Using only an eraser, Floyd Cooper "draws" a face on an illustration board. His captive audience of fourth graders at a Polk Elementary School assembly, watch in awe.
"How did he do that?" one young boy asks his neighbor.
Cooper, a published author and an illustrator of children's books and young adult books, shows the children his favorite utensil when drawing--his eraser.
He takes it and pulls it out in a long string.
"I have all kinds of erasers but I especially love my stretchy eraser. It only costs about 35 to 50 cents and it works on pencil, chalk and paints," he tells them.
The technique Cooper uses is called oil wash on board. He paints an illustration board with oil paint, and then with a stretchy eraser, he erases the paint to make a picture. He calls this method of painting a "subtractive process." Then later, he will go in and add color to bring out details.
He asks the students if they have a dream.
"Don't stop dreaming. Keep going and make it happen. I couldn't draw but I loved to draw and today I'm an artist. And I discovered how to make it pay. All by using my eraser."
Cooper was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in fine art. He shared with the students how he loved to draw as a kid and said his third grade teacher told him to read a book of anatomy which helped him learn how to draw people. He admired his mother, who read to him a lot and encouraged his drawing by seeing that he had paper to draw on.
He told the children that he had sent a lot of his work to Hallmark and received a lot of rejections.
"But for every rejection they gave me free art supplies," he chuckles
He dreamed of being an illustrator.
He finally sold a piece of his artwork for $3,000 and he moved to New York City. Eventually his money ran out and on his very last day in the city, he got a picture of his accepted for a textbook. It was for a book titled, "Grandpa's Face" written by Eloise Greenfield, a well-known children's writer. His illustrations brought him a lot of attention and his career continued to flourish.
He has since illustrated 85 books. Some of the titles of his books are, "Be Good to Eddie Lee" written by Virgina Fleming, "Meet Danitra Brown" by Nikki Grimes, and one his favorites, "The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars" by Jean Merrill.
He has also written and illustrated four books: "Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes"; "Jump! From the Life of Michael Jordan"; "Mandella"; "Cumbayah."
To further engage the children, he asks some to come up and make a scribble line on an artist pad and then he draws a character out of it, ranging from a bearmouse, a dog, a mouse and Patrick, Sponge Bob's friend. He calls this Scribble Art.
When he announces that they all won a prize and that the prize was a stretchy eraser, the kids go ballistic and it's as if he offered them a million dollars.
As he concludes the assembly he asks the children what are the three most important words they should remember and they respond with "Never Give Up."
"Never give up and have the courage to follow your dreams and convictions," he tells them.
Cooper then autographed his books for children who had copies and spoke with them one-on-one.
He gave his presentation to two assemblies for third and fourth graders at Polk on April 14 and also at Pleasant Valley Elementary on April 15. He lives in Easton, PA with his wife and two children.