I get such wonderful mail from time to time, of people sharing stories about how the little collaborations that Myla and I do has affected their lives in a positive way…and I don’t care WHAT kind of cruddy day I might be having, they ALWAYS make me smile.
This set of collaborations is from Charlotte Christian School, where kids in High School worked on drawings with kids from Kinder and Junior Kinder classes. Look at all the amazing things they did!
This is a small sample from a class at Sanna preschool in Jönköping, Sweden, where the teachers took photos of the kids and let them paint whatever they wanted to, after seeing the drawings that Myla and I did (thank you, Ellen, Olivia and Benjamin!).
I got this beautiful image via @januarylark on Twitter, who got our book before she knew she was pregnant, and is reading it to her new little buddy.
I love to see the things people draw together, and I love that you all share them with me! So keep drawing, keep doodling, but most of all, keep enjoying spending real time creating with your kids!
Have you ever had an idea that wouldn’t go away?
Ages ago, in a sketchbook, I toyed with an idea…what if aliens came down to earth in robot bodies, using the faces of our beloved icons to gain our trust so we’d let down our guard so they could more easily take over the world?
I know, I know. It’s an old chestnut, and old theme that’s been played out over and over again.
HA! Okay, just kidding–I know it’s weird. But that was my thought and it wouldn’t go away. So I drew two little sketches: one of Gandhi (which I can no longer find), and one of James Dean. And they sat in my sketchbook for YEARS.A year or two ago, I came across them again, and thought I’d give one a try…and pulled out the Gandhi to paint it.
And I liked it…but I didn’t love it. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
So recently, I got a new sketchbook, hoping to get some ideas out…and I tried again, this time with James Dean. And it looked lame. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
And one day, when Myla was flipping through my sketchbook, she said, “Oh! What is this?” I told her it was an alien in a robot suit, but I couldn’t get it to look right. “Can I try?” she asked. And of course she could.
And it’s AWESOME! I loved it immediately. It wasn’t quite what I had in my head, but with her new point of view, I think I have a great basis for a really fun and cool perspective. More fun, more playful that the very detailed thing in my head that I couldn’t get out. I can’t wait to work on it!
I think part of creating good art is that struggle artists go through in trying to make what’s in their head make sense in their own medium.
I’m starting to discover that although I enjoy the work of so many amazing artists, sometimes when I struggle with a piece, it might be because I’m imagining it in someone else’s style.
Weird, right? Let me explain: I’ve been struggling with another piece, one of Myla with her ghost-rats (she had two pet rats that died and she believes they’re running through the fields where we buried them, “playing with their ‘chothers.”). I tried it a couple of different ways, and even got as far as starting to paint it:
And for whatever reason it didn’t look right to me. And it was terribly frustrating. So I drew it again, in a different way, in my sketchbook. And it still didn’t look right. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
So I closed my eyes, and tried to listen to myself. What does it look like in my mind? What do I WANT it to look like, if this version isn’t working? And surprisingly, what came to the surface was not my own work, but that of Casey Weldon…
You heard me. I imagined SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK. His work is lit beautifully. In my mind, my painting should have had similar lighting and playfulness and reverence…but it didn’t. And I was actually hindering myself by trying to make it look like HIS work.
It’s one thing to be inspired by someone, and another to fault your own work for not being like someone else’s. I have to realize that no matter WHAT I DO, this piece will never look like his. So I tried it again in my own way, and tried to listen to my own voice. And again, I asked Myla for her input. And this is what we did:
A part of me mourns for that beautifully painted imaginary piece that’s in my head, but I know it’s not real. And it’s okay! Sometimes a little perspective gives you new insight, and changes your opinion about what things SHOULD be and what they actually are.
I am lucky I have a creative little 5-year old for instant “fresh perspective” insights, but there are other ways to break out of your preconceived ideas…
1. Just start DRAWING. Have a sketchbook that’s JUST for ideas, wrong or right. Take “notes” in it, get quick ideas, but don’t limit yourself to “getting it right.” When I do this, it is UGLY. It’s very nearly stick people art. But at least the idea’s out.
