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!
Ages ago, I told the story of how I looked up at my mounted beetle one day and thought, “I think I want to paint on that.”
I asked myself, “what would a beetle get, if it could customize it’s wings?” The first one I did was “Bad to the Exoskeleton,” surrounded by dead leaves and insect exoskeletons, because no skulls, right? I did another one: “Fear no boot.” Just the thing for a badass beetle who’s not afraid of anything….even getting stepped on.
I eyeballed my mounted months, and decided a moth might want flames, like the old “moth to the flame” saying goes, to show people, “yeah, check ME out. Got so close, I got FLAMES.” (Side note: moth wings are fuzzy and VERY hard to paint.)
And then I snuck a sneaky glance at my mounted dragonfly, and thought it might want wing art of its namesake: a dragon, done tribal-style. (Also: with all those tiny little cells, dragonfly wings are very hard to paint.)
But that was ages ago. I’ve since ordered beetles and painted them as gifts for family…moving more from messages to symbolism. This couple was for my parents: Bavarian-style decorations for mom, Egyptian-styled wings for my dad.
And one of my favorites–a steampunk-styled lovely for my sister.
Then I just had fun. I started thinking of the insects that use camouflaged wing patterns to look like eyed to ward off predators, like owls and hawks that might eat them. Which made me think a beetle might want a set of angry eyes or multiple eyes to scare away a HUMAN predator. Like, “hey, don’t touch me! I’m a cranky human!”
Some I’ve just filled with lovely little patterns I’ve had fun with. Human skulls with beetle legs, flower and mehndi-inspired patterns. And even a leaf insect with William Morris wallpaper-inspired doodles to fit in a modern environment.
I even learned to spread and mount them myself, and let Myla do a few. And as much as she hates finding dead insects outside, she actually enjoyed the process of spreading and pin-mounting them on foam core, and then painting them once they’ve set. Like she said when we painted on bones, “we can make something beautiful out of something that’s sad.”
People have asked, but for whatever reason, I’ve never sold them. So I decided to put a couple in the shop, mounted and set in little shadow box frames. I only have two, but as many as I’ve kept for myself, I decided I could dare to part with the two of them. (The shop’s here, if you’re interested.) If not, I’ll do my best to find them good homes!
There’s this lovely little black & white lady:
And this handsome little flowered fella:
If you’re interested, you could even find some insects to paint on your own! If you do, I know Myla and I both would love to see what you come up with. 🙂
A couple of weeks ago, my parents came to visit for Myla’s birthday. While they were here, we did some Austin sightseeing, and found some fun, off-the-wall places to visit…one of them being Graffiti Park–The Hope Outdoor Gallery. Hope (Helping Other People Everywhere) was started in 2011 with help from street artist Shepard Fairy (see the Obey Crew hanging artwork at the gallery launch), as a place for artists to display large-scale murals and positive messages. It’s private property, so you have to obtain a paint pass (and if you’re really geeky like me, you speak with the owner about what you plan to paint and if it’s okay).
So a couple of weeks later (and after getting the OK), we showed up that morning paints in hand, blanket ready, ice cold water on stand-by, ready to paint a small mural in a very small spot. I mostly just wanted Myla to have the experience, and I wanted to leave something little and lovely on the wall.
Well, remember that bit about getting permission? Most street artists don’t do that. People assume that if it’s outdoors, it’s open to everyone. So it goes to figure that on that morning, we were asked if we wouldn’t mind covering a very disappointing piece of “inappropriate” and most unwelcome graffiti that appeared to have been placed there just the night before. Remember that bit about “positive messages?” Maybe you can tell from our start that the piece we were covering wasn’t so much “positive” as it was just plain ol’ juvenile. Even Myla said it best: “They snuck in here to paint, and all they painted was a giant penis?” Pretty lame. But it was a good chance to explain a little bit about why stupid people do stupid things….
