Apparently, a lot of new people have joined our little campfire. I’d like to say “Welcome!” Come have a seat!
I’ve been getting a ton of new questions about how the kid & I doodle our little doodles. I’ll start off by saying this didn’t begin intentionally. I didn’t plan this out. As I described in the post, my “art life” was very separate from my “mom life,” and that’s how I thought it had to be. When our daughter first hovered over my sketchbook & asked to draw on one of my drawings, it was a lesson in letting go for me, and allowing her to be a part of something I have always been very passionate about.
But based on the comments I get on external blogs (probably because they don’t always link back to my original post, which describes the experience), I think some people misunderstand the process. Or maybe they don’t. In any case, I thought it’d be fun to walk you all through one of the pieces we did. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas to doing it yourself!
First off, I love drawing from old black & white movie stills. For some reason, the far-off looks, the black & white imagery–I don’t know why, but I could draw those all day. I like playing with the shapes, changing them a little, slightly altering them, and sort of abstracting the shading a bit. I work in ballpoint pen (because I love it, and I’ve used it over the years and years and years). This time, I worked from a picture of Bette Davis. Probably this one.
(Now the very first time, this was as far as I had gotten before my daughter asked to “help.” Later, I started just drawing faces & heads because she kept asking for them. Plus, that’s my favorite part to draw anyway. So when she asks to “draw the body,” I choose to let her.)
I’m always curious what she’s going to draw. I can give her ideas, but she usually will decide what it’s going to be AS she’s drawing it. This was quite nerve-wracking for me in the beginning. It was HARD to let someone take something you worked on into a completely different direction. Did I always handle it with grace? No. When she drew lines across the faces of some of them, I silently clenched my teeth, did a mental gasp, and squinted my eyes. But you know what? It all turns out fine in the end.
For this one, she drew this funky crescent-shaped body, and said, “She’s a slug.” Um. Okay. You turned her into a SLUG?! Some of the ones we had done were easy to collaborate on…a dinosaur, a bird, a dragon. But a SLUG? I kept any judgement to myself, and instead, decided to laugh with her about the lady with the slug body.
Thankfully, I’m always up for a challenge. And over time, doing these doodles with our daughter, I often think of my part as translating her ideas to make sense to grownups. It’s a fun challenge to try to figure out a way to make her kid-doodle potentially exist in a 2-D environment. For those curious as to who did what, the basic idea is always hers. She did the body, the antennae, the flower, and the sunshine on this one. Nowadays, she even gives me guidelines: “Don’t forget, mama–her wings should be BLUE.” Or, “That’s not a cracker, she’s holding BREAD. Could you please make sure you color it to look like bread?” In the end, we’re both always pretty surprised at the result.
So after she decides what it’s going to be and does her doodles, I do my part. I color in with markers (sometimes she helps).
I used to use plain ol’ Sharpies for base color, until Jerry’s Artarama sent me a HUGE box set of my favorite Prismacolor brush-tips. (big shout out to Jerry’s! Woohoo!) So these days, when I get to this step, I use those instead, and I love love LOVE the color blending you can get with them.
I add some white highlights with acrylic paint or sometimes watercolor.
Now’s the fun part. How the heck to make this look like a slug, as opposed to a random, crescent-shaped doodle? I looked up some slug references, and did the best I could to fit those patterns into the shape she had drawn. I think the little “lip” underneath is what finally made it feel more “real.”
A little more acrylic for the background. I added a little hopscotch grid to sort of put her in some sort of context. I don’t know why, it just felt right. And because plain ol’ grass gets boring. I did a little fine-tuning to bring the lines back with ballpoint pen. Often, I go back over the lines she and I both already made, to bring them out a little more.
And there you go! I called it “Slugs Need Hugs.” One time, playing outside, my daughter said it would be hard to try to give a slug a hug. When I finished this one, I felt a little bad for the little slug lady, trying to play hopscotch, while most likely being unable to perform the required “hopping.” She seemed in need of a hug.
As for any meaning or symbolism in using Bette Davis and then drawing a slug? There is none. AT ALL. I just like to draw faces. She just felt like drawing a slug. I usually alter them enough that I don’t always remember who they started out as.