2. Listen to yourself. I work from home, and I can tell you it is VERY rare that I don’t have music, tv, an audiobook, my phone or a movie in my face while I work or draw. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been doing for YEARS, and it’s not really fair to my brain / imagination / creativity. I plan to make more time to just SIT with my sketchbook and LISTEN.
3. Don’t stop trying. So the pieces above didn’t work. Am I going to stop with that? Well, I will if my brain is happy. But if those ideas keep trying to get out, I’ll try it again. And again. And again.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to visit the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, and of all the incredible work I saw, the most memorable to me has always been the experience of walking into a room FULL of hundreds of sketches on paper and napkins and scraps–all of a man sitting with a scythe. Over and over again, this same image repeated in different ways. You can tell the idea was in the artists’ head, and he tried again and again to get it out. The room was FULL of drawings, rough paintings, even some small sculptures of this same figure, over and over, in a hundred different ways.
..And at the very end of the room, as big as the wall, was the final piece…
It’s called “Paying the Harvesters” by Léon Lhermitte. And the man with the scythe wasn’t even the only character in the painting. I think of that room often, and wonder sometimes, after all those hundreds and hundreds of drawings…did he feel like he “got it right?”
Sometimes, you get your idea out the best you can. Sometimes you get in your own way. Sometimes you beat it til something beautiful comes out. Just listen to your voice and you’ll figure out what to do.
“Let’s both each draw a picture that’s a fish,” Myla said one day. We each drew our own on the same page, and, as will often happen, she inevitably became more interested in what was going on on MY side.
“Don’t forget his fins,” she’d say. “Or maybe some teeth.”
So I make a joke out of it. “Oh yeah?!? You know what YOURS needs?? Lobster claws. Totally.” And then I reached over to her drawing and doodled a quick pair of claws.
It cracked her up in a cascade of giggles.
“Oh, okay…yours looks great, mom, but it could really use some BIGGGG horns.”
Pretty soon it evolved to an all-out doodle war. “Oh, yours would look SOOOO much better with walrus tusks!” “It’s good, but I think it could really use an elephant trunk,” we say to eachother in our mock-friendly voices. …And on and on.
It’s hilarious to her to impact something I’ve done in a funny way, and a great demonstration of the idea that if you want to have say in what someone else is doing, you might have to be okay with them doing the same to you…
And since it’s just a quick little doodle, there’s nothing sacred in it, other than just having fun and being silly.
I always love what comes of them, as crazy as they are. I’m wondering what a finer version of it might look like. maybe it’d be different than our usual collaborations. It might involve taking some time and patience, which is very difficult for a 5-year old. People have often tried to “tell” us what we should draw together, and while people sometimes have some great ideas, it sort of just has to happen. In my world, the things that I push the hardest on are the things that don’t ever feel as genuine, and therefore aren’t as enjoyable for the viewer or the ones creating it.
But trying something new? I’m always up for that. 🙂
So I just realized it’s been a YEAR since I first posted the story about collaborating with our 4-year old! And while a lot has changed (she’s 5 now, for one), so much is still the same. I thought it’d be sort of cool to share a bit about the whole experience, and what we’ve been doing since…
1. People have been SO super nice! I still get SO many wonderful comments, messages, posts, and emails, saying wonderful things and sharing wonderful stories about how this fun little project that Myla & I do together has affected them in some positive way and it’s such a wonderful thing to hear. New-mom artists saying they couldn’t figure out how to still create while caring for a kid have told me they have hope now for a new way to create. Other type-A’s like me, who have been reminded to let go a little bit and enjoy the ride. People spent time doing similar projects with their kids, their students, their patients, and shared the stories with me. It feels really good to hear that something we did just for fun has had such a positive effect on so many people.
The fact that people take a little time out to say something nice to someone they don’t know personally, is very heartwarming, and makes me feel good about the fate of the human race.
