I’ve been drawing and painting our daughter Myla for a long time. I was intimidated at first, but she quickly became my favorite subject.
I was looking back at some of my artwork featuring her, and noticed how it’s changed as much as she has over the years.
My first of her was this one, where I armed her in a gentle pink dress-up dress, with Han’s holster, Leia’s belt, Wonder Woman’s lasso, and She-Ra’s sword, surrounded by some of her very first drawings of “monsters.” She’s ready for the world, ready to face whatever’s coming with a soft smile. I’ve wanted this for her since she was born.
Soon, my drawings of her (most of them eventually turning into collaborations with her) centered around imaginary creatures, unusual monsters, and just all the make believe things that made her smile.
I also enjoyed illustrating the wonderful things she said.
I began taking photos of her, and adding all kinds of creatures to them, trying to capture a tiny glimpse of the magical world that might be in her mind, and celebrate the magic of being such a creative kid.
And as she got out into the world a little more, I felt this strong urge to teach her to enjoy all the creative weirdness that makes her so wonderful. To never be ashamed of being who she is, and to be proud of being creative and different. I felt a pang of pride the day she told me how a kid at school called her a “weirdo,” and she confidently said, “thank you!”
The more she had conflict, the more I wanted her to meet those monsters if she must, and make friends with them, instead of fearing them. I want her to be comfortable enough with herself to know who she is when she goes up against them.
I want to protect her heart from harsh arrows, and keep her kind but strong–a tough balance for anyone, I know.
I see her as such a magical little creature, and in my desire to protect her and teach her to protect herself, I began arming her in my artwork with horns and armor.
One day, an image came to me so strongly that I had to put it on paper. She’s been faced with her own obstacles recently, and I have been discussing them with her, so she can better understand how she works, and not be afraid or feel bad about it. And although I saw a slight nervousness in her, I was so impressed that she just accepted it all, and mentally prepared herself for the battle.
I want her to know that everyone struggles. EVERYONE. There’s not a person you see that’s not facing SOME sort of issue at this very moment. You can’t let it knock you down forever. You have to find ways around it–whatever it may be–and keep on going. Whatever that struggle is, it doesn’t have to be the only thing in the definition of who you are...it can simply be a side note.
She doesn’t have to be the kid who–despite having elaborate and complex stories in her mind–has trouble writing letters or remembering instructions. She doesn’t have to just be the kid whose energy and excitement keep her from holding still in class. Those things don’t have to be the only things that define her.
She is the kid whose creativity knows no bounds; whose mind is overflowing with amazingly creative ideas–so much that it’s sometimes a little distracting for her. She has quiet moments, too, and can spend hours patiently drawing or working on detailed art projects. This is the kid who can remember things from years ago in full detail. Who is extremely empathetic. Who can make friends with anyone. Who says “have a great day!” when she leaves a store. Who creates complicated board games and makes three-dimensional, fully posable creatures out of construction paper and tape. Who is goofy, and will do pretty much anything for a laugh. Who surprises me sometimes with the depth of her thoughts.
I wanted her to see the kind, strong warrior I see.
She posed for a few reference photos for me, and I started sketching. I saw determination in her eyes. I filled her armor with dragons, because sometimes you can turn monsters into friends.
She saw me working on it one day, and although I hadn’t planned it as a collaboration (I just had the basic image in my mind, I wasn’t sure what else to do with it, really), I thought it was a perfect opportunity for her to add her own creatures to it. To draw out those little demons and give them faces.
I told her a little about my idea, and the image I saw in my mind. She came up with the concept of drawing demons (the enemy) and dragons (her friends). Some of the demons she created had names like Fear, Jealousy, Pain, and Chains. The dragons had names like Kindness, Humor, Bravery, Energy (a negative into a positive!), Peace, and Strength. I added a few leaves to the background to give it a setting, and went on my way…
I start with a thin layer of turquoise acrylic on top of my ballpoint pen drawing on the skin areas. The turquoise gives the skin a little depth, I think, and I build up thicker layers of acrylic on top so it becomes more opaque.
And after a lot of work and a TON of time, I think she’s finished. And I think it says what I wanted it to say.
