Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, our daughter was terribly sick from a flu and was relegated to basically lying in front of the television. We had watched nearly every kid’s movie imaginable already. It was my birthday, and I had just gotten the entire Star Wars series on blu-ray. I wondered…is New Hope too “grownup” for a robot-loving kid? I asked her if she was interested in a movie about robots and outer space. She said yes…
And that was where her love of C3PO began.
Funnily enough, C3PO was my favorite as a kid, too. (When had I painted our Munny family portraits well before her discovery, you may notice I was C-3PO.) Yes, R2 was funny and silly and snarky, but you wouldn’t really know what his beeps & whistles meant without the other half of the conversation. 3PO was silly and personable and charming. And our daughter developed a “crush” of sorts on him. All you’d need to do is say “Oh deah!” in that dainty little accent, and she’d giggle tremendously, as if she had just been spoken to by a movie star. This meant that she would often ask ME to pretend to be C3PO, which I didn’t usually mind doing (even in the grocery store).
When she asked for a doll, I decided to scour the internet for one I might make, and came across the idea to make one from a wooden artist’s figure model. Once painted and presented, he brought lots of kid-smiles.
I made her a shirt with sharpies.
I appliqued a shirt.
And she even made her own C-3PO shrinky dinks and drawings.
So this year, when it came to Halloween costume choices, she had one request from the get-go: she wanted to be C-3PO. Now if you’ve seen the pre-made costumes online, they look pretty goofy. So I decided to get abstract with this, and see if we could pull it off cosplay-style.
Since I didn’t want her face to be covered completely, I cut up a gold plastic craft store mask. I had seen all these awesome online tutorials about how to build your own cardboard armor, so I built up a chestplate and back with cardboard, masking tape, and paperclay (which is super fun stuff). When it dried, I sanded it and painted it gold. I got a black bodysuit, and used fabric glue to tack on little pieces of gold “plating” to the arms.
I got a super cheapo set of kid’s elbow, wrist, and kneepads and painted them gold. Got a pair of gold dance leggings for kids, to which, after putting them on for the first time, my daughter exclaimed, “Oooh! These feel soft to my legs!”
A pair of costume glasses spraypainted gold (with stripes on the eyes–she was VERY insistent that it have stripey eyes), and BOOM! We have a funky C-3PO costume.
So there you have it! Yes, it’s strange. And yes, it’s unusual. But you know, it was fun to make and she ABSOLUTELY LOVES it. She walked around with her arms stiff, saying “Oh DEAH!” Hopefully it’s at least a step above the storemade ones, and passable enough that people won’t make fun of her while she walks by (because if they do, they can expect my momma banshee to come out).
I was going to try maybe a little brown pullover and get by as a Jedi, but she asked if I could be R2 with her. Oh lord! I guess if she’s willing to go all out, I should too. But I think I might go a LIIIIIIITTLE simpler on mine.
It’s SO amazing to see all the beautiful entries coming in from all over the WORLD for the contest…and even more amazing hearing all the wonderful stories of the fun you all had creating them! Don’t forget, Monday is the last day to enter, so let’s see what you’ve got!
Contest entries are coming in from all over, and they’re so awesome! Have you entered yet? …Looks like you all are having a lot of fun with it, and I want to see MORE! One more week to enter! If you want to give it a shot, head on over to the last blog post and try it yourself. Good luck and most importantly: have a great time with it!
Okay, whew. Here we go. If you’ve read some of my older blog posts, like this and this, you’ll know that despite my best efforts, I have amassed quite a considerable amount of success at FAILING in the realm of “contests” (see how I put a positive spin on that?).
Contests primarily function to draw outside viewers to a certain website/blog. Meaning if I have a mediochre entry, I can remedy my mediocrity as long as I can simply get enough people to vote for my mediochre entry, thus drawing attention to the website and gaining favor. Totally understandable. I get that. But totally inaccurate, and unfair, in my opinion. Heartbreak ensues.
So I decided to run my OWN contest.
