Sometimes I just have to stop whatever I’m working on and doodle with the kid. It doesn’t matter WHAT I doodle, she’ll turn it into something fun. In this case, I started with a simple little head with a helmet–I wanted her to decided: is it underwater or in outer space? Of course, I always have a few preconceived ideas floating around in my head, but I gently wave those away–because I want to see where she takes it.
She very rarely stops to think too deeply about it. She picks up a pen and starts drawing, like she already knows what she’s going to do.
She decides quite confidently that it’s in outer space, and she starts telling a story as she draws (which I’ll tell to you at the end)…
I like to listen and watch her as she tells these stories, because if I don’t pay attention, I’ll completely miss the magic of them, and looking back at it, it won’t make any sense at all. So I listen. I ask questions, and watch the story unfold.
She wanted things painted certain colors, so I got out the watercolors. Not the kid ones, the nice ones, so I can teach her how to use them the right way. She wants it to look “old fashioned,” with only a few colors.
She wants me to finish it by adding more details later, and color the rest “like it’s from a long time ago.”
And this is how it looks so far…
And here is the story that belongs to it: These dragons are blowing a protective force field around the robot woman. They each have special powers. They are a team of good guys, and there are bad guys outside the bubble, but they can’t get in…and if they try, the powerful one that looks like a bird will vaporize it immediately. There are some at the bottom, who have been attacked with arrows. It would usually be sad, except that they are evil, so you are supposed to be glad, only because it means you are safe. Each of the good dragons has a weakness, but it’s protected. The robot woman herself is protecting a litter of alien cats in her chestplate, and it has feeding tubes to feed them. The “boss cat” is a good guy, and has a powerful foot to attack bad guys, and he has joined in the fight. It looks like they’re going to win the battle.
I still have to do my part, which sort of ties it all together. But I’m always happy with it at this stage, just because I could never in my entire imagination come up with a story like that. It’s amazing what you learn when you really listen to a kid unleash her imagination…
So I’ll keep you posted on it!
Awhile back, a reader suggested that it might be fun to let other readers ask us questions, and have Myla answer them. Why haven’t I ever thought of that? So although you may have been quite familiar with our collaborations, please allow me to introduce you to the most awesomest 7-year old I’ve ever known: Myla.
Myla not only draws, but is creative in SO many other ways. She sculpts things for hours with construction paper, tape, and scissors. She frantically makes the things in her head out of hot glue and broken electronics.
As an only child, she’s got a burning desire to be around other people and make them smile. She’s never shy. She’ll do practically anything for a laugh. She loves insects of all kinds (as apparent in her fierce desire to obtain a hercules beetle grub–how can I make this happen, universe???), and all sorts of animals.
She didn’t ever seem interested in art until she turned three years old, and suddenly that’s ALL she did. We lived in Alaska at the time, my husband deployed for a year, and we were quite isolated indoors, with winter being 8 cold, dark months of the year. I tried to do projects with her as a toddler, mostly resulting in absolute messes, which was okay, too.
And then at age three, the art bug hit her, and she’d bury her face in her sketchbook, drawing, drawing, drawing. I saw so much of myself in her desire to create things. I understood that urge to get an idea out, no matter the time or place. When she was age four, I shared the story of how we began drawing together, and we’ve filled our world with doodles and art ever since.
She can turn anything into an art project…from making cookies, to cleaning up.
She loves to talk and never stops asking questions, and I never tire of trying to explain things to her…some questions she asks are so complex, I’m surprised at her ability to understand such deep concepts. We have pretty cool conversations.
So she jumped at the idea to answer questions from people on the page. So now I’ll share with you the questions people asked online, and the answers she gave to them….
Myla, do you ever dream the same thing more than once? (Lori) Just one. A nightmare that is so gross I don’t want to tell you. I had it two times. The Dream Creepers must’ve let it through on accident.
How do you wish school was different if you were in charge? (Sylvia) Ice cream sundaes on Fridays! Also, we would do art projects all day, every day–whatever we choose, with no instructions.
