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!
I hate chalk. It’s a texture thing. It’s the same reason I dislike graphite pencils–it’s like dry hands on rough paper, and fingernails on…well…a chalkboard. I’ve seen people do AMAZING things with chalk, and I’m always super impressed. But it’s just not my medium.
Myla loves to chalk! She makes it fun. Once, when I had a terrible headcold (much like the one I am currently trying to evict), we went outside to chalk. Trying not to seem like a total weirdo, I put on a garden glove and chalked. “Can you turn me into a monster?” She asked. She lay down in our driveway, and I drew a shape all around her. It was a fun way to pass the time with very little energy output on my part (because: headcold).
We made monsters and mermaids…
And when it was my turn? Ahhhh, sweet relief for a sick mama–I lay down and closed my eyes to the sun and relaxed while she happily chalked all around me.
So that’s become our thing, and sometimes when the mood strikes, we pick up the giant container full of chalk we keep in a planter by the front door bench, and chalk chalk chalk, turning ourselves into all sorts of little beasties.
It came in handy when my husband was deployed, and we’d send him pictures. We made a soldier…
(I’m pretty sure that’s the same face I made when I was enlisted…)
We made helicopter pilots…
And since he couldn’t be there for father’s day last year, we chalked a great big “daddy.”
We’ve been chalking “daddy”‘s for a couple of years…
And it comes in handy as a nice “hello” when he came home from deployment…
So yeah. I hate chalk. I hate the way it feels.
But it’s fun, and it sure does come in handy for the memory-making, and that’s definitely worth a little discomfort! And that’s why I love it.
(….But yeah…I still sort of hate it, too. Hahah!)
Last year, at the end of first grade, Myla told me “I have an idea for a backpack.” She drew out a doodle that sort of looked like Yoda hanging on Luke’s back, but with her own little character she created: an arctic fox in an orange sweater.
(I drew it on a napkin in her lunch once:)
Since I have no magic skills in patternmaking on my own, I found a beautiful little backpack pattern from a website called Birch that was functional, not too complicated, and adaptable to the idea Myla had. (The free tutorial I used & altered a bit is HERE.)
Then I gathered supplies at the craft store. The idea of a WHITE backpack–especially for a kid–is daunting, but thankfully Myla gave me some artistic leeway by at least letting me choose fabric with pattern–a thicker canvas with stripes, and another with zigzags. I had some orange fabric in my own stash, and purchased everything else I needed on the pattern’s supply list. I bought extra, because I decided to add a little extra to the measurements to make it larger all over (it’s perfect for a smaller kid, but I needed to really make sure I could fit her school folder and her lunchbox in there).
The cool thing about this pattern was that it closes & opens with velcro with an elastic bunched opening under the flap–no crazy buckles or zippers to deal with, and even an intermediate amateur like myself was able to figure out the elastic situation pretty easily.
The tutorial itself was very easy to follow (like I said, I’m no pro) and I made little tweaks as we went along. She chose the inside liner herself, which was a brown pine cone pattern…
And BOOM here it is! She wanted to be sure there was a little white fur tail at the bottom (which lines right up with her pants, making it look like SHE has a tail, which is fun). I added a face & ears to the flap (she initially wanted the flap to be the face but cut to a point like an animal nose, but we met halfway, so it could be functional). Admittedly, I got a little confused with the strap situation, but it’s probably because I was trying to alter the straps a bit to make part of them look like paws, lying over her shoulders.
She drew the little body on the back in pen, and I painted it with acrylic paints. One reader thankfully suggested sealing it in Scotchgard, which was a VERY good idea, so it’ll hopefully protect it a bit from dirt and stains for as long as possible.
Sometimes people think working together is some sort of ethereal, magical situation, but it does take some patience that I don’t always possess. I got pretty crabby near the end of this one, because she was trying to explain the arm situation and I wasn’t understanding what she was wanting, but we finally worked it out, and overall it turned out to be another good collaboration!
I may not always be rosy and cheery working through some ideas, but I always consider it a fun challenge when she has an idea she wants to make. I’m working on teaching her a little bit of sewing here and there so that one day she might make things herself, but at this age, she doesn’t always have the attention span for it, and I don’t always have the patience. So we start of sharing for a bit, then she runs off and does projects nearby, while I work at my art desk. But at least she can say she was part of building it!
So, yeah. BOOM. We made a backpack. Yay!
I’m a Grownup. I have a job. I’m a mom. I’m all responsible and stuff.
So why do I keep buying toys?? Because I’ve been repainting them. And that automatically turns it into an “art project,” right?? Some people even make these repaints into a business. I’m not really good enough to be in that league, though–I just do it for myself, for fun.
I’m not going to play with these dolls (which the 7-year old doesn’t quite understand). I just like looking at them. I stick them on a shelf when I’m done, and they make me smile. It’s similar to the little twinge of heartbreak I feel when I happily build a lego kit and it gets destroyed once the kid starts playing. I have to fight the urge to Kragle lego kits with superglue because I realize I am secretly neurotic.