Not because I want to reign supreme and lord over all things art. Not to finally be the “one in charge” of choosing a winner. (Actually, that part worries me, as a frequent non-winner. I know how it feels not to win, and I am going to dislike being the person to be the cause of that for someone.) So you want to know why I’m holding a contest, then? Really? Because I appreciate everyone who reads the stuff I post…and because I REALLY want to see what you all can do with this.
After the Collaborations post made such a hubub, I thought it might be fun to have you all try it out for yourselves. So I drew a head for you.
I’d like you to make something awesome with it….BUT HERE’S the CATCH: you have to make it WITH ANOTHER PERSON. You could have a kid help. You could have a friend help. A grandmother, a neighbor, a relative, a stranger. Anyone! And you don’t have to paint–you can sew, you can paste, you can marker, doodle, photograph, whatever. You can paint or draw on top of it, or cut it out. (And if you’re going to cheat and only create something by yourself, at least have the decency to use your nondominant hand as your collaborator, since I’ll have no real way of monitoring this) There doesn’t have to be any deep meaning, or it even look like you imagined it would. The beauty is in the experience of creating something WITH someone else. Of not trying too hard to MAKE it be something, and just enjoying what it becomes.
Then scan or take a picture of what you created, and send it to me by Oct 14th at email@example.com.
(And do I have to say this? Please, don’t send me anything obscene or disgusting. I mean, my FOUR YEAR OLD will eventually be looking at these, and I’d like to not traumatize her until she’s at least in her teens.)
And here’s the deal: the winner won’t be determined by the number of posts you make or likes you get. Maybe that would benefit me in some way, but it’s not fair. So the winner will be determined by my daughter and me. We’ll pick which one is the most creative, most interesting, most enjoyable. I’ll post a bunch of them up on the facebook page in the process, just to show you all what other people are doing. Just like in Highlander, there can be only one. But I might be compelled to throw in a small print for a few runners up….so feel free to share this post on Facebook to have friends try it too!
So what does the winner get? Hm. Well, after taking suggestions via facebook, I’ve decided that the prize will be a signed custom collaboration portrait by my daughter and me. I’ll put some stipulations here, since I don’t want my daughter chained to an art table, sweating away… No more than two faces for the winner. I draw them, and she turns them into whatever she fancies. (I can sometimes give her suggestions, but she usually goes in her own direction, and I’m not going to scold her for using her imagination. I can’t MAKE her draw something specific, but I can suggest it.) Then I paint it up, we sign it, and send it to you! Sound good?
The thing is, I’d REALLY like you to to do something special to YOU. Find a loved one, meet a new person, collaborate with someone at a nursing home or a hospital. Have a classroom help. Get creative, and ENJOY it, not just because you want to win, but to really enjoy the experience!
So to recap:
1. Do something awesome with this head. (right click the image, save it to your desktop, print it out–thick paper might work best)
2. Create it WITH another person.
3. Send a picture or scan of it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Deadline is OCT 14! My daughter & I will pick the winner, and announce it a few days later.
5. Winner gets a signed custom portrait!!
This is the first contest I’ve ever run. I’m not a pro at this or anything. We’ll see how it goes. I mainly want to see everyone get creative and have fun in the process, so I’ll do my best to make sure I work it out right on my end. So I wish you all luck!!!
Are you ready? Are you SET? THEN GOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Have you ever seen those paper bag puppet projects that you cut out? Apparently, they like to do those in preschool, because several months ago, my daughter’s drawings started to look like this:
Yup, she would take an animal and break them up into pieces in her head, sometimes even drawing a little completed version (like in the little bear at the top right) as “instructions” for what it’s supposed to look like. I found them pretty fascinating, that she could break it down in her head piece by piece as a “project.”
And then she’d ask me to help cut them out. Have you ever tried cutting out stickman arms or a pair of dot eyeballs? Not an easy task. Thankfully, she was quite forgiving in that. Once I had the pieces cut out, she’d carefully piece them all back together and glue them down.
Sometimes in the gluing process, she’d realize she forgot an ear or something, gasp in horror, and QUICKLY rush back to her doodle pad to make one. Tedious work, but she enjoyed the process.