Who is your favorite book character and why? (Lauren) The scarecrow from the audiobook from the Wizard of Oz (read by Anne Hathaway) because he was funny, and the voice she did for him made me laugh. My favorite character from a kid movie is Zork from Giant King…because he’s weird–he’s a battlebot who wants to be a kindergarten teacher! And he has a funny voice.
What would you like to be when you grow up? (Lauren) A zoologist and an animator! I want to have a petting zoo and a house with all kinds of different animals like bats, sloths, hedgehogs, parrots, and foxes and everything. And I will live right next to my mom and dad so we can always see each other.
Coffee, Tea, or Juice? Do you like to drink it while you work, or as a reward? (Ashley)
Actually, I love to drink pink milk (strawberry milk) while I’m working on projects. (Side note from Mom: when she was a toddler, her favorite drink was raw carrot juice. She demanded it above all others. She drank so much carrot juice, she was practically orange!)
What has been your favorite project to date? (Ashley) Right now, my favorite paper project is an alien goat I made out of paper.
What is your favorite color, and why? (Ashley) Lately, my favorite color is white. It’s the color of the arctic fox character I created!
My son loves to pretend he is a Royal Rainbow Crystal Protector dragon who takes care of all the other dragons. What is your favorite kind of dragon? (Christina) My favorite dragon is one I made up called a sheep dragon. It looks like a black dragon but with soft sheep fur. Also, a rain dragon, which flies in the clouds and rains on everyone. If it’s a cloudy day, there’s probably a rain dragon nearby. (Myla and her sheep dragon from Budsies pictured below…)
What is the best and worst thing about working with mum? What advice would you give to other kids considering a family-based business? (Joanne) I LOVE to draw with mom, because in the end it always turns out beautiful. There’s nothing I’d pick as the worst thing! We mix our ideas pretty well. I would say to people that want to draw together to do what you love to do. Try as best as you can, and never give up.
What would you say to people who love to draw but feel like they’re not good enough? Also, what toppings do you like on your pizza? (Amanda) I would tell them to be calm and do what fits you. Trust yourself. Keep trying and trying and you will get better and better. And for pizza, I don’t like ANY toppings, not even a lot of cheese–I just love the pizza bread!
If you had to make as many people laugh and be as happy as possible for an entire day, would you rather do so by being a half bear/octopus, or a half parrot/giraffe? And how would you accomplish your goal? (Alisha) Oh that would be so fun! I would choose to be half arctic fox and half squirrel. I would lick them to make them laugh, and make fart sounds and goofy sounds.
If you owned a magical unicorn that granted you three wishes, what would you wish for? (Alisha) My first wish would be that the unicorn could come back and see me every day. My second wish would be that my mom and other family could be as happy as they can be. My third wish would be for my friend Patrick to be able to be in the same class as me in second grade. Also, I’ll give everyone a pet puppy.
What is your favorite medium to create with? What is your most favorite piece of art your mom and you have created and why? (Kelly) My favorite thing to work with of all time is paper! I love to make projects with paper, tape and scissors. My favorite thing I created with my mom? There’s too many to choose! My favorite, I think? …is the fox lady that we turned into patches…
In closing, I asked Myla if she had any words to share that might inspire any other artists out there. She thought about it a minute, chose her words carefully, and said this:
“If you want to be an artist, listen to me: practice, practice, and practice. And practice. And if you want to, you can even do it a better way by doing it with someone else.”
Thank you so much!
The other day, I was drawing a little doodle of Patsy from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and thought it’d be funny to add a bunch of strange and silly things to the pack on his back. And then I had an even better idea: what if I asked everyone in Instagram what I should draw?
So I did. I asked everyone to give me their APPROPRIATE ideas (I didn’t want people trying to make me draw a bunch of butts or other inappropriate things), and this is what they suggested:
A black cat, goose, tungsten carbide drill bit, rabbit smoking a cigar, Myla, some swallows (both European and African) carrying a coconut, plenty of shrubbery, a severed arm, the Holy Grail, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, a small horse, hamster, elderberries, a whoopie cushion, dollhouse, spatula, a Dream Creeper, ladies undies, a rotary phone, a foot, bubble gun, sunflower, stamps, dead parrot in a cage, small llama, Camelot (it’s only a model) a waiter with a tray, flamenco dancers, and a rat that Myla drew. And, if you please, on the llama’s nose, a waffer-thin mint.