2. Some people can be jerks. I have learned the age-old internet rule, and will agree that it is most definitely true (mostly on external blogs, not my own, thankfully): DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. SO many websites, instead of linking directly to my full story, retold the story using my photos on their own website. Usually, they don’t tell the whole process I went through, leaving readers confused and critical, and more likely to make random nasty (and not at all constructive) comments. Everything from “She’s holding her pen wrong,” “the mom overindulges her,” “the mom probably does those herself, for attention,” “those drawings aren’t THAT good,” and “what the hell am I even looking at???”
…Some people make a point to take a little time out of their day to be total jerks to a complete stranger, which makes me a little discouraged about the fate of the human race. Thankfully, though, there are WAYYYYYYY more positive comments than negative, and I do my best to ignore them, and focus on people who AREN’T talking out of their butts.
3. We self-published an AWESOME BOOK. We had a few publisher nibbles after the post, and even worked for quite a while with one, trying to narrow down how we might possibly turn it into a book for children, until they finally gave up on the idea altogether. It wasn’t until then that I realized it might not BE a children’s book. So I made my own Kickstarter video, and with the help of SOOO many people sharing and getting the message out there, we were able to exceed our goal and make a book I am very very proud of, that tells the story of our collaboration, has pages to doodle in yourself, and is a collection of a great many collaborations, and the fun little titles I gave them. We also were able to make a little children’s book of animal collaborations. I can’t seem to part with the originals, so I don’t sell any of the originals to anyone. I keep them in a very full binder for her to enjoy later. So since we weren’t able to have a professional publisher work with us, at least I was able to make our drawings into a fun little book that we can share with people.
4. We still get around a bit, from time to time. Aside from a great many interviews & articles from all sorts of places in the world, we’ve had a few little online adventures. We had someone contact us to see if they could purchase a few prints to use on a TV show as set design background if the show stayed on. (We allowed it, but I haven’t seen them on the show, and I don’t think it was picked up for a new season.) A theme park on the other side of the world asked if they could display a few for a Mother’s Day event they were having. Our post was shared on facebook by a couple of fun names…
(None of this at all means anything to Myla, though. She just likes to draw.)
5. People have asked us to do stuff. We have been asked to do custom work, but trying to “control” what a 5-year old draws is nearly impossible. Sometimes I can give her suggestions, and sometimes she turns the person into Nightcrawler or a mermaid, just for fun. You can never tell. Nor would I want to stifle what she does, or put any limitations on it. The very few times I’ve tried to steer her in a certain direction is hit or miss: sometimes it works out like magic (as in the Hellboy doodle we did below), and sometimes it doesn’t work, and it’s just frustrating for the both of us. So instead of getting frustrated, I just take the pressure off by saying no to most custom work, unless it’s something fun that we can do in a way that has little to no pressure. (Reading Rainbow’s Kickstarter, for example, is running an art contest for their calendar. We’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal.)
We have been asked to design logos for products, but aside from just the logistics listed above, it just feels weird to use them for a product. I don’t have any big political belief behind that thought. It just feels weird, so I just say no.
We were once asked to have a film crew film our day to day life and doodles, but I couldn’t see how that would work, since both my husband and I have agreed that we’re not comfortable with the idea of having Myla’s face fully openly out there in internet land. Why not? Well, aside from just the regular worry of creepy old creepers, people can be plain nasty, as I said earlier, and nastier when they have something in front of them to point at behind the safety of their screens. She’s adorable, but she’s five. I don’t need random people commenting and judging her SOLELY based on her physical attributes (as I’m sure the world will do in plenty of time when she hits puberty). No thanks.
