Collaborating with a 4-year Old

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One day, while my daughter was happily distracted in her own marker drawings, I decided to risk pulling out a new sketchbook I had special ordered.  It had dark paper, and was perfect for adding highlights to.  I had only drawn a little in it, and was anxious to try it again, but knowing our daughter’s love of art supplies, it meant that if I wasn’t sly enough, I might have to share.  (Note:  I’m all about kid’s crafts, but when it comes to my own art projects, I don’t like to share.)  Since she was engrossed in her own project, I thought I might be able to pull it off.

Ahhh, I should’ve known better.  No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look.  “OOOH!  Is that a NEW sketchbook?  Can I draw in that too, mama?”  I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them.  I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist.  In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”

Oh no she didn’t!  Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me!  Impressed, I agreed to comply.  “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said.  “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen.  I had resigned myself to let that one go.  To let her have the page, and then let it go.  I would just draw on my own later, I decided.  I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do!  But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.

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Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew.  I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman.  It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created.  Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished.  She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled.  It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers.  And she LOVED being a part of it.  She never hesitated in her intent.  She wasn’t tentative.  She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done.  …And the thing is, she DID.

Soon, she began flipping through my sketchbook, looking for more heads.  “Do you have any heads for me today?”  she would ask me each morning.  So I began making a point at night to draw some faces for her (which was my pleasure–faces are my favorite part, anyway).  She would then pick up a pen with great focus, and begin to draw.  Later, I would add color and highlights, texture and painting, to make a complete piece.  Sometimes she filled in the solid areas with colored markers, but I would always finish with acrylics later on my own.

mr beever

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Sometimes I would give her suggestions, like “maybe she could have a dragon body!”  but usually she would ignore theses suggestions if it didn’t fit in with what she already had in mind.  But since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads.  Maybe she could make this into a bug!  I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like.  So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!?  She’s just scribbling it all up!  But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined.  ALWAYS.

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For example, the filled-in marker of the one above, she told me, was a chrysalis, for the caterpillar to transform into a butterfly.  Of COURSE it is.  I never would have thought of that.   And that’s why kids make awesome artists.

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Later, I would show her what I had done with our drawings–the painting and coloring.  She seemed to critique them pretty harshly.  “That’s silly, mama.”  or “you put WATER behind her?”  But for the most part, she enjoyed them.  I enjoyed them.  I LOVE them.

outer face

And from it all, here are the lessons I learned:  to try not to be so rigid.  Yes, some things (like my new sketchbook) are sacred, but if you let go of those chains, new and wonderful things can happen.  Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little.  In sharing my artwork and allowing our daughter to be an equal in our collaborations, I helped solidify her confidence, which is way more precious than any doodle I could have done.  In her mind, her contributions were as valid as mine (and in truth, they really were).  Most importantly, I learned that if you have a preconceived notion of how something should be, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED.  Instead, just go with it, just ACCEPT it, because usually something even more wonderful will come out of it.

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SIDE NOTE:  As an idea (mainly for myself) I decided to put just a few of our collaborative prints up for sale on a site called Society 6.  I purchased one myself (the space beavers, called “Outer Face”) to see how they would turn out, and I’m pretty happy with it.  We’ve done dozens and dozens of collaborative sketches, but I only put a few up as prints.  I’m not sure what to do with the others.  Maybe make a children’s book out of them?  Make poems to go along?  I’m not sure, but I love them with a very large portion of my heart, and they need a special place.

1,368 responses

  1. […] always like my contributions. Her drawings are a huge inspiration to me and the artwork of this mother/daughter team inspired us to try our own project together.  We are planning to donate this piece to our local […]

  2. Your post was wonderful. I am at present enhancing/editing some illustrations for my husband’s new children’s book( “Jake, Little Jimmy and Big Louie” about a boy and two birds) that I have edited. Our illustrator is our eight-year-old great-granddaughter. We don’t have the luxury of living in the same place but Hannah’s grandmother (our daughter) has read through the draft chapters with her and then oversees her drawings for each chapter, scans them in and sends us the JPGs. Sometimes the main characters look different from picture to picture so I am now using Microsoft Paint to adjust them for a uniformity of sorts without losing that special child’s perspective. What fun! I will then rescan the edited pictures at a resolution high enough for printing in the book. I also blogged most of the chapters little by little as they were being edited (leaving out the last chapter). The ensuing comments were helpful We will blog news on the future publication.