Then I painted it to clean it up a bit, and now Patsy looked like this…
Myla saw what I was drawing, and asked me what I was doing. I told her about how I let other people give me ideas, and she was fascinated, and asked if she could do it too. “It means you’d have to draw whatever people say,” I said. “I know,” she said seriously. “…Even if it’s something weird, you have to try and fit it in really tiny,” I said. “I know I can do it.” she said. So I asked Instagram again.
This time, the list included a quiddich ball, goblet, owl wearing earmuffs and Harry Potter’s glasses, eating hot Cheetos and wearing a time turner, buckbeak, bunny, niffler with gems, ferret holding cheese, motorcycle, quill, mice, Dobby with a sock, hermione’s cat Crookshanks wearing Luna’s glasses, Stonehenge, bowtruckle, birthday cake, gold, watch, oven mitt, lightening bolt, Voldemort, a crown of flowers, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, butterflies, spider, bird with babies in a nest, screaming mandrake, lollipop, a melty chocolate frog, his umbrella wand, a slug, baby Norbert hatched dragon blowing fire, Fang and Fluffy, magic wand, potion bottles, a magic wand, the monster guide book, keys, a golden snitch, dog bone treats, and Hogwarts.
And she was amazing–she drew EVERYTHING on the list. She had me look up references for the things she wasn’t familiar with, and made sure I crossed off every one of their suggestions. Near the end, there were a couple of really obscure things that I had considered just leaving off or drawing myself, but she looked at the list and pushed me on: “I want to get ALL of them, mom.” So I looked up the last obscure things, and she finished them up.
And here’s how her awesome Hagrid looked when he was done…
A few days later, I drew Gandalf, and thought it would be another fun opportunity to let people give me suggestions again. Myla doesn’t know Lord of the Rings. She did ask to do a few of the things, but mostly I did it solo.
I filled Gandalf’s beard with his pipe, Gollum with a flower hat, Saruman, popcorn, Lego bricks, Bruce Lee DVD set, a Hobbit (Frodo) as a bee next to a hive, an Easter basket, rusty old key ring, record player, loaf of bread, marble pouch, pencils, a tandem bike, horse and carriage, chocolate cake, a mockingbird, cat, jack o’lantern, Shadowfax, fireworks, Jean-Luc Picard, dragonfly, his moth friend, a dwarf, eagle, Radagast with his rabbit sleigh, dragon Smaug, a comb, an elven-hewn locket with a portrait of Galadriel, a lawn gnome, ent Treebeard, cave troll, po-tay-to, Orc, cards, spider, a pint of ale, hobbit hole, Gandalf the White’s brooch, a hedgehog, seashells, starfish, mousetrap, Malala, and Gumby, Legolas’ arrows, and the Hobbit book.
And here’s Gandalf, complete…
It’s really intimidating giving your artwork over to everybody, and letting them have control of what you draw. There’s this sort of nervous excitement when all these suggestions start coming in, and you wonder how you’re going to possibly do it, and what if it wasn’t such a good idea after all…
But it’s a good exercise in letting go and seeing what it turns into. In a way, it’s sort of the same lesson I learned when giving my sketchbook to Myla when she was 4 years old…sometimes it’s okay to give up that control. Sometimes when you are able do that, fun things can happen.
All my favorite people are weirdos.
When I was little, my sister and I were playing with my grandma, and we happily said, “Grandma, you’re so WEIRD!” She was mortified and a bit offended, til my mother explained, “in our family, being weird is a COMPLIMENT.”
Our daughter is overflowing with this magical, neverending waterfall of creative ideas. She grabs paper and tape and makes shoes, or helmets, or tails, or spaceships, or her own paper zoo, complete with three-dimensional animals. Her wheels are always turning, and as a person who constantly tries to keep up with all the creative ideas in my OWN head, it’s so amazing to witness and recognize in someone else.