As for my daughter’s drawing skills? I understand that I’m her mother and I while I can see all the beautiful, wonderful magic in the way she draws (and while her teachers have commented on how focused and detailed she is at drawing), I am the first to admit that maybe her drawings themselves aren’t particularly masterful. But, you know?–for that matter, neither are mine. Anyone focusing on that aspect is sort of missing the point.
So what IS the point? To me, it’s about enjoying the experience more than the end result. It’s about combining the “internal” life of an artist with the “external” life of a parent. It’s about helping your kids express themselves without limitations. It’s about sharing your passion with someone else. It’s about taking that thing you love and placing it in someone else’s hands, and trusting that everything will be okay.
For those who have never heard of it, “exquisite corpse” is a surrealist game played with either words or drawings, in which several artist collaborate on a piece by only being able to see the tail end of what the previous person contributed.
When I did the collaborations with my 4-year, a few people commented that it reminded them of the “exquisite corpse” game, in having to elaborate and expand on someone else’s work.
By chance, a coordinator with Exquisite Corpse Festival contacted me about doing a page for a potential comic book idea with the same premise–picking up where the previous person left off, and elaborating on it. They thought the idea of me working with my daughter fit in well with the project, and might make for an interesting page. I thought it sounded fun.
When the time came, I was surprised to get not a drawing to elaborate on, but a snip of text. It was something that sounded like a large creature confessing to a therapist of some sort. …And that was it. I had no idea what this creature was supposed to look like or anything. No clue of what had happened before it.
So I started by just drawing a dragon head. I tried to make him sort of expressive…if he was confessing his tale, he’d probably be pretty personable, right? I wanted to make him very “foresty” (maybe just because it’s autumn, and I wanted to use the colors), but that’s about as far as I got. I wasn’t sure WHAT to do with him next.
I showed our daughter. It was strange–it’s nothing at all like what we usually do. But we love experimenting and having fun drawing together, so I was sure she’d come up with something cool.
Sure enough, she drew a big circle body and looked at it for a minute. Then she added some zigzag lines. He was in an egg. “He’s hatching!” she said. And certainly, he was. Awesome! I decided for my part, to have him telling a story about an “awkward phase” he had gone through. That way, it didn’t matter WHAT he looked like in previous pages. Pretty unintentionally clever, kiddo…!
Now, we’ve been playing around drawing monsters, which are quite fun. We’ll see what comes of it. After all, it’s all just one big surrealist experiment, right?
(What looks like a pink arm on this red & blue one is actually…um…an udder? Apparently, they just learned about milking cows at preschool.)
(This little purple fella is combing his beard)
Call me old fashioned, call me overprotective, but I’m a little weird about having my daughter’s face all over the internet. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the internet, while a wonderful and amazing resource, can be quite creepy.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the “Collaborations” post going viral is that nothing is sacred. People are free to say and do anything from behind the protective shield of a computer screen. And they do.
I am reminded of an installation piece by Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal, who lived in a room for a month with an internet-controlled paint gun. Anyone at all could log on and shoot him, with no repercussions, no consequences. And they did. A LOT. SO much so that he was haunted and traumatized by it. As this article states, “…when people no longer fear reprisal from their actions then they will become monsters with little regard for other human beings.”
So if I’m so protective of her, why post anything at all about my daughter? Simply put: she is an enormous part of my life. I know the things I do with and for her are things another mother or father might like to know, or might feel better for having read. People can be nasty, and while I’m a big girl and can handle it, I feel there’s no real reason (other than the fact that she is, in fact, super adorable) to show her face. Cropping and sideshots, folks. That’s just how it goes.
But since my artistic likenesses aren’t exactly photorealistic, I feel fairly comfortable sharing a painting I did of her. My first one of her, actually–and it was pretty intimidating. Photos rarely capture someone’s personality, and I find with portraits, I will sometimes paint it as closely as I can to the photo, and yet there is something always missing: the personality, which (unless you know the person) is difficult to grasp and (even if you do know them) is difficult to separate from.
One time, my daughter told me she wanted a “gown” to play dressup, so we got some pink thing (a dress? A nightgown?) at my friend’s vintage clothing sale for $3. At the time, her kid-drawings were nothing more than circles with faces, and lines for arms and legs. She called them “monsters,” so I recreated them in acrylic in the background.
When she saw the final piece, she looked for a minute with a critical eye and said, “…is that me?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Is that mine drawings?”
