“You’re really good at drawing, mom. You’re even better than that lady that’s better than you.”
Um. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but it sounded like a compliment.
Then, with her head down, she said, “I’m not even as good as you. I don’t paint very well at all.”
Ouch. Now I know she doesn’t really feel that way. But being a mom of a whole 5 years of experience (trust me, I know from my sister–a mother of two teen girls–that I’m STILL in the beginner levels), I have learned enough to see this more as a confidence cry than an actual honest declaration.
She KNOWS she’s only five years old, and that my own many many (MANY) years on this earth has just given me a bit more time to improve in my artwork. She knows that the more time she spends on something, the better she’ll get at it. And she knows it’s not good to compare yourself to others, as long as you’re having fun.
She knows all that. But she wasn’t just being disingenuous, and she wasn’t fishing for compliments–she just needed to feel something positive. A reassurance that she was on the right track.
But it hurt my heart for her to not be able to see how awesome she is when she does what she loves. So I whipped up an idea to let her run with.
We’ve drawn together many times before, and our collaborations are fun. But it’s not often that SHE does the painting herself.
I had an extra piece of cut wood from an older project, and I sketched a face.
That evening, I laid a tablecloth on the carpet in the art room, gave her a few of my older (but still decent) brushes, and my palette of acrylic paints. I told her it was hers to paint any way she liked.
So she immediately went for the green.
Apparently, they had learned that song “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah” that day at school, but to her ears, it sounded like “DINO…” And she imagined some happy little dinosaur-girl who (for some reason) was dancing around in the kitchen.
Using my “grownup” paints is a really good way to teach her to control the paint…that just a little change in water or pressure, how you mix the paint, how you thin it….it ALL affects how the paint goes on. All I did was watch her, and tell her how she could make it work when the paint was too thick or too thin. She noticed that when there’s too much water and not enough paint, it dries very VERY light….but that a little paint can go a long way if it’s thinned down with water a little bit. I thought of myself as bowling bumpers: letting her do all the work, but there just to make sure she didn’t completely throw a gutterball in frustration.
And after awhile she said, “You can paint with me, if you like.”
I told her that it was her project…that I had wanted HER to do the painting. “But I really like painting with you,” she said.
So I did.
I tried not to add TOO much detail. I didn’t want to discredit what she’d already done by completely painting over it. Her only request was that I not change the colors she had already chosen. AND OF COURSE I WOULDN’T! Why would I? They were already awesome.
So here’s how it turned out in the end…
And here is her sticking it over her own face…
I didn’t want to alter it TOO much, but I also wanted to join in with her, since she asked me to. I made sure to ask her before I did anything. I let her give me direction. And watching me, she picked up that a quick way to make scaly dino skin without too much detail is to paint dots on the face in a darker color. She learned that a little darker or lighter makes shadows & highlights. She ASKED me about these things, not because I sat her down for a lesson…but just simply from observing a fellow artist.
So I told her again: I have many years of experience, but I am not finished learning. I am ALWAYS learning. I love to learn new things. I love to watch other artists, and try the things they do, learn the things they do.
Yes, I have been drawing a lot longer than my five-year-old. But she has parts of her imagination that I no longer have, that are fantastically wonderful. Her artwork is just as valid as mine, and quite often even more amazing. Everyone has value. It doesn’t help to compare yourself against someone else. There is always room to grow and learn, no matter what level you’re at. And wherever you’re at–if you have a love and a passion for it (whatever it is)–that is an amazing thing.