The other day, I drew a little picture of her with a paper space helmet she made. She had made a paper space helmet for me too, and we took turns exploring a new planet in our living room.
Later, she added aliens in it, and told a little story about them. That she had come to a new planet. That there were aliens that looked like babies but that were adults. They were blue. One was in a spaceship, one was in love with her, and one said hi, as another peeked out of a crater. Another showed off his invention of springy shoes and hands.
We talked about what I could add, and later I showed her my doodle, which instantly brought an “AWWW!” when she saw the cute little big-eyed mouse-elephant-tapir-alien things in the background.
One day during this process, she came home from a regular day at school saying,
“Mom, there was a kid at school that called me a weirdo. I think they meant it in a bad way, but I just said ‘thank you.'”
I absolutely couldn’t have been prouder. She didn’t get her feelings hurt. She didn’t say something mean back to be spiteful. She just happily said “thank you,” which was wonderful. I have been trying her whole life so far to prepare her for the cruelness of other people, even way back when she loved Batman and the other kids tried to tell her that “only boys played with superheroes.”
Listen, I get it…she likes weird things. She likes bug and bats and dinosaurs and Batman. She has a wild imagination and loves to pretend. She knows about sci-fi, and I do my best to answer any question she might possibly have about ANYTHING, and try to explain it to her in a way she can easily understand. Nothing is taboo (and believe me, she ASKS). People are most likely going to call her a weirdo. I’ve been expecting it, because I went through it myself firsthand. So I’ve made it a mission to point out to her that the most creative people around her, the most wonderful people, the most artistic friends we have, have ALL been called “weird” at some point or another.
“People are going to try to make you feel bad for being different. But different is GOOD,” I told her. She caught on quickly, and added in her own words, “sometimes people will try to point you a certain way. But instead of following their pointers, you can help CHANGE their pointers to point another way–the way YOU want to go.”
It can be hard sometimes, it might hurt your feelings sometimes, but that one thing that helps is try to find other weirdos. And if you can’t find other weirdos, try to let kids see how awesome your weirdness can be…
One day at the playground, inspired by “Secret of the Kells” (in which there was a girl character who was a shape-changing wolf-girl), she ran around to the other kids, saying “would you like to play werewolves with me?” The kids looked at her strangely. I’m sure their idea of “werewolf” was more the scary halloween type, and not the cute shape-shifting fairy girl-type. I started to worry that she’d get discouraged and feel bad, but I let her handle it. Cut to ten minutes later, though, and nearly EVERY KID on that playground was playing werewolves with her. She had them all going in a den (under the slide) to rest, and then coming back out into the “trees” (the monkeybars) to run around in the wild, meet with the other wolf packs, and chase prey. She wasn’t bossy or domineering. She just helped them find their inner weirdos.
Hopefully, this girl’s gonna be just fine.
I looked at the drawing we did again, and I realized I had drawn her holding a little banner flag,which made me think of when people say they’re letting their freak flag fly, which seems totally appropriate. Let your weirdo flag fly!
So I told her times might get rough sometimes, and people will try to hurt your feelings for being different, or make you feel bad, but you keep doing what you love doing, and you might even change someone else for the better.
And so far–thank GOODNESS–she’s gotten the message: she’s a weirdo. And so am I. And maybe so are you. And you know what? That’s AWESOME. Because all the best people are.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Myla wanted to be a “real artist” and make people happy with artwork. Although I assured her that she already WAS a “real artist,” we took on ten commissions, and I thought I’d post on how they were going.
First off, I start by drawing a head from the pictures that were sent. I keep it pretty straightforward, and try to keep it fairly simple. Next, when she’s looking for a fun project to work on, I’ll ask if she’d like to start on some of the custom portraits…two words she had previously not known, but is now quite familiar with.