It was hot outside. …Okay, maybe “hot” is too simple a word. I get hot when I work out. This was HUMID. And even “humid” can’t accurately describe the feeling of sitting full-on in a human-sized preheated oven. That’s Texas. So Myla took a lot of rest breaks, while I tried to finish my part as quickly as I could.
The idea was that we would each paint a head, and then switch up and paint the body for the others’ piece. When we finished our heads, we swapped places so we could each put a mockingbird body on the others’.
By this point, our skin was melting off of our bones, because someone left the central heating on full blast in outdoor Texas, I think. That, or it’s built directly on top of the lava beds of the fiery infernos of hell itself.
In any case, we quickly finished the bodies, and I roughly filled the background with a light blue, as quickly as I could before the heat evaporated the last of the moisture in my bones and made me faint from exhaustion. It turned out okay. Not as lovely as I’d have liked it if we had a cool day in the shade, but lovely nonetheless.
And just as we were about to pack up, a frozen yogurt truck pulled up to sell his wares. I would’ve gladly given him $20 for a milkshake to cool down my kid. (Thankfully, it was only a couple of bucks.)
I think one of the most difficult things for Myla to understand is that all the work we did painting those bird ladies, all the heat and sweat we spent out there, and they might not be there next time we visit. As you can see in the photo above, those Obey posters are long-gone, despite them being quite famous works of art. And I guess that’s a good thing? Or not? It’s at least reflective of the world around us. Good things get covered up. Bad things get covered up. People come around and do their best to make the world a little better. Everything you do leaves a little footprint stamp on the world. It’s up to you if you want to be soft and deep or jagged and destructive.
As another example, the EXACT area we were painting at the Hope Gallery used to be covered just a few short weeks ago (when my parents came to visit) with a cute little (large) baby goat head. And then a crudely-drawn penis. And then our crazy bird-ladies.
But that’s life, isn’t it? That bad stuff? It didn’t go away. It’s still there–we just covered it up with something that’s hopefully a little nicer. And sometimes the good things you do get erased and covered up. Which is why you have to keep putting good things out there into the world. And keep on putting good in the world. And keep on putting good in the world….<3
Ages ago, I wrote about something I was trying out–painting tiny miniatures. It was something new for me, but DANG I had so much fun with it!
I mentioned in that post that I was inspired to try the tiny things after seeing the tiny cameos of Mab Graves. Since then, I’ve chatted with her online (have I mentioned how much I love Instagram as a resource for artists???) and we’ve sort of shared a little artwork back and forth.
If you follow her Instagram page, you’ve probably become familiar with her nephew, Ransom, and all the silly fun things they do together. That’s when I decided to paint a tiny Ransom on a rectangular porcelain tile, 1″ x 1.5″…Well, she got the package this week, and sent me some lovely photos of it (because her light box skills are strong)…
Since I was having so much fun, I painted a few other little things. Just because I wanted to…and because she let me. 🙂
So we were chatting once about how since my husband’s often deployed, I don’t really have many good photos of Myla and me painting together…
And when I sent a photo of another little piece I did for her, she sent me THIS:
YOU GUYS. It’s a tiny painted cameo of Myla and me!! With Donkey!! And dinosaurs and bats, because that’s how Myla rolls. Maybe I can express my excitement with a few extra exclamation points:!!! I was floored and grateful. It’s so tiny and lovely! It’s supposed to come in a day or two, and I can’t wait to see it.
I’ve really been so lucky with the people I’ve met online (knockonwood). And the artists I’ve met on Instagram–save for a random few whose ego have overtaken their personalities (and that’s okay; that’s their choice)–have been the most generous people, in sharing their ideas, resources, tips, techniques, and thoughts. The wonderful artists I’ve met are too many to name (Lori Nelson, Sean Regalado, Annie Frenzel, Tony DiTerlizzi, Aaron McMillan, Matt Gordon, Tyler Thrasher, Kendyl Lauzon, Zach Landrum, Aletta Walker, and of course, Mab Graves, just scratch the surface of the list of artists and online friends who have helped and inspired me in some small way). And all it really takes is a little kindness. A little consideration.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that mean the most. A friend once told me that the most precious thing you could give someone is your time. To me, the fact that someone would take a little of their own time to spread a little kindness is one of the best kinds of things.
