It turns out I love creating art with my four-year-old

August 30 2013 | Guest post by BusyMockingbird
All photos by BusyMockingbird.

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 sooner 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.

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.

  1. These are amazing! I would love to purchase a custom of my fiancé and I, I want to see what kind of body I would have haha
    I really love how you've added colour, they just look fantastic!

    • Custom art is exactly what I was thinking! It'll give the author the control she wants (by drawing the face) while giving the daughter the creativity to surprise the buyer!

      And if I know me, I can't ever turn down a grab bag!

  2. These are so freaky and wonderful! I'll admit to having a hard time sharing when my two year-old wants to fingerpaint over MY fingerpainting.

  3. These are AMAZING! I love the green haired woman one the best. What a fantastic concept, I think it would lend well to prints, custom orders AND a children's book!!!

  4. these are AMAZING!!!! i literally can not get over how awesome they are. ad i am totally showing ym fiance when he gets home and demanding we buy a print. you should definitly turn them into a book, maybe add a little story about each character…. im thinking Edward Gorey/Tim burton tales of opyster boy type thing. would be awesome to see how they change and evolve as she grows up too. xx

  5. Thank you all SO much! I'm overwhelmed by the response people have been giving these pictures. I'm thinking about the custom orders, a lot of people have asked. I am just a little worried about putting such a level of pressure and responsibility on her at 4. I do think it's a fun idea, I am just considering her sanity!

    I am putting a story / activity book idea together, though. I really appreciate the responses. Thanks again!

    • I don't think your daughter would need to feel any pressure or responsibility at working on someone else's work – she could just 'find' the artwork in your book the next morning and work away at it like it was one of yours. Alternatively – you could do the sketches from people's photos, and that might reduce the sense of pressure further. I think it's a wonderful way to celebrate your collaboration!

  6. Thank you these are lovely! 5 are coming to living next to the beach in Australia. I have a hard time sharing my creative endeavours with my little ones but that would be because sculpted feather flowers + fur babies do not mix. More then once a feather has graced the litter tray from the wrong entry point! Kudos for the sharing!

  7. I'm in love. "Slugs Need Hugs" is going to be hanging in my living room in a week. Thank you for sharing your art and your process.

  8. This may be a nerdy suggestion but the little life lesson you gained from the collaboration could make an awesome children's book in my opinion.
    LOVE everything about your art and experience!

  9. Please make a book. My kids are way past the age, but I would get it anyway. So cool (but I totally hear you on not wanting to make this a thing that your kid _has_ to do). But if you make a book, you can take the ones that you have and put them together and we all can enjoy them for a long time. Thanks for sharing.

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