From the emails the client sent, I would tell her a little about the person. “they call him a wiggle-worm, they love garden scenes, and his favorite toy is rainbow-colored.” So she drew the little baby as a rainbow-colored caterpillar, watering his garden, with an ant peeking in on him…
Or: “they call her ‘Princess Batman,” and her favorite animal is a fox.” She drew the girl as a fox with bat-wings and a crown, carrying a space helmet in her hand. Maybe a little literal, but fun nonetheless…
Or: “He had a pirate wedding, and he loves Star Wars and space.” So she drew him as a space pirate, with a light saber and Solo’s blaster, in a great battle with an alien on Jupiter, who’s chucking knives at him…
And there was this one, who loved magical creatures, like unicorns, mermaids, and whales…so she drew her as a whale-hugging merm-i-corn. (That’s a word, right?) If you look carefully, you’ll notice her torso is actually made of unicorn hair…because she wanted to make sure the unicorn had a bit of the spotlight, as well…
With this one, I said, “she loves magical things, like fairies and moths, and she collects coffee cups.” …So she drew her as a luna moth fairy–with teensy weensy itty bitty coffee cups in her hand, and decorating her hair…
Thankfully, so many people were up for letting us use our creativity, and being open to whatever came out. Myla LOVED the “portrait assignments.” She loved having a little prompt. And having someone list an idea of what they have in mind for their portrait has actually become a GOOD exercise for her in limitations.
She really loves to tell little stories with her drawings, (as with the space pirate above, and the gnome fairy below), but I have to remind her that they still want it to be a portrait of someone they love, so maybe hold back a smidge of the wildness a little, so that everyone’s happy.
At first, it feels like I’m limiting her creativity, which is something I was very wary of, and worried about early on…But actually, I’m finding it to be a very GOOD practice for her–to be able to work on something for someone else within certain parameters and still have fun with it. I think this is something that will come in handy in whatever job field she chooses, and is especially helpful if she chooses to be a working artist.
It feels like she’s kind of like a pinball in a pinball machine–she gets to bounce around a bit, but she still has a basic path. And that’s good.
So we’re waiting to finish the last three…in the meantime, we may have more in the future; I’ll be sure to post if we do! I don’t want to overwhelm her. I have asked her every step of the way if it’s fun…if it’s a challenge…if it’s something she enjoys…and so far, it’s been a resounding yes. She is six going on 36, and she is excited to be making people smile. She wants to do lots of things, and she wants to make people happy with her art.
For now, I guess I’m pretty okay with that. 🙂
If you’ve follow this blog for awhile, you may already be familiar with the collaborations Myla and I did when she was four…
Back then, lots of people asked if we’d do custom collaborations–where maybe they could send photos for me to draw from, and have Myla draw the bodies. LOTS. of. people. I mean, TONS of people. I mean, so many that it was overwhelming.
I always said no. I wasn’t trying to be rude or elitist, but the most important thing to me was that our daughter have FUN drawing. I didn’t want it to be a JOB at age four. I was so overwhelmed with requests that it would’ve been impossible to have her do them at age four and still make it fun…especially since people asked for specifics: a bird, a donkey, a bear. Can you imagine making a 4 year old sit down and do custom orders? While it sounds like it would’ve been nice, I assure you, it would’ve been impossible. And exhausting. And most importantly, it wouldn’t have been fun.
But now Myla is six, and wants to “be a grownup.” Despite my convincing her to stay a kid forever (because being a grownup stinks big time), she still wants to do big-kid things. One of those things, surprisingly, has involved the desire to do custom drawings.
When we ran the Kickstarter to print a book of our collected work (which you can get here, by the way) I offered as one reward level a hand drawn portrait (by me) onto a pre-printed drawing of Myla’s, which was my alternative solution, aside from trying to make her do them all by hand, and still allowed me to give people a portrait that would make them smile.
So she asked me the other day why I never let her do custom pieces…and I told her all of the above. She’s seen me do custom portraits for people, and didn’t realize I had never allowed it when she was younger.
“But I’m older now,” she said. “And I know I could do it.”
“The thing about custom work is that you have to draw what people WANT you to draw. And I always just wanted you to draw whatever made you happy.”
