Collaborating with a 4-year Old

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One day, while my daughter was happily distracted in her own marker drawings, I decided to risk pulling out a new sketchbook I had special ordered.  It had dark paper, and was perfect for adding highlights to.  I had only drawn a little in it, and was anxious to try it again, but knowing our daughter’s love of art supplies, it meant that if I wasn’t sly enough, I might have to share.  (Note:  I’m all about kid’s crafts, but when it comes to my own art projects, I don’t like to share.)  Since she was engrossed in her own project, I thought I might be able to pull it off.

Ahhh, I should’ve known better.  No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look.  “OOOH!  Is that a NEW sketchbook?  Can I draw in that too, mama?”  I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them.  I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist.  In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”

Oh no she didn’t!  Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me!  Impressed, I agreed to comply.  “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said.  “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen.  I had resigned myself to let that one go.  To let her have the page, and then let it go.  I would just draw on my own later, I decided.  I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do!  But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.

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Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew.  I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman.  It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created.  Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished.  She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled.  It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers.  And she LOVED being a part of it.  She never hesitated in her intent.  She wasn’t tentative.  She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done.  …And the thing is, she DID.

Soon, she began flipping through my sketchbook, looking for more heads.  “Do you have any heads for me today?”  she would ask me each morning.  So I began making a point at night to draw some faces for her (which was my pleasure–faces are my favorite part, anyway).  She would then pick up a pen with great focus, and begin to draw.  Later, I would add color and highlights, texture and painting, to make a complete piece.  Sometimes she filled in the solid areas with colored markers, but I would always finish with acrylics later on my own.

mr beever

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Sometimes I would give her suggestions, like “maybe she could have a dragon body!”  but usually she would ignore theses suggestions if it didn’t fit in with what she already had in mind.  But since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads.  Maybe she could make this into a bug!  I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like.  So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!?  She’s just scribbling it all up!  But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined.  ALWAYS.

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For example, the filled-in marker of the one above, she told me, was a chrysalis, for the caterpillar to transform into a butterfly.  Of COURSE it is.  I never would have thought of that.   And that’s why kids make awesome artists.

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Later, I would show her what I had done with our drawings–the painting and coloring.  She seemed to critique them pretty harshly.  “That’s silly, mama.”  or “you put WATER behind her?”  But for the most part, she enjoyed them.  I enjoyed them.  I LOVE them.

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And from it all, here are the lessons I learned:  to try not to be so rigid.  Yes, some things (like my new sketchbook) are sacred, but if you let go of those chains, new and wonderful things can happen.  Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little.  In sharing my artwork and allowing our daughter to be an equal in our collaborations, I helped solidify her confidence, which is way more precious than any doodle I could have done.  In her mind, her contributions were as valid as mine (and in truth, they really were).  Most importantly, I learned that if you have a preconceived notion of how something should be, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED.  Instead, just go with it, just ACCEPT it, because usually something even more wonderful will come out of it.

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SIDE NOTE:  As an idea (mainly for myself) I decided to put just a few of our collaborative prints up for sale on a site called Society 6.  I purchased one myself (the space beavers, called “Outer Face”) to see how they would turn out, and I’m pretty happy with it.  We’ve done dozens and dozens of collaborative sketches, but I only put a few up as prints.  I’m not sure what to do with the others.  Maybe make a children’s book out of them?  Make poems to go along?  I’m not sure, but I love them with a very large portion of my heart, and they need a special place.

1,453 responses

  1. I loved this post.
    My favorites were the mermaid and the bug-worm thingy.

  2. Thank you thank you thank you for this. I’m a writer struggling to regain my footing as a new mom. This post gave me such hope during a time I’ve felt very hopeless even with a beautiful charming 8 month old baby girl. I bought a print–because they are wonderful, and to remind myself of the potential of collaboration with my girl. And to remind myself that motherhood does not equal loss as an artist, but unexpected gain if I let go.

    1. That’s awesome I’m so glad they meant so much! I struggled with the same, but I assure you, it IS possible!

  3. These are pretty amazing, and I also wanted to say how gifted your daughter is at four. I have one child who is an artist with media (others prefer music, etc) and she loved to sketch, but otherwise, none of my little leftie kids would bother to draw anything until after kindergarten, though they are creative in other ways. So I was happily surprised just to see her creative and very obviously intentional drawings! What a wonderful blessing to be able to share your gifts with her, and to have an artist’s journal together. And what a wonderful memory for you both to have and carry on in the future…

  4. Too awesome :)- now if we could enter all collaborative relationships with the same freedom and forgiving-ness

  5. These are fabulous! Have you seen the collaborative father-son drawings of David and Daniel Kamish? They did a book titled “The Night the Scary Beasties Popped Out of My Head”.

    1. I haven’t–I’ll have to look. Thank you so much!

  6. What an amazing gift you’ve given her–an equal share of your talent, and your time. More precious than anything. And your collaborations are so fun and zany! Thanks for sharing your story… =)

  7. Wow! Love this!! Thank you. I have an inner child who can be just as unwilling to share. Next time, I will think of your blog when I am throwing an inner temper tantrum.

  8. I so love these. I create interactive digital publications and I would love to give you and your daughter a free one. We could put audio poems or speech on the drawings? Just let me know if you are interested. This is my magazine, if you want to see more of what i do. Http:artizenmagazine.com

  9. Please turn this into a book! I’d buy it instantly! They’re gorgeous! Or buy them as prints.

    1. Thank you! Prints are sold on the society6 link at the bottom of the page, if you’re interested! And thank you–I’m working on putting them in a book.

  10. It seems to me that, given your daughter’s vision, a book of co-authored poems — you and her — would be perfect for the rest of the drawings.

