“Make no mistake” is not a phrase in Barney Saltzberg’s vocabulary. In Beautiful Oops!, the author-artist encourages the opposite, prompting kids to turn an artistic slip-up into a work of art. The creative how-to shows that, with some imagination and willingness to start again, budding artists can transform a smudge, smear, or dribble into something entirely different. On January 12, Workman – which published the book in 2010 – launches Celebrate Oops!, a program designed to help teachers and librarians implement the book’s message to build students’ confidence and help them use accidents as moments to learn.
The hub of the campaign is a website, where participants are asked to take the pledge: “We celebrate mistakes in this classroom. Every oops is an opportunity to make something beautiful.” Those who register on the site will receive classroom materials, including a poster, stickers, and an educator’s guide. Teachers and librarians can share their own creative initiatives and their students’ “beautiful oops” moments on the Website and on social media platforms via the hashtag #celebrateOops.
The Celebrate Oops! website also includes information for teachers interested in hosting Saltzberg. The author will celebrate the campaign’s launch by visiting schools in the Los Angeles area and holding Skype events in classrooms across the country during the week of January 12. A frequent guest at schools, libraries, and bookstores, Saltzberg entertains kids with drawing demonstrations, observations on the creative process, and songs performed to the strains of his ubiquitous guitar.
Landing at Oops
Two of his own drawing-board accidents got Saltzberg thinking about putting mishaps to creative use. After spilling coffee on his sketchbook, he opted to transform the stain into a monster’s face rather than reach for a fresh sketchbook. Another time, his black Lab, accidentally locked in Saltzberg’s studio, hopped onto his drawing table in an attempt to climb out a window. “The dog walked all over a painting I’d put a lot of time and energy into, and it seemed to be ruined,” Saltzberg lamented. “I almost cried, but decided to cover all the paw prints with clouds instead.”
The author incorporated both incidents into a power-point presentation he created for educators, who were captivated by the concept and asked if Saltzberg could help them teach it to kids. “So I thought about how I could do that, and grabbed a piece of paper, tore it halfway, and turned it into an alligator’s mouth,” he recalled. “Then I started thinking, ‘What else could I mess up?’ and it occurred to me that kids have little chance to play, improvise, and explore in school. These are things I’ve always been good at—that’s how my brain works – though it certainly didn’t help me in math class!”
Also integral to Saltzberg’s creative philosophy – and to Beautiful Oops! – is the importance of encouraging risk-taking. “So many kids are afraid of making mistakes and of failing,” he said. “But taking risks is part of the learning experience, though that’s a message that isn’t necessarily often shared and encouraged in schools. Which was one of the reasons I did Beautiful Oops! – to help teachers get that message across. Turning their mess-ups into beautiful art is a way for kids to use their imaginations – a squiggle can become a noodle doing yoga! There is no wrong or right answer, and it is liberating and fun.”
Inventively Celebrating Oops
Lauren Taylor, one teacher who has thoroughly embraced Saltzberg’s message, has already posted her students’ creative oops art on the Celebrate Oops! site. An art teacher at Kincaid School in Houston, Taylor has built lesson plans around Beautiful Oops! for her K-4 students, including collage, painting, and sculpting projects.
“At a certain point children start self-editing, and it’s hard for them to move past their mistakes, which can be scary and make us vulnerable,” she observed. “This book has helped me show them that a mistake is not a roadblock, but a happy accident they can use to their advantage. It’s a confidence booster and gives them a real pep in their step to discover that they can not only fix a mistake, but make something beautiful out of it.”
At Eagle School in Madison, Wis., art teacher Marcia Beckett reads Beautiful Oops! to her students at the beginning of each school year, and has introduced some tie-in projects tailored to a range of ages. One of them, which she shares on the Celebrate Oops! site, challenges kids to use a piece of cellophane to turn a hole in a piece of paper into art. “The kids have been so receptive to this project, and also to messing up papers themselves, with ink spots and the like, and making something new from it, which has been gratifying to see,” she said.
These teachers’ enthusiasm for the Celebrate Oops! initiative is exactly the response Workman hoped for, said Jessica Wiener, director of integrated marketing. She noted that sales of Beautiful Oops! (which have increased year-over-year since 2010, for a current in-print total of 227,000 copies) “have grown organically, in part due to Barney’s extensive promotional efforts and school visits. We’ve had such positive feedback from teachers that we realized we wanted to create a program to make it easier for them to use the book in their classrooms and get its message across to kids.”
True to character, Saltzberg won’t be putting down his drawing tools – or his guitar – anytime soon. After making in-person and Skype school visits to support the campaign in January, he’ll set off on a 15-city tour in February and March, where he’ll also be talking – and singing – up his debut board-book series, which Workman launches on February 10 with Redbird: Colors, Colors Everywhere and Redbird: Friends Come in Different Sizes.
Next up for the author is a title putting yet another spin on creativity: Inside This Book (are three books), in which three siblings write and bind together their individual books, due from Abrams Appleseed on April 7.
On the music track, the author is creating a promotional music video for each of the Redbird concept books. Saltzberg is also working on an album based on Beautiful Oops!, which will include work by other songwriters, as well as a sampling of Saltzberg’s own compositions, whose lyrics just might contain a playful verbal oops or two.