“But now I can do that. I can draw what people ask.”
“They might say they like turtles, and you might feel like drawing robots.”
“But I know I can do it. Now I want to make OTHER people happy.” (Which is funny, because that’s my favorite part of custom portraits, as well.) “So maybe if that happens, I could do a robot-turtle” (which sounds awesome, actually).
So there it is. That’s where we are.
I told her we’d try it. So here we go: I’m only starting with five, in my Etsy shop, so please have a look! For the first time ever! And not for very long. Once you purchase a portrait, you can send me reference photos for a single face, and maybe tell me something that person is into…and I’ll do my best to steer the kiddo in that direction for her part.
So If you’re up for an interesting portrait and you’ve got wiggle room for a 6-year old’s creativity, combined with my illustrations, we’d love to make you happy! 🙂
UPDATE: WOW those five sold out in the first ten minutes! I added five more, but that’s probably all I’ll add for now, until I see how she handles these. Maybe if she has fun with them, we’ll offer a few more. Thank you so much for all your support. 🙂
UPDATE UPDATE: Sold out! Sorry… If she enjoys doing these, we may offer them again sometime! Thanks!
Blast from the past: So cute!! Wonderful reader Laurie reminded me of one of the VERY few portraits we did when Myla was four, as a prize for a creative contest we ran on the blog ages ago. Here are the bluebirds Myla turned her and her daughter into:
Last month, as if I didn’t have a million other things going on, I decided to join in on Inktober. Have you heard of it? I had seen artists do this last year: a drawing a day for the month of October, usually spooky-themed, and usually done in ink or pen. And just because I wanted to make it a little more fun, I asked Myla (the 6-year-old) if she’d like to join me. This was a challenge because 1) I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to keep with the theme for the whole month, and 2) it sort of limited what I drew, as I had to sort of keep it within something that fit both of us, and wasn’t TOO creepy for her.
I made my own rules, so it didn’t feel like pressure: if I wanted to add color, that was fine, and if I didn’t get to it one day, I wouldn’t stress it too much. But Myla was already full of enthusiasm, so we got started.
Day 1: VILLAIN. Elle Driver from Kill Bill, and Megamind (who’s she said is special because he’s a villain who turns nice).
Day 2: BEETLEJUICE. This is one of those characters that she didn’t really know, because she’s not so into creepy things…but with things like that, I tell her about them, and she gets the jist. My Beetlejuice is wearing a shirt of a guy named Beetlejuice from the Howard Stern show, and hers is the cartoon version, holding beetles in his hands.
Day 3: WITCH. Bellatrix LeStrange from Harry Potter, and the Playmobil witch from a show Myla likes called Super4.
Day 5: WEREWOLF. Old school Teen Wolf and Aisling, the little wolf-girl from Secret of the Kells, who’s sniffing another girl…like ya do when you’re like a dog.
Day 6: EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Another character she doesn’t personally know, but she’s always been fascinated by. I told her the story, and she loved it. (Hers is crying because he has no friends, poor guy…)
Day 7: WEDNESDAY ADDAMS. It was a Wednesday. It was another character she didn’t know. I used to LOVE the old Charles Addams drawings as a kid, and devoured his books and drawings. I told her about the movie characters, which cracked her up (especially Thing).
Day 8: HELLBOY. Again, I did NOT let my 6-year old watch Hellboy, but she’s seen him around (especially at conventions), and always liked the fact that he’s a good guy who was supposed to be bad but CHOOSES to be good…and she really digs that he loves cats.
Day 9: VAMPIRE. I drew Vampira–and here’s a little trivia break: I learned that she created the character and hosted a show of horror films in the 50s and added campy comments to them. In the 80s, studios wanted to recreate her show, but cast the actress who now plays Elvira in her part, pulling her look and the style of the show directly from hers. Since she created the Vampira character (based loosely on Charles Addam’s Morticia drawings!), she tried to settle in court but lost. Strange, the things you learn, when looking up references. Aaanyway, for Myla’s piece, she drew Drac, Mavis, and the curly-baby from Hotel Transylvania.