“Yes,” I said. “I put them on the painting. Do you like it?”
She paused for a long time. “I think it is beautiful.” She said.
And that’s pretty cool.
First off, I want to give a great big THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH to everyone who participated in our little contest! Win or no, I think it’s amazing how wonderful it is that everyone was able to connect with someone else for such a wonderful experience. Myla said as we were looking through the over 200 entries: “I’m so very PROUD of those people!” And I am, too.
I sent each entrant a personal message of thanks, and our own doodle of the contest head, just for them. Myla & I spent a long time sorting through the entries, and I have to tell you, she was SO excited at what everyone had done. I mean, visibly excited and thrilled. It took a lot of honing down to get her to narrow it down–she wanted to pick them all. And since it was SO very difficult to choose, I decided to not only pick one winner…but THREE. I pretty much let the 4-year old take the lead on choosing, and I respected each of her choices. So, without further ado, here are the winners, in no particular order (since the prize is the same):
Now, when our kid doesn’t win, she gets upset. (She was actually a little upset at first that she couldn’t win THIS contest.) But I’ve taught her to say “I really really wanted to win, but I’m very happy for you.”
Telling a wonderful story was not factored into our decision, but in the spirit of stories, I will tell you some tales of the winning pieces.
- The girl and her robot were created by Christine Kenney and her 6-year old son Desmond. Since the collaborations post, Christine had been meaning to try this with her son, and hadn’t found the time until the contest idea came up, and they enjoyed it a great deal.
- The next (very colorful) piece was created by Susan Garver and her 5-year old Eden. Eden saw the woman as a unicorn with a flower friend. Later, when adding the final touches, Susan remembered the loss of a family friend’s child, whose favorite color was “rainbow.” She finished it with her in mind, and hopes to eventually give it to the family.
- And finally, Laurie Silverstein passed this drawing back & forth to her older daughter. The story goes that when her daughter was around 4, she was happily singing “zip a dee doo dah” in a grocery store cart, and then suddenly burst into tears at the thought of being a mommy…It occurred to the little girl that her own future kids might starve because she “didn’t know where the stores are.” Years later, the daughter got a shoulder tattoo that said “zip a dee doo dah,” to remind her, I suppose, that it will all be okay.
There were so many beautiful stories that weren’t told, and so many beautiful pieces that weren’t chosen, from ALL OVER THE WORLD. Teachers sharing it with their classes, nurses collaborating with patients, families doing the project at a family get-together. Friends adding to the piece from far away to combine a single piece. I sincerely hope it was a fun and fair experience, win or no, for everyone involved. The most amazing thing to come of the Collaborations post, for me, has been hearing about all the wonderful ways the post has inspired you all to do similar projects with your family & friends. And that’s the best thing of all, in my book.
So thank you again to everyone who entered! They were all so beautiful and we are all so very proud. Thank you SO VERY MUCH!
And please, go check out all the beautiful entries on the Facebook page!
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!
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.
This is notorious 1920s and 30s New York gangster Arthur Flegenheimer, aka “Dutch Schultz.” When his own men decided he was too much of a liability, they order a hit on him and his gang, and shot him in the heart, in the restroom room of a local restaurant. He dragged himself to the nearest table and asked for an ambulance. While he waited for medical help, surrounded by policemen, Schultz remained alive for 22 hours….and spoke the most random, stream-of-consciousness medley of strangeness I have ever read. And luckily for us, they documented the entire thing.
As only a small example, here is a bit of the documented questioning…
- Police: Who shot you?
- Schultz: I don’t know. I didn’t even get a look. I don’t know who can have done it. Anybody. Kindly take my shoes off. (He was told that they were off.) No. There is a handcuff on them. The Baron says these things. I know what I am doing here with my collection of papers. It isn’t worth a nickel to two guys like you or me but to a collector it is worth a fortune. It is priceless. I am going to turn it over to… Turn you back to me, please Henry. I am so sick now. The police are getting many complaints. Look out. I want that G-note. Look out for Jimmy Valentine for he is an old pal of mine. Come on, come on, Jim. Ok, ok, I am all through. Can’t do another thing. Look out mamma, look out for her. You can’t beat him. Police, mamma, Helen, mother, please take me out. I will settle the indictment. Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. Shut up, you got a big mouth! Please help me up, Henry. Max, come over here. French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.
