The other day, Myla and I had a great idea to give our old Gnome House a reboot. We made it when she was around age four, and it’s gotten pretty old and dusty. We went to the craft store, picked up a few things, and got everything ready.
Overflowing with ideas, Myla excitedly said, “oh, we could put a little blanket in there, and some flowers, and remember how the gnomes came and made little footprints and even left us a little note?”
And then her face froze. “Or….” she said very carefully, with starling clarity. “…Or…did YOU leave the note?”
I was a little startled. I make a point not to EVER lie to my daughter about important things, and while I love magic, I’ve always hated to “lie” about those traditional things like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. But somehow, as a parent, you get sort of peer-pressured into doing all that, right? I’ve always made a point to tell her “it’s real if you BELIEVE it’s real.” But deep down, I always assumed she knew it was all pretend. I used to even ask her “do you want to know the truth, or the story?” …and she ALWAYS very seriously chose the story.
She said, “I wasn’t sure if it was real. But there was a NOTE, so….that was you?” Urg. My heart sank.
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you might remember the Gnome House story, and how we talked about how magical things were real if you believed they were real.
I had always told her that Santa was more an IDEA, and that you can make your own Christmas by doing nice things for others. And then, what did we do? We left cookies and milk for Santa.
When she started losing teeth, SHE came to me, excited that the tooth fairy would leave her a coin. So what could I do? I left a coin, and a little receipt that said “thank you! -Tooth Fairy.”
A couple of years ago, her classroom had an Elf on the Shelf, and I was SO grateful, thinking I had escaped THAT dreaded curse. Until we walked into a store, and there they were: HUNDREDS of elves for sale, waiting to sit on shelves. She GASPED saying, “we can adopt our OWN?!?!?” So what could I do? I had to start putting that dang elf into goofier and goofier situations for her to discover every day of December.
So, as we dusted off the old gnome house and decorated it, we talked a lot about magic. I told her that I had offered her the truth SEVERAL times, and she didn’t want it. Of course she preferred the fairy tale, who wouldn’t?
We painted over the old art, and filled it with new, and I talked to her, like a grownup. Like I always do.
First, I asked if she was sad. She said no, not at all–that she was just a little confused. She was just trying to piece it all together.
I said, I really don’t like to not tell you to the truth. And I don’t want you to think I am lying to you. But there are magic secrets as a parent that you sort of go along with it. Because kids are born with special magic, and parents REALLLY don’t want kids to lose that. Because as you get older, and more cranky about things, you start thinking everything’s terrible and nothing is fun. When you become a teenager, you sort of lose that magic for a moment, and don’t believe in it anymore, and everything seems like it sucks.
Magic is hard to see. Bad things are MUCH easier to see. But here’s a secret: If you look around and you can’t find any magic, you can CREATE your own! And that’s why parents do things like that. So kids don’t lose their magic. Life would be boring without any magic…
We talked about other things, too. It wasn’t ALL serious. There were lots of giggles and goofiness. It wasn’t an after-school special TV drama or anything.
I told her that as artists, we’re very lucky, because we have EXTRA magic. We get to paint it, sculpt it, animate it, and show it to other people who might not be able to see it themselves. We get to help keep that magic alive in people.
She seemed to happily accept all of this, but I felt my heart break inside a little. I don’t remember when I first navigated this stuff myself, but my parents handled it well, because I don’t seem to have any lifelong trauma from it all. But I still can’t help but imagine that I heard her heart break a little.
We finished our gnome house, which she called “Pixies Place,” where all things are welcome. She only wrote a few of them on the list, but you get the idea.
The next day (after talking to both my husband and then my mother as to what to do), I took her out for ice cream, and we talked more about it. I said, “here’s the thing: now that you’re old enough, YOU get to be a magic maker for other people. I kept the magic around for you as long as I could when you were younger. Now that you’re older, you keep the magic for other kids.” “And sometimes, even for grownups who have lost their magic!” she said. And that’s exactly right.
My mom had a great idea, of maybe a “symbol” of graduation, or initiation into this sort of “big kid club,” so I gave her a little necklace I used to wear as a teen…a little fairy with a glass bead ball. It looked like magic to me, and seemed to fit the situation perfectly.
She said if you looked closely, you can imagine all sorts of colors in it–for all of the holidays, and all of the magic. She seemed pretty happy and proud. I was glad.
And I hope that’s enough. I want her to have that special magic, but she does need to know that sometimes YOU are the one that makes the magic, and that’s okay!