6. Life is pretty normal. When we first did the collaborations was just before my husband was deployed, so he missed the majority of the hubub, and watched it lovingly from a distance somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan. Now that he’s back, things are pretty normal again. Myla started Kindergarten, and is on a mission to share her love of superheroes with the world. Like everyone, we have good days and bad days (but they are very nearly all good days). She loves superheroes, mermaids, and “crafty crafts” (which is what we call all the artsy art things we enjoy doing). I post our work primarily on Instagram, but also on Facebook and Twitter. I also use Instagram to post a ton of whatever strange drawings, sculptures, or projects I’ve personally got going on as well.
7. We still draw. A LOT. When we first started collaborating, it was incidental. It just sort of happened. Now, she ASKS me for heads to draw, and sometimes for certain characters. I like to mix drawing, say, a certain actor’s face for her to draw a certain character’s body on, and she has fun with that. If she wants to do one of Wolverine, for example, I draw Hugh Jackman. It’s fun for both of us. Her drawings have become more narrative, with so much more going on, and it’s been REALLY fun for me to try to make them make sense by making the background more detailed, adding more highlights and shading to the artwork, to the faces. It’s so much fun!
People have asked me about her tiring of drawing only the bodies–but she doesn’t LIKE how I draw the bodies on her heads (she hasn’t worked on that “letting go of expectations” thing that I’ve worked on, and is sometimes critical if I go off-course). Drawing faces and characters on her own, though? She’s WAY into that! Oftentimes, I’ll tear out pages from my sketchbook of drawings I haven’t finished, and don’t intend to finish (even if it’s just an eye), and let her just use her imagination:
But now that she’s a little older, a great deal of our work is directly influenced by the things that influence her: superheroes, characters from shows and books and comics. This past summer, I signed her up for day camp (basically 3 hours a day of themed daycare). She could choose between Princess Camp and Superhero Camp. She chose Superhero camp, which has been a huge influence on her drawings:
She’s also had a thing for mermaids lately…
There are also a great many characters she’s never really watched the actual shows of (she’s only 5, remember, and she’s not too fond of too much action & violence), but has seen or heard of the characters. I’ll usually just tell her a toned-down, simplified story about the character, and let her elaborate:
She will draw characters from some of her favorite, most beloved tv shows, books, and movies:
There is always a WHOLE lot of Star Wars:
And some of them come straight from her own imagination:
8. We still LOVE to share… Whether it’s between Myla and me, or other people, we love to share our doodles. I recently did an art trade with an artist on Instagram, whose 4-year old daughter decided to make Myla a little sculpture to add to the package. It was so awesome! Myla loves to show people how to draw “step by step” (but she will almost NEVER tell you what it’s going to be in the end…probably because she makes it up as she goes). She loves drawing marker “tattoos” on any visitors we have who are willing. Last time we visited my husband’s family, they all gathered round chit-chatting and waiting their turn for Myla-tattoos.
…SO WHAT’S NEXT? Well, we’re just gonna keep on keepin’ on. Since I have all these books now, I thought it’d be fun to take them to a vending table at Wizard Con in Austin, Oct 2-4. So I’ll be doing that, and bringing my niece along to help. Myla will mostly be hanging at home with Daddy, and only stopping in on occasion (since I’m guessing it’d be pretty hard to keep a kid at a booth ALL DAY for THREE DAYS??) to see costumes and such (conventions scare her, though, so we’re gonna play that one by ear). I’m bringing TONS of books, some prints, a few of my own originals, and whatever else we can muster up. It’s gonna be FUN! So if you’re anywhere in the area, PLEASE come see us!
I absolutely LOVE watching her develop her drawing. I get so excited when I notice her drawing something new, like Wolverine’s “fists,” and the amount of detail she remembers just from seeing a few pictures of a character. We’ll keep on doing them for as long as they’re fun. And if they’re not fun, we’ll lay off them for awhile. But right now, we still love drawing together, so that’s what we’ll do. And I’m always happy to post them!
Most of all, I love love LOVE hearing from other people who have been inspired to do their OWN doodle projects with their friends, family, students, and kids, so if you’ve got stories to share, I’d LOVE to hear them!