Day 14: ZOMBIE. This one was tricky, since they’re one of Myla’s absolute creep-outs. So I tried to keep it harmless with Michael Jackson from Thriller (she even liked the video, although I didn’t show her the full beginning skit). She drew the zombie “Bad Guy” from Wreck-it Ralph.
Day 15: MUMMY. Myla has a thing for mummies–they fascinate her! She even has a bedtime book on the whole ancient Egyptian embalming/mummification rituals (yeah, for some reason, THAT doesn’t freak her out at all! Haha!). Old school Karloff and Akhmenrah from Night at the Museum (she has a little crush on him), both catching some Zs.
Day 16: Another WEREWOLF. Eddie Munster, and the wolf-dad from Hotel Transylvania, covered in his wolf-pup kids. (Side note: I can’t see Eddie Munster without thinking of Ben Stiller playing a grownup Eddie in a skit on SNL…)
Day 19: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I had initially planned on drawing the kid from the movie, but then remembered I had once made her a Max Halloween costume when she was 2 or 3, and decided to draw her now, as a wild thing, roaring her terrible roars. She drew the goat-one…plus a flying wild thing she made up.
Day 20: FLYING MONKEY. Easily my very most favorite characters in the Wizard of Oz. I went for a realish-version, and she drew the cutest, most adorable BABY flying monkey that I’ve ever seen. (Seriously, I LOVE that little guy! Can he be my pet?)
Day 25: Another SKELETON. She wanted to draw a skeleton again, so I chose a soggy little skeleton kid based on a character created by the talented Matthew Gordon. She drew a little guy from a book they’d read at school called “Skeleton for Dinner.”
Day 29: GOBLIN KING. We both love the Labyrinth. I drew Jareth and his goblins. Myla drew an “inappropriate” Jareth on the toilet (because bodily functions crack kids up)…then added another, drawing him when he transforms into an owl (so I couldn’t help but post them both).
Day 30: CREEPY OCTOPUS. A category she completely created, because she wanted to draw a vampire octopus from Octonauts. This one stumped me for a bit, until I remembered the COOLEST “creepy octopus” of all: Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, with his heart chest.
Day 31: DRAGON. Admittedly, we were at the convention in Austin and couldn’t really go out with a bang, but hey–we tried! Myla drew a “rain dragon” (which is how she describes drizzly days), and I drew the sad little Gringott’s dragon from Harry Potter.
So there we are! A drawing a day for October. And honestly, Myla was the motivator the whole time, asking me excitedly every morning, “what’s our drawing of the day today?” We both picked the topics–she was so good at coming up with themes that we both could do.
Anyway, I hope you all had as fun an October as we did with Inktober!
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…)
When Myla was born, my mother and I wrapped her up in a little blanket to take a photo of her. “Oh no.” I said. “Delete that one. It doesn’t look anything like her.” We took photo after photo, again and again, and with each photo we took, a completely different little baby popped up on the screen. Nothing on that little camera compared at ALL with the beautiful little creature in front of me.I love drawing our daughter. When she was younger it was very intimidating, and I was so awkward drawing her, because no matter what I did, it didn’t really LOOK like her. It didn’t seem to capture that beautiful little person in front of me. It’s one of the most intimidating things about painting portraits: trying to make the image capture the personality of its subject, especially when you don’t already know that person very well. I comfort myself with the idea that (in my mind) it doesn’t HAVE to look exactly like them. It’s supposed to be a representation of an aspect of their perceived personality.
So Myla has reached an age where she is slowly beginning to be self-aware of her appearance. Not to the extent that some kids are….she cares nothing at all about clothes (you could put a space suit on her and she’d say, “oh, okay.” and rock that for the day. On Kinder graduation photos she said “did you see they put a GENIE costume on me?” when referring to the cap & gown, which she didn’t even question–just rolled with it). She doesn’t really care about how her hair is styled, other than in a functional way (to keep those curls out of her eyes). But from time to time, she has started to notice little things, like how everyone’s skin is different colors. That some people “seem fancy” when she doesn’t really notice that sort of thing. That people keep telling her she’s doing “boy things.”