So I found it funny when, she decided to turn a sketchbook head I had drawn in one of our collaborations into a “project,” and I thought I’d share it. So here it is, for your own cutting and pasting pleasure. Try it for yourself with a pair of blunt-tipped scissors and washable glue, and be magically whisked away to the wonderful world of a preschooler!
Hi there. I have a confession to make: I LOVE the Muppets. I love the story of the Muppets, and I have since I was a kid. I love Jim Henson, and his creativity, and his heart. Like him or not, you can probably appreciate the amazing things he’s done in children’s educational television. I learned how to read at age 3, and my parents say that Sesame Street played quite a big part in that. I was fascinated by the Muppets as kid.
Later as a preteen, I saw a “making of” documentary of the movie Labyrinth. I saw Brian Froud’s concept illustrations for the characters, page after sketchbook page of wild and wonderful creatures, and I was FLOORED. You mean this guy’s JOB was to create strange creatures?!? I learned that Jim Henson had a Creature Shop, and wrote him to ask how to get there. I filled the edges and borders of my paper and the envelope with doodles as elaborate as my pre-teen imagination could come up with. The people at the Creature shop wrote back, and were so positive, telling me to study puppetry, to learn to sew, to draw and continue to draw, and to never stop creating. They apologized for Jim being so busy on set of a new movie, but that he had taken the time to hand-sign a photo of himself and the Muppets for me. While I veered eventually from puppetry itself, the inspiration of that letter, that photo, never faded, and in my mind, they’re both still covered in wonderful magic fairy dust.
As an adult, I saw the documentary “Being Elmo,” and am not ashamed to admit that my eyes watered tears of amazement all the way through it. The magic hasn’t worn off.
I think we all try our best to hang onto that spark we had as kids, that creative magic. But once you grow up, you sort of lose those eyes, and it’s very difficult to see through them the same way again. You can try, but it’s just not ever the same. Creating with my daughter has allowed me to take a peek and see through kid eyes again, if only for a moment, which is an amazingly lucky thing. It helps keep that magic alive, if you’re willing to take the time and LOOK for it. As Jim said, “The most sophisticated people I know–inside, they are all children.”
Jim Henson once said that he’d like to leave the world a bit better place than when he got here. I think that’s an admirable goal, even in the littlest ways, even in our own direct little worlds. I don’t have any lofty plans for gigantic world-changes, any political hugeness or desire for public protest. The lessons I’ve learned from Jim Henson: that you can change the world simply by being who you are, and by doing what you love, by how you interact with people, one person at a time. EVERY time. To be yourself and to do what you love, to try to find that same thing in other people.
To quote Jim Henson once more, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you ARE.”
(PS…I cannot tell you how star-struck I was to see the original Kermit puppet at the Smithsonian. It was a movie-star experience. I marveled at his stitches. I was in absolute awe.)
Sometimes, inspiration is found in strange places.
There are some children’s books that are so dull and obnoxious that every word irritates you as you read it to your wide-eyed kid. These are usually the same books that your kid is madly in LOVE with, and therefore insists you read them over and over and over again until the grumble inside your head starts to show on the outside of your face. But there are good ones, too. Sweet ones with beautiful drawings and lovely stories and poetry, charming and funny and endearing.
And then there’s Calef Brown. He’s a different sorta bird.
We discovered “Polkabats and Octopus Slacks” quite by coincidence, but the fact that the poems are so strange and lovely, combined with the use of the words “polka turds” cracked the Kid up, and we were hooked. I had never seen a kid’s book like that before. I’ve read them all tons of times, and I have yet to be bored by them. He’s a whole lot of funky, a little bit full of one of those giggles you cover with your hand, but all kinds of fun.
One of my daughter’s favorites (especially, I think, since we like to combine animals and people in our own doodles), is in a book called “Flamingos On The Roof.” I was reading one of her favorites, called “Allicatter Gatorpillar,” when she said, “I sure wish I could see an Allibutter Gatorfly.”
You know what? I would, too, kid. That sounds like fun.
So I decided to sew one. Challenge accepted.