So here’s one of my “grownup” art projects: repainting a Monster High doll!
Ages ago, when I played roller derby, these little roller derby Monster High dolls came out, and they were SO cool. But I talked myself out of them, because I was a Grownup. I have trouble justifying buying things for myself that don’t serve a purpose. I admire when people can collect things just for the fun of it, but I seem to have trouble with it sometimes….
So when I was telling my daughter about them, she asked to see photos. I showed her my favorite: Lagoona Blue, who came with finned roller skates and a helmet with an awesome fin on it.
I told her how I had always wanted one, and she said, “you should just go ahead and get one, mom. If it makes you happy, you should just DO it!” …which is easy for a kid to say, but since this is pretty much the same advice my husband gives me, I decided that after 6 years or so, I was just going to go ahead and get her.
And since I’m a grownup, I justified to myself that if I repainted her, she’d at least have a purpose: she’d be an Art Project. (Don’t ask me why I always feel the need to justify these things to myself.)
When she arrived, I wiped her face off with acetone (nail polish remover), and started painting her in acrylics.
Once the paint is dried, I sprayed her with Testors spray, and gloss varnished her eyes and lips to add some shine.
And here she is. And she may not be such a big deal, and she may not bring about world peace, and she may serve no other purpose than to sit on a shelf with my other dolls and look cool, but she makes me smile. And I guess that’s okay.
At age 42, I’m trying to get used to the idea that there’s validity in things not having a major purpose–other than just simple enjoyment. It’s a “stop and smell the roses” sort of thing. It’s an “enjoy the little things” kind of thing. And with all the things in the world, why not have a bit of that–ESPECIALLY as a Grownup?
So enjoy the little things today, grownup or not! Look around for the simple things that just make you smile, and enjoy them, just because you can…
The other day, I was in a crafty mood, and felt like doing a project with Myla. I pushed all my “to do” things and other commitments I’ve been putting off, and asked her if she wanted to make a doll.
She ALWAYS wants to make a doll. “There’s a creature I’ve been thinking about,” she said excitedly. “I think it would make a great doll!” She grabbed her markers and started drawing it out.
When I do projects like this, I like to let her feel like she’s a big part of making it. We went to the craft room, and picked out some fabric from my stash. Apparently, this creature is a sort of cat-like mossy dragon, so we found some mossy-looking fabric that fit perfectly. I let her decide what fabric would work best. She gave me details on how it should look–long tail, webbed feet, spiky hair…
I sat her on my lap and had her help a little with the beginning. She’s still a little needle-shy, but I showed her how to guide the fabric without pushing it. After awhile, it’s easier to finish it up myself, so she bounced off to another paper project while I finished up the sewing.
Later, when the body was done, I asked her to draw the eyes on with a pen the way she wanted, so I could paint them.
And finally, the little mossy cat-dragon was done! I’m no master sewer by any means, and my dolls are ALWAYS quite wonky, but the best part is that she doesn’t care, because we made it together and she designed it herself.
I always ask her what she thinks when it’s done, and she always says she loves them so much. Once, she said “when we make dolls, it doesn’t always turn out exactly like I thought in my drawing….but it always turns out so much BETTER.”
I noticed she uses dolls as an icebreaker with other kids at the child care room at the gym, and sort of walks up to kids and just starts playing dolls with them. Sure, they ask what the heck it is, but when she tells them, I think they sort of dig it. I brought it to visit her at school lunch the other day, and made it move around like a puppet and play, and had the kids (who had at first looked at me like I was odd…which I am, btw) cracking up and laughing at the silly antics of her little mossy doll.
So wonky or not, it took me about an hour and a half to make something that she could make connections with. In just a short amount of time, we made something she could proudly tell people she designed…and that little feeling of pride glows on her face when she talks to other kids. Which makes ME smile. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t 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 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.
We’re out and about this week, so I thought I’d just give you a little peek into our holiday…
The Fourth of July usually means we take the 8-hour drive to go to my parents’ house in Oklahoma. It’s a lovely place on the lake, previously owned by my mom’s mom–Grandma Mary, and my memories of this place stretch back as far as I can remember–we’ve always been here. As a kid, finding cicadas in the trees, walking through the woods, and exploring the dam, finding frogs by the rocks, and being warned of water moccasins in the murky water. Crawdads and catfish. Good times.
When my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, my parents were thankfully able to buy the house, and moved from a 3-level house in bustling Maryland to the tiny 1-story house on the lake. They downsized, they remodeled, they added and altered, but it still has that happy feeling.
So my sister drives the 20-plus hours to visit, and we’re stationed 8 hours away in Texas, and we all meet up at the lake. And we try to do all the things we loved as a kid, just a taste, and then some new things to add to the mix.
My uncle takes us for a ride on his boat, and we look at the fancy villas and wonder which house we’d choose if we had a billion dollars to spare.
The family plays out in the lake. I usually stay on the sidelines, keeping my pale white skin out of the sun, doodling, and throwing sticks in the water for our dog to bring them back. Sometimes I join in, but mostly I love to watch and listen. It’s my favorite thing.