You really do have to LOOK for that magic as you grow up, because it gets harder and harder to find the older you get. And if you get to the point where you just can’t find it, you have to MAKE some magic yourself. It’s the best we can do.
When we first moved into our Texas house, I asked Myla (who was 3 years old at the time) what she wanted her new room to look like. All she said was “green and pink dinosaurs.” So that’s what we did. And although her room has changed a little over the years (mostly, getting filled to capacity with stuffed animals and art projects), the little hanging pteranadon I made from cardboard still hangs in the corner by her bed.
On weekends, we do a lot of art projects, so recently, Myla and I decided to make our own hanging fliers. I had a sheet of foam core (but cardboard works too), tape, markers, and an xacto blade. And aside from a bit of string, that’s pretty much all you need.
We started by drawing our creatures onto the foam core with pen. The wings took a little help, as I was planning on having them slide through a slot in its upper back. If you’re not up for that, you can just do half a wing, flip it over, and trace the other side, and just tape it to the body. But not a lot of precision is required, really.
I took on the Xacto cutting myself, as I really didn’t feel like taking Myla to the E.R. for slicing her little kid-fingers off (keeping in mind that I might risk doing the same to my adult-fingers–I am quite clumsy). Once the creature was cut out, I gave it to her to draw on the other side, so her creature would be visible from all angles.
While she decorated the back side of her dragon, I hurriedly cut out the mockingbird I’d drawn, and hastily colored the flip side of mine (because she is a kid and works three times as fast as I do).
Next, we put their wings through the slots, and taped them down. BOOM–our own creature fliers!
Here’s my finished chubby mockingbird, which I can then tape a piece of string to and hang from wherever I like.
And here it is with Myla’s dragon…
You can also make little fliers on a much smaller scale…While digging through old blog photos, I found this little project from ages ago, where we had made tiny palm-sized fliers one weekend, just using cardstock, scissors, and tape.
So there you go! If you’re looking for a quick & easy project to do with the kid (or to do for your own room), they’re fun and don’t require a big supply list. You could even use old box cardboard from the recycling bin (which is what I did with the pteranadon).
So play around and see what you come up with! And if you do, please show me on our Facebook page!
It started with an episode of Adventure time called “Ocean of Fear,” in which the main character, Finn, has to conquer his fear of the ocean, which is personified as a smoke-looking creature coming out of his bellybutton, ultimately (SPOILER!) chopping its head off with his grass sword (DANG I love Adventure Time!).
That stuck in my head (as Adventure Time themes often do)…that Fear comes from your own body, and is created by you and your experiences, and that it’s up to you to just live with it tormenting you, or to destroy it.
So one day, I had Myla pose for me (because I’m an artist and it’s awesome being able to use my family as reference) with a toy dagger she has. I wanted to reference the episode in some way subconsciously, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it yet…
Hold up. Wait. This goes a little deeper than that…
Recently, I did an interview with Mother Maker, where I was asked about working and making a living from my art, and it occurred to me that maybe people don’t know that I DO have a full-time “day” job. I’m a graphic artist that works for MWR in Missouri, and I can do it from a distance at home, which I am SO extremely grateful for.
I always thought that maybe it wasn’t as respectable that I wasn’t able to “make a living” full-time on my artwork alone (goodness knows I’ve tried), and sometimes I’ve felt a little bad for that. Like I wasn’t “successful” (whatever that means).
But I realized in that interview, that exactly the opposite is true: the fact that I have a full time “day” job actually allows me the freedom to create in my home time. I don’t have to create artwork for other people unless I choose to. I don’t HAVE to take commissions unless I choose to. I don’t HAVE to illustrate toothpaste or Christmas trees unless I choose to. I can pay my bills with my job, and create in my extra time. I may not have 8 hours a day to create, but I just have to find it in smaller increments–something I became good at anyway when I had our daughter. Because of all that, I have the freedom to do things JUST BECAUSE I WANT TO.
And that’s pretty darn “successful” in my book.
So back to the doodle.
(Actually, come to think of it, I think that’s why I call them all “doodles:” because they’re just mine, and they don’t have to be finished if I don’t want them to be. I show them to share, but I don’t HAVE to. They don’t ever feel “precious” or “sacred” or “untouchable.” They’re just like special buddies you can scrap around with.
SO (ahem). Back to the doodle.