    I urge you to use at least some of your wonderful collaborations in a children’s book that perhaps you can write together. What a terrific contribution to children’s literature that could be!

    Best wishes, Gayle Moore-Morrans, editor and blogger

  3. These are sooo cool! Do more…

  4. Reblogged this on Ian Moore-Morrans, Scottish Canadian Author and commented:
    Your post was wonderful. I am at present enhancing/editing some illustrations for my husband’s new children’s book( “Jake, Little Jimmy and Big Louie” about a boy and two birds) that I have edited. Our illustrator is our eight-year-old great-granddaughter. We don’t have the luxury of living in the same place but Hannah’s grandmother (our daughter) has read through the draft chapters with her and then oversees her drawings for each chapter, scans them in and sends us the JPGs. Sometimes the main characters look different from picture to picture so I am now using Microsoft Paint to adjust them for a uniformity of sorts without losing that special child’s perspective. What fun! I will then rescan the edited pictures at a resolution high enough for printing in the book. I also blogged most of the chapters little by little as they were being edited (leaving out the last chapter). The ensuing comments were helpful We will blog news on the future publication.

    I urge you to use at least some of your wonderful collaborations in a children’s book that perhaps you can write together. What a terrific contribution to children’s literature that could be!

  5. Bought one bag, two throw pillows and two sets of postcards via Society6 and I love all of them! So pretty, unique and cool. Thanks!

  6. […] read this wonderful post about a mother collaborating on art projects with her 4-year-old daughter several months ago, and loved it. It’s worth a read (and worth seeing the art they […]

  7. […] found this; http://busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27/collaborating-with-a-4-year-old/ about an illustrator who learnt to collaborate with her four year old daughter and not be so […]

  8. I loved reading this, my art is no where near as good as yours and I have a hard time collaborating with people who I know are good artists. I think these would make a great addition to a children’s book!!

  9. These are amazing – I love them! Do you do requests? For example, if I wanted a picture with my face or my boyfriend’s face? This style is so engaging!

  10. […] Stapelweise Papier verbrauchen meine Mädels zum Malen, Tuschen und Schreiben üben. Es ist schon bemerkenswert, wie sehr sich die ersten krakeligen Striche verändert haben. Jetzt malt meine Große “Meerjungsfrauen” und lauter Prinzessinnen. Was ich mit den ganzen Bildern noch mache, die ich aufbewahrt habe, weiss ich noch nicht. Und manchmal habe ich Sorge, dass ich die ersten Bilder der Zweijährigen nicht so würdige, wie die ihrer Schwester damals… Hier haben Eltern, die das Malen beruflich machen, ihre Kinder an ihre Bilder gelassen. Mit ganz unglaublichen Ergebnissen! Der Vater malt die Bilder fertig, die ihm seine Kinder mitgeben, wenn er verreisen muss. Und die Mutter lässt ihre Tochter ihre Bilder weitermalen. Der erste Gedanke ist ja erst mal, oh weia, mach das nicht kaputt, aber diese Frau, war so weise und hat diesen Schrei unterdrückt. Eine Lektion in Ermutigung! Hier der Link zum Vater und hier zu der Mutter. […]

  11. Those are so innovative!
    As an Early childhood educator, one of the first things we learn is Process over product. We get so wrapped up in the final piece, we forget to enjoy how we got there. In this case, it’s your little girl using her imagination. Encourage that as much as you can. It’s not going to last long. Society plants it’s evil seed quickly. (What things should be like and what they shouldn’t be)

    Best of luck!

  12. This is amazing. I am so impressed with the paintings and it’s just a beautiful thing to see. I hope you carry on doing this for a long time. This is just great.

  13. […] Busy Mockingbird blog.  Particularly this most delightful post, which discusses the unexpected collaboration of the artist with her four year […]

  14. I’d love to get info on having a piece commissioned! I showed this to my husband and we thought it would be so great to get a family portrait done :)

  15. […] Doodle more.  I was painting with my daughter the other day and asked her if she wanted me to paint a heart or a star or a flower.  She looked at me and said no Mama, do like this.  She proceeded to paint a swiggly line.  It was great.  I decided right there that this year I am going to draw more swiggles and just let what happens happen.  Too often my perfectionist side gets in the way of my creativity.  Some where I got stuck thinking my art always needs to look like something.   There is no rule that says that is the way it has to be.  A friend of mine shared a wonderful article with me about a woman who sketches with her daughter.  The woman illustrates these beautiful heads and her daughter draws the bodies.  They are incredible, check her out here. […]

