Making monsters

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Kids and artists work together on creepy creations

A local student has learned that making monsters real has some perks for children.

University of North Texas communications design senior Katie Johnson has been turning those creepy, crawly, slimy things that can scare kids into works of art with the help of friends, artists and lots of schoolchildren.

Now in its third year, Johnson’s effort, called “The Monster Project,” does two things for the children involved: It brings monsters out of the dark (and from under the bed and deep in the closet), and it makes them collaborators in art-making.

Johnson takes drawings from second-graders at Faubion Elementary School in Cedar Park, where her mom teaches music, and turns them into works of art. Friends, co-workers and fellow UNT students help Johnson interpret the monster drawings during the fall semester.

Then, Johnson visits the children to show them their original drawing next to the artistic interpretation — which is done in a variety of media, from watercolor to computer graphics to metal sculpture.

Johnson got the idea for the project after thinking about the experiences she had in a gifted and talented program while in elementary school — and how those experiences influenced her to study art.

This year, Johnson received 52 monsters and the help of 45 artists who want to share art experiences with children.

“I think that the project is great at inspiring more young kids to be artistic,” said Alex Miller, a junior in communication design who created her monster interpretation using Photoshop. “I don’t think there are strong enough art programs in schools, so if more young kids are interested, they’ll hopefully beef up art programs.”

Russ Connell, a senior from Austin, agreed that the project can inspire children and said it also offers them a broader look at art.

“This can open up kids’ minds as to what kind of art can be produced,” said Connell, who created a three-dimensional steel monster based on one of the drawings. “When I was in grade school, I thought art could only be done on paper and canvas. Now that I specialize in metalwork, I realize there’s an entire world I never knew existed.”

Each artist writes a note to go with the reinterpreted monster. The note tells the child what the artist liked about the monster. When Johnson presents the monsters to the children, she spends time talking with them and points out what she likes best about the creations.

“I hope that some of these kids decide to become artists or designers because of this,” Miller said. “It challenges them to be more creative. These days kids spend a lot of time in front of screens, so it’s really important that they keep an active imagination.”

— Staff report

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