A few years have gone by since I collaborated with our then 4-year old… And on occasion, people will ask me if we could do more.
Sometimes we still do. It’s more of a casual thing. I’ll toss her a page and say, “here are a few heads if you feel like sketching,” usually when she’s bored or looking for something to do.
On occasion, she still adds a body to a face I’ve done, and it turns out pretty well…
For the most part, though, to be honest: the main reason we don’t always collaborate is that she’s busy doing her own thing! She’s FIERCELY creative. She throws herself into her art desk and is consumed with scissors, staples, and tape, making all sorts of wonderful things–
Other times, she just draws.
Lately, she’s been obsessed with “writing books.” We can’t get enough little thin sketchbooks–she fills them up with complete stories–usually just directional things, like new creatures she invents for her Minecraft game, or the inner anatomical workings of the prehistoric wooly mammoth.
She mixes and matches her Lego minifigures, creating all kinds of new creatures. She makes “costumes” from construction paper, and spends hours inventing her own board games, like “Fishing for Genies,” and “DeerPeople Land” (it’s like Candyland…but with deer-people, obvs).
And from time to time, people ask us why we don’t do very many collaborations anymore. The simple answer is that we DO….but mostly, because you don’t always make art just for other people. You do it because you love it.
Sometimes, the things people ask us to do work out fairly well: we did this mural together at Crave Hair Lounge in Killeen, and it worked mainly because the owners gave us complete freedom to do what we wanted. But even then, it was intimidating to make sure it actually worked out on such a large scale.
I’m sure when our collaborations went viral when she was four, we could’ve been involved in a great deal of things. We were asked us to do custom portraits together, requesting certain animal bodies. People wanted us to write a book with a single main character, or wanted me to collaboratively write POETRY with her. I was asked if we could create new work for ads, for products, for magazine illustrations.
But can you imagine? Have you ever tried to get a 4-year old to do anything? It’s tricky. Now take that 4-year old, take their favorite thing to do, and make it a JOB. Tell them they HAVE to do that thing a certain way. Make them do it within a deadline, or re-do it if it’s not exactly what someone had in mind. Does that sound fun anymore? Maybe I missed some opportunities, but you know, I’d rather have done that than make her favorite thing become a horrible chore.
Instead, now that she’s older, and she’s developed her own style, I’ve found a different way to collaborate with her.
Now, I ask her to help me.
Often, my favorite thing to draw is her. Occasionally I do a series for myself I call “Stuff Myla Says,” where I illustrate the funny things she says. And sometimes, she’ll help me with them.
But one time, I was doing a portrait of my dad, and I was trying to find a way to artistically describe some of my best memories from my childhood. I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story of some of my favorite memories–playing in the woods, exploring castles, enjoying sci-fi, and building gnome bridges. Do I draw them out realistically? Do I draw them as a background?
She came over and asked me what I was doing. “I’m drawing me as a kid, with Papa. And I want to draw some of my favorite times with him…but I can’t figure out how to draw all my favorite childhood memories of him.”
“I’m a kid–maybe I could help!” She said. “You tell me, and I’ll draw it.” And we did. And it turned out SO MUCH better than I could’ve hoped for.
Lately, my favorite thing to draw is her. It’s fun to put her in new scenarios. And when I do, since she’s her own artist now, I like to ask her to “help” me. And the things she adds always turn out better than anything I could’ve come up with.
I once drew her from a photo I took of a funny face she made while she played an arcade game, and asked her for help with it. “I wanted to make it like you’re fighting monsters and robots.” “Oh, okay!” she said, and her imagination took off from there. She created this intricate story about these creatures releasing monsters from these eggs, and ones that weren’t good or bad, just “in the way,” and others who were “just trying to survive.”
I drew her as an imaginary astronaut, and asked if she’d like to add to it. She came up with an elaborate story about all kinds of aliens meeting up on the “deer people” planet…(apparently, that’s a thing, in her world)…
Sometimes, I need clarification on what she’s drawn, and she’s always happy to help me; sometimes telling me what colors things should be…but only if I ask. She’s not demanding about it at all, and will often say, “You can make them whatever color you like.”
And she always seems happy with the end result…
Another time, I started this drawing of her (from a photo of her in a simple eared hoodie), and turned her into a forest kid. “She looks kind of scared,” I said. What do you think she look so worried about?” She thought for a minute, then said, “forest monsters.” And we took turns back and forth drawing monsters, based off of what the other one said.
Once, I asked her “If you could be any creature, what would you be?” and she said (without hesitation), “A WINTER CENTAUR.” So I drew her as one, and she described to me the colors she imagined, and added all her little winter friends. “Don’t forget, mom: I should be all white, but with mud on my fur to blend in with the trees.”
Next, we did a spring centaur (mostly because I stink at proportions, and was trying new things). She drew her walking next to a deer-dragon, surrounded by baby deer-people (creatures she invented) making nests in her hair and snacking on grapes.
Another time I drew her riding a furry beast (think: Where The Wild Things Are), and she added all sorts of monster and bird friends, helping her along her imaginary journey.
I’ve held strongly to the idea that she draw whatever she likes. I love her creativity, and as a mom, the best I can do is allow her the room to be herself, in any capacity, being sure to gently nudge her on a safe path along the way, or steer her aside if she starts to venture down a dark road. But mostly, allowing her to be herself, allowing her to be her OWN artist and ASKING for collaborations has been what works best for us.
And instead of the accidental collaborations we started with, now that she’s older, we’re consciously collaborating…working together to tell a story through the pictures…something I’ve always had a problem with in my own art. But by allowing her to take control for a combined purpose, I think it helps build her confidence. She’s not just adding on to my work…she’s helping me tell a story together, and I love it.
“We make a great team,” she says. And that makes me smile.
(I added a few of our newer collaborative pieces to our print site at Society6…)
(Copies of the book of early collaborations we made ourselves through Kickstarter can be found here…)