I used to HATE pencil (PTOOIE!). But our art friend Mab Graves sent us her pencils, and I was compelled to try them out with a clean heart…and I found a new respect for graphite! Ballpoint pen will always be my favorite, but I actually came to really appreciate pencil. I didn’t always like the feel, but this was smoother, less gritty, and with the help of Workable Fixative, you can spray it to keep it from smearing, and then when you paint on top of the drawing, it gives it a really interesting look.
So I started by drawing Myla from one of my reference shots. I was playing with proportion, and wanted things to sort of be out of whack a bit.
I had other plans, but as you work on something, it sort of “talks” to you, and sometimes if you listen well enough, it’ll sort of “tell” you want it wants. So even though it wasn’t initially the plan (and let’s face it: I’m not exactly a planner when it comes to art. I do what I want right as I do it, and RARELY do I ever draw it again to replicate somewhere else), it seemed to want buildings behind it. Old German buildings, specifically. I grew up in Germany as an Army Brat, and I’ve always missed the feel of cobblestone roads and buildings all smooshed together at odd angles.
And then, for some reason, I thought of Fear again. For me, it’s never been just one big looming thing that I can pinpoint. It’s often just little worries that gang up and annoy me, or pick at my hair. My Fears seemed more like squirrels: something quick and elusive. Something interesting, flitting around your head, but something you’re not allowed to get too close to. And they’d be sort of like a patronus, but made of smoke, never quite fully taking form before disappearing and leaving you with just that hint of nervousness and uncertainty…
(And I’m not even sure I fully understood that until I wrote it out just now.)
I drew the girl (Myla, but not really Myla) with a sword, ready for whatever’s next….except that I wanted her to be calm about it. Like she sees it, but she knows she can handle it.
Next up, I tried a tonal study, where you just lay out the tones in greys, so you can work out what parts should come forward and what parts could stay back.
(On a similar topic, while I absolutely ADORE outlines, I’ve been playing with the idea that there shouldn’t be any lines–that things take shape based on lights and darks. A light thing stands out only because the things around it are darker. I played with that a little here, but I’m still a sucker for an outline.)
I worked in acrylics on her skin, more as an experiment. I have been LOVING the way watercolor looks on top of graphite (after spraying on a fixative), like old etchings. But I wanted to see what acrylics would do.
I primarily used only about three colors to fill in light washes on the buildings. It’s a struggle, as I have a LOT of trouble finding interest in painting backgrounds, but I understand that it really does add great context to a piece. (Maybe the buildings are a subtle self-reminder that these fear-things stem from experiences you had in childhood, since mine was primarily spent in Germany…)
And as fancy and deep-thinking as I just made this all sound, it’s really ultimately just a doodle in my sketchbook, stemmed from an episode of Adventure Time. Maybe it’s not hanging in a gallery or painted in depth on a 15-foot canvas, but that’s okay. Maybe it doesn’t have some deep cultural impact, but that’s okay. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have an art-related job, and still get to make art for myself in the meantime.
And that’s more than okay. ❤
We’re in California visiting family, and we took a side detour to HARRY POTTER WORLD in Hollywood! (Yes, I realize it’s in Universal Studios and that there are OTHER things to see, but primarily, Potter World is our FAVORITE place on earth…)
Last December, we used some savings during a particularly rough time, and took a quick trip to Harry Potter World in Florida….But, as it was a rough time, we decided we needed a do-over. So our family trip to Universal Hollywood during a family trip is MUCH appreciated.
We already have wands from our last trip, but I remembered how Myla dropped hers and broke it (they were kind enough to repair it for free), so before we left, I thought it would be fun to make us some keychain wand holsters to carry our wands this time, like REAL wizards (the husband, incidentally, opted out for some reason, so the kid and I were the only mega-rad cool guys there. I know I was, with my giant sun hat to avoid sunlight at all cost).
There are some VERY cool wand holsters on etsy (yes, I said “very cool” and “wand holsters” in the same sentence, what?), but I wanted to try building my own wonky version myself.
First, I took some pleather-looking fabric I had, cut out a fairly small rectangle, and hemmed it over on three sides. Then, I wrapped it around Myla’s wand to gauge how tight it’d need to be to hold it in there firmly, and yet still make it easy to pull out. You know–should any wizard-situations arise.
Next, I took a thin strip, folded both sides to the center, and then folded it over and sewed it. This would become my keychain loop, which I slipped a keychain ring through, folded over, and stitched to the inside of the rectangle.
