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PBS Doodles with Art Education

by Sharon Schatz

Doodle, an enthusiastic, beret-wearing pencil, and Dabney, a paintbrush, help kids learn about the arts. All images
© Interlight Studios.

Some kids will have a cool dude for an art teacher this fall. The dude is Doodle, a 3D animated pencil and the star/instructor of a new children's educational art series of the same name. Because of national concern over cuts in US art education funds, Doodle could be a small step in introducing art curriculums to some schools and maintaining art programs in others. The series is currently airing on PBS in ten states.

The Show
In each 15-minute episode, Doodle teaches young students a different aspect of art, with an emphasis on drawing. Some of the topics include drawing faces, cartooning, painting, light and shadow, color theory, comic book art, and art careers. The show is predominately created using 3D animation, with some 2D elements. Some episodes include a live-action guest (usually, an artist) who appears on video. As the host, Doodle breaks each lesson into steps and allows time for practice before a new step is introduced. In addition to the central topic, each episode includes an art history segment, art vocabulary, and a visit to the Kids' Gallery where children's drawings are displayed.

Doodle himself is an enthusiastic, beret-wearing pencil, who bops about the screen as he simplifies the topic at hand in a fun, fast-paced way. Some of the other characters include a paintbrush named Dabney, who helps with painting and color. Stretch, a lamp, who talks about lighting and also provides some comic relief. Then there is Smudge, the eraser, who is the only non-talking character, but he does grunt while he erases and morphs into different shapes. Penny, the ink pen, does the inking for the episodes on cartooning and comic art, and Meg, the computer, looks up art history information on the Internet.

The Producers
Doodle is produced by a division of Interlight Studios, a small 3D animation company based in Birmingham, Alabama. The company was founded in 1997 by Lee John Bruno and Jon Knowles. In addition to producing animated productions for children, the company also produces high-end realistic animation and special effects for commercials and films. Fly By Night Productions is the subsidiary under which all the children's educational productions, including Doodle, are produced.

The concept for Doodle was conceived by Knowles, who ran an art school in the early `90s. As more and more students enrolled in his program, he thought that if he could package his lessons on video, thousands of kids could benefit from his teaching. Knowles soon met Bruno and together they did the research development and Doodle was born. The episodes are based on Knowles' art school curriculum.

Other characters include, Stretch, a lamp, who talks about lighting and provides comic relief, and Smudge, an eraser.

Doodle Goes to School
Geared toward children between the second and sixth grades, Doodle is used primarily in schools. There is even a teacher guide available that corresponds to each episode. Different schools use the show in various capacities. Some art teachers record the show and use it as part of their curriculums. In schools without art programs, regular classroom teachers are using it to expose kids to art. Doodle is also being used in homeschool programs. In addition to being utilized in a school capacity (regular or homeschool), some kids watch the program from home on stations that air it in weekly timeslots. Some schools even use the show as a studyguide for statewide arts testing, as is the case in Kentucky.

KET, which reaches the entire state of Kentucky, is just one of the PBS stations that is currently airing Doodle. Liz Hobson, former Director of Education for KET, says that teachers are extremely pleased with the show because it has met their needs. Kentucky schools give statewide testing in several areas, including the arts beginning in elementary school. Arts testing includes art analysis, the ability to create art, and knowledge of art history. Hobson explains, "The show works beautifully because it includes the three things [the children] are tested on."

Unlike other stations that air the show on their regular PBS feed, KET runs the program on a closed circuit satellite system that goes directly into their schools. As several other PBS stations are doing, KET has chosen to air Doodle in a blockfeed. Hobson explains, "Teachers like to get [the show] on tape at the beginning of the year so they can use it whenever they want... We aired the whole series in August and then we have it scheduled several more times throughout the year... Then we also air it in a regular timeslot once a week." She adds, "We were very glad to have an opportunity to purchase this series and I expect it to be very popular."

Knowles believes that part of Doodle's appeal is that it touches on unique topics: "We teach things in Doodle that some of the art curriculums in the schools don't address. For example, cartooning. Many of the art curriculums don't even come close to touching cartooning, when it's a very viable form of art and you can make a very good living doing it."

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