So if you get a chance, see if you can share a little kindness today! Nothing big. You can open a door. Pick up a dropped thing up for someone. Tell someone you like their shirt (but only if you really mean it). Let someone in front of you in line.
Because there’s nothing at all wrong with sharing the little things.
(PS: If anyone’s interested, I’ve put up a few offers in my etsy shop for tiny CUSTOM pendant portraits. So if you’d like a tiny kid or pet of your own, very similar to Mab’s, check me out over there on etsy and say hello!
It’s been awhile since I posted about playing with dolls…
Back then, I was customizing a Blythe and some Monster High dolls, along with “tattooing” some blank bodies that my friend Aletta (from theFoxyToyBox) let me play with.
(So I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared all the doll customs I played around with. I feel like I’ve shared them before, but a rudimentary search shows only my initial post. Considering I’ve been doing this blog a few years now, I don’t THINK I’m repeating…I try REEALLY hard not to repeat. (But if I do, in fact, repeat, please just consider it an old friend coming to say hello again…)…)
Awhile back, my friend Aletta sent these old used dolls for me to play with, and I took the opportunity to repaint them using all the skillful skills I learned from the magical world of Pinterest.
If you want to paint on Monster High dolls, trust me–I’m not the best one to learn from, because there are people who are WAY better pro at it than me. But I wiped off their paint with nail polish remover (I describe my wonky process here), painted in acrylics, and sealed with with Testors spray varnish to protect the plastic without leaving it sticky. And OMGosh they were so much fun.
I got little wigs in Etsy shops, because I am weird like that. And because they’re GORGEOUS. You pretty much just cut off their store-hair and glue on the lovely wigs, and BOOM–magic.
Ages ago, I bought a Bigfoot Monster High doll to repaint (because I couldn’t pass up those HUGE feet and hairy legs). I repainted her, paying lots of detail to that hair, and found a wig that matched her perfectly. I even contacted the wigmaker on etsy, asking if she could send a little extra scrap fur to put around her, which she kindly did. So here she is, with her little mini skirt of hair:
I tried to put her in that bigfoot hunched pose from “real” Bigfoot photos, but Monster High dolls are a little too poised to hunch. But lookit that fantastic leg stubble! Hahah
Even one doll (which Myla asked me to keep unpainted) was missing an arm, and she asked if I could build her one (because I can apparently do anything). I asked if it could be a robot arm, and she said, “of COURSE!” So a few electronic bits later, and I was able to hot-glue a fairly decent “robotic” appendage, which Myla was VERY happy with.
What’s funny, is that my occasional interest in repainting dolls has inspired our 6-year old to attempt to get me to buy her new Monster High dolls. “MOM! Can we please get it if I promise to PAINT it???” Usually our rule is that if I let her get something, she can pick a PROJECT, not just a toy. Which is why she tries, at times, to get me to buy new dolls. It’s tempting, really, considering our thrift stores here don’t HAVE any used ones, and holy cow, one time I saw a LUNA MOTH Monster High doll that even I wanted to repaint!! But I have to use restraint–they’re expensive after awhile, and we can’t just go buy toys for no reason (at least not once you become a parent) so I don’t really allow it.
But they ARE fun….
Anyway, I’ll share more of how our custom collaborations are going next week–Myla is having lots of fun with them! For now, have a great rest of the week! 🙂
From time to time, artists like to offer custom work. Some artists are super comfortable with this, and some are not. For the most part, I LOVE being able to make a wonderful memory for someone, or to be the gift someone gives to someone else. I love when people give me the creative freedom to do what I think will look best. But there is also an amount of anxiety about the possibility of disappointing the client.