If her girlhood is anything like mine was, I know the worst of it will come when she’s a teenager. But I’m hoping to sort of help her enjoy and celebrate herself–whatever that means to her–now. Not by constantly showering her with praises of beauty (although I think telling her she’s pretty is a good thing to hear, too), not by inflating her ego by making her feel superior, but by asking her what makes her FEEL happy and pretty, and trying to be comfortable with and rock whatever she’s got.This will totally work, because my parents actually did the same things for me, and I NEVER had any image issues. (INSERT SARCASTIC FACE HERE) ….Okay, yes, I’m fully aware that no matter what I do, she’ll have issues. But one can try, right?
So I drew this little Myla-face on a piece of pressed chipboard, and asked if she wanted to draw what she liked. What made her happy. What made her smile. What made her feel like a good person. How does she see herself? And I let her use my acrylic paints to paint on it.
She painted pink hair, because she’s always wanted pink hair. We used paint-in temporary dye from time to time when she was younger, but they sort of frown at wonky hair color at her current school (which I find ridiculous). She drew a streak of black (which sort of looks like a beret). If anything, it was a fun opportunity to teach her a little more about using acrylic paints…
She asked if she could use a pen to draw the rest, and drew things that make her smile: dragons, animals, made-up creatures, Lego characters.
So later, I finished painting the background for her. I thought it was fun that instead of TELLING her what I thought of her, I got to see what she thinks, what she feels…how she sees herself. Not to judge, but just to think about and be comfortable with.
- Elsa and Kristoff telling Anna (when Anna wants to marry someone she just met) “You don’t even KNOW him!”
- How Cinderella and her Prince marry after only a few nights of dancing and missing footwear.
- Flynn in Tangled liking Rapunzel’s for more than her hair. And the big mean guys in the tavern who sing “I Got a Dream” look creepy, but are (mostly) quite sweet.
- In the book “the Paper Bag Princess,” that the clothes you wear and the way you look doesn’t make you a good person.
And those are just a few that Myla (at age 6) and I have had pretty in-depth discussions about. Not in some lecture, not by me bringing it up, but just in talking about what we just saw or read.
You can have fun with what you look like, you can change your hair and decorate it. Your body can be bigger or smaller or shorter or taller than everyone else’s. Your skin can be so many different colors. You can have fancy clothes, or secondhand pants.
But what’s MOST important is being smart, being caring, being kind.
I hope she always sees herself the way I see her.
My mom & I sometimes swap art supplies. Last time she visited, she brought these little wooden disks that I wasn’t sure what I’d do with…but I knew I WANTED THEM.
So one day I drew some little faces on them, and let Myla add doodles however she wanted.
She drew a snake and a ghost mouse….you know.
Then I added detail and painted them….
She even made me a mockingbird! (It’s the blue one on the left.) There’s also an elephant, and a robot drawing on her own smile.
At this point, they needed some cool little beads, and hey–why not put them on a necklace?
She also did a t-rex mermaid and a pterana-maid and I spiced them up a bit with with some little dangle-beads.
So since she was on a roll, I asked if she could help me make ANOTHER necklace for myself (because one can never have enough dangly art necklaces, amiright?): I have been MAD over Imperator Furiosa from MadMax: Fury Road, and showed Myla a photo of her. All I needed to say was “lady with a robot arm,” and she knew just what to do!
Isn’t it lovely if I can say so myself? She did such a great job on Furiosa’s little arm. It’s one of my favorite things to wear lately! I added little watch pieces to represent steering wheels and green beads to represent “The Green Place.”
Anyway, I’m not sure what to do with the others yet–I’m thinking keychains? Maybe little necklaces? Teacher gifts? As with pretty much ALL the projects I do with Myla, I LURV making them and selfishly want to hoard them all for myself….or maybe I could do something special with them…I’ll figure it out eventually! Either that, or our house will eventually spill out overflowing with our collaborations, her doodles, and the millions of cut paper projects and books she creates on her own… 🙂