it work with 3.  It is important to choose legible font for what you are trying to do, some fonts only work well really big.

2.  Typography

Speaking of fonts, remember that your text is also a graphical element.  Headlines and text all need to be considered in the overall design process.  Typography is in fact considered quite the art form and there are whole texts written on the subject.  Here are 10 Common Typography Mistakes by Brian Hoff.

I love typography
Typography Daily

3.  Basic Layout

Americans read from left to right in a Z patterns, so you want to place your important content elements in the top left, middle right, then bottom left and back to the far right corner.  When someone approaches your work to visually scan it, their eyes will customarily focus on these locations just as if they were reading a text.

4.  Justify Your Text

One of the tips I learned that made a dramatic change in the quality of my flyers had to do with centering your text.  I think it is some type of novice instinct to center justify your text.  However, choosing to either left or right justify your text creates a crisper line and makes a better use of the space.  This one simple tip by our graphic design professor led training radically transformed all of our pieces.

5.  Symmetry is Not Cool

Part of the reason why center justification is not ideal is because artistically symmetry is a bad design goal.  While it is true that we tend to instinctively prefer symmetry when we look at faces, symmetry is not typically found in nature:  look at the treelines that you admire so much – yep, not symmetrical.  When you choose symmetry as a design lay out the eye doesn’t know what elements are important, your viewer doesn’t know where to focus.

6.  Size Really Does Matter

Thinking again of typography, differentiating text size helps your viewer understand the hierarchical importance of your headlines.  This is why a headline is bigger then the message.  Your headline grabs your readers attention.  Then your next element is slightly smaller to let them know what the next step is.  You can also help make these distinctions by consistently using different colored text throughout your document.

7.  White Space is Your Friend

White space are those graphically and textually blank places on your page, although they are not necessarily truly white.  The use of white space allows your readers to have a place to rest their eyes and avoid over design.  Having said that let me say this:  I think when dealing with teen viewers you can get away with less white space then you can with an adult audience.  Teens spend a lot of time engaging with visual media and are used to video games, graphic novels, and highly stylized magazines.  It took a while for white space and I to be friends, but I have learned to appreciate its value.

8.  Borders are Also Your Friend

At the end of your piece, a border helps wrap it up in a clean bow.  It presents a clean edge that again helps define your space and helps direct your viewers attention.  That sad, sometimes it looks cool to break the border.

9.  Verb Up Your Image

When writing your text, you should put a strong emphasis on verbs.  In fact, I previously wrote a blog post about this.  The bottom line is your viewer wants to know what is in it for them and you can make that message clear by starting your text with a verb.  As they read it there is an unspoken “You” or “You will” that begins the message:  Create exciting pieces of jewelry, Travel through the library after hours and see if you can survive.  It’s attention grabbing, exciting, and makes the reader put themselves into the action.

10.  If it Works for the Piece, Break the Rules

These are basic tips that I have learned over the years and generally apply to the pieces I create, but at some time or another I have broken them all with success.  If it works, do it.

Don’t forget to proofread!

Some Graphic Design Resources

Desktop Publishing 12 Most Common Mistakes
Graphic Design Blender

TPIB: All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,” – William Shakespeare

If all the world’s a stage, you can help teens play their part with some fun, theater themed programming.  Right after Halloween your local stores will be putting all their make-up and costumes on clearance, so now is a good time to stock up for a theater themed program.  You can choose from the activities below and do a one-time, one-hour workshop or you can do a series of theater themed workshops.  You can work alone or contact your local high school drama teacher or local theater to do some networking.

Head Gear: Costuming from the Neck Up

The theme for the 2011 OLC Conference was “Use Your Head”.  As part of the table decorations for the event, they thematically decorated a variety of styrofoam wig heads.  It made a cool visual impact, and is a fun, creative way to get teens involved in costuming as part of our program.  You can buy the styrofoam heads in bulk from Amazon.com.  Right after Halloween, when everything is 50 to 75% off is a great time of year to buy the costuming displays.  Because you are working with heads, you want to focus on hats, hair, and head gear.  Teens can visit your stockpile to decorate (costume) their head.  It can be done casually and just for fun, or in various types of mini challenges (think Project Runway with only the head).  You can ask them to do genre themed heads, for example.

You can let teens take their heads home, or, better yet, use them to decorate your teen area or in a display case.  Be sure to take pictures to share online.