  16. Beautiful and wonderful, what else could I say <3

  17. […] by this wonderful post by the busy mockingbird my daughter and I have been having a great time collaborating on all sort […]

  18. […] Today’s session in field consisted of the four of us reporting back to our tutors by showing a simple power point presentation of our work in subject so far, and also added some artist research including: http://busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27/collaborating-with-a-4-year-old/ […]

  19. […] Today’s session in field consisted of the four of us reporting back to our tutors by showing a simple power point presentation of our work in subject so far, and also added some artist research including: http://busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27/collaborating-with-a-4-year-old/ […]

  20. […] I saw these: A mother-child unexpected collaboration series and a father who colors his kid’s drawings. Both are beyond amazing and you should go check […]

  21. Love this. SO cute. My mother will think this iss a great idea

  22. […] you’ve have a look, don’t forget to head over to Mica’s blog to read more about this work, see more images, and find out more about this […]

  23. […] of fun crafty things with my boy as he gets older and even collaborate on projects together like this amazing mom. But 2 year olds are very limited in the tools and materials they can safely use so I came up with […]

  24. […] improve any illustration I might have done.  …And the thing is, she DID.”  Check out this post from Mica’s blog Busy Mocking Bird to read more about their […]

  25. The one with the two astronauts and beaver tails reminds me of Gravity with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. That would make a great movie trailer! :)

  26. Well, clearly the refrigerator door is one very special place for your collaborations! Have you tried laminating? It’s a great way to preserve kid’s art and it makes them look great too (unless you are doing a traditional mat/frame)

    And why not do a kid’s style body yourself? Put those impulses you have (“maybe she’ll make a bug out of this one) down on paper! Little girls grow up and then you’ll have to wait for a granddaughter to continue the fun!

    Love this post, and it’s some of the funnest artwork ever! Great Mom!

    1. I have tried laminating, but good GOLLY we’d have the whole house covered! I try to save the best doodles. For now, all the collaborations are resting in a very big binder. As for the kid’s body, it’s very difficult to get that childlike quality back once you’re grown up…I’m not sure I could match the magic of hers! I’m very glad you enjoy them–thanks so much!

  27. Hi, love, love, love it. I’m no artist but often find myself being precious over MY things. I had a drawer of stickers I’d been saving for “the right project.” In less than 20 minutes my kids had demolished the collection (I keep pulling rogue stickers out of the washing machine filter). But they had a lot of fun, and “fun is good.”

    Is your “The Last Bull” piece a tribute to “The Last Unicorn”?

    1. Fun is definitely good! Yes, the “Last Bull” is indeed the bull from “The Last Unicorn,”–a movie our daughter won’t watch because it looks “too scary,” but that she’s heard the song and seen the trailer for and loves.

  28. Really cool.. very cool juxtaposition, seeing through the eyes of a child, but also seeing through the trained eye of an adult. It’s a wonderful idea, but they are also very interesting to look at. thanks for sharing this.

  29. […] to contribute doodles to her face drawings. After Mica posted their finished pieces on her blog, Busy Mockingbird, the whimsical images went viral. We’ve embedded a video about the project above. Here’s more […]

  30. Hannah Litaker | Reply

    I’ve seen this post around the internet a lot lately – and all the attention is well-deserved, indeed! This is such a unique and interesting concept. I love it.

    -Hannah L.
    staff writer, guilfordhandeye.wordpress.com

  31. […] more about Mica and her daughter’s art here, and check out more of their work on: busymockingbird.com twitter facebook […]

  32. Reblogged this on Randal's Sanctuary and commented:
    Hey, all I have to do is find someone who can draw heads, and I can draw the bodies. There is hope for my career as an artist yet!

  33. […] see more collaborative work created by Hendricks and her daughter, check out her blog post. Her artwork can be […]

  34. I love this! Portraits are my favorite thing to draw but I rarely pull out my sketchbook in front of my 3 year old because I know she’ll want to help and my brain immediately goes to “no! It’s mine!” But I may start doing this with her, I know she would love it.

  35. […] heads of figures and her daughter draws the rest of the body. The result? Awesomeness. Check out her blog post about the collaboration as well as the Kickstarter page to raise money for a book featuring the duo’s […]

  36. […] Mum draws the faces, daughter draws the bodies.. Lovely blog post about collaborative art here […]

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