Everyone’s got struggles. You don’t have to be completely fearless–they can scare you a little–but you’ve got to get past the fear, and adapt and overcome by facing it head-on. Don’t let it get in the way of whatever it is you want to do. In your struggle, you might feel like you’re not coping or handling things as well as other people might. It really helps, I think, to know other people are dealing with things the best they can, too. Make friends with your monsters. Learn to live with them. Don’t give up.
This week, while we waited for night to set in and the fireworks to start, Myla (she’s 8 years old now) asked if she could draw in my sketchbook. Along with the other doodles she found, she saw a portrait I had started of our Boston Terrier, Adie, and asked if she could finish it.
Dang. I was having fun drawing Adie! But I don’t mind, obviously. She asked if I was using my imagination to draw, and I told her I had started by looking at a photo of Adie. She was very interested in that. “Can I finish the drawing, and use the photo to look at, too?”
And very carefully, she looked at the photo, doing her 8-year old best to copy what she saw. I mean, look at that little chest wrinkle!! EEE, it’s so cute!
I told her that when you look at a picture to draw from it, it was called a “reference,” and that nearly EVERY artist uses references. She was hooked, and asked if she could draw our boxer, Scout.
So cute! She was fascinated to know that things don’t always look like what you THINK they look like–dog noses aren’t always little triangles, for example. We talked about how that’s part of the fun of drawing from a reference, is to follow the photo to get it to look like what you see rather than what you THINK you see.
Several times, people will ask me if I use references in my artwork, or if I draw it all from my imagination, and I tell them all the same thing: I don’t think I know a single artist that doesn’t at least START with references. The fun part after that, is changing things around to make it your own.
She took this little pug, and made him waving his paw…
She drew a tiger from a photo, and then added her own rabbit (without a reference) who is saying, “I don’t want any of your nonsense.” 🙂
References have always been a jumping-off point for artists, and while some artists strive to make their artwork photorealistic and EXACTLY like their reference, most only use them to piece together an idea they already have in their head.
Myla even gave that a try, asking if I could show her the Alien she had seen somewhere (she’s never seen the movie of course, but I think they reference the queen alien in one of her goat simulator Ipad games).
She asked if I’d show her references for the queen alien, and then drew the alien having lunch, while I told her the story of the entire movie. She asked if there were other aliens, and then added the Facehugger sitting across the table, and the Chestburster popping out of someone nearby (how embarrassing!).
Humor is definitely a driving factor in this kid.
If you were to browse the photos on my phone at any given time, you’d find tons and TONS of references–everything from movie characters, artists, animals, plants, flowers, and of course, TONS of photos of my favorite person to draw: Myla (thankfully, this doesn’t embarrass her yet, and she actually likes it. She said the other day, “I really love that you love to draw me.”). I have folders in my photos of beasties (animals to draw from), movie characters, Twilight Zone screenshots, plants, faces, you name it. Whenever I want to draw, I just scroll through my phone, and I’m never at a loss for something to play around with.
I use references to draw from ALL the time, and it’s perfectly okay to do. I swear, when I was younger, I thought it was considered cheating. But how else would you learn how to draw without looking at something?
The tricky part is that of course there are some rules–if you straight up copy someone else’s photograph, it’s perfectly fine, and a great way to learn; you just need to acknowledge the reference source, or tag the person if you post it. But if it’s YOUR photo, or you only use the photo as your jumping off point and change it up a lot to become your own new thing, it’s absolutely fine! (You could go into a LOT more detail on this, of course, but those are the basics, because that’s a whole other discussion.)
On our long drive home the other day, I wanted to draw, and fought the bumpy road to doodle a photo I had of Myla, and turned her into a little mossy fairy forest sprite creature.
Later, I painted her in watercolors, all mossy and brown. I’m not done with her yet, but it’s a start.
Myla, still on a reference kick, was excited to know that so many of the books on my bookshelves are actually (gasp!) REFERENCE BOOKS! And now the whole world’s opened up to her, it seems. She has been taking bits and pieces from creatures, and making new ones up herself (see the “hammerhead” in the center? bahahah!)