Face Time: Stage Make-Up

There are a variety of sites online that show you how to do various types of face make-up.  You can do glam or focus on scary.  You can also make your own body/face glitter or simply do face painting.  Recent reports indicate that some Halloween and face painting materials are tainted with lead so you may want to consider making your own face paint.  And here are some face painting tips.  There are a wide variety of YouTube tutorials for all kinds of face make-up and face painting.

Dress Up Time

No costuming is complete without, well, an actual costume.  So visit a local thrift store (or,if you are anything like me, clean out your closet) and get together a wide variety of different costume options.  Again, this is a great activity to purchase various costumes on clearance at your local stores.

You can divide teens into teams and have them create a full head-to-toe costume for one of the team members.  Again, think Project Runway.  You can give them various challenges like: 70s or other decades fashion, specific genres, or ask them to create a character from a novel.

You can also do dress up relay races.

Don’t forget to take pictures!  These would be fun to use in promotional and RA materials, share online and teens are going to want the mementos because they will be having so much fun.

The Show Must Go On

You can do the above activities as a one-time program, or do them as part of a larger theater themed series of workshops.  Teens can then put together mini-plays to perform for younger audiences; they can be more complete productions with staging or you can simplify it and do some reader’s theater.  This is a great way to have fun programming for teens and give them service opportunities to perform for your younger patrons – it’s win/win for everyone.

TPIB: Art Through the Ages

Picture It days 8-14

This year’s Teen Read Week theme is Picture It @ Your Library.  If you read through my previous Teen Programs in a Box posts, you will find a variety of fun craft/picture themed ideas.  And I have already shared one TRW idea called the Book Quotation Celebration.  But I thought I would put a fun twist on the topic and celebrate art itself.  Art has a rich history that begins way back with cave paintings and proceeds through things like pottery, pointillism, cubism, and postmodernism.  I am not an artist, but I am married to a man who was an art major.  Occassionally I have learned something from him.  So in an era where the arts are struggling for school funding and teens are struggling for the time and means to express themselves, I think a celebration of art through the ages would be a great Picture It @ Your Library program.  So jump in your time machine and let’s go back in time . . .

For an awesome Art Through the Ages program, you’ll want to choose several of the crafts below, or find your own (High School Art Lessons is a great resource), and set up a variety of stations.  At each station have a table tent sitting next to an example of the craft with a brief explanation of what historical or artistic time period the activity represents.  Also, be sure and pull a lot of your amazing craft books off the shelves and put them on display in the room where you are working.  Worried about having enough hands to help with the program?  Contact your local HS art teachers and ask for volunteers to help at each station; often they will offer their students extra credit if you agree to sign something stating they were there.  A lot of these activities can be modified for various age levels; you’ll only really need assistants if your audience tends to skew towards the younger teen years.

Cave Paintings
Some of the earliest recordings we have date back to pre-historic times in the form of cave paintings.  Cave paintings usually told stories in hieroglyphics or in pictograms.  You can create your own cave paintings using some very basic (and cheap) supplies.  Either use flattened paper bags from your grocery store or use a roll of brown shipping paper as your back drop.  This will help create a cave wall feeling.  You’ll want to scrunch them up to give them texture.  Have teens create their art work using markers, paints, stamps or whatever works for you.  This is a simple, open ended activity and in the end you can create a cave wall in your teen area decorated by your teens.

The ancient Egyptian art of Hieroglyphics is always a lot of fun.  You can get a variety of fun Egyptian stencil and stamps at Amazon.com.  Buy some air dry clay and have your teens use toothpicks to draw these symbols into clay beads that they make.  Make sure you punch a hole in each bead before you begin working on your project.  Then, simply let dry and string and you have an ancient necklace, charm bracelet or keyring.  (There are also some African design stencils available for the same type of craft).  Many colors can be used in layers to create a multi colored bead, they do not have to be one color.  If you choose to use FIMO or similar clay that must be baked, you can bake these in a toaster oven.

Pottery and Statues
Ancient Greece and Rome are known for their pottery and statues.  You can give teens the opportunity to create their own by using the same air dry clay mentioned above.  To take the theme in a different direction, you could decoupage boxes with old magazine pics of famous statues.  You could also create paper mache’ figures that you later paint, but this is a very time consuming activity.  This is a great way to get community involvement if you know someone in your community who could bring in a pottery wheel and give a demonstration.

