Want to learn how to draw? Here are 5 tips from a celebrated children's illustrator

Montreal artist Elise Gravel has illustrated dozens of children's books — but with her latest, the goal is to get other people to draw.

Montreal's Elise Gravel wants you to find your inner child

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel. (Elise Gravel)

Montreal illustrator Elise Gravel has illustrated dozens of children's books, but with her latest, the goal is to get other people to draw. If Found...Please Return To Elise Gravel launches with Drawn & Quarterly at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend. The book offers a peek into Gravel's sketchbook full of monsters, animals, microbes and farting vegetables, with drawing prompts and tips for young illustrators.

Surprisingly, a couple of years ago, Gravel wasn't yet keeping a sketchbook, instead drawing on loose sheets and scraps of paper. She began her notebook as a form of stress relief when working on some "very precise projects" for publishers.

"At night when the kids were in bed I would just start sketching in that sketchbook and drawing whatever came to mind," she tells CBC Arts. In the morning, her kids wanted to see what she'd done, so she thought other kids might want to look at it too.

Here are a few of her tips for illustrators of all ages who are hesitant to get started:

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel. (Elise Gravel)

1. Have fun

"Try to keep the fun in what you do and not worry about if it's good enough or if other people think it's good enough. Draw something that makes you smile, have fun and forget everything else around you while you're doing it."

2. Look at everything

"If you want to draw more and have more inspiration, look at everything around you — go to museums, go to exhibits and try to find underground stuff you didn't know about," she says. Gravel is inspired by "funny absurd ladies" like fellow Drawn & Quarterly authors Lynda Barry, Kate Beaton, Jillian Tamaki and Lisa Hanawalt, and she starts her mornings looking at images on social media, including work by the artists she loves.

She tells children it's okay to practice by imitating an artist you like. "But I think it applies to [adults] as well — if you like drawing something, a certain style, you have the right to copy and imitate for the learning's a very very good way to learn how to draw."

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel. (Elise Gravel)

3. Get something, anything, on paper

Creative blocks can be the toughest part to get past. "If you have ideas and you want to draw them, that's easy," Gravel says. But if you want to draw and have no ideas, first of all, get something on paper.

"To put something on paper, it unfreezes you. After that, you can start drawing around it or trying to modify it, do your own version of something you really like."

4. Find a child (or at least your inner child)

"If you have children around, that will help a lot too. They just pick up a pen and paper and start drawing — they don't think about, 'What am I going to draw?' or 'Do I have a good idea?' They just start drawing. Look at them, imitate the kids, start drawing and ask them to add something to your drawing."

Gravel's two children are 9 and 12 now, and she remembers exactly when they became self-conscious about their work. "I saw the time when they started questioning their own art and that was a very sad moment for me, because they used to have so much fun and were drawing anything and showing it to everybody, and then they started saying, 'It's not any good' and 'My friend is better than me.' And [I thought], 'No, no, you're losing the fun!'"

"Remember that time when you were a kid and the outsider look on your art became important — and try to go back before that, when it was just printing your thumbs on paper, adding a face to it and laughing."

If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel. (Elise Gravel)

5. Draw monsters

Feeling stuck? Monsters are an easy solution and Gravel's favourite thing to draw. "You can draw whatever you want and it can't be bad — it's a monster," Gravel says.

But it doesn't have to have to be monsters, either. "If it's what makes you feel good, draw the same thing over and over. I draw monsters, but if your thing is drawing ramen soup or ice cream cones or cookies, just do it as often as you want. And at some point, you'll start doing something new."

Gravel will be signing her books at the Drawn and Quarterly, Penguin and HarperCollins booths and running drawing and sketchbook workshops at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 13 and 14.