Love, love love. Just realized there was a WHOLE lotta love in this post. And that’s awesome.
(Posted below are just a couple of the wonderful doodles people have sent me that their kids have done after being inspired to draw by our doodles. I love seeing all that imagination growing!)
So that’s a little update on our doodles this past year! I’m so grateful for all the positive response we’ve gotten from something we just love doing together. It’s SUCH a good feeling to put something good into the world!
(I constantly post new prints for purchase at Society6. Please feel free to take a look!)
Do you sketch? I do. A lot. I have drawn in lots and lots of sketchbooks. There’s such a good feeling of potential inspiration on the gaining of a new sketchbook. But for me, doing so means involving myself in a bizarre sort of ritual: I MUST decorate the cover. Usually, it is with whatever I happen to be inspired or influenced by at the time. But here’s the catch: if the cover doesn’t turn out so well in my eyes, I have trouble drawing in that sketchbook, and it ends up being a total waste of perfectly good drawing paper.
I know, I know–that’s silly, right? Well for me, it’s true. There’s something to be said for making your surroundings, and the place you like to “nest” aesthetically pleasing. It lights little sparks in your mind, gives you the warm fuzzies, and encourages you to try new creative things. “Come on in!” it says. “Welcome! There are so many awesome things to see!” But mess up the front of that sketchbook, and it says in a nasty little voice, “Those things you like to doodle? They are not very good. Don’t bother, because it will just look horrible.”
I have decorated new sketchbooks with a variety of doodles and paintings over the years. These little tattooed “milk men” were from a time when I was very influenced by some vintage tattoo books.
And this octopus lady? Well, I’m not sure WHAT’S going on with her, but I’ve always really loved her eyes. And what a friendly smile, amIright?
One time very recently, our daughter saved a sketchbook from near doom. I had been trying desperately to rescue this drawing by adding highlights and more “tribal” hair, and patterns and all sorts of whatnots, when she came over and asked me if she could help me by adding “highlights in her hair.” Knowing what lay on the line, and the potentially sad fate of this sketchbook, I let her, and with three simple brush swipes of white in her hair, she completely saved it.
As you can imagine, over the years, my ever-growing collection of sketchbooks had built up and was responsible for a fairly large chunk of our military moving weight. (For non military folks, a quick explanation: the military allows only so much weight per family it will ship when you move to your next duty station. My love of books and my sketchbooks have been a fairly decent chunk of that weight for a good part of our marriage….) So much so that it was almost weighing ME down to keep those old sketches around. In a way, some sketchbooks are like looking back at a snapshot of your life at the time. You see the ups, the downs, the inspirations and the failed attempts at drawing, mundane grocery lists, mental notes, favorite quotes. All the little snippets of day to day life that someone like me (who usually has a sketchbook within arms reach at all times) might have.
So one year, I decided that except for a few special sketchbooks, I would take only the highlights from all of the sketchbooks from all of the years, and make a scrapbook. I took my favorite things, even the little snippets and sketches and notes, and compiled them into one huge scrapbook. It was a little intimidating at first to consider throwing anything away, but in a way it felt sort of good to get rid of all of that extra weight, to throw it away forever, and have something to show for it; something that felt good. Something that made that little voice say, “HEY! Some of these are pretty good! See–maybe you’re not so bad after all!”
…So it’s almost the new year! And I have a new sketchbook. And whatever I decide to put on the cover, I want it to be a good one. I want it to make me feel happy, to feel good. I want it to inspire me to do better, to be better. …So, metaphorically speaking….what would you put on YOUR new sketchbook?
Apparently, a lot of new people have joined our little campfire. I’d like to say “Welcome!” Come have a seat!
I’ve been getting a ton of new questions about how the kid & I doodle our little doodles. I’ll start off by saying this didn’t begin intentionally. I didn’t plan this out. As I described in the post, my “art life” was very separate from my “mom life,” and that’s how I thought it had to be. When our daughter first hovered over my sketchbook & asked to draw on one of my drawings, it was a lesson in letting go for me, and allowing her to be a part of something I have always been very passionate about.