Jewelry and adornment is a rich part of most cultures.  You can give teens a wide variety of beads and beading stuff (think necklaces, keychains, head bands, and more) and see what they create.

Murals and Mosaics
Give each teen 1 sheet of plain white paper.  Give them 15 minutes to draw, color, and fill the space.  Then use all the pages together to create a giant mural or mosiac in your teen area or some other area of the library that could use some decoration.

You could also do this with digital photography and give teens specific challenges (say, take a picture of your friends reading their favorite books) and see if they can create a reading collage.  Bonus points if you can use all the pics to make a larger picture of a book.

You can also purchase a variety of mosiac crafts (foam or tile) for the teens to do.  There are things like picture frames and boxes that would work well.  As far as activities go, this can be on the more expensive side.

You can also get individual ceramic tiles and some paint (enamel).  Give each teen a tile and let them design away.  After the tiles dry you can use them to create an amazing mural.  If you know someone with the skills, you can put them together to make cool tables for your teen area as seen here.  You could also frame them and hang them up as a picture.  You’ll want to put a clear coat (it is literally called “clear coat”) over it to protect and preserve it.  It would be great to give it that library twist and have them somehow incorporate their favorite book title or quote in their piece.

Paper Making and Marbling

Here you can find an intricate process to make paper.  There is a 45 minute process outlined here.

An easier way to deal with the history of paper and paper making would be to do some fun paper marbling activities.  The $5 Friday blog outlines and inexpensive way to do this.

Origami is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding.  You probably have a lot of books in your collection to help you with this portion of art history.  There are also some books available on duct tape origami or origami using money.

Stained Glass
Stained glass is an intricate artform that is time consuming but beautiful.  You can make basic stained glass replicas by melting crayong between two pieces of wax paper using the heat of an iron.  You can also use tissue paper to make these stained glass windows.  Or you can kick it up a notch and mod podge layers of tissue paper onto votive holders and make stained glass votives.


Pointillism is a form of art in which a variety of small dots are used to create a larger picture.  George Seurat is one of its most famous practitioners.  You can have teens create their own Pointillism pictures using pencil erasers and water color paints or stamp pads as seen at Get Spotty.

Cubism was made famous in part by Pablo Picasso.  You can use discarded manga and magazines to create Cubism collages as seen here.

Pop Art
Andy Warhol is perhaps one of the most famou pop artists.  And perhaps his most well known works are his representations of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans in various colors.  These are fairly simple to create digitally using photo shop editing tools.  In fact, there are some iPhone apps that do it instantly for you.
Future Art
Wait, you still have some of that clay left over, right?  Make clay aliens to represent the future.  Or have teens use things like tin cans, utensils, etc. to make their own robots.
As seen at Book Clubs 4 Boys http://bookclubs4boys.blogspot.com/
Don’t forget to tap into your local resources.  If you have a college near by with an art department ask the professors for inspiration, they may even be willing to come and do some hands on activities.  The same goes for middle school and high school teachers.  There are a wide variety of art history lessons plans online for you to consult.
You don’t have to do all the time periods in one day, you could have several activities from ancient times one day, medieval another, and so on and do it as a series.  Want a literature tie in?  Make it a book/art club and read a book and do an art project from the time period.  Or since we are talking about one week, Teen Read Week, you could do an after school art project every day for the week.

Teen Read Week 2011: Book Quotation Celebration

The other day I stumbled across a cool Perks of Being a Wallflower Poster, and as I looked for a good copy to share with you my Google image search revealed a ton of amazing cool fan art that involved teens’ favorite quotes from the book.  When I read, I always keep a journal by my side and write down my favorite quotes so I understand the motivation to collect quotes.

That and a recent encounter with an awesome display at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History got me thinking about a great program idea for Teen Read Week 2011.

The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

This year’s Teen Read Week theme is Picture It @ Your Library and it runs from October 16-22.

What a great program (or contest) idea . . . have teens take their favorite book quotes and turn them into works of art.  You can upload the artwork and share it digitally, use it to decorate your teen space, and let your teens walk away with a tangible remembrance of their favorite book.  Plus, this type of programming and decorating gives teens buy in to your library and teen department.