And admittedly, my face is in my sketchbook a lot of the time, but I can’t help it–I love listening to everything. When grandma was alive, my husband could pull stories from her that I’d never have even thought to ask, and I’d sketch and listen, afraid to ruin the flow, and it was my very favorite thing. I always wished I could get her to tell stories like he could, but I’m so grateful I got to hear them nonetheless.
We weren’t allowed to play with fireworks much (beyond sparklers and snakes) when I was younger, and probably for good reason. The one time my dad let me try at about Myla’s age now, I got burned across the chest by an errant wonky bottle rocket. So there’s that. But my sister is always careful now to buy the little ones, the fun ones that Myla can join in on, and a few fancy bigger ones, and we sit by the lake popping little fireworks.
Because we lead a fairly nomadic army life now, I don’t always get to be this close to my family (if 8 hours is “close”), so I’m grateful for the time we have. I’d love to visit all the other family, but I’ll take what we can get. We’re used to being far from friends and family. My husband is still deployed, but heading back soon, thankfully. It’s not easy, but it’s life…so when we have it within visiting distance, it’s definitely worth the trip.
Gratitude and love and good memories. What do your 4th memories look like? Where are your happy places?
Well, May is nearly over, and it marks two significant events for us: the end of the school year, and Myla turning SEVEN.
So I thought it’d be fun to take a quick little look back for a moment, and appreciate some things…
Do you remember the wonderful little doodles we did when she was so young, that made their way all over different parts of the entire world?
Time has certainly changed both us and our art. We’re always growing, always changing, always creating.
Myla has grown to LOVE making things out of paper. Give her some scissors, paper, and tape, and she’ll get to work creating the most wonderful little three-dimensional paper sculptures you’ve ever seen from a kid…
She gets inspired by ideas, and creates things from her doodles. She’s inspired by people we know, people we meet, people we’ve learned about…
And still, one of our favorite things to do is to make art together. Just taking time with each other to share our ideas, draw things that makes us smile, or create little worlds with our imaginations…
I’ve introduced her to some of the artists I’ve become friends with, and they’ve shared their friendship with her. She’s talked to Lori about art blocks. And she sends packages to Mab and still talks about her–Mab painted one of the few images of us drawing together that I have, gave me the original in a necklace pendant, and put a sealed version in a locket for Myla. It’s one of her favorite things to wear, and something very dear to both of us.
And although we’ve had a great many adventures most of this past year, we’ve sadly done it all without her dad, who’s currently deployed overseas. Thankfully, watching Flat Myla on her European adventures and on his Blackhawk flights through the clouds has helped him seem a little closer to us.
So here’s hoping year seven will be just as creative and magical as age six! And from us to you, thank you for following our adventures! Share some smiles with your family, with your friends. Grab a pen and doodle with someone. And when you part, give them a big hug.
It’s been a busy week, trying to keep up with the world…sometimes it’s nice to just step away and do an easy, fun little thing with the kid.
My mother’s day weekend was spent with a large group of giggling Girl Scouts, on a Mother-Daughter Campout in the woods. (Please please, calm your envy…)
Even with the archery, horseback riding, and nature walks we did, if you asked Myla what her favorite part was, she’d tell you it was the nature project. She’s been asking me to do it again, and since our Texas days have cooled down for a couple of days, we were able to just go into our yard and have some fun. So I thought I’d share what we worked on, in case you’d like to give it a go yourself!
First step is to Pick some plants. You want to find things that have a variety of shapes and sizes and colors, but you want to make sure they’re fairly flat. You don’t need to go far; if you’ve got houseplants nearby, or have access to grass (unlike some Ohioans I’ve heard, who are currently covered in snow) and plants in your own yard, all you have to do is gather them up.
Next, you’ll need contact paper. I’m sure it’s cheaper sold in rolls, but I only happened to have self-laminating sheets on hand, which are admittedly a bit pricier. But they got more action with this project than they’ve seen in a while, so I didn’t mind.
With your gathered plants nearby, unpeel half of the sheet with the sticky side up, so you can start placing your plants where you want them, into whatever design you choose.
Since Myla’s more into building animals and creatures and things with faces, she went straight for making something adorably weird, even adding little bits of paper for the eyes, while I made a simple little mouse. Fun little tip: clover petals look like hearts. 🙂
Or you can go decorative, like my wonky little tree-shape below.
Myla moved on to making a rabbit from various plants, being very careful in properly laying them out how she wanted. With have the page exposed, when you feel finished, just unfold the other half and fold it over your piece to seal it up.
Once you’ve folded it over and sealed it up, cut around your piece, being sure to leave quite a lot of space around. Sometimes, it even helps to seal it twice, making sure all the edges or sealed, or air will get in, and your little creations will discolor and “turn rotten,” as Myla says.
And there you have it! Just a fun and easy little idea to make into bookmarks or punch holes to make a mobile to hang in a window. And a calm little happy project that nearly anyone of any age can do. So get out and spend some time in the sunshine (if you have it) and make some lovely little things with someone you love!