I’ve been working on a new series of figure drawings inspired by the shapes of women and children intertwined. I began noticing how intuitively a woman’s hands, shoulders, fingers and hips know how to support a child. And likewise, the way children’s little limbs and heads nestle and wrap around us so naturally. There’s no roadmap for this, but we all seem to fall into the same shapes. I’ve tried to capture that with a pencil. Let me know what you think.
As I’ve started painting more portraits for families, the reaction I didn’t expect has come from the children themselves.
Originally I was just thinking of the moms. Moms like myself, who would love to have their children’s portrait painted and on display in their home. But what has moved me the most is seeing how it affects the children.
Here is my favorite quote ever from a 5-year old when she saw her portrait:
“I love it so much my heart is bursting out like a star!”
And from a 4-year old, when she saw my portrait of herself in her pink tutu and Spiderman leg warmers:
“My favorite part is how strong and pretty I am!”
At my live-painting event last month, two five-year olds watched me paint, their faces in genuine awe. I’m so grateful for the mom who took this photo, so I could see how they were watching.
I am an artist who paints children and now I am a proud participant in the @KidLit4Climate Art Campaign to show our support for Greta Thunberg and all children walking alongside her. We stand with you.
Greta is a 16-year old girl from Sweden. She was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her relentless commitment to raise awareness for and fight against global warming. She is a new hero for me to show my daughters what it looks like to speak out and fight for change, even if you’re still a kid and even if it's for a cause as big as climate change.
And speaking of speaking out, I’ve also learned that Greta was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, so my family’s support for Greta is particularly personal. We understand what she needed to overcome to reach this level of global awareness.
The #KidLit4Climate campaign was started by illustrator, Emma Reynolds. She writes, "The aim of the #kidlit4climate campaign is to amplify their message. We are the grown ups now, and hopefully we can get other grown ups to listen."
Greta, I was proud to paint your portrait.
Did I ever tell you about the time a Pet Psychic met our dog?
One day, soon after we were married, my husband was taking our dog Shea on a walk through Hoboken. They stopped to wait in line at a cheese shop, as one does. A woman walked past them, stopped and stared back at Shea. She said, "That dog knows she is lucky. She knows what you did for her. She knows you saved her."
Then she said, "That dog has a girl in her life too. A girl with light hair. She loves The Girl. Her job is to take care of The Girl. That dog knows that's her job."
Then she handed him her card. It said: Pet Psychic.
Interpret that any way you want, or not at all. But I know what it did for me and I never forgot that.
Shea, named for the stadium, was interwoven into our love story. Our first date was taking her on a walk through Central Park. Apparently she approved of me. When I painted our wedding invitation, I included her silhouette.
Two years later the first baby came home. Shea protected me with even more urgency. Being home alone with an infant was not the hardest thing I've ever done. But being home alone with an infant and an over-protective dog was. We had to bring in a trainer to work with Shea, just to assure her that I was OK, and that she could relax.
I will say, I didn't have to vacuum much during the stage when babies learn to drop food onto the floor. Shea took care of that for me.
I was looking for photographs of those crazy days but instead I found drawings I had made. Moments I knew a camera would not have caught, but their silhouettes were forever framed in my mind.
Then the second baby came home. I've done a lot of things in my life that I'm proud of. But one of my proudest moments was when I managed to bundle up the newborn in the carriage, button up the toddler in her snow gear, put Shea's leash on, and bring everyone out for a walk after a snowstorm.
The walks we took together were long, even if they were just down the block. We'd pause every few feet for Shea to smell something or claim a tree as her own. Then pause again because a baby needed to look at a rock for ten minutes. "Where's Shea's leash?" I asked every day as we headed out. It was never where it was supposed to be.
When I finally had the energy to start making art again, one of the first pieces I made was this little animation. I remember how fun and cathartic it was to make, and how much this song made me laugh.
This is the sad part of the story. This is when I tell you that last night we had to kiss Shea goodbye for the last time.
There's a whole lot I could share now about the kids; how we told them, how they reacted. The looks on their faces when they understood what was going to happen to their dog. That's indelible on our hearts.
But what really hit us was how much we felt like grown-ups in that moment. We both grew up with animals we loved and had been comforted by our parents during those losses. But tonight, we were "The Mom & Dad" telling their kids that their dog is dying and teaching them how to say goodbye through our own grief.
In the morning my husband texted me a photo he had on his desk at work. It was from a birthday party we were at, in Central Park, ten years ago. We were still dating. We looked younger. We weren't exhausted. And Shea was next to us in the grass. Golden, happy, woven into our lives already, doing her job: Safe with The Boy, and taking care of The Girl.
You could tell there was no where else she'd rather be. And we all looked like we knew, we were so very, very lucky.
I’m totally kidding.
I am not going to do that to you. I am not going to list supplies you need to buy, instructions you need to follow in this exact order, and I am definitely not going to show you what a craft project should look like when it’s done (and if doesn’t look like that then, well, you must not be very good at art.)
Sorry. Not doing it. (Feel free to visit another blog if that’s what you wanted — I hear they’ve listed 10 tips to revitalize your laundry room!)
Here’s what I suggest instead:
Picture your mind like a hallway lined with doors. One of the doors is labeled “CREATIVITY”. In front of that door is a pile of boxes stacked so high you can’t see the doorknob. The boxes are labeled: “I have no time”, “I’m not good at art”, “Mean things my art teacher said to me 30 years ago”, “I don’t have the right paintbrush”, “But what if it’s not perfect?”
You get the idea.
I hope you’re wearing good shoes, because now I’m going to ask you to kick those boxes to the side. Hard. Until they’re not in front of the door anymore. Until you can see the doorknob.
Now open the door.
Welcome to paradise.
You can put all the “HOW TO” articles down because I have good news:
You are already more creative,
as you are,
than you give yourself credit for.
There is no picture I can show you of a snowman made of cotton balls that you could ever recreate. Because you do not create like me. You create like you. You bring something to the art table that no one else has.
Maybe it’s your wit. (Write a funny poem on your family’s holiday card)
Your innate sense of color. (Go nuts wrapping presents in coordinating patterns)
Maybe you’re really good at _________. (Really? You are? Teach me please.)
Whatever it is, I don’t need to tell you. You already know. And you don’t need any more instructions.
If you want to be more creative and inspired, do what you love, and take it one step further. Enjoy the process. Do it with intention. Tell yourself out loud, “I am really good at this,” and let your kids hear you.
In the creativity room, where you’re standing now, we have fun. We are successful, no matter what we make and what it looks like. We laugh at our mistakes and turn them into surprises. We collapse on the floor laughing and say, “Wow, when can we do that again?”
If you pinned the article that says, “This is how to be the perfect creative mother who makes all the perfect crafts that your children will also do perfectly and no one will make a mess,” I’ve already read it. Spoiler: It doesn’t work.
A creative home means things get messy. It means there are 10 markers with mismatched tops. It means we hang our pictures on the wall with washi tape. It means your kids let glue dry on their fingers just so they can peel it off. I swear there was a scissor on the table five minutes ago, but no one can find it anymore.
Spend some time in this place. See how it feels. Then send me a picture of what you made over the holidays that you’re REALLY proud of. I’d love to see it. Whatever it is.