Conversation With Hanoch Piven About His New iPhone App “Faces iMake”

Hanoch Piven, author and illustrator of My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks and What Presidents Are Made Of, is releasing an app for the iPhone / iPod Touch!

Piven’s books are a favorite in our art rooms and among all grade levels. Our students are drawn to his illustrations. In fact, just last week, our school’s Media Resource Center had a waiting list for some of Piven’s titles.

With great anticipation for his transition to mobile publishing, the Teaching Palette recently interviewed Piven about his app, titled Faces iMake, and quizzed him about turning his unique illustration style into an app.

Teaching Palette: What motivated you to create an app in your artistic style?

Hanoch Piven: I’ve been doing my work for twenty years and for ten years have been doing workshops. The workshop has grown and grown. It started with me just going to kindergartens and schools when my books first came out. Then slowly more, and more people participated. The age of the participants went up slowly from primary school kids, to teenagers, to high school kids, to really even working with adults. And also the types of population that started to participate in my workshop really changed and expanded. People going through some trauma, sick people, people in hospitals to managers and CEO’s of companies.

So the workshops became something very important in my life, and I realized that there is something in what I teach that is so accessible. That really anybody can connect to it no mater what the age. They can connect to it because it’s really about play. It’s about really finding what it is to be drawing. Drawing… the way I see it, doesn’t have to be made with a pencil, or with a brush, or with a traditional drawing tool. But it can be made by moving objects around a plain; around an area.

Once the iPhone came out my partner (Eyal Dessau) called me and said he had, ‘such and such idea’. It’s very accessible, very easy to do from the iPhone, very intuitive. But I didn’t want it to be just a game. I just wanted it to, sort of, be a workshop with me… a digital one. So it is very important that is not Photoshop. You relate to the objects the way you would relate to them in the real world. I mean, obviously, it is digital and not exactly this way, but you cannot change the size of objects. You cannot squeeze them. You can turn it, but that’s all about what you can do. So the relationships of size between the objects are true to the real world. Basically putting limitations. It would have been very easy to scale objects up and down, but we wanted …I wanted to have limitations that are real life limitations. And for me limitations have always been a great driving force. And a great set of parameters within which to work.

Teaching Palette: Yeah, I can see that if something doesn’t work, you have to think differently about the objects to use it.

Hanoch Piven: Exactly! And without going much further, the reason I started working with objects is because I had limitations. My drawing skills are not that good. It’s not a joke. It’s really the truth. I don’t draw very well. I draw OK. I draw OK for an amateur like if I compare myself to people who can draw, but within the professionals; compared to the professionals I’m not very good. I realized this when I was in art school and, for me, those limitations — that big limitation — was what sent me looking for my own way of doing things. Which end up being for me, obviously, working with objects. Interestingly enough this whole language that was really developed around my strengths and my weaknesses. Was supposed to be a very personal way; a personal language. So this very personal language ended up being a language that is so easily accessible by everyone. Part of the success of my workshops, and of the idea that other people look at my work and they want to make their own pieces, is that some how people can relate to the idea of, ‘Ok, I don’t know how to draw I usually don’t do art, but here is a way that I can do art.’

Teaching Palette: Yeah, I totally see it, and I love the way you add meaning to the objects in your books. They’re not just there because they fill the right shape.

Hanoch Piven: Right, so this is the second part of it because first I really talk about let’s play. Lets play and let’s play by looking at the world around us in a different way. In my talks, in my workshops, I talk a lot about forgetting what this object really is and just experiencing its shape. So that’s the first stage, just playing with the objects.

The second stage, which you really need also to think about the meaning of the objects, is that really drawing with objects is not only very easy, but it’s very communicative. So it’s the possibility and an opportunity to tell a story without words. So you can really tell something by the types of objects you choose to use.

Teaching Palette: I think that’s why kids gravitate to your art so quickly because it speaks their language. They see it, they understand it and it doesn’t matter what reading level they are.

Hanoch Piven: Those are sort of the principles of my workshop. And how does the application serve as a workshop, because there are some lessons in it. We recorded some videos of me working. I show certain examples of how I work and how all the things that happen to me when I work can be experienced also when you are working. Whether it is in real life or in the iPhone. The movies, the little video clips, are of me working with real objects, not of me working with the app. So it’s kind of like you come to my studio and you see a little bit of how I work.

Teaching Palette: Through your experiences with the workshops, do you have any thoughts on how your app is going to be used in education?

Hanoch Piven: That’s a good question. I think creative teachers can do a lot with it. For me, my experience has been that I can send some energy to the world by my work. And lots of the great things that have happened to me have been because someone has brought me back energy with an idea. So I think and I hope lots of interesting projects come from somebody else will think of them and they will come back to me. So that’s kind of the exciting thing that has happened for me.

I started doing therapeutic art workshops because an art therapist thought of it. And I started doing corporate workshops because some kind of corporate advisor thought of that. So it’s kind of interesting that this kind of energy goes out and comes back.

So I can think of putting out this tool and then I’m sure teachers would have all these great ideas. Obviously, I can think of ideas, which I’m sure you thought of them yourself, like the whole class doing a portrait of George Washington, now let’s do a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, now let’s do an angry face, let’s do a sugary face, let’s do a sad face and then write a poem to describe it.

Teaching Palette: Well, you’re already thinking like a teacher.

Hanoch Piven: Not because I’m so smart, but because I’ve been hearing those things. You know being around teachers I’ve heard of how teachers use the Smelly Dog book to teach similes.

Teaching Palette: Is there a spot on your app where you can write something that goes with the picture they made?

Hanoch Piven: There are letters you can use as objects. They’re pretty large so it’s more like you can write a name, but it’s nice because you can make a picture and write a slogan that goes with that picture, that compliments that picture, that explains something about that picture, that has a dialog with that picture. You can write, I would say, up to 10-15 letters. They are like magnets letters.

Teaching Palette: Very cool!

Hanoch Piven: They could be used if someone is smart enough, creative enough, they can use the letters as shapes and draw with letters.

Teaching Palette: When you finish an image in your app, can you export it to the photo library?

Hanoch Piven: Yes, you can export it to the photo library. You can share it. We have included 100 objects at this point, but we have photographed many more and it can grow and grow and grow and grow. So it’s really limitless. In my workshops I like to say we have on the table all the objects in the world.

Thank you, Hanoch, for taking the time to speak with the Teaching Palette about your iPhone app, Faces iMake, which is currently in the iTunes Store.

We have a copy of the app and were testing it. Look for a review soon.

Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee

The founders and primary authors of this blog are Hillary Andrlik and Theresa McGee, who both teach elementary art in the Chicagoland area. Hillary has been teaching art since 2002, received her art education degree from Illinois State University and masters from National Louis University. Theresa has been teaching since 1997 and received her bachelors degree from Northern Illinois University and masters from Benedictine University. In 2008, Theresa became a National Board Certified Teacher. Both Hillary and Theresa have earned the honor of being Illinois Elementary Art Educator of the Year. Together, Hillary and Theresa have presented at Illinois Art Education Association Conference on topics ranging from classroom management to technology and each have presented on numerous other occasions for other organizations.

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