Not so funny (but true) story: when I was about 14, I worked in a t-shirt shop after school. One day, a man came in with a tiny, stamp-sized photo of his toddler, and asked (since he had seen my airbrushed portraits) if I’d be willing to do a canvas portrait for him. I did the best I could with this tiny tiny photo, and when he came to pick it up, I felt I had done as good a job as I could do with what I had been given, because DANG I could barely see what was going on. (Also, I was only 14.) He took one look at the portrait and said, “It looks like the photo, but it doesn’t look like my son,” and refused to pay me for the work. I have been slightly intimidated ever since.
Portrait of the amazing portrait artist Maria Bjornbom Oberg (Bokkei). Talk about intimidating!
But since faces are my very favorite thing to paint, we’ll fast forward a million years, to a few months ago…where, after a little encouragement, I offered some portrait work up on Instagram, and was very surprised to have gotten an enormous amount of positive response from clients. People trusted in my creative freedom, and I really enjoyed every one that I worked on! I liked it so much, I was thinking I would offer custom portraits again….at least for a little while.
So as a courtesy, I thought I’d write down a few things that make custom work easier across the board, for both the artist (at least, in my experience) and the customer:
- Send great reference photos. If you want a portrait of your daughter, send a few closeup pictures of her. Don’t send a tiny shot of her in a large group of people–I can’t see her! Send your favorite photos of just her (if you can). Some editing can be done, of course (I have “removed” braces, changed hair color, added and removed items, added pets and favorite things, and changed the setting), but I can’t SEE the person’s face in a large group of people. Keep in mind that I don’t KNOW this person, so the subtle things about their face are unfamiliar to me. The more photos you send of this person, the better. I need clear shots (great, natural lighting is best) and I need a variety to choose from. I always do my best to work from a favorite photo, but it might not work as a reference without the “backup” of a few more photos. It sounds silly, but a variety of photos actually help me “feel” the personality of the person more.
- Mention a little a bit about the subject. If it’s a daughter (or your dog, for that matter)—what does she like to do? Does she have a favorite toy, or place to play? This helps me come up with things that help make the portrait more personal and more fun.
- Expect to pay half up front to hold your spot. For me, portraits range anywhere from roughly $150-500, depending on what a client wants, and I accept payment either in half or full via paypal. This holds a spot in line, so that when I finish one, I can start right on the next without having to worry about collecting initial payments, or trying to figure out who’s serious or not. The portrait is mailed out when I finish the work, the client is happy with the piece, and the final payment is paid. Yay!
- By all means, please share ideas with the artist (I LOVE that!), but artists usually work best when you leave a bit of wiggle room to be creative. I’m sure it’s probably intimidating to pay an artist and not be sure what EXACTLY you’re getting, but funny things happen when you get TOO involved. I love when someone can steer me to an idea of what they “see” when they imagine what the final piece will look like, but also allow me the freedom to do what I feel will look best. If I have a completely strange idea I’m not sure the client will jive with, I always ask them first.
- Mention anything that might make it more special. I nearly always post progress shots on instagram (unless I’m asked not to), but I always send a rough shot of the under-sketch to see what I’ve got laid out before I start painting. This is the time to ask for final changes or add things, or take things away. Keep in mind, it ALWAYS looks wonky at this stage. The sketch for me is like “notes” on what I plan to do with the color when I paint it, so people have to sort of use their “magic eyes,” or just trust in the final piece.
- It helps to know if there’s a timeline to consider. Otherwise, I go down the list in order of who came first. I’m pretty darn fast, but it takes some time to get to through the list if there are people ahead, so it may take a few months.
One of the first custom portraits I did this past year of the lovely Ms Kitty Noir, and all her lovely cats.