(Ultimately, I decided the d-ring wasn’t working, and the chain was too clunky and hung too low, so I removed it altogether, and replaced it with two keychain hoops, but in the photo above, I hadn’t figured that out yet…)
Once the loop was in place, I folded the rectangle over the wand again, and hand-stitched it together. (It’s quite wonky, but I am a sucker for that wonky-Weasley look, so I’ll just pretend that was the look I was going for all along…) I added a few charms I had–Myla loves Aragog, so I added a little spider and a tiny potions bottle.
I had initially thought I’d hang them from the bottom, but I didn’t want it to be too clunky and annoying.
And here it is: our keychain wand-holster!
As you can see, the chain is basically useless, since it hung the wand too low, but putting a keychain hoop directly through the loop band and connecting it to her beltloop (like in the photos above) hung it at just the right level. I eventually removed the chain and attached TWO keychain hoops, just to be sure it didn’t fall off or anything.
So there you go! Wands at the ready! EXPELLIARMUS!!! …Okay, now put that thing away, kid. You’ll shoot your eye out.
So here are Myla’s wand holster and mine, side by side. Mine has a couple of bug charms (because bugs are awesome), and my cicada is holding a little tiny potions bottle.
Since my wand (on the right) is basically straight, I had to curve mine a lot more, like an ice cream cone, and sew it all crooked. But I don’t mind–it held up pretty well. You can see the two keychain hoops on these without the chain, too.
Muggles, step aside–we’ve got some wizarding to do!
(I’d suggest wearing a belt, though–we didn’t, and the holster kept pulling Myla’s pants down…but otherwise, it worked great!)
Recently, I was contacted by Education.com, asking if we’d be interested in trying out one of their many learning projects… They sent us one called “homemade airplane,” which is an airplane made from a hanger, that can “fly” on a zipline….and it looked like a pretty fun project with a fairly small supply list, so I decided to give it a try.
…Of course, we always have to add our little spin. So when I introduced the idea to Myla, she instantly wanted to make it into a dragon instead. WHOOPS okay, that’s fine, we can work with that. So here’s basically how we did the project:
1. Find a wire hanger. This proved to be quite a difficult task, as we apparently threw out all of our wire hangers in a fit of rage one day, but I found ONE hiding in the back of my closet, behind some party dresses I’ve never worn.
2. Bend the wire handle into a loop, and be sure it’s closed, as this will be what it slides down on the zipline.
(This is where I noticed that the bottom of my hanger was only connected by a wonky weak little cardboard tube which broke not long after I touched it, so I bent it into a different shape altogether, and Myla taped it together because scotch tape solves all of her problems.)
3. Trace it onto paper & cut out two. Whatever your shape is, trace it onto a folded sheet of paper so you have a front and a back.
4. Decorate it. While I hot-glued the bent-up hanger onto the back side of the paper, Myla decorated the front.
So now he looked like this:
…which she said looked ridiculously duck-like, and decided she needed to give him some head-fins.
5. Hot glue that junk. Glue it all to the hanger. Myla added the head-fins, wings, and a tail to hers.
And BOOM this is the final dragon. Pretty cool! And aside from the gluing, she pretty much did it herself.
So here’s where it springs to life.
6. Get some fishing line…or other such thin thread. The instructions said “fishing line,” but despite my massive craft resources, I couldn’t seem to find any, and decided to give this very thin thread a try. Pin it between two walls with pushpins, and BOOM you have a flying dragon, ready to decimate battlefields and lay waste to various enemies.
…Or, just fly around a corner of your room looking cool.
So there it is! Education.com has lots of other fun learning activities on their site, and I think a free sign-up gets you lots more access.
So have fun storming the castle!
(Side note: “Dracarys” is the command that the Mother of Dragons–Daenerys Targaryen, from Game of Thrones–gives her dragon Drogon, that compels him respond by shooting flames from his mouth, destroying her enemies. So, that’s nice.)
Once upon a time, I wasn’t feeling well, and needed a fun way to keep the kid occupied that didn’t involve a digital screen. That’s when we go to the old stand-by: CHALK.
I like chalk, because of a game that Myla and I came up with, wherein I lie down and close my eyes and do nothing, and she draws things around me.
Like this time, when Myla’s cousin was visiting, and helped draw an alligator eating my head…
Or when she drew a cat in a litterbox with flies all around it (this cracked her up, for some reason…) on top of my head.
And for some reason, they drew a giant Princess Bubblegum (from Adventure Time) eating my head (I sense a running theme here).
Here’s Myla’s cousin, adding bugs with Myla all around me, which also made Myla giggle.
But the best part is, it’s fun and I DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING! Granted, the first time we did this, I had to draw something around her to demonstrate. But once I did, she was off and running with ideas, and all I had to do was lie there.