But based on the comments I get on external blogs (probably because they don’t always link back to my original post, which describes the experience), I think some people misunderstand the process. Or maybe they don’t. In any case, I thought it’d be fun to walk you all through one of the pieces we did. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas to doing it yourself!
First off, I love drawing from old black & white movie stills. For some reason, the far-off looks, the black & white imagery–I don’t know why, but I could draw those all day. I like playing with the shapes, changing them a little, slightly altering them, and sort of abstracting the shading a bit. I work in ballpoint pen (because I love it, and I’ve used it over the years and years and years). This time, I worked from a picture of Bette Davis. Probably this one.
(Now the very first time, this was as far as I had gotten before my daughter asked to “help.” Later, I started just drawing faces & heads because she kept asking for them. Plus, that’s my favorite part to draw anyway. So when she asks to “draw the body,” I choose to let her.)
I’m always curious what she’s going to draw. I can give her ideas, but she usually will decide what it’s going to be AS she’s drawing it. This was quite nerve-wracking for me in the beginning. It was HARD to let someone take something you worked on into a completely different direction. Did I always handle it with grace? No. When she drew lines across the faces of some of them, I silently clenched my teeth, did a mental gasp, and squinted my eyes. But you know what? It all turns out fine in the end.
For this one, she drew this funky crescent-shaped body, and said, “She’s a slug.” Um. Okay. You turned her into a SLUG?! Some of the ones we had done were easy to collaborate on…a dinosaur, a bird, a dragon. But a SLUG? I kept any judgement to myself, and instead, decided to laugh with her about the lady with the slug body.
Thankfully, I’m always up for a challenge. And over time, doing these doodles with our daughter, I often think of my part as translating her ideas to make sense to grownups. It’s a fun challenge to try to figure out a way to make her kid-doodle potentially exist in a 2-D environment. For those curious as to who did what, the basic idea is always hers. She did the body, the antennae, the flower, and the sunshine on this one. Nowadays, she even gives me guidelines: “Don’t forget, mama–her wings should be BLUE.” Or, “That’s not a cracker, she’s holding BREAD. Could you please make sure you color it to look like bread?” In the end, we’re both always pretty surprised at the result.
So after she decides what it’s going to be and does her doodles, I do my part. I color in with markers (sometimes she helps).
I used to use plain ol’ Sharpies for base color, until Jerry’s Artarama sent me a HUGE box set of my favorite Prismacolor brush-tips. (big shout out to Jerry’s! Woohoo!) So these days, when I get to this step, I use those instead, and I love love LOVE the color blending you can get with them.
I add some white highlights with acrylic paint or sometimes watercolor.
Now’s the fun part. How the heck to make this look like a slug, as opposed to a random, crescent-shaped doodle? I looked up some slug references, and did the best I could to fit those patterns into the shape she had drawn. I think the little “lip” underneath is what finally made it feel more “real.”
A little more acrylic for the background. I added a little hopscotch grid to sort of put her in some sort of context. I don’t know why, it just felt right. And because plain ol’ grass gets boring. I did a little fine-tuning to bring the lines back with ballpoint pen. Often, I go back over the lines she and I both already made, to bring them out a little more.
And there you go! I called it “Slugs Need Hugs.” One time, playing outside, my daughter said it would be hard to try to give a slug a hug. When I finished this one, I felt a little bad for the little slug lady, trying to play hopscotch, while most likely being unable to perform the required “hopping.” She seemed in need of a hug.
As for any meaning or symbolism in using Bette Davis and then drawing a slug? There is none. AT ALL. I just like to draw faces. She just felt like drawing a slug. I usually alter them enough that I don’t always remember who they started out as.
