Koolibri 2018, 32 pp.
ISBN  9789985041383

Whether or not something is art can be debated ad infinitum. Oftentimes, you hear people loudly declaring what they believe art is not. Nevertheless, making art doesn’t simply mean drawing well and as true to life as one can, even though that does remain an indication of artwork for many to this day. That being said, Kertu Sillaste’s children’s book Mina olen kunstnik (I Am an Artist) is a fitting guide for readers of all ages who ask what art really is.

            The main character is a little boy named Jaan, who states: “I am an artist.” In fact, there is an artist in every child, and a little bit of a child in every artist as well. Art springs from an unexpected idea or seeing accustomed things from a new angle. Sillaste outlines this to the reader, step-by-step.

            I Am an Artist emphasizes the importance of imagination. Art can be made in all kinds of different ways: it can be a game, a riddle, or even recognition. An artist can come up with a wide spectrum of ideas and even say: “I’m going to collect dust bunnies in a box and when it’s full, I’ll make a big, soft, gray sculpture.” At the same time: “Not all ideas can be made real. But so what!? It’s still fun to think them up.”

            In addition to drawings and paintings, Jaan crafts installations (a couch, fabric, and shoes can become a dinosaur!) and sculptures (such as a memorial to Grandpa using a hammer and logs). Although, even artists may occasionally be overcome by dark despair: for instance, you might make a hundred different tiger drawings and still not be satisfied with any of the results.

            It was nearly a decade ago that Sillaste, who has a degree in textile arts, first arrived at illustrating and later at creating her own children’s picture books. Her visual signature includes a vivid palette of colors, a childlike style of drawing, collage, and the mixing of pencil and India ink. The author’s illustrations speak worlds using minimal tools. As a very specific genre, the picture book requires an author to be skilled at self-expression in both word and image. Each and every tiniest detail in Sillaste’s books is exquisitely constructed and invigorating. She has repeatedly attracted recognition in children’s book competitions, and was the winner of the 2015 Knee-High Book Competition.

            In I Am an Artist, the author sets out to inspire children’s creativity, and it seems she did so successfully. Sillaste steadily guides children’s aptitude for experimentation towards artistic expression, while simultaneously introducing the benefits and opportunities provided by artistic creativity. Though the book is intended for a young audience, it can inspire readers of all ages to better understand art and try one’s own hand at it.