ASHLAND - Visiting Reagan Elementary School this week, best-selling children's book author and illustrator David Catrow brought creatures to life on the page before students' eyes.
More importantly, he gave the kids permission to explore and express their own creativity.
"No matter how young you are, you have the power to make someone think," Catrow said. "Create something. Make a statement of some kind. Put it out there and let people respond to it."
First grade teacher BreAnn Fennell applied for and received a $2,000 grant from Ashland City Schools Foundation to bring Catrow to the school for a day Monday. The Springfield, Ohio-based artist spent the day leading sessions with each grade level.
The grant also included funding for Fennell to purchase many of Catrow's books to get students excited and engaged before and after his visit. The school's parent teacher organization also contributed money, which allowed the school to give away books as prizes.
Fennell said the experience was eye-opening and thrilling for her students.
"I think anytime you can take what they've learned in school and apply a real world connect to it, it solidifies the learning for them," she said. "They can see that there's a person who does this for a living, and that's why I need to practice writing and why I need to practice art."
Catrow has plenty of illustration work to keep him busy full time, but he likes to accept invitations to speak in schools when he can.
"I like visiting students and showing them how I work as an artist and talking to them about the fact that basically all humans are artists," Catrow said. "We're all visual creatures, and we have a real basic human need to communicate our ideas."
As someone who normally works alone in a studio, Catrow appreciates opportunities to interact with others. He also likes to field questions about his work and his decisions as those questions cause him to reflect on his creative process.
Catrow hopes his visits are as beneficial for students as they are for himself.
"When I was in school, I never had any visitors to our class," Catrow said. "I never got a chance to see other people and begin to form this idea of the world being a big place. The world was 30 students and the classroom and the teacher."
Considering himself a better visual communicator than a verbal one, Catrow chooses not just to speak about and show his art in schools but also to paint in front of classes.
The speed of the sessions requires quick and decisive strokes and fosters what Catrow calls "beautiful accidents" that he teaches students to embrace.
Though Catrow has been painting and drawing and telling stories as long as he can remember, he never thought of art as a field he would major in or a career he would pursue.
He majored in biology and found himself working as a medical illustrator after college.
For years, he worked as an editorial cartoonist for Cox Media Group. His cartoons were syndicated in newspapers across the country.
It wasn't until an editor asked him to look at a manuscript and to create images for it in his own cartoon style that he considered book illustration as an option.
"I'm self-taught, so it's kind of like she had given me permission to illustrate this book in this way," Catrow said.
Once the book came out in 1990, Catrow began getting calls from major publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Today, Catrow has about 80 titles in print. He has also worked on visual development for the movies "Despicable Me" and "Horton Hears A Who."
"It's all because I was doing something I love to do," Catrow said.