  11. These pictures are amazing and such a touching story. I love the slug lady.

  12. I totally totally LOVE them all!!!!

  13. This is wonderful! And a great post. I could see this as a beautiful coffee table book. 🙂

  14. You, are an amazing mom! These collaborations are so incredible! What a treasure! Thank you for sharing, all kinds of things, with us and with your baby girl.

  15. […] Resultate einer Mutter-Kind-Collaboration. Loslassen und Zulassen. […]

  16. I love this. As an artist with six kids–I know this so personally! My kids LOVE to draw and look at my sketchbooks the same way. Thank you for reminding me that people can be a “real artist” at any age.

  17. OK, I’m getting a sketch pad out tomorrow and I’ll see what me and my 5 year old can co-create!

  18. What a wonderful project. I am so glad you shared!

  19. As a librarian, I love the idea of a children’s book!

  20. […] can read the full account here on Hendricks’ blog, but my favorite quote from the story has got to be this […]

  21. Love it all! Please, please, please workwith her on pen grip – she’ll transform into an even more amazing artist.

    1. Thank you! I’ve started a little, but I’ve learned with her that pushing her only leads to frustration. I’ll keep suggesting it to her. THanks!

  22. These make me so happy. I would buy them in a heartbeat.

  23. Every parent and teacher should see and understand the importance of what you have shared.

  24. […] Check out what one mother-daughter team created! Find the original article and more art on her blog BusyMockingbird!I love what the mom took away from her experience. It shows that we always need to be reflecting […]

  25. I love your work and am so inspired. I have a two year old girl and we draw together but this really opened me up to the possibilities. Also may I suggest a drawing if Anna May Wong, a black and white film star? She’s beautiful and strong and full of emotions with an incredible personal story. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_May_Wong
    Thanks again!

    1. Thank you so much! I have actually done AM Wong, in a piece I didn’t put up as a print, but will most likely be in a book. I’m trying to add a variety of faces and people. Thank you for the idea!

  26. Not only beautiful, but inspirational! Things like this give me hope for the future of the human race.

  27. This is amazing. I love what you said about her contributions being equal with yours and thus building her confidence. What an incredible act! Please make these into a book.

  28. Patricia Chambers | Reply

    Leah, I am astounded! These are marvelous! I know what you can do with at least one of them.

    Love, Patty

  29. These are wonderful beyond belief. Brilliant collaboration!

  30. Reminds me of a recent experience. A young PhD came to the US to intern with me on research project. He sent out a status email with our results and used phrases like “those modificated plates.” Since the meaning of the email wasn’t affected, I resisted the urge to correct all the details. It’s hard to let go, but often it’s more important to build confidence than to be correct.

  31. I am an elementary art teacher, and this is gonna make a great lesson plan. Suggestion: Sell as many prints as you can, and put the money in her art school fund… 😉

  32. These are fantastic! Would you be so enthralled to draw a portrait (because these are what they are) of my boyfriend and I? Email me if you’re interested!

  33. This is so incredibly cute. You should dedicate that sketchbook for mommy-daughter collaborations.

  34. This is so incredibly cute. You should dedicate the entire sketchbook to mommy-daughter collaborations.

  35. Oh, this was such a sweet post – I love your illustrations (they are amazing) but I think there’s something so special about the collaborations you’ve made with your daughter.

  36. A friend of mine sent this article to me because he just knew I would LOVE LOVE LOVE this. I am an artist myself and LOVE the fact you are allowing your child to watch you, share with you, create with you, BE with you. She will learn more from you and these memories than anything she might be “taught”. You are so inspiring….thank you so much for sharing xo.

  37. This is simply perfect!!!

  38. Oh a book for sure! I’m sure she has great stories to tell about these fantastic creatures.

  39. Love the entry and the art! Have just purchased dinosaur girl and somehow the artworks the both of you have created speaks to my quarter life “crisis” self (haha) on the midst of growing up and growing older. Im now gonna be more kinder to my brothers when they snoop a doodle in my sketchbooks. Thanks for sharing a slice of your life with us!

  40. Reblogged this on Zengenuity and commented:
    I love this! A mother and her 4 year old daughter collaborate to create exquisite art together. Such a great lesson in this.

  41. […] came across this post today, which is a prime example of things turning out fantastic despite the original […]

  42. I just came across your site, and got so enthralled in the illustrations and the story behind them, that I forgot how I found your site in the first place, but I’m glad I did. Love the collaboration! These are all so awesome!

  43. Those drawings look like they belong in a book or a gallery! Love them and thanks for sharing!

  44. A friend had a link to this post on FB and I’m so delighted to have seen it!!! I absolutely LOVE the results of your interactive art play!! What a cool mamma and what a talented wee one too!! You go, girls!!

  45. This is amazing, beautiful, inspiring…thank you for sharing the art and the story.

  46. I want you to know that as fantastic as your daughter’s additions are, your faces are quite fabulous, too. I am especially fond of the dinosaur woman and the crysalis woman because of their faces. You are BOTH fantastic, and you should definately do something with your collaborations. If I didn’t have so many writing projects stacked up (I have a habit of starting several things at one time, which I’m trying to break, lol) I would have offered to write short stories or poems for these delightful art renderings. Yours, P. A. Monson (author of Skin Deep and Still Shines the Sun)

  47. It is amazing! Congratulations! I will be the proud owner of two pieces 🙂

  48. These drawings are absolutely AMAZING!!! I can’t express how much I love them! My daughter wrote and illustrated her own little book today and your post inspired me to collaborate on it with her and to publish it. You should definitely put these together in a children’s book. I would order it right now!

  49. Reblogged this on Fine Art Mom and commented:
    Amazing story of another artist mother creating art with her daughter. I just had to share…

  50. These are blowing up on Reddit, and I can assure you that you would sell a ton if you made prints available. I know I’d buy one (or more)!

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