I’ve made a few dolls before…..thing is, I can only follow a very simple pattern, and can’t really do anything fancy. But this shouldn’t be THAT difficult, right? I’ll walk you through what I did for your own amusement, but I’ll have you know I’m no perfectionist when it comes to this sort of thing. With things like this, I sort of frantically jab and tie and cut everything together and glue it and tape it and bandage it up and say (dusting my hands off), “whelp, that should just about do it.”
So I sketched out a little shape of the gator part, and just sewed the top seam, from the tip of the tail to about the bottom of the…”chin?”
I wanted the wings to be bendable, so I dug in my wire drawer for some very flexible wire I have used in sculpture before, and laid it out on two separate wing shapes. There was a front & back to one side, and a front & back to the other. I sewed them together without the wire, right sides together with the end open, and turned them two make two top wings. Then I did the same for the bottom wings. (PS, from the looks of my desk, I should probably make better use of my cutting board.)
I wanted the wire to go all the way across to span the top two wings for strength and the bottom two wings the same. I pushed the wire into the open wings, and held the wire in place with machine stitches. I also stitched the top set of wings to the bottom set, so they’d sort of stay in place. Now I had a pretty cool pair of wings…with no way to attach them together. I decided to at least get some embroidery floss and sew the open ends to each other to sort of hold the wire in place and keep the wings from just sliding off. This is where all hell broke loose.
So now I’ve got all these exposed seams on the wings. How the heck do I get it on the body? I can’t sew through wire. So I made a little green “belt,” wrapped it around the open seams (which covered them fairly well) and then stitched that onto the back of the gator’s body. Pretty sloppy, and if you look at it closely, the wires will pop out. Good thing I bent the edges so they don’t totally cut you like a brassiere underwire.
So with the wings shoddily attached to the gator skin from both the outside and the in, the time for stuffing had come.
After what seemed like 18 hours of hand-sewing the bottom of the gator’s body (a good tutorial for hidden stitches here, by the way), it was time to paint the eyes. I got out my acrylic paint, and risking my daughter’s critique for putting both eyes on the same side of the head (it’s like that in the illustration!!), I painted them on. I wanted to add some antennae as a final little touch, and found some bendable wire floral rope that I had lying around that I can’t for the life of me remember why I own. Do I have any clue how to attach it to the head? No. In hindsight, I probably could’ve just used embroidery floss to tack it to the back (Yep, I probably should’ve done that). Instead, I cut a couple of tiny snips in the back, threaded the wire through, and glued a fabric panel down with fabric glue. This did actually keep the antennae standing upright, but I suppose a few good stitches could’ve accomplished the same effect without making this fella look even MORE strange.
And so here is the final result in probably the weirdest little doll I’ve ever made. The thing is, though, I think he sort of matches the style of the one in the book, which is sort of what I was going for. I mean, an allibutter gatorfly’s not SUPPOSED to be “cute”…right?
Well, it’s okay if he’s a little creepy. When I picked my daughter up from school and presented her with it, she sighed with delight. “He’s so BEEEAAAUUUUTIFUL!” she said.
And that’s all that really matters.
From the time she was little, my daughter (like most kids, I think) loved nothing more than a big mess. Now, I’ve mentioned I am a bit of a perfectionist–which I once defined as someone who thinks they’re ALREADY perfect…I’ve learned that instead, I’m someone who always WANTS things to be perfect, or in their right spot, or “just so,” which is a constant feeling of internal frustration since things NEVER EVER ARE.
I have a problem with that. I’m working on it.
But since I wanted my daughter to be a fearless mud puddle-splashing, bug-loving kid, I make a point to allow her to be messy and try my best not to worry about it. That mud on the patio? Calm down, mama…I can hose it off. Sand in her hair? That’s what bathtime’s for. Doodles all over her skin? Well, that’s why you get washable markers.
I let her cover her arms in stick-on tattoos, paint her hair with temporary pink mousse, and make magical messes experimenting with food coloring, baking soda & vinegar. The way I see it, childhood is the BEST time for messes! The BEST time to color your hair and marker your skin, when the responsibilities of the world and work and jobs and life don’t interfere.
Well. That’s all well & good in theory…until she started asking ME to join in.