- I don’t offer collaborative pieces with our daughter. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and people have asked, but I’m sorry I won’t. I do have our collaborations up as prints on Society6, but I don’t allow custom ones. She enjoys it for fun, but as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I can’t take something she loves and make her do it a certain specific way at age 6. Putting limitations and restrictions on something someone loves–that’s a sure way to get someone to stop doing something for good!
- Please don’t mind me posting my “extra” drawings! If someone is anxiously awaiting their turn, is following me on Instagram, and sees me post a Pulp Fiction doodle, It’s just that I took the night off to clear my head. I promise you, this will only make the portraits better, because it ensures I will not burn out. I have a day job, and then my late afternoons and evenings are spent with our daughter, and if I don’t get anytime daytime paint time, this leaves me with only a couple of precious hours at night after the kid is in bed to paint before I pass out in exhaustion at the end of the day. I love painting and drawing, and I really enjoy portrait work, but sometimes, I need to draw something just for me, for fun. Like having a drink or taking a bubble bath after a long day, it sort of cleanses the palate for me. I often feel guilty for it, when I know I have portraits to do, but honestly, it helps me feel refreshed for the next portrait.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for something strange! I enjoy strange and different!
- If you have a particular style you like best that I’ve done, please let me know! I had a client who enjoyed the “Stuff Myla Says” series I work on from time to time:
…And we did a similar piece of her young daughter, and a sweet little saying she had said:
So there you go. A bit of a list, but I think it’s a list of things people wonder about when they ask for a custom portrait, and things that could make the process go a little more smoothly. Many times, people I work with have never had a custom portrait made before, and don’t know where to even begin. I’m not sure how it works for other artists, but I hope this helps give an idea of how it sort of works with me.
I have painted memorial pieces for loved ones that have passed away, as well as peoples’ beloved pets. I have painted children and babies, and all kids of animals. I feel lucky that I get to create something wonderful that people can enjoy in their home for many years.
So there it is: for a time, I’ll be offering custom portraits! So if you’re interested, please email me at email@example.com, and I’ll send you a price breakdown and other information. Here’s hoping to hear from you!
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.
People ask me sometimes about ballpoint pen and how I use it in my drawings. They’ll say that when they use it, it smears or gets discolored. And I say, “that’s because no one in their right mind should be using ballpoint pen.” But I can’t help it–that’s what I like. It’s what I’ve ALWAYS liked, and what I’m most comfortable with. It’s cheap, portable, easy to find, easy to carry.
But it does have a couple of issues.
Don’t be scared, though! When I was younger, information was a lot harder to find, and I was about the only one I ever knew that drew with a PEN. Nowadays, there are TONS of fine artists that use ballpoint (sometimes they call it “biro”), and do some AMAZING work. I don’t know what they go through, but here are some things I’ve learned…
THE PEN ITSELF
I’ve learned that I like ballpoints. Not gels, not rollerballs, not ink pens. BALLPOINTS. Believe it or not, there’s a difference. Nothing fancy, either–I’ve tried the expensive ones, and they’re nice, but for my work, they’re not gritty enough. Plain ol’ Bics work best for me…but I’ll use anything in a pinch.
I call it “glurping” or “glumping,” or whatever. It’s that blob of ink that sometimes comes out when you’re drawing, that can smear up your whole picture. Early on, I’d be happily drawing and OH NO MY WHOLE DRAWING IS RUINED!!! I know of one artist who uses his finger to wipe the pen every few strokes. I use my shirt….or whatever dark fabric thing is closest. Which is why, if you look all over my house, and on every shirt I own, you will most likely see little constellations of pen dots on my right front shoulders. As I draw, every couple of minutes, I instinctively wipe my pen on my shirt in a little twist. Sure, there is absolutely a better way to do this that was not so messy on my clothes. I could use a napkin. But I don’t.
