As the holidays draw closer, I’ve been trying to get a clean start of things. Get on top again, get my mind sorted out, and move forward with clean, clear steps.
I’ve been loving these little tiny sketchbooks lately. Although Moleskines are my standard faves, these Ranger Dylusions are fun because of their shape, the little pocket inside, and the fact that I can draw on the covers (although the paper inside is meant more for inkwork and stamping, and doesn’t hold up well to much waterwork). I get the 5″x8″ one, and it’s nice to be able to carry it around and have it with me wherever I go. The binding even has a spot to hold my pen!
But what seals a sketchbook for me is being able to draw on the cover. I used to spend countless hours (pre-child) giving meticulous thought and detail to the front cover of a new sketchbook. I overthought it–I had to be sure it was “exactly right,” as if it determined the future success or failure of the work it would soon have inside.
Now that time is more limited and precious, I’ve had fun letting the daughter draw on them with me. I start with a roughly-drawn simple face, and she adds the rest.
Like this dragon gathering…
These cute little girl-gnomes, building robots and taking care of things…
This amazing xenomorph queen (Myla has a great love of xenomorphs and their whole lifecycle, although she’s never seen the movie) with mutant aliens, a chestburster, and facehugger…
And this fantastic little Harry Potter, complete with other little characters from the movies we love so much…
When I’m really pressed for time and anxious to start a new sketchbook, I turn to my collection of stickers I’ve amassed over the years. I LOVE stickers! Friends send them, I have some of our own artwork. I even got a giant grab bag of mixed retro stickers from a seller on Etsy once.
Sometimes I cover the backs, because they make me smile…
Here’s a glance of the insides, with the pocket, and the spot for the pen that is my favorite feature…
And to look at them makes me smile.
I hear from people all the time, such humbling stories about the struggle of finally getting back into art after a long dry spell, especially after having a child. Maybe it’s not drawing, maybe it’s sculpting, or sewing, or music, or dance.
Whatever it is, maybe it’s time to start fresh. Maybe you don’t have to start at the new year–resolutions can happen today. Open a new book and fill the cover with pretty things that invite you in every time you look at it! And if you do, share it with others, because in my experience, sharing helps. Sharing makes people feel connected, even from miles away.
And here’s to the hopes for a wonderful new year–a new, beautiful blank book for each of you to start decorating…
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? ❤
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!
Have you ever looked at other artists’ media feeds, and just assumed that everything they touch turns out perfectly?
I have. And aside from a few magical unicorns for which that may be true, I am pretty sure that all artists suffer from bad starts, and art block.
Mine has been going on a while now….I’m not sure if it’s related to the fact that I’ve had a massive headcold that later turned into a sinus infection for the past three weeks, and has been totally clogging up my brain, but it sure shows in my sketchbooks, which are FULL of bad starts.
The thing about bad starts, is that sometimes all it takes is the beginning of an eyeball for me to realize it’s not worth holding onto. And then I get discouraged about the bad start. And feel bad for wasting paper in my awesome sketchbook. And then I feel like nothing I draw has been turning out right lately. And I start completely re-thinking my whole style and technique, and everything that has made sense to me in the known universe up until that particular moment, because WHAT AM I DOING I TOTALLY FORGOT HOW TO DRAW.
…And then a decent doodle will show up. It’s not GREAT, but it at least gets the idea out.
Sometimes I go back to my comfortable spaces, where I feel the best, to try to pull something out from there. I always let Myla join me, because she always makes it better, and reminds me that it’s not that serious.
And sometimes strange things make for decent doodles…
Sometimes, I re-work an older idea for some inspiration, and try to update it…
And sometimes, outside prompts (like this month’s Inktober suggestions) help get me out of my regular mindset…
And it takes some time, but then things start coming back around eventually.
And soon, it’s not as much of a constant struggle, and starts to come out in an easier, more enjoyable way…
The thing to remember is that it’s part of who you are, when you have a passion like drawing. Whatever your passion is, you’d still do it if no one ever saw it, right? You do it because it makes you feel good. You almost NEED to do it. It’s not this yearning for a title, it’s not a status, but drawing is like skin to me, it’s just there, and I’m grateful for it.
…So why does my confidence in it waver so much? If you struggle with the same things, try to remember what I keep telling myself: It’s not gone forever. It will come back, and you will be better for it when it does. If it takes a hundred bad drawings to get back to your groove, then by all means, start sketching!
I’m telling myself that right now. Hopefully when this stupid flu leaves, it’ll take my art block with it. Until then, I’ll keep making my bad starts and pushing forward! 🙂
On the first day of the year, Myla and I took a walk in the woods, and saw proof of what surely was a forest full of fairies, yeti, and strange imaginary creatures. When I got home, I printed out a photo from our walk, and painted a few of them. I even did a blog post about it called Imaginary Monsters.
Since then, I’ve been adding little monsters to several photos I’ve taken of her, for fun. Sometimes silly little forest creatures….
And sometimes, more serious bigger fellas…
I paint them playing with her…
And just hanging out…
Sometimes, I add little poems to them, in the hopes of one day making a little book collection for her…
“What kind of dragon are you?” she said to the girl. “Your teeth are so small, and your tail doesn’t curl.”