As a kid, I was a mess-lover, dirt-digger, and bug-catcher. But something changed as I grew up (as I’m sure it does in us all) that made me not WANT to lie down in the grass anymore (it’s itchy! There are bugs!) or splash in the puddles (my pants will get soaked! I’ll ruin my shoes!) or catch a bug (I don’t WANT to touch a mealworm!). I started realizing, though, that unless I joined in, all my talk to her about having fun and making messes would be just talk. My kid learns more from what I DO than from what I say, and unless I joined in, she might feel that the beautiful messes were somehow wrong. So I did.
I let her paint on me. I let her polish my nails. I get down in the grass and get dirty. Not every day. Not always. But when the opportunity presents itself and the only thing stopping me is my own discomfort.
The main key to it all is preparation. Painting outside, or with a mat down, or in a cruddy shirt, and ALWAYS with washable, skin-friendly, or water-based supplies. Have a towel ready.
It was difficult at first, ignoring the inner “irk,” but I told my inner voice the same things I’d say about her: “it’s washable. I can take a bath later. It’ll come off.” And the fun we have doing it is always worth the cleaning up. I can’t say that afterward I don’t run immediately to the shower & laundry to clean everything off, but I try my best to wait til we’re all done to internally freak. I can’t say it’s not a challenge sometimes, but I try my best to enjoy it IN THE MOMENT.
Because I allow the messes, you’d think that nothing would be off limits. But she is VERY sincere about knowing what’s okay and what isn’t. She knows not to paint on the walls in house, and respects that story books are for reading. Thankfully, she asks before she doodles on things. Because I allow the messes, she doesn’t seem to feel the need to go crazy elsewhere. It seems with her that giving her the opportunity to go wild sometimes keeps her calm in other places.
We have a world full of no. Every day of her little life is full of boundaries and structure, struggle, conflict and organization. There are rules and manners and courtesies, permissions and consequences. These are good things. These are necessary. But there are moments you can let go of your hangups and just enjoy the feeling of paint slopping around and mud between your toes, for no other reason than that it’s fun.
You forget those things when you’re older, and you’d be surprised how quickly and fiercely that happens. So why not cram your childhood full of them?
So, kids or no, artistic or not….when’s the last time you made a beautiful mess?
Shhh…..Okay. It’s okay. The fire’s died down now. Don’t be frightened! Just a few little embers left, they won’t spark now, I’m sure. Come closer. Settle in and cozy up now. It’s allllll going to be okay.
Now that the fire’s down, I can go on about posting regularly again. Are you wondering if this post will be as cool as the last one? I’ll just assure you, it won’t be. I’m not sure if any will ever be again. That fire spread FAST, and I had no idea that was going to happen. Sorry about that. Here, have some marshmallows…
There were some harsh words from strangers said. About how the drawings weren’t THAT great. How it’s nothing new. About how my daughter can’t hold a pen right. About how I intentionally set out to exploit her as a gimmick to “go viral” (as if THAT storm could have ever been predicted). I don’t care about any of those. Ignorance usually remedies itself. What’s more important are the AMAZING things said. New moms trying to combine their former lives as solitary artists with this new little person in their lives, and finally feeling like it was possible. Aspiring artists who thought they had to be “good” before they tried something new. People who were told as kids that they couldn’t draw and therefore stopped trying. People who used to draw that are creating again. People exploring new techniques. Writers, poets, painters. I had no idea THAT would happen just from sharing something fun I did with my daughter.
But parents are doing projects with their kids. Teachers are trying this experiment with their students, using magazine faces. Kids are being inspired and encouraged to create. And THAT is awesome.
So there are a lot of you I haven’t met before, and to you I say: welcome, welcome! Cuddle in by the fire and meet the others! I started this little blog up in the hopes of sharing creative ideas, not only as an artist but as a mama. I like to try different things, and I think it’s cool when other people do the same. I want people to create. I want people to try new things. I want to share ideas. I want people to cover the world in doodles, even the ugly parts. (ESPECIALLY the ugly parts.)
So please! I know you’re curious, so please sit down! I know the firestorm brought you, but now that it’s settled, I hope you’ll stay for the warmth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.