PENS TURN FREAKY COLORS
I use ballpoint sketches as sort of a skeleton, because I like the pen marks to show through a little. If I watercolor on top, I get this nice blend of ink and pen. If I use acrylics, you still get to see the great lines, but with painting more on top. BUT IF YOU VARNISH, no matter HOW MUCH acrylic paint I have on top of my pen lines, the pen will SHOW THROUGH. And it turns sort of a purplish color. I’ve tried different varnishes, and I always get the same result. I usually like the look, but if it’s TOO discolored, I wait for the varnish to dry and paint in acrylic back on top of it. Varnish THAT, and you’re good to go. Waste of time? Yes. Draw my undercoat in pencil instead, then? NEVER EVER EVER. Don’t know why.
So here’s a typical project: Awhile back, my art friend Aaron McMillan (@mcmillankid on Instagram) and I challenged each other to draw Meryl Streep. I wanted to draw both versions of her witch from “Into The Woods.”
I usually start with the eyes and work my way out. I’ve mentioned before that there are many ways to measure faces to get proper proportions, and while I did my time with that in art school, I prefer to just wing it, because I like the wonky look.
My drawings are made up of very soft lines using varied pressure and crosshatching. I noticed once, while drawing, that I sort of blur my eyes to see the values and tones as I’m shading…which might explain my terrible eyesight. (Thankfully I’m near-sighted, so I’d still be able to draw in a post-apocalyptic world if I broke my glasses…but I’d be useless spotting anyone more than 10 feet away. …I have to think about these things.)
Once the sketch is done, I usually use watercolor or acrylic, but for this one, I challenged myself to use markers (since Aaron uses them a lot). Several people use Copics, but I prefer Prismacolor Premiere Brush Tips for no real reason, other than that I’m comfortable with them, and I love them.
Now this is where people who try this often get freaked out, because pens do freaky things…
AAAUUUGH it’s PURPLE!! Yeah, using markers on top of ballpoint pen is a little freaky because it instantly turns purple. This can weird you out at first, and make you think you’ve ruined the whole thing. But be patient! All is not lost! Keep going…
I get my darker markers out to shade, and the purple discoloration is already starting to settle down a bit as it soaks into the page…
And now by the time I’ve blended my darks with my lights, the purple tone is almost as faded as a bad dream in the daytime.
So here’s what it looks like, flat without much highlights. I have the ballpoint skeleton underneath, and I like the quickness of the markers–you can blend solid colors very quickly with darker shadows, and the marker soaking into the page does the rest. So here it is all flat, and ready for the next step…
Highlights! Here I like to use white acrylic paint (although I’ve used white colored pencil in a pinch) to add highlights to everything to make it pop a little more.
I like to find the “hot spots” of white, and blend them into the background color.
And there ya go!
The main point is not to get freaked out. I teach our daughter that there’s no real way to “mess up.” If you can’t fix it with ink or paint, you can always pretend you did it on purpose. 🙂
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Just open that sketchbook and DO IT. The worse that could happen is that you learn something. So good luck with all your artistic experiments!
One thing I’ve ALWAYS enjoyed is the fine line between hard and soft, aggressive and sweet, monstrous and dainty.
I’m pretty inexperienced with embroidery, but I loved creating with thread. I loved the feel of mixed textures on paintings, as well… I got a little book on different types of stitches and just played around with them…
And even tried painting on canvas fabric and hand-sewing on top of it. I was able to keep some of the detail of painting that I couldn’t get (or didn’t have the patience to get) with embroidery.
And then a reader asked if I had tried machine stitching. And I hadn’t! So I immediately gave that a try. And OH what fun!
I think the first one I did was the Galdalf below–I loved the idea of working various stitches on my machine into his beardwork. So much fun. I started adding it to the backgrounds and into parts of peoples’ hair…
I even used it, in some cases, to represent part of a character’s story–like the battle-scarred Hound and Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, below.
I can’t get enough of stitching everything now! I love the variations of texture. I still love hand-embroidering, especially when I can add the little beads and things. Have you tried experimenting with a new medium?