Here is how I think art works: If you’re depressed, draw a picture of Batman depressed. You’re still depressed, but now you have a picture of Batman.
My son Jules woke up on Christmas last year and started drawing. He was 2. (His birthday is in March.)
Inspired by Sylvia Fein’s book Heidi’s Horse, which collects her daughters drawings from toddler to teenage years, I thought it’d be interesting to see how his drawings developed over the next 12 months.
From the very beginning, he has had unlimited, unrestricted access to markers and paper. From the very beginning, he has often drawn for over an hour, becoming extremely angry if we interrupt him. Here is a batch of skeletons — his great subject!
Here are some skeletons he drew on our outdoor couch cushions with sidewalk chalk.
They were so good we couldn’t bear to clean them off, so my wife got out her sewing machine and embroidered them. (This is how Jules got on Boing Boing’d at age 3.)
Here he is drawing along to Super Simple Draw in a hotel room.
Here’s a robot copied from Super Simple Draw. (Later in the year he would become fond of Ed Emberley books.)
Here he is in April, drawing along to Kraftwerk videos while singing “Man Machine” at the top of his lungs.
In May, he started drawing his favorite nursery rhymes. (Here are Jack & Jill.)
His drawings got incredibly gestural and emotional around this time.
Here he is copying Mo Willems’ pigeon. (Here’s his brother’s blog post about it.)
Later in the month, he drew our family as skeletons at the pool. I became fascinated by how he would draw people in his life using the moves he picked up drawing other characters.
Here’s another drawing of us in the pool.
Here he is with his brother drawing side by side.
July was also the month he got obsessed with The Scream.
Here’s a drawing he made after going to the dentist.
He also started drawing the characters from a Coco coloring book, even though he still refuses to watch the movie again, and screams whenever I mention it. (When you draw things, you’re in control of them.)
He also started drawing the human body.
Here is a photo of our kitchen floor on a day in September, to give you an idea of what one day’s worth of drawings looked like.
My wife and I would sweep them up with a broom at the end of the day.
This is around the time I got so fed up with the boys one afternoon I made the (extremely questionable) decision to read them Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. (He can now draw the whole book from memory.)
Drawings of musicians — his other great subject!
A drawing from life made while waiting for his brother to finish art class at Laguna Gloria.
Finally, here he is on December 30, a year and 5 days after picking up his marker, drawing along to YouTube videos of Orchestras playing Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.”
I find it remarkable, at this point, how drawing for him still has nothing to do with the results. He does not care what you do with his drawings after he’s done making them. How he draws is intense and adorable at the same time: he will put down a few lines, and then stand back and shake while he admires them.
I find it endlessly fascinating watching him draw. And inspiring.
Jerry Saltz, in “How To Be An Artist”:
As artist Laurel Nakadate has observed, being a parent is already very much like being an artist. It means always lugging things around, living in chaos, doing things that are mysterious or impossible or scary. As with art, children can drive you crazy all day, make you wish all this could go away. Then in a single second, at any point, you are redeemed with a moment of intense, transformative love.
I like this version, too::
“Art and kids are very similar: You have to lug stuff around, your home is always a mess, you never know what’s coming next, you are horrified by what you’ve done, and then you’re redeemed by a burst of transformative love.”
He explained in a tweet thread:
i take “the dictation of the materials” to mean that there are things that certain forms or tools “like” to do more than other things. certain kinds of mediums make for certain kinds of drawings, a picture book format makes for certain kinds of stories (loosely speaking).
being able to analyze what the materials WANT to do is such a huge part making anything & seems like rather than getting kids to specifically write something or draw something, getting them to think about that is way more broadly useful.
because you end up applying it yourself. you are a material with strengths and weaknesses. being able to look at what you’re working with objectively and decide what to make based on that is such a huge part of this job, at least it has been for me.
(relating to getting kids writing/drawing, materials give parameters. like giving them only a black marker means they might start thinking about drawings that only need that – what picture does that marker WANT to make? now they are solving a problem instead of “draw something!”)
(where that applies to writing, for me, was the absence of narration. i don’t know what to do with it, so i’m left with dialogue. what do stories with visuals and only dialogue WANT to do? they want to be about lying a lot, apparently.)
I’ve written a lot more about Albers and her idea of materials dictating the work in my previous post, “Materials, man.” (For more on materials and kids making stuff, check out “On Chuck Jones, Parenting, and Art Supplies.”)
This morning I browsed the Austin Public Library’s fantastic zine collection (highlights: Nathaniel Russell’s Fliers and Jillian Barthold’s Scenes From Big Bend) and this afternoon the 5-year-old and I made a zine using Bruno Munari’s Plus and Minus transparencies that I picked up in Milan last year and lines from the APL’s events flier. Pretty fun day.
I complained to my 5-year-old that I didn’t feel like blogging today.
“Could you write down what you know about the world and I’ll put it on my website?”
He wrote down four sentences.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s it!” he said.
So we added his words to a drawing by his 2-year-old brother.
“New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities.”
—Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By
The 4.99-year-old has never been completely in touch with his body.
It seems to help him to think of himself as a machine: When he was obsessed with combustion engines, we’d use the four-stroke cycle as a metaphor to get him to poop, as in, “Okay, you ate dinner, that was the intake stroke, now it’s time for your exhaust stroke.” (Don’t ask me about the compression and power strokes.)
Now he’s going through a major robot phase, so he pretends to be a robot, and when he wants attention or affection he’ll ask us to “open up his panel” and fix his electronics. In the morning, he’ll say, “My battery was really low last night, but now I’m recharged.”
A few days ago, we had the boys all strapped into their seats and car wouldn’t start. My wife discovered that one of them had switched the dome light to ON and it had slowly drained the battery.
I’d never jumped a car before. I learned that there’s an order to which you connect the jumper cables. (BGGB: Bad +, good +, good -, block.) Once you get the car started, if the battery’s still good, you have to drive the car for a while in order for it to recharge.
This seemed like a decent enough metaphor: If your internal battery’s dead, you can jump it with a healthy battery, say, a friend, or a book, or a movie, etc., but then that battery can’t do all the work for you. You have to do the work of staying in motion, get things back up to a healthy level. You need gas, good tires…
See, all metaphors can only go so far. Best of all, I think, is getting beyond the metaphor completely, if that’s possible. Being a human in your body.
No batteries, just a renewable energy.