Everyday things have been sort of overwhelming lately. Things as simple as laundry or dishes or even getting the daughter ready for school wear me out. Maybe it’s the rainy weather. Maybe it’s the struggle of working through back pain. Maybe it’s that I’ve started working out every day in the hopes of strengthening my back. …Maybe I’m just worn out from trying to keep all the plates spinning.
So I’ve been painting more tiny things. I like it because in just a few hours, I get to challenge myself to paint a person in a tiny little area. They don’t always turn out perfectly, but it’s a challenge for me to paint a face I like that small, and see if I can still make it look nice.
I struggle when people tell me who I should paint, because if I don’t have some weird little sense of love for the person (or at least for their face), I have trouble drawing them (not custom work–I find that a fun challenge). Someone suggested an actor that I don’t really care much for, and I didn’t even consider it. I have to WANT to draw it. It has to be fun for me, right?
And right now, they’re fun. They’re a fun little challenge, not too daunting…
And while I do have a few in my etsy shop, I find they’re also really fun to make as gifts. This little piece of artist Mab Graves is on its way to her, as a thank you for a package she just sent. I styled her after the King and Queen of the moon in Gilliam’s Baron Von Munchausen, and tried to make it a good blend of both.
So these tiny things have been helping me through a lack of motivation lately, because in just 2-4 hours, I can finish a tiny little face that might be fun to look at. Not a giant drawing, not an intimidating portrait. Just something simple and small, challenging and fun. I’m not sure why, but lately, that’s good enough for me…
Sometimes it’s the little things that help…you know?
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!
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Myla wanted to be a “real artist” and make people happy with artwork. Although I assured her that she already WAS a “real artist,” we took on ten commissions, and I thought I’d post on how they were going.
First off, I start by drawing a head from the pictures that were sent. I keep it pretty straightforward, and try to keep it fairly simple. Next, when she’s looking for a fun project to work on, I’ll ask if she’d like to start on some of the custom portraits…two words she had previously not known, but is now quite familiar with.
From the emails the client sent, I would tell her a little about the person. “they call him a wiggle-worm, they love garden scenes, and his favorite toy is rainbow-colored.” So she drew the little baby as a rainbow-colored caterpillar, watering his garden, with an ant peeking in on him…
Or: “they call her ‘Princess Batman,” and her favorite animal is a fox.” She drew the girl as a fox with bat-wings and a crown, carrying a space helmet in her hand. Maybe a little literal, but fun nonetheless…
Or: “He had a pirate wedding, and he loves Star Wars and space.” So she drew him as a space pirate, with a light saber and Solo’s blaster, in a great battle with an alien on Jupiter, who’s chucking knives at him…
And there was this one, who loved magical creatures, like unicorns, mermaids, and whales…so she drew her as a whale-hugging merm-i-corn. (That’s a word, right?) If you look carefully, you’ll notice her torso is actually made of unicorn hair…because she wanted to make sure the unicorn had a bit of the spotlight, as well…
With this one, I said, “she loves magical things, like fairies and moths, and she collects coffee cups.” …So she drew her as a luna moth fairy–with teensy weensy itty bitty coffee cups in her hand, and decorating her hair…
Thankfully, so many people were up for letting us use our creativity, and being open to whatever came out. Myla LOVED the “portrait assignments.” She loved having a little prompt. And having someone list an idea of what they have in mind for their portrait has actually become a GOOD exercise for her in limitations.
She really loves to tell little stories with her drawings, (as with the space pirate above, and the gnome fairy below), but I have to remind her that they still want it to be a portrait of someone they love, so maybe hold back a smidge of the wildness a little, so that everyone’s happy.
At first, it feels like I’m limiting her creativity, which is something I was very wary of, and worried about early on…But actually, I’m finding it to be a very GOOD practice for her–to be able to work on something for someone else within certain parameters and still have fun with it. I think this is something that will come in handy in whatever job field she chooses, and is especially helpful if she chooses to be a working artist.
It feels like she’s kind of like a pinball in a pinball machine–she gets to bounce around a bit, but she still has a basic path. And that’s good.
So we’re waiting to finish the last three…in the meantime, we may have more in the future; I’ll be sure to post if we do! I don’t want to overwhelm her. I have asked her every step of the way if it’s fun…if it’s a challenge…if it’s something she enjoys…and so far, it’s been a resounding yes. She is six going on 36, and she is excited to be making people smile. She wants to do lots of things, and she wants to make people happy with her art.
For now, I guess I’m pretty okay with that. 🙂
If you’ve follow this blog for awhile, you may already be familiar with the collaborations Myla and I did when she was four…
Back then, lots of people asked if we’d do custom collaborations–where maybe they could send photos for me to draw from, and have Myla draw the bodies. LOTS. of. people. I mean, TONS of people. I mean, so many that it was overwhelming.
I always said no. I wasn’t trying to be rude or elitist, but the most important thing to me was that our daughter have FUN drawing. I didn’t want it to be a JOB at age four. I was so overwhelmed with requests that it would’ve been impossible to have her do them at age four and still make it fun…especially since people asked for specifics: a bird, a donkey, a bear. Can you imagine making a 4 year old sit down and do custom orders? While it sounds like it would’ve been nice, I assure you, it would’ve been impossible. And exhausting. And most importantly, it wouldn’t have been fun.
But now Myla is six, and wants to “be a grownup.” Despite my convincing her to stay a kid forever (because being a grownup stinks big time), she still wants to do big-kid things. One of those things, surprisingly, has involved the desire to do custom drawings.
When we ran the Kickstarter to print a book of our collected work (which you can get here, by the way) I offered as one reward level a hand drawn portrait (by me) onto a pre-printed drawing of Myla’s, which was my alternative solution, aside from trying to make her do them all by hand, and still allowed me to give people a portrait that would make them smile.
So she asked me the other day why I never let her do custom pieces…and I told her all of the above. She’s seen me do custom portraits for people, and didn’t realize I had never allowed it when she was younger.
“But I’m older now,” she said. “And I know I could do it.”
“The thing about custom work is that you have to draw what people WANT you to draw. And I always just wanted you to draw whatever made you happy.”
“But now I can do that. I can draw what people ask.”
“They might say they like turtles, and you might feel like drawing robots.”
“But I know I can do it. Now I want to make OTHER people happy.” (Which is funny, because that’s my favorite part of custom portraits, as well.) “So maybe if that happens, I could do a robot-turtle” (which sounds awesome, actually).
So there it is. That’s where we are.
I told her we’d try it. So here we go: I’m only starting with five, in my Etsy shop, so please have a look! For the first time ever! And not for very long. Once you purchase a portrait, you can send me reference photos for a single face, and maybe tell me something that person is into…and I’ll do my best to steer the kiddo in that direction for her part.
So If you’re up for an interesting portrait and you’ve got wiggle room for a 6-year old’s creativity, combined with my illustrations, we’d love to make you happy! 🙂
UPDATE: WOW those five sold out in the first ten minutes! I added five more, but that’s probably all I’ll add for now, until I see how she handles these. Maybe if she has fun with them, we’ll offer a few more. Thank you so much for all your support. 🙂
UPDATE UPDATE: Sold out! Sorry… If she enjoys doing these, we may offer them again sometime! Thanks!
Blast from the past: So cute!! Wonderful reader Laurie reminded me of one of the VERY few portraits we did when Myla was four, as a prize for a creative contest we ran on the blog ages ago. Here are the bluebirds Myla turned her and her daughter into:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you a price breakdown and other information. Here’s hoping to hear from you!
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.