The only bad part is that the photos turn out terrible, because they’re nearly always shots from below your own face, which isn’t a good angle for ANYone. But AHHHHHH well. It’s not about that, it’s about having fun. With minimal effort on my part. Hahah!
I did an interview recently, which reminded me of a lesson I learned a while back: that the best memories are made when you give someone your time. Busy parents don’t have a lot of time, but honestly–it doesn’t take much! Even when you’re exhausted, a little time sharing laughs while your kid draws things around your head–those are things that stick. And it’s never too late. You can always go to a person you care about, and make a little time for them. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate it for a long time. ❤
This week, Myla and I decided to work on a little project that met all my requirements: fun, quick, easy, and inexpensive. We got a plain shirt at our local craft store for $3 (Myla chose white), and used Sharpie markers to draw some of her favorite things on it to wear on her first day of school. We used a small sheet of foam core (you could use cardboard, too) in between the shirt so marker wouldn’t seep through to the other side, and started drawing.
I only drew what she asked me to, so while she drew the characters from Harry Potter, I drew the Basilisk and Finn from Adventure Time.
She asked me to draw the new big-eyed pink lemur she just got.
She’s a very social kid, and sees it as an icebreaker; a way to find something in common with other kids when she first meets them. I thought at first that she might choose to draw only things that other kids might recognize, but when I said, “do you think people will know who the basilisk is?” and she said, “If they don’t, I’ll just have to tell them all about it.” …Which made me smile.
She added Marceline, and I added the little ‘ello worm from Labyrinth.
And then Nightcrawler, Jake, Spiderman, and Robin from Teen Titans Go. These aren’t her ONLY favorites, by any means, but I think it’s a good start!
On the back, she wrote “wands rule,” for some reason (I guess it may have something to do with her excitement for our upcoming trip to California, which will involve a trip to Harry Potter World at Universal Hollywood), and drew a Harry Potter, a pygmy puff with a wand, and a Cornish pixie.
And there you go! Next step is to give it a quick iron to set the permanent marker, and then wash it inside-out on gentle.
Boom! Ready to start school and meet some new friends!
I love bouncing around from project to project, medium to medium. Next week, I’ll show you a fun little project Myla and I did together. But in this post, I’ll tell you how I’ve been a little focused on these guys: our Dream Creepers.
If you don’t know the story, they were created when I was trying my hand at resin casting and made a monster doll for Myla. Once, when she had it with her, a little girl told her it was creepy. She thought for a moment, and said, “Well, they have to be a little creepy to chase bad dreams away.”
And every Dream Creeper that finds a new home arrives with a little pamphlet on the story of how the Dream Creepers came to be.
Lately, I’ve had family that’s been able to help me sew, so I’ve been able to make a LOT more of these little fellas, and signed up to the the Austin Wizard World–a comicon we’ve enjoyed in the past. So we’ve been focusing on that. And with the extra sewing help, I’ve even been able to offer custom Dream Creepers in my Etsy shop!
Recently, when I took a trip to my local craft store and walked past the fabric section (totally not intending to buy fabric), I didn’t WANT to see this sparkly mermaid fabric. I didn’t want to….but I did. And then I had to get it.
I quickly asked my sewing helper: can we make Dream Creepers out of this? And with a little struggle (and a lot of pins), it was possible…
If you’ve never seen mermaid fabric, it’s fun, because it’s so shiny, and if you pet the sequins one way, they turn one color, and if you pet them the other way, they change. (The fabric kind of freaks me out a little, because my Type A brain wants them always to be facing the same way…but I think it really works for these guys!)
We liked it so much we later got some in black…
So we decided to do these special shiny fellas as a limited edition release–and we’ll have a few in my Etsy shop on August 1st at 1:00pm central time! There are only a limited amount, and we’ll probably not make many more of these (the fabric is REEALLY expensive), so if you’ve ever been interested in a shiny little monster who can chase your bad dreams away, then please set your alarms for AUGUST 1st!
There will be a variety of faces with a variety of fabric combinations, so there’ll be several options to choose from! If we have any left from the sale (often times, they sell out), we’ll take them to the convention in November.
Soooo if any of you happen to be located near Austin, Texas around the 17, 18, and 19th of November, I hope we’ll see you at Wizard World (there are going to be SOOO many cool people at this one), and you can come by and check out our Dream Creeper booth–we’ll have all sorts of goodies to look at!
And don’t forget: to snag the special shinies, keep an eye out on August 1st!
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? ❤