One time during a live stream, a person saw me using a rubbing stick to blend my lines with my graphite pencil and asked me, “but isn’t that cheating?” And I always found that funny, because…cheating? It’s a tool, a technique, the same way using oil to smooth fingerprints out of your sculptures is a technique. Whatever you have to do to get your idea or whatever’s in your head OUT. That’s the fun part!
And that’s why it’s so much fun to see my own daughter find new and exciting ways to create. She’s exploring and trying new things, and isn’t that what creating is all about? ❤
Nothing cuter than your own sleeping kid…especially after a long day. Recently, I came across these photos of this collaboration with Myla several years ago that I don’t think I’ve ever shared…
It started with a little ballpoint pen drawing I did of Myla, asleep, cuddled up next to Donkey.
Myla saw me sketching it one day, asked what I was drawing, and if she could draw what she was dreaming about.
She drew herself with a little toy she had built, surrounded by a protective unicorn, wrapping a huge horn shield around herself, keeping out a mean little dream dragon.
Later, I added details to the drawing, filling in the spaces with decorative doodles. Sometimes I try to explain what’s going on in the drawing, or what things are (like adding scales to the dragon, or toys under the drawing she did of herself), and other times, I just add decorative swirls to sort of tie it all together.
She’s the one who added the words “I wish” at the bottom. (More likely, I think she meant to say something about dreaming, but this was a few years ago, when maybe her vocabulary didn’t have the distinction.)
Once it was all drawn out, I painted it in acrylics, starting with the central figure first.
(I remember the very first time I tried to draw Myla, and I was so intimidated by it. Now, I feel so comfortable, it’s very easy to highlight all the beauty I see in her–inside and out.)
And finally, I added light washes over everything else, to keep the attention on her in the center with all that craziness going on around.
And that’s the final piece! It was funny coming across these progress shots, and realizing I never shared them.
But one of my favorite things is that a few years ago, I ordered several throw blankets of our artwork from our own site as Christmas gifts, and I don’t mean to get all excited, but they were the COOLEST THINGS.
They’re so soft and awesome, and the print quality is amazing. That year, I got one for everyone on our Christmas list, and I even got several for us to keep. I just had to–they were SO COOL. Myla has one of herself as a winter centaur in her own bed. We have “Imaginary Astronaut” on our bed, and “Aquatic” in our living room.
Anyway, I didn’t intend for this post to be an ad for our S6 shop, but if I really like something, I want to share it! If you feel so inclined to wrap yourself up in some of our collaborations, you can go to our Society 6 Shop and order what you please. (Especially since while I was writing this post, I just noticed there’s a 20% off and FREE worldwide shipping sale until MIDNIGHT TONIGHT-19 June!)
This past Mother’s Day, I had heard from another artist that you could customize Vans shoes with your own artwork…so I decided to treat myself to a pair of customized Vans with our art on them, and I was so excited! …Until I got a message saying my order was cancelled, because of artwork issues–apparently, if the art is anywhere else on the internet, they assume you may have stolen the image–and I couldn’t get it to upload again.
The artwork I had chosen was a painting Myla and I did about letting your weirdo flag fly, which is up in my etsy shop… To me, it represented something we always try to teach her: to be yourself, and be proud of all the weird things that make you special.
It was based on this picture I had taken of her, by the way, when she had built herself a paper astronaut helmet, spaceship, and bat sidekick. Because I’m constantly amazed at her creativity and uniqueness, and I want her to always be proud of it.In any case, when the Vans order came back cancelled and I couldn’t get it to upload despite my best efforts, I was SUPER disappointed.
…Until my husband suggested I just get a pair of blank Vans and paint them myself. So that’s just what I did.
As often happens when I am furiously gripped by a project I am obsessively compelled to do, I did absolutely no research ahead of time, and started by doing what I THOUGHT was a good idea: smoothing out my painting surface with clear matte gel medium. Maybe if I had taken a little time to research, I’d have left that step out (as I’ll explain later), and just painted directly onto the blank canvas shoes.
But I didn’t, and painted onto the surface I had treated with the clear gesso. I had to alter the composition of our artwork a bit to get everything to fit on there the way I wanted, but I considered that a good thing–that I could change it up to perfectly fit the shoe space.
