I watched a movie last night–Life of Pi. We meant to watch it on National Pi Day, but we got busy eating apple and chocolate pie that one of my kids made. It was an awesome movie, thought provoking, in many ways profound, and not the least of it is due to the amazing CGI effects. I regret to say I haven’t read the book, but the story in the movie was beautiful and moving. Sometimes reading the book before you see a movie makes you not like the movie as much. I will read the book now, and hopefully see even more dimensions to the story. It made me feel inspired, ready to write, ready to paint, ready to exhale creative things. It also made me feel small and humbled by its grandness. I understand thousands of folks worked on it, and made it what it is. But it still makes me a little bit sad to see that I may never create a masterpiece like that–something with all-encompassing beauty, and meaning, and thoughtfulness, something that inspires someone else. Something that large and perfect. And that is true for ALL of us, no matter our skill level. We are all always afraid that we will not be good enough, that our aspirations will always outpace our skills. I can SEE it in my head (in the case of art and writing and theater), or I can hear it in my head (writing, music, theater), but when I am done, it is a big let-down. It just doesn’t live up to what I had THOUGHT it would be like.
And that is actually NOT the point of creative pursuits at all. The point is to enjoy and grow. Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m sure all those visual artists enjoyed and grew during the process of creating that movie. But when working at home for yourself, or working with children, the intent is different. Millions of dollars in revenue is not at stake. Rather, you are trying to grow as an artist, or to encourage young people to do the same. Someday, if you are good enough, WHEN you are good enough, THEN you graduate to the level of millions of dollars in revenue. Until then, it is process.
So, while I was watching this movie, and thinking about how beautiful it was, and how much I want to DO that and my work may realistically NEVER be THAT good, I thought about my kids–and all kids out there, really. (And MOST adults, for that matter!) They look at my work and feel just as awed, and sometimes, just as depressed that they aren’t THERE yet. With children–say, ages 3-6 or even up to 8, kids usually aren’t that self-critical. But then, something begins to transform in the synapses of their brains–they begin to SEE differently. They begin to see the way they draw, and the way the REAL WORLD looks, and they see that those two things are drastically different. And then, kids get frustrated. If something doesn’t happen to nurse them through this period of feeling inadequate about their art, they will quit creating it. It’s that simple.
Today, my daughter Sailor, who is 8, began saying she was bored. I listened to it a bit, then suggested she do a drawing of me. She drew me the other day, and did quite a good job.
I told her to draw what she saw, and she did. I praised her efforts extensively, and I assumed that assigning her to draw me was now a “go-to” move whenever she was bored. It would benefit her to have the practice, and it would benefit ME to have her occupied and not whining about being bored. So, she sat down with a pencil and paper, positioned me (I was writing the first paragraphs of THIS blog on my laptop), made me take off my glasses because “glasses are hard to draw”, and went to work. And after 3 minutes or so, she said she hated what she had drawn. I told her to throw it away and start again. Nothing’s wrong with that. I’ve thrown away more drawings and art than I could possibly count. She said she had “done too much work to just throw it away” and whined about how she was getting bored with it again.
I realized I needed to take a different tack, and she needed some attention. So, spur of the moment, I suggested we draw together.
THAT was a hit. First of all, it is attention, and all kids love that. Second, it is drawing together, and she loves to draw most of the time. So, we created a “game” that I’m going to try with her at bedtime a few times a week: instead of reading, (which is incredibly valuable), we will try drawing at bedtime, together (equally valuable). And, to take the pressure off trying to make things look REAL, which she is getting picky about, I decided we would draw something totally made-up. MONSTERS. And here are the rules of our game.
1. Both parent and child MUST draw.
2. Both parent and child must use the same media–we chose cheap copy paper and Ticonderoga pencils.
3. The child “designs” the monster–for instance, Sailor decided that our monsters would have 4 eyes. Then, she said they had two arms with three-fingered claws at the end. Big teeth were on her list, and ONE foot. The next go, she said one eye, no arms, batwings for ears, closed mouth with exposed teeth and 3 legs.
4. Don’t peek! Sailor thought it was important to give the drawing parameters (#3) and then not share our drawings WHILE we created. Our goal was to surprise each other with our drawings at the end.
5. Keep it short and simple. I probably went overboard on mine, but we didn’t spend more than 5 minutes on each monster. Setting a timer might be a good idea if either of you tends to labor over things unnecessarily.
6. When you are both done, trade pictures, and praise the child. The child might possibly praise YOU as well–say thank you!
7. Tell each other about your monsters! Name them. Tell about what the monster eats, and where it lives and what its name is–Sailor named one of her monsters Reggie. Sign your drawings as well, and it is helpful to put the date on them.
8. Do it again!
9. Keep the drawings in a file. As you and your child practice more, compare your results to those a year or two ago. It will be very gratifying to see how far you both progress–and you WILL progress if you do it often.
10. All rules are flexible. Change them if it suits you! Instead of monsters, design monster TRUCKS, or rockets, or planets, or food, or whatever. As in all creative pursuits, NOTHING is written in stone, even these rules.
So, I think I will work on this practice with my children more and more. I will try it with my older children later this week during homeschool. I am also going to create a GAME based upon this–for folks who find this a little too “freeform”. Let me work on that.
In the meantime, don’t be afraid to draw with your child. Your child certainly won’t judge you for your efforts, any more than you will judge them. It is process, remember? You are planting the seeds of art in their brains and in their hearts, which could grow into something marvelous. Look at Life of Pi–the folks who created that started somewhere!
Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities. She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end. There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride! You may learn more about Tracy here. You may follow her on Facebook here.