Why Your Child Thinks They Aren't Good At Art (And how to change their mind)

Naava Katz - Why Your Child Thinks They Aren't Good At Art.jpg

At the beginning of every school year, when I faced my elementary-aged students, one child would always raise their hand and say, "Just so you know, Ms. Katz, I'm not good at art."

Of course my goal was to convince them otherwise. But then I started wondering WHY they believed that.

Kids are often expected to make art that looks exactly like everyone else’s. This happens when lesson plans are product-focused, which means the emphasis is on the final image. It can begin with a teacher holding up a thing they saw on Pinterest and announcing, “This is what we’re going to make today.” The child’s success is then determined by whether they could make that thing. This is where the frustration begins.

Not every child creates in the same way. Some kids love to paint, others love to construct. Some kids have rich imaginations, others are keenly observant. If we don't support our children's creative differences, they will believe that when their art looks different, then they aren't good at art.

"Process art" however, is when art education is based on experimentation and exploration. It’s a way to celebrate all creative results. Instead of saying, “Today we are making this snowman” a teacher can say, “Today we are going to make art about winter” and then discuss with the kids what that brings up for them. Instead of saying, "This is what we are going to make," it helps to say, "Let's see what happens when we try this." It’s a tone that is both inviting and suspenseful.

A child being led through product-focused art will likely say, "I'm done" when they’ve made the expected result. But a child engaged in process-driven art will often ask, "Can I make another one?" because there’s always something new to discover on the page.

 There are so many different ways to make art.

There are so many different ways to make art.

Assessment during process-driven art education is based on the child's engagement with the theme, creative use of materials, collaborations with peers, and participation in class discussions.

Setting parameters that help a child reach certain learning goals is ideal (such as how to mix color or vary lines) but ultimately the child is the artist. Unexpected outcomes are a sign that real exploration occurred.

As a professional artist, I'm happy to admit that for every drawing I share with the world, there are pages of sketches that I don't. Everyday I challenge myself as an artist. I experiment and make decisions and erase and redraw and observe and push through. The end product that the world sees is a result of my process. My commitment to the process is what makes me an artist. 

How I turn a sketch into a finished watercolor

When I'm working on a new illustration, the first thing I do is draw a rough sketch of the figures and the layout. For this drawing I used a photograph of mine as a reference. It helps me get the right perspective. My favorite pencil is a 6B because it flows so smoothly on the paper. My favorite paper is Strathmore Hot Press watercolor paper. I like that it has a smooth finish, which makes it easier to scan into Photoshop without added texture.

The next step is adding details. I figure out character expressions, clothing patterns, and environmental details. I use my super skinny Tombow eraser to remove some sketchy lines and start establishing a cleaner look.

Then I add watercolor. For professional use I like Schmincke and Winsor & Newton. I obsessed for months about what brand I liked, and then finally realized it didn't matter. It's all about how you use color to tell your story. If you pay attention on Instagram, you'll see a lot of top artists use very inexpensive watercolor sets. But that doesn't diminish the quality of their work.

 Expensive and not-so expensive watercolor palettes.

Expensive and not-so expensive watercolor palettes.

Finally I scan my drawings into Photoshop and clean up unnecessary smudges with Levels. I scan my favorite drawings at 300dpi in case I want to create prints of them down the line.

Let me know if you have any other questions about my process and favorite materials.

4 Talented Kids You Need To Follow On Instagram

These 4 incredible kids (along with their parents) are using social media in creative ways and inspiring others to do the same. They're all talented, smart and kind. And P.S. They're all girls. Want to meet them?

Meet Mayhem


Mayhem is a 6-year old with endless creativity. When she was four, she started designing beautiful dresses for herself out of paper. Her mother took photographs of her wearing them and shared them on Instagram. Soon everyone was talking about Mayhem and her paper dresses. She was featured by Vogue and was asked to design real clothing with J. Crew. Through it all, her parents have supported her passion with humor, love, and guidance. Mayhem continues to inspire creativity on Instagram daily. She and her parents partnered with @nothingbutnetsofficial to raise funds to protect kids from malaria. To get the word out, Mayhem designed a dress (see my portrait above) made out of blue bed-netting that can protect kids from deadly mosquitoes.

Meet Rayssa

Naava Katz - Rayssa Leal Skatergirl

Rayssa is an 8-year old skateboarder from Brazil. In 2015 a video was shared on social media of Rayssa doing a trick while wearing a blue tutu made by her grandmother. She fell a few times, but when she put on her fairy wings, she nailed it. The video went viral and Rayssa was hailed as the new symbol of girl power. Rayssa recently helped carry the Rio Olympic torch and was able to raise funds to renovate her local skate park. She still shares videos of herself doing tricks with her skateboard and inspires kids to believe in their dreams. Rayssa hopes to one day compete in the Olympics.

Meet Josephine

Josephine is a 7-year old artist with a prolific talent. She LOVES to draw. Her images are filled with ball gowns, royal crowns, and always a girl with a smile. Josephine was also born with EDS, a disorder that often makes it very painful for her to move her joints. For weeks on end, sometimes drawing is the only thing she has the strength to do. But Josephine is a shining example of how art can empower even in the face of unyielding struggle. Ever since her mother started sharing her art on Instagram, Josephine has become an inspiration to everyone who follows her. She is an artist-in-residence at Arizona Young Arts Foundation and her art has been in galleries throughout Phoenix. When you buy prints of her art all proceeds go towards helping her family care for her long-term health needs.