This type of programming is also a great way to promote creativity, literacy, and computer/technology skills which all teens need.  There are a wide variety of tools your teens can use to create images:  they can do it free hand or use any type of program such as Microsoft Publisher, PowerPoint, Gimp, PhotoShop or any combination of the above.  If you don’t currently have access to a good photo editing program you can download Gimp for free.  PowerPoint is a particularly useful program for teens as a lot of schools require presentations now with this program as a part of their technology literacy curriculum.

In whatever programming you do, it is important that teens are engaged and have buy in.  And it is always a bonus if they can walk away with a product in their hands, especially one created for them by them.

So here’s a general outline and suggested timeline:

Set a launch date and dates for the artwork submission and determine the structure of your program: I suggest artwork be submitted prior to TRW if you want to have a reception where you announce the winner, or during TRW if that is when you want voting to take place.  Also determine if part of your program is going to be to have a teen tech lab day where teens can come in and use the library’s computers and get assistance from you to learn how to use the software and create their images.  This is, of course, completely dependent on your library’s ability to offer this type of programming.  If you don’t the tools, I recommend spending some time researching and writing a grant so that your library can purchase laptops and provide this type of teen programming in the future.  Or ask your administration if it is possible to have an after hours event and let the teens use your public computers.

Set up a prize:  Maybe a local art or craft store can donate a gift card or prize packet.  Or put together a book basket of art books and tools.  Or something cool like a digital camera.

Set up your general guidelines: size, mode of submission, format, etc.  The main component would be that it has to include a quote from a book.  You can specify if you want to limit it to teen books, or only teen fiction.  I would love it open to any book because whatever moves you, moves you.  You’ll want to specify in the guidelines that the quotation also include the title and author from the book, so that others seeing the piece can know where to find the book should they want to read it.  Yep, it’s a great RA tool, too.  When working with teenagers I really encourage you to have online modes of submission so let teens send their artwork to your work e-mail address, or set up a free account specifically for this task.  You’ll want to specify size so that you have a standard format to work with.  I usually include some type of statement about the library reserving the right to disqualify any submissions that include inappropriate content to make administrators happy, but it has never been an issue.

Set up your promotional campaign: theme, timeline.  Create promotional posters and an entry form.  I will work on putting together a template you can download and share them next week, or you can create your own.  I usually include on any submission form a place for teens to sign saying that they indicate it is an original piece of art (or poem or short story) and it doesn’t violate any copyright laws.  It won’t necessarily stop all violations, but I think it gets teens to stop and think about it for a moment.

Set up your support team: contact your area art teachers and get them on board, give them entry forms to pass out to students.  I recommend doing this a couple of weeks after school starts.  The first couple of weeks are kind of busy, but you want to get the information out there and give teens time to create, create, create!  Contact your local paper and ask them to run an article about TRW, popular teen titles, and your contest.  Get signs up everywhere, especially in your local arts district areas, your schools and anywhere in your community teens hang out.  Also, keep in mind that most churches have youth groups and they may be willing to put your signs up and pass the word along.  Contact your local radio station and ask them to run a psa for you. 

Also, remember that all library staff are a part of your support team.  Make sure they understand the process and guidelines.  Make sure they have a plentiful supply of fliers to put in patrons hands – all patrons, they may not be a teen but they may be the parent or a grandparent of a teen who doesn’t use the library and this is just the thing to get them involved.  Don’t limite your signs to the teen area, put them up in public spaces and near your nonfiction collection of art and drawing books.  Keep staff updated with weekly e-mails and share some submissions with them.  Communication is key in working with staff and you want to acknowledge that they are an important part of the process.

Set up your voting mechanism:  Determine how, or if, you want teens to vote. It doesn’t have to be a competition, but it would certainly be a fun one.  I recommend uploading and promoting online voting.  You could also set up a display and ballot box in your teen area to promote voting.  Or, better yet, do both and reach a wider audience.

So, to get us all in the spirit of this year’s TRW, I am going to ask you all to create your own Book Quotation Celebration and share it here on the TLT Facebook wall.  Be creative.  Have fun.  And celebrate the books that move you.  Here’s mine . . .

Other variations could include:
  • Create your own book cover or poster for your favorite book
  • Create your own READ type poster
  • Create a poster (basically an “ad”) for the teen area using pictures of yourself and your friends at the library
  • Create a collage or comic book cover for your favorite book