One of the upsides to painting the shoes myself (as opposed to using the customizer on the Vans page) is that not only could I alter the composition to make everything fit, but I could also put a different image on each shoe (the Vans page only puts the same image on both shoes).
So here’s what my final pair looked like:
Yay! They really make me smile.
Now, remember when I said I’d probably leave out the clear gesso? Here’s why:
See all those cracks? I’m not sure, but I think if I’d left that step off and painted directly onto the shoe canvas, it might have clung to the fibers more tightly, and not have cracked so easily. Who knows? In any case, it’s not so bad–it’s not TOO terribly noticeable, and I can touch it up if it starts looking too bad.
So that was my mother’s day splurge! That–along with spending the day with my husband and little munchkin doing fun things–made for a pretty darn awesome Mother’s Day!
This year, Myla decided she wanted her birthday party to be Adventure Time-themed…and I was TOTALLY down with that. Because I’m a pretty big fan of Adventure time. And all of the characters. And songs. And everything.
I always look forward to the cake, because even though I stink at cooking a meal, I can bake the heck out of a cake. And when I decorate, I pretend like I’m on Ace of Cakes or something, and do my best to make it special.
I started by sculpting these Marceline and Marshall Lee figures from Sculpey, and building a little cardboard ax guitar and bass for them, since Myla requested they be the centerpiece.
And although I know kids aren’t a huge fan on fondant, I had read that you could paint on it with food coloring, so I gave it a try…
I started by rolling out a little plate full to practice on, and gave Myla a plate full to let her try it, too. I had read that you can put food coloring onto a plate like paint, but instead of water (which makes fondant gummy), you can mix it with vodka (don’t worry–the alcohol evaporates!). So we gave it a try, and it was SO MUCH FUN. It wasn’t even a struggle–it was just like painting with paints!
Once I decided it was going to work out pretty well, I settled on that as the final decorating method for the cake.
The night before her party, I baked, iced and cooled the 2-story cake. I broke a chunk out of it, which thankfully I could piece back together and glue down with icing, since it’d be covered in fondant. And since I’m terrible at fondant, it was full of wonkiness and lumps, which I promptly covered up in more decorative icing. BOOM.
Next, I waited til the kid was in bed so I could reeeeeally focus (plus, I told her that the final cake should be a surprise), and got down with painting TONS of characters all over the cake, around the clay figures. (I realize cake pros would cringe that the centerpiece isn’t edible, but I’m an artist, and I do what I want.)
I had intended to color it all, but as I started working, I realized I really really liked it in just black outlines, so I went with that…
(I swear, I love SO many of the characters on this show, and they’re SO much fun to draw….)
So there it is!
We blew up some purple balloons, which I decorated with Sharpie markers to look like Lumpy Space Princess, and downloaded these fun Adventure Time character masks from HappilyAfter Designs on Etsy.
I got several little goodies for the take-home bags, like Adventure Time slap bracelets and figures from Ebay, little individually-wrapped burger gummies, and random dollar store things. I also got some blank wooden beads and painted very simple character faces on them, and tossed them in little snack bags with random handfuls of beads and necklace string so people could build their own necklaces.
The least expensive goody bags at the craft store were these blank white ones, so I kept up the plain character theme, and drew them again on each bag, in Sharpies.
And that was that! Along with a few helium big balloons we bought online that my husband filled at a flower shop and a plastic table cover, it made for a pretty good Adventure Time-themed party!
Myla chose to have her party at a gymnastics center, where they have trampolines and a huge foam block pit with a rope swing over it. The good thing there was that they gave the kids an hour to play, a half hour to eat cake & ice cream, and then they boot you all out of there! So cool. No big cleanup, no mess at home, no all-day event. And the kids get worn out! WOOHOOOOOO.
And the cake? Yeah, the cake was a hit. Yay!
And remember my birthday sewing story a few posts back? Well, I took the fox pattern I bought from DolphinWing and made Myla the little arctic fox character who wears an orange shirt that she’s drawn for awhile and created herself.
(I think the dog approved. I’m not sure.)