Annnnnd, that’s only the very LAST words he said.
So, for some reason, I was fascinated by his lunatic rantings. As are many people, apparently. Dustin Hoffman played him in Billy Bathgate, Tim Roth played him in Hoodlum. William S. Burroughs wrote a novel about his last words. And not that I’d like to glorify mobsters, but I think that lifestyle is so…unusual. I won’t wax philosophic about peoples’ fascination (myself included) with movies like Scarface and Goodfellas and shows like The Sopranos. I’m not so much fascinated in glorifying grisly gangsters. But my interest in gangster movies–It’s sort of a guilty pleasure.
And I DO find insanity a bit fascinating! And the fact that it was documented is even more impressive…
So, this is my portrait of Dutch Schultz, for what it’s worth. Because nobody’d be afraid of a gangster named “Arthur Flegenheimer.”
Just before last winter, when we lived in Alaska, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the artists in Fairbanks’ Paint the Pipes project that my friend from Chartreuse told me about. Essentially, in the hopes of beautifying Fairbanks, artists were selected to paint designs on the vent pipes downtown. I did two designs, but my design called “Dreaming” was the one that was selected. (Personally, I think the tangled ravens could’ve looked pretty cool, but I get why it might be a little…less upbeat.)
When I first moved to Alaska, I was overwhelmed by a sense of isolation. I didn’t know many people, I had a young child, and my husband was scheduled to deploy. A counselor once told me about an artist, a woman who moved to Alaska during the Gold Rush, and painted to comfort herself, and had written a book about it. The book didn’t necessarily comfort me, as much as remind me that this “adjustment period” in Alaska will pass. And it did! Soon I met some of the very best friends I’ve ever had at a duty station. But I thought of the native babies that grew up in those harsh conditions, and how they not only survived, but thrived. Being relegated to the indoors for a good chunk of the year, I often wondered what they dreamt about, or what they did to pass the time. I thought of however rough the conditions, you always have your mind, your creativity, to take you other places.
So “Dreaming” it was. I was very very sick when I began painting my steam pipe, and winter was coming….so I had very little time to work on it. On top of that, one of the developers of the program set up a time-lapse camera to document my progress on the pipe, which I didn’t mind, but it sure was intimidating. I often thought, “I’d better move around and finish this up quickly, or it’s going to be one heck of a boring time-lapse.”
I did the majority of the painting the first day, probably in about 3 or 4 hours.
Then I was able to come back another day (still sick, sadly) and paint some more detail. Probably another 4 hours or so.
And finally: COMPLETE!
I was so excited to see it in the wintertime, that I drove out to take a picture after the snow had fallen. But to my surprise, CHUNKS HAD FALLEN OFF. The city had primed the pipes, but since mine was a steam outtake pipe, it was warm, so mine was the only one that cracked. They had never tested the primer in winter, I guess.
If you’ve ever read Vonnegut’s “Bluebeard,” (one of my favorites), you can appreciate the irony.
Luckily, the bottom part seems to have kept fairly stable. They asked if I’d be willing to come back & repair it, but sadly, we moved just before summer. I hope it stays together for awhile, or at least until someone can repair it. I won’t even speculate as to the symbolism….and I hope passing tourists do the same!
Who doesn’t want to cry all through a movie while people sing beautiful songs? I’ve loved Les Mis since I saw a community theater (and I’m sure tamed-down) version as a kid. I love drawing faces. I like stretching them and playing with them–not to the point of ridicule, but just to slightly alter what’s there, and have fun with the shapes. I love the style of Eric White, and when I first saw his work, I thought, “Well, dang–that’s exactly the direction I was going in!” He has such EXTREME detail in his work (“hyperrealistic,” they call it), that I can’t even come close. Still, I love a good face, especially in movie stills.
My agent once asked for a few caricature samples, and since I hadn’t drawn a famous WOMAN in a while, I thought I’d give Anne Hathaway a whirl. It takes several reference shots sometimes to get the right feel for a face, and it’s helpful to combine things from different photos to make up the look you’re going for. In the end, I thought that a pic of Fontaine at her deepest, darkest moment was maybe not such an “upper” for a promo piece.
Perhaps with all the “Hatha-hatred,” I should’ve had a newspaper tabloid in her hand…