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.

1,418 responses

  1. […] an artist and illustrator. She told a story on her blog, Busy Mockingbird, about how she learned an important and surprising lesson in creativity from her 4 year-old daughter. The lesson was this: You can increase your creativity by letting go of control. By letting others […]

  2. Its inspiring project to start involving kids into art activities.

  3. Incroyablement captivant, mon petit doigt me dit que ce post devrait intéresser
    ma meuf

  4. […] Angela Hendricks and her four year old daughter. If not, please check out her website, Busy Mockingbird right now! What I love most about these images is that is shows how magical things can happen […]

  5. Awesome and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. […] by this mother/daughter duo, Songbird and I have been collaborating on birthday gifts for family members this year. Grandma L […]

  7. […] Mica Hendricks via busy mockingbird Previous Story (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); When […]

  8. […] while back a came across these fantastic illustrations by Mica Angela Hendricks and her 4 year old. She drew the faces and then let her daughter take over. I love the contrast […]

  9. I am interested in purchasing one of the drawings you and your daughter collaborated on. Where can I purchase? My email is megan.photographs@yahoo.com. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! Sorry, I’ve kept all the originals for her when she’s older. There are prints at society6.com/micaangela, but for now, that’s all I’m willing to part with! Thanks

  10. I would purchase this artwork were it ever available. I find it refreshing, surreal, and a wonderful blend of bonding time and meaningful creativity.

    1. Thank you so much! There are prints available at society6.com/micaangela

  11. These are beautiful i LOVE the (beaver?) astronauts!

  12. What an incredible treat – beautiful art combined with inspiration as a parent.

  13. I would love to inspire my children with my passion for Art & Design; take note, this is how it’s done. Brilliant.

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

  15. Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
    What a cute thing to do with your child.

  16. […] outcomes of the collaborations—which always far exceed their expectations for the works (Mica Angela Hendricks, ‘Collaborating with a 4-year Old’; Ruth Oosterman, ‘Thank […]

  17. I stumbled upon your story today while googling something else. Because I am an artist who’s sketchbooks are, as you put it, “sacred,” and because I have a 4 year-old son, I was curious. I absolutely love what you have created together! I took my son out to Michael’s as soon as my husband got home with the car and purchased a sketchbook for us. (Don’t worry, we won’t copy your and your daughter’s work. We’re going to do our own thing.) :)

    Unfortunately, my son has inherited my unhealthy level of perfectionism, and because I create a lot of realistic art, he has set the bar too high for himself. He will only draw smiley faces because “that’s the only thing I’m good at.” Or so he says. I’m hoping this will help him loosen up a bit, and build some confidence in his art.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. […] Collaborating with a 4-year-old […]

  19. I absolutely adore these and plan to put the in my daughter’s nursery. I did go through the shop and wondered if you did any african American characters with your daughter. :)

    1. Thank you, I sure did! There are a few, including Storm, Blue Dragon, Crying Sea Monster, and Lonely Mermaid in the shop, and some I have only posted on FB and IG. Our submission for the Reading Rainbow contest is of a darker-skinned girl, and some (like “regular badger”) are pretty neutral to any & everyone. I’ve tried to put a variety of characters and representations out there!

  20. […] would’ve thought a little “home project” could turn out to be such a life changing experience for them and for everyone who gets to […]

  21. Very cool. I loved her admonition about not sharing.

  22. This is by far the cutest and most brilliant artwork I have ever seen! Such a brilliant idea! Loved every bit of it! Thank you for sharing!

  23. […] An Artist Mom Started Letting Her Four-Year-Old Daughter Finish Her Sketches […]

  24. […] decided it’s a bit like this cool mother/daughter artistic collaboration, if you […]

  25. […] Mica Hendrick produz ilustrações como seu trabalho. Mas, desta vez, ela contou com a ajuda de sua filha de 4 anos para finalizar uma série de desenhos belíssimos. […]

  26. hai.. i sham from malaysia.. i like your drawing n style…. u are very talented n special people….

  27. First of all, I just purchased a print of yours and I can’t wait for it arrive! Secondly, I have loved your collaboration with your daughter so much that I have turned it into a lesson plan (I am an art teacher) between 8th graders and kindergarten! I taught it last year and am about to teach it again this year. Feel free to browse what they created on my blog http://missartypants.blogspot.com/2014/04/portrait-drawing-and-collaborative-art.html Thank you for the inspiration! I was sure to give you credit!

  28. […] mother-daughter team rocks! On her blog Illustrator Mica Angela Hendricks shared the collaboration with her 4-year-old daughter on a series […]

  29. […] für ein tolles Mutter-Tochter-Team! Die Illustratorin Mica Angela Hendricks teilt auf ihrem Blog eine Serie von wunderschönen Bildern, die gemeinsam mit ihrer 4-jährigen Tochter entstanden sind: […]

  30. […] out The Busy Mockingbird, a blog by illustrator and graphic artist Mica Angela Hendricks, whose blog post on her illustration collaborations with her daughter went viral. Pretty amazing […]

  31. These are beautiful. You could make a book with each picture as the Main theme and draw more to go along with it. There’s many stories that could be made:)

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

  33. […] da Vinci is credited with saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Contemporary artist Mica Hendricks now lets her daughter finish some of her works. And author Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page […]

  34. oshunkoya oluwakemi | Reply

    cant stop saying this,cant stop loving it…..it is a muaah.i love drawings too,how can i improve my drawing ability.

  35. Hi, your work with your girl is amazing ,I’m French and I’m very interesting by the couple of two astronotes ! May I known the price ? Kind regard

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