So aside from all the party planning and prep, the big news is that WE HAVE AN EIGHT-YEAR OLD ON OUR HANDS, PEOPLE. She’s still so sweet and kind, smart and creative. I couldn’t ask for a cooler kid.
She’s a funny little goofball who still loves to draw and create, and had the best birthday week ever! Happy birthday, Myla!
As Myla’s 2nd grade school year comes to an end, I wanted to send her teacher out with a proper thank-you gift. Teachers work HARD, and although there are a million ideas online for teacher gifts, I try my best to give something functional that someone can actually use. So here’s a quick and easy project that I hope will be a special gift…
First, I went to our local craft store, and got an inexpensive blank tote bag, They have all kinds of canvas totes–I chose this thicker one with a strong handle and a blank canvas pocket on the outside.
Next up, I grabbed a handful of Sharpie permanent markers, and had Myla draw all over it. Since her teacher had a running Dr. Seuss theme all year, Myla filled the front with some of her favorite characters.
First, she drew the outlines in black, then filled it all in to make it colorful…and don’t forget to sign it!
*Artistic dog assistant optional.
Next, you could put in some stationery supplies, pens, and folders, but we chose to put a signed copy of our “Share With Me” book of collaborations. If you don’t have time to order one of ours, you could maybe throw in a few kid’s books to donate to the teacher’s next classroom.
And there you go! Easy peasy, simple to do, and hopefully a good, functional gift that will be a lovely keepsake reminder to show teachers how much their hard work is appreciated.
So show your teacher some love before the school year ends! And here’s to a great start of summer, and the hopes that we can keep our kids busy and active til next school year begins! 🙂
Ages ago, when I was buffer, younger, and not falling apart, I used to play roller derby and LOVED it (I still love it). We lived in Alaska, I was on a team from North Pole, and I loved nothing more in my free time than being on my skates.
In derby, your best friend and derby partner is called your “derby wife,” and Jamie was mine (that’s me in the stripes and in the Captain America shirt, and Jamie in the NPBT team logo shirt that I designed)… Wonder Woman was our spirit animal, and we often paired up in our starry-bummed shorts.
(Ahhh, roller derby: where having a booty is actually an asset…and ALL body types have very important roles!)
So when Jamie told me (from miles away, and several years later) that she had signed up for the coming NOLA Running of the Bulls this July 8th, and asked if I’d make her helmet, I said HECK YES.
If you’re not familiar, New Orleans has an event similar to the infamous bull run in Pamplona, Spain–except minus blood, maiming, and actual BULLS. At the NOLA Bull Run, the “bulls” are all roller derby girls with horned helmets and plastic bats who skate around trying to bat-spank the runners, who all wear white shirts. It’s kind of a big deal, and sounds like a heck of a lot of fun.
Jamie showed me some photos for inspiration, and the main images I kept in my sights were this headpiece from MetamorphQC on Etsy, and the filigree on Lady Gaga’s Countess’ glove from American Horror Story. (You’ll see later that the end result looks nothing like either of these two, really, but that’s the great thing about inspiration–it inspires you to create your OWN thing…)
I was super ready to get started when the horns came! I immediately dismantled them (so very sorry!!). They were well-made–screwed into the headband they came with. I unscrewed the horns from the headband, sanded them down a bit to fit the curve of the helmet, drilled holes in the helmet, and re-mounted the horns onto the helmet with screws, gluing them down for extra support.
I made a trip to the craft store, grabbing several things I thought might work: tassles from the upholstery section, strings of beads and flowered ribbon from the ribbon section, flowers from the wedding section…Anything that fit the look and feel I was going for from that first photo.
Granted, I probably should’ve done this part LAST, as I hadn’t painted the actual helmet yet, but I am a very impatient artist, and I do what I want.
Then, I just had fun painting! I painted a snurfling bull with flourishes (similar to the one in the inspiration photos) and roses on one side, Jamie’s derby name on the other, and the NOLA bull run logo on the front.
I was a bit worried it would be too much, but I think in this case, too much is GOOOOOOD.