Heaven is a dancer. We know this because she told us so when she was on Ellen. We also know this because when the music starts, Heaven's smile widens, her eyes light up, and her talent takes off well beyond her years. When she was two, her mother Tianne, a professional dancer, filmed the two of them dancing to Beyoncé. Their video went viral and the world was captivated by this little girl's natural ability. Heaven is now 5-years old and she still shares her joy for dance on Instagram with her mother by her side. The inspiring duo choreograph music videos, film national commercials and teach dance classes to kids around New York City. Tianne's words echo true for every mom: "Find what it is that your kids enjoy and encourage them to be great at it!"

Do you know a talented kid using social media in a positive way? Let us know in the comments.

An Illustrated Gift Guide for Baby Number 2

When it's time to have your second baby, you naturally reflect on what you learned from your first.


My first child had baskets of hats I bought for her before she was even born. How could I resist? Little bunny ears, fluffy pom poms. All adorable. All impossible to keep on her head. I put them on, she pulled them off. Old ladies on the street would inevitably yell at me, "Your baby is cold! Put a hat on her!" 

Lesson learned: For my second child, I only used hats that closed around her chin and wrapped over her ears. They stayed on, they kept her warm, and old ladies stopped yelling at me.

 Baby in her knit hat: Embroidery and illustration

Baby in her knit hat: Embroidery and illustration


It was very exciting when my first baby sat in her big, fluffy high chair. It was also very messy. I'd haul the high chair into the shower after a meal and spray it down, scraping all the dry cereal out of the corners. Then I'd drag it back into the kitchen, where it took up lots of valuable kitchen real estate.

Lesson Learned: For my second baby I used the Fisher-Price Booster Seat. It strapped onto our dining room chairs and pulled up to our table so she could eat with us. It was light weight and easy to wipe down with a paper towel. Best of all, I didnt't have a "baby throne" in the middle of the kitchen anymore. 

 Peas for dinner in our favorite  Fisher Price Booster Seat

Peas for dinner in our favorite Fisher Price Booster Seat


I had two winter babies, so I was always trying to keep them warm. But hats fell off. Socks disappeared. Sweaters rolled up their bellies.

Lesson Learned: Many onesies leave their legs bare, or have dozens of buttons (not good for 1:00 am diaper changes). So when I found onesies that were warm and practical, I collected them in every color. 

 Warm arms and legs = Longer naps

Warm arms and legs = Longer naps

Lesson Learned: Products that make life easier are the secrets to a mother's sanity. Even if it doesn’t have a bow on it.

What tricks did you learn with your second that you wish you had known with your first? 

Making Time For Art When You're A New Mom (4 simple tips)

Before I had children, if I had an idea for an illustration, I could dash into my home office and start working on it right away. I could stay up until two in the morning if I wanted, just to work on my art.

Then I had children. My office turned into the nursery. I couldn’t stay awake past 10 pm if I wanted to. There was no time for art just for art's sake, and I questioned whether it was something I should be making time for anyway. But here's what I learned:

If you are an artist, and you remove art-making from your routine entirely, you may be neglecting a big part of your best self.

I realized my approach to art-making was going to have to shift. I set out to find solutions to balance my creative life with this new, wonderful (also hectic, messy, sleepless) life that I had as a mother.

 Wherever nap happened, art happened.

Wherever nap happened, art happened.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Make a traveling studio

I filled a small backpack with my most essential drawing supplies. Wherever my infant fell asleep for a nap, I pulled out the backpack and spread out next to her. Some days I threw my backpack in the front seat of the car. If the kids fell asleep in their car seats after a day in the park, instead of sitting in the car and waiting until they woke up, I opened my travel notebook and began drawing.

2. Set quick timelines and limited colors

I started working smaller and faster. I set my alarm so I knew what time to put down the pencil no matter what. Narrowing down supplies and pre-picking a small palette of colors actually made me more focused.

 Sketching out ideas for an illustration on a post-it in the car.

Sketching out ideas for an illustration on a post-it in the car.

3. Create an Art To-Do list

Just because I had morphed into a busy new mom didn't mean creative ideas stopped coming to me. So in addition to my shopping list, I started an “Art To-Do List”. Any time I had an idea for a new drawing, I added it to the list.

Writing down my ideas gave them value, and that felt good.

Later I would scroll through the list to see what I really wanted to make. A lot of things never got made, and that was OK. But if an idea was important to me, I found the time to see it through (and sometimes I made it in the car!).

4. Create with your kids by your side

Spread out paper and supplies and start drawing next to your child. Chances are they are going to want to participate. Don’t worry about an end goal. Just draw. Let your lines overlap with theirs. Let them pick colors for you. Talk about the drawing out loud. You may be surprised to find how freeing it is for you, and how fun it is for them. And if you’re lucky, you just gained a half hour of creativity time alongside your favorite little person.

 During a hot summer day with our cousins, I spread out a tin of crayons on the kitchen table. Everyone happily drew together and I rediscovered how fun crayons are!

During a hot summer day with our cousins, I spread out a tin of crayons on the kitchen table. Everyone happily drew together and I rediscovered how fun crayons are!

Maybe you can’t make everything at the speed and the volume that you used to. But if you use that as an excuse to stop producing entirely, you’ll end up feeling empty. 


Through your example, your children will learn that art can exist wherever we are, and with whatever material we can find. And you never know, they might be the one to inspire your next great big idea.

Do you know what it feels like to crave more personal art time? Let me know if you've found solutions that work for you.