Following my paintbrush

posted in: Dulari Devi, Gita Wolf | 21
Image: Wikipedia

There are plenty of picture books out there about having a dream, holding on to it, and making it a reality, from Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed to Oliver Jeffers’ How to Catch a Star (thanks, Cathy!) and today’s book is a stunning new addition to that canon: Following my Paint Brush by Dulari Devi and Gita Wolf

Following my Paint Brush is a true-life biography of an artist, who started out life in such a poor family that as a girl she had to wash dishes for other families to help make ends meet. Thanks to a chance encounter with someone who encouraged her when she expressed an interest in painting, she persevered and realised her dream of creating art, of capturing images in her mind that told stories. It’s an optimistic tale, told simply and elegantly, but what really makes Following my Paint Brush stand out from the crowd is its illustrations.

The biography told is that of Dulari Devi, an artist who works in the Mithila style which originates in the state of Bihar in eastern India, and it is her own artwork that fills this book. The style is unlike that I’d ever seen before in a children’s book; the matching of a familiar type of story with unfamiliar art works effectively: At one and the same time, this is (or could be) a story of “everyman”, but is also the story of one very remarkable woman.

The colours and detail in Devi’s artwork really appealed to both M and J. It became a game to look for for tiny images (especially of fish) hidden in the highly patterned pictures. Although depicting scenes from another country and culture, my girls could identify with many things they saw for example the children playing in the street and Devi’s fondness as a child for lining up pots and pans in rows. They experienced both the otherness and similarity of another way of viewing the world.

The book as a physical object is also a delight to hold – from the eyecatching neon pink cover, to the satisfyingly thick paper used inside. Following my Paint Brush is an unusual, fascinating book that I hope will find its way into many children’s hands.

Inspired by Following my Paint Brush we first went on a treasure hunt to find all the different brushes we could in and around our home.

We then set about using them to paint with, exploring how different brushes can be used for different techniques.

It was such fun to do some painting that was all about the process, rather than the final, finished product.

Taking a single type of object (in this case, a brush) and focussing on it definitely brought out a different sort of creativity with the girls.

Whilst painting we listened to:

  • I am the Artist by The Annies
  • Pavement Artist sung by Dick Van Dyke, from the musical Mary Poppins.
  • Everyone’s An Artist by Tom Knight


  • Other activities which could be fun alongside reading Following my Paint Brush include:

  • Going to India! No, I don’t mean getting on a plane, but simply visiting an Indian neighbourhood in your city if you have one. We did exactly that here.
  • Making your own paintbrushes – there’s a simple tutorial here.
  • Trying to draw your own pictures in the style of Mithila folk painting. My girls found this a little tricky as Mithila paintings tend to be quite detailed, but what worked really well for them was colouring in examples of Mithila painting. I did an image search on Google and restricted myself to black and white images. I then printed off a few for the girls to colour in.

  • What was your most recent creative endeavour where it was all about the process rather than the product? And what’s your favourite picture book about following your dream?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, remains my own and honest opinion.

    21 Responses

    1. choxbox

      What an awesome review! And only you can put such a simple yet creative twist to it Zoe!

      And yes please do really come to India. Would LOVE to host you.

      • Zoe

        OH choxbox, thankyou for the standing invite. I certainly dream about visiting India and you, and Sandhya!

    2. Clara Vulliamy

      What an interesting theme – dreams, and following the dream. You’ve found a stunning book here – it’s very exciting to think of young readers becoming small citizens of the world through looking at illustrations: ‘otherness and
      similarity’ is absolutely right.
      And as for different kinds of paintbrush – don’t get me started – I’m following, following!

      • Zoe

        Hi Clara, did you see the video of Quentin Blake on the Telegraph website yesterday? He shows a couple of different tools he uses for drawing and I thought that was really interesting.

    3. Clara Vulliamy

      I didn’t – but I have now: very interesting. Drawing is a way of seeing, after all, and anything that helps children get past that inhibiting, self-conscious stage (when ‘I can’t draw! I’m so rubbish at art!’ kicks in) is a VERY good thing.

    4. Zoe

      Clara – I could say the same applies even more to adults – it’s easy for us (especially those of us who aren’t professionally artists with with paint or word or music) to get stuck on the “can’t do” side of things, rather than just enjoying it (and practising it!)

    5. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

      What a beautiful book and post. Your children’s explorations of the brushes and paints are a grand way to celebrate this artist and her work, and I so appreciate your suggestion to visit an Indian neighborhood. Our family needs to do more of this. Thank you! a.

    6. Zoe

      Thankyou everyone for your encouraging comments.

      Yes, Sanjay, exploring other cultures is something I think is so important.

      Amy – do try a trip to “India” or which ever place you can in a local neighbourhood. My three year old and I went to “China” last Friday – just in to Chinatown, but she loved it – all the chinese writing on the signs, the chinese bakery, the chinese supermarket full of things she didn’t recognise. It was a great trip for both of us!

    7. Camille

      What a great book and activity. My daughter loves to paint and would love this book. Also thanks for reccomending 365 Penguins – I am excited to check it out! My kids love Penguins and are especially excited about them right now.
      Camille recently posted..All Kinds of Kisses

    8. Myra from GatheringBooks

      Hi Zoe! I discovered this book while I was in Mumbai when I was invited to share my research on folk tales during a Children’s Lit conference/exhibition – I was supposed to purchase it, but when the time came for me to buy the book, it’s been sold out! Suzy Lee who was with me (and was also invited to talk about her wordless books), managed to snag a copy and I read it through in one sitting as we were (supposedly) listening to one of the sessions. I agree, this is a beautiful book and very empowering too. Again, I so enjoyed looking at your girls’ photos – such priceless moments captured here, Zoe. I truly truly admire your dedication. 🙂
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..AWB 2012 Database

      • Zoe

        Hi Myra, double goodness – the book sells out AND then you get to spend some more time with Suzy Lee as a result!

    9. Bridget

      So glad I fell upon this post! I love that sight of a forest of brushes. What paints did you use? I imagine new ways to mix colours coming out of those spikes, sticks and furry bits!
      So much to be inspired by and yes I agree about process. It’s the curiosity about process that keeps me going as an illustrator, even if I have to end with a product – to pay for the process! Will order Following my Paint Brush for my local library if it’s not there already…
      Thanks for your treasure of a blog!
      Bridget recently posted..Characters, characters

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