So feeling finally finished, I carefully packaged it all up, crossed my fingers for luck that the postal gods would keep it in one piece–and mailed it to Jamie. When she got it a few days later, I was excited to hear the squee through her text message, and she happily sent me some photos:
She already looks pretty darn cool in it–I can’t wait til she gets all fully decked out for the event. I’m sure it’ll be awesome fun!
So if you happen to be anywhere near NOLA and aren’t hiding in your house from the bull run, keep an eye out for Jamie, smiling and skatin’ it up with the other bulls…. ❤
One of the times being crafty comes in handy is for birthdays…
So when my husband told me of his friend’s little girl’s My Little Pony birthday, I shuffled through patterns for this one I had used ages ago, when Myla wanted an all-black and pink MLP for christmas…
So I pulled out the pattern again, took a trip to the craft store to pick out fabrics, and started building a custom MLP for a very girly 3-year old.
Looking back, I probably should’ve gone with the minky fabric like the pattern suggested, as it tends to hide any stitches and flaws pretty well. Regular cotton fabric is MUCH less forgiving, but I think it turned out okay!
I purchase little hair clips to hold up the wings that they could remove later, and put in the little girl’s hair. I handpainted the eyes in acrylic, and let my daughter name it and choose a cutie mark I could paint on.
She chose “Cupcake,” and I painted a cupcake cutie mark on its bum–which is funny, considering the gift bag I had grabbed, and didn’t realize until later (and Myla had no idea) was purely coincidentally DECORATED IN CUPCAKES:
So there you go! It went over very well at the birthday party. Surrounded by tons of store-bought MLP toys and clothing, this custom handmade one brought a kid-hug and a big happy smile.
So head on over to Dollphinwing! She has no idea I’m sending you, but I like to share great things when I have a chance…she’s got a fox pattern there that I just purchased. Myla’s birthday is coming up and since our kid is a stuffed animal junkie, I will most likely use it to make a doll of the arctic fox character that Myla came up with. I’ll keep you posted!
A while back, I posted about my little embroidery setup. But since I am a mama bird and constantly building new nests, I was looking for a setup where I could keep ALL my supplies. I kept everything in a photo box for awhile, but then I found this goofy little treasure chest at the craft store, on sale for 40% off. Yay! Trouble was, I thought it was pretty, um…UGLY.
So I asked Myla to help me with it, because she makes everything awesome. She immediately grabbed a marker, and started filling each panel with a new type of dragon. Because she’s awesome, and that’s a great idea.
I added some details and backgrounds to it, as she told me about each one…
And when I painted it and added the details of what kind of dragon each was, it made me smile super big, because HOW COOL?!?!
On one side, she filled the center panel with a SEWING DRAGON, with pin legs, button eyes, and yarn hair. There’s a skeleton dragon, nature dragon, and something called “zero knowledge dragon” at the bottom center (see how he doesn’t know his abc’s and thinks a dog is a cat and a cat is a dog? That’s because he has zero knowledge).
On one side panel (above), she drew a mushroom dragon, the other was a flower dragon and a tomato dragon.
On the flip side, the center panel features a flame dragon, a candy dragon, grass dragon, slime dragon, and a water dragon.
Because OF COURSE IT DOES.
So now that I have a lovely, magical treasure chest of crafts, let me show you the setup inside…
First off, I put a foam core panel in the top lid, to hold things (that was my nephew’s great idea), and then everything else fits inside.
In the little ram zipper bag (which features the spider ram art on Redbubble by me & Myla), I keep fabric, glue, clips, and everything I need to put together the little Dandelyne hoops I use to frame the tiny embroideries. Then I have another little thread folder (with a doxie-girl on the front by Mab Graves) that holds all my cotton threads, separated by colors.
And the little top panel in the box lid comes down to tuck away the frame hoops (which have 3 parts each, so I separated them all up), and a few specialty threads. But it’s tucked away up there so that it’s out of the way.
But the new thing (above) is a little box that holds my collection of silk embroidery floss! They’re a new find for me–softer and smoother, just for something a little more fancy. So the silk threads are in this little tackle box, so I don’t get them confused with my cotton threads.And that’s my setup so far! Do you have special setups for your hobbies?