“You’re an odd little puppy,” the graggin said. “Why haven’t you got any horns on your head?”
When I posted them, people asked if I did them digitally, but they’re all sketched in pen and handpainted in acrylic on photo printouts.
They’re fun to do and quite relaxing for me. She has such a great imagination when we’re just exploring, and it’s fun to take a peek at the world the way she might see it.
Sometimes I ask her what kind of creature I should add, but usually I just come up with something on my own to make her smile.
When I posted one recently, someone suggested it might be fun if I offered them as customs…
So are you up for it? Do you have a kid (or kid-at-heart) that needs a portrait with an imaginary friend for Christmas, or birthday, or just to make them smile?
Well, I’ve decided to offer a few for custom order! I have an Epson Artisan printer with archival inks and photo papers, and will offer two sizes: 8.5″ x 11″, and 11.17″ x 16.5″. I can take your child’s drawing or description to work with, or I can create one from my own imagination.
I put up a listing in my etsy shop…have a look!
I have so much fun with them–I’d love to do some for you!
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 sat on the couch next to Myla, sketchbook in hand. I sighed and said, “I’m in an art funk. I’m just not happy with anything I’ve been drawing lately.”
Immediately, our caring 7-year old girl jumped to comfort me, saying, “MOM! Don’t talk about yourself that way. You’re a great artist!” I thanked her, but told her I guess I’m just in an art funk, that I’ll just have to wait it out. It’s okay…it’ll pass.
“You know…” she said, thinking carefully. “You’re always looking on your phone at other people’s artwork. What you need to do is put that down for awhile, and just draw your OWN thing. Just draw what’s in your OWN head.”
She’s so smart.
It’s true, I spend hours each day scrolling through Instagram. It’s been an amazing source of inspiration for me. We’re often stationed in places that aren’t bustling centers of creativity, so Instagram has made me feel closer to the world of art and other artists. But when you catch yourself looking at other peoples’ work and comparing it to your own, and getting DISCOURAGED by it….it’s really time to take a break.
I put my phone down, and looked at my blank sketchbook, and an image came to mind. I’ve always loved the balance between cute and creepy, and this cute little pixie-girl floated to the surface of the page, holding a six-legged monster-kitty. And it made me smile.
The next day, I showed it to her. “See, mom? I told you you could do it! Just listen to your OWN voice.” I gave her a hug, because as she had done so many times in her little life, she had inspired me.
I looked through vintage photos to find references for some of the poses I wanted to use, but strongly avoided looking at Instagram (I nearly only follow artists) until I had seen the idea in my head float to the surface of the page and take shape.
I giggle at my happy awkwardness as a kid, and my love for my rainbow suspenders and E.T. t-shirts (a fashion combo I must’ve gotten from Mars). I had big owl glasses and skinned knees. My sister and I played dressup a lot, and made up characters in our rooms. (I did spare myself the horrible hairdo I had growing up, replacing it in the doodle with a cuter ‘do.) Add my beloved ballpoints, and I called it “Pens are Friends.”
I didn’t question my skills as a kid. Drawing was just a tool to get my ideas out, not a measure of how good or not-good I was. I did it without expecting pay, without attention, and without acknowledgement. I did it whether or not anyone “liked” it or commented on it, because I’m older and we didn’t have social media back then. I did it JUST for the love of doodling, just like my daughter does. Just like I need to remember how to do.
So sure, I’ll do portraits. Sure, I’ll do commissions. Sure, I’ll go back to looking on Instagram and being inspired by other artists. But I need to remind myself that I’m here, too. That I’m right where I’m at, and that’s okay. Sometimes (quite often, in my case) it takes a kid to remind you of something you should know as an adult.
Seven year olds give great advice.
Remember in our summer post, how I said Myla and I were collecting patches to put on our patch jackets? Well, we decided to make our own larger patches for the back!
It’s easy: We took some off-white fabric, cut it in circles, and went to town with the permanent markers.
Myla drew a fox on hers, and I drew Frida and let her finish it. She added flowers, a caterpillar, mosquito, a frog eating a fly, and put a mockingbird body on Frida.
Then I sewed them on to the backs with a quick stitch, and BOOM! Cool patches. (That big moth on mine is from Spiders Stitches Parlor.)
All in all, our jackets are looking pretty spiffy so far! Here’s how Myla’s looks when worn:
She loves looking through patches and pins and looking for new ones. Her favorites are the animals and insects. And we’ve got a pretty good collection going so far:
Myla loves finding patches, and choosing where they go on her jacket. She’s got a rough “food chain” on her sleeve, which is an interesting concept she came up with.
If you’re interested in patches and pins, take a look at some of the places we find ours:
And I found some lovely Wes Anderson patches over at For The Love of Patch… I just love the Zissou whale and the Ash fox!
It’s so hot, though, we can’t wear them in summer. I’m thinking I may get a sleeveless jacket to continue the fun.
I’m even looking into making a few of our early collabs into patches. Wouldn’t that be so much fun? I’ll keep you posted!
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.