The Keep It Forever Box

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My dad's mother, my Savta, lived in Israel. I didn't see her nearly as often as she wished, but we were in regular contact. We didn't have skype then, or email. We wrote letters to each other. I still remember what her shaky handwriting looked like and the feel of the thin blue airmail paper she always wrote on.

My Savta was a seamstress so she made us lots of clothing. When we were younger, she made us sweaters, skirts and dresses. As we got older, she made us costumes with long trails of fabric hanging from the waistline. We kept all of her clothing in a box. My mother held on to the box and passed it to me when I had children. For Thanksgiving this year, my 5-year old wore an orange sweater that my Savta knit for me when I was five. There's still a little tag on it with my name in her shaky hand writing.

But every time Savta sent us one of her packages, we had to thank her. I joke that there were 3 rules in our house growing up: Empty the dishwasher, clean your room, and write your thank you cards. That's what happens when your mom is an English teacher.

Writing to Savta was hard because she could barely understand English, or at least not teenage American slang. So we had to write to her with extra thoughtfulness. We had to use words that she could look up in a dictionary ("cool" was not one of those words). When I was a kid, that was annoying. The thank-you card writing process to Savta was stressful, if we're being honest. My Dad was so worried she wouldn't understand us that he over-edited what we wrote. We had too much homework to do and TV we'd rather watch. Stamped and sealed we'd drop our letters in the mailbox and feel relieved we were done. They'd sail off across an ocean and we'd never think of them again.

Years later I visited Savta in her small apartment in Tel-Aviv. One day she pulled out a box. In the box was every thank you card I had ever written her. She saved them all. She re-read them when she missed us. They were her treasures.

When you make or write something for someone, it comes from your heart. Yours to theirs. Theirs to yours.

Below are some watercolor cards I illustrated to help you share your heart with someone special. Start by saying thank you. Who's most likely to save it in a box forever?

These are the cards I would have loved as a kid…

Making Thank You Fun Again

Thank You cards designed for kids, by Naava

Thank You cards designed for kids, by Naava

I was in a cafe and I overheard a mom ask her toddler-aged son what Thanksgiving was all about.

Without missing a beat he said, "Winning."

"No," she sighed, like they'd been through this before.

"Losing," he said.

"NO," she said.

"Being-thankful-for-friends-and-family," he recited quickly.