As for my daughter’s drawing skills? I understand that I’m her mother and I while I can see all the beautiful, wonderful magic in the way she draws (and while her teachers have commented on how focused and detailed she is at drawing), I am the first to admit that maybe her drawings themselves aren’t particularly masterful. But, you know?–for that matter, neither are mine. Anyone focusing on that aspect is sort of missing the point.
So what IS the point? To me, it’s about enjoying the experience more than the end result. It’s about combining the “internal” life of an artist with the “external” life of a parent. It’s about helping your kids express themselves without limitations. It’s about sharing your passion with someone else. It’s about taking that thing you love and placing it in someone else’s hands, and trusting that everything will be okay.
Contest entries are coming in from all over, and they’re so awesome! Have you entered yet? …Looks like you all are having a lot of fun with it, and I want to see MORE! One more week to enter! If you want to give it a shot, head on over to the last blog post and try it yourself. Good luck and most importantly: have a great time with it!
One day, while my daughter was happily distracted in her own marker drawings, I decided to risk pulling out a new sketchbook I had special ordered. It had dark paper, and was perfect for adding highlights to. I had only drawn a little in it, and was anxious to try it again, but knowing our daughter’s love of art supplies, it meant that if I wasn’t sly enough, I might have to share. (Note: I’m all about kid’s crafts, but when it comes to my own art projects, I don’t like to share.) Since she was engrossed in her own project, I thought I might be able to pull it off.
Ahhh, I should’ve known better. No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look. “OOOH! Is that a NEW sketchbook? Can I draw in that too, mama?” I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them. I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist. In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”
Oh no she didn’t! Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me! Impressed, I agreed to comply. “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said. “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen. I had resigned myself to let that one go. To let her have the page, and then let it go. I would just draw on my own later, I decided. I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do! But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.
Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew. I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created. Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished. She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled. It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers. And she LOVED being a part of it. She never hesitated in her intent. She wasn’t tentative. She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done. …And the thing is, she DID.
Soon, she began flipping through my sketchbook, looking for more heads. “Do you have any heads for me today?” she would ask me each morning. So I began making a point at night to draw some faces for her (which was my pleasure–faces are my favorite part, anyway). She would then pick up a pen with great focus, and begin to draw. Later, I would add color and highlights, texture and painting, to make a complete piece. Sometimes she filled in the solid areas with colored markers, but I would always finish with acrylics later on my own.
Sometimes I would give her suggestions, like “maybe she could have a dragon body!” but usually she would ignore theses suggestions if it didn’t fit in with what she already had in mind. But since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads. Maybe she could make this into a bug! I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like. So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!? She’s just scribbling it all up! But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined. ALWAYS.
For example, the filled-in marker of the one above, she told me, was a chrysalis, for the caterpillar to transform into a butterfly. Of COURSE it is. I never would have thought of that. And that’s why kids make awesome artists.
Later, I would show her what I had done with our drawings–the painting and coloring. She seemed to critique them pretty harshly. “That’s silly, mama.” or “you put WATER behind her?” But for the most part, she enjoyed them. I enjoyed them. I LOVE them.
And from it all, here are the lessons I learned: to try not to be so rigid. Yes, some things (like my new sketchbook) are sacred, but if you let go of those chains, new and wonderful things can happen. Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little. In sharing my artwork and allowing our daughter to be an equal in our collaborations, I helped solidify her confidence, which is way more precious than any doodle I could have done. In her mind, her contributions were as valid as mine (and in truth, they really were). Most importantly, I learned that if you have a preconceived notion of how something should be, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED. Instead, just go with it, just ACCEPT it, because usually something even more wonderful will come out of it.
SIDE NOTE: As an idea (mainly for myself) I decided to put just a few of our collaborative prints up for sale on a site called Society 6. I purchased one myself (the space beavers, called “Outer Face”) to see how they would turn out, and I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve done dozens and dozens of collaborative sketches, but I only put a few up as prints. I’m not sure what to do with the others. Maybe make a children’s book out of them? Make poems to go along? I’m not sure, but I love them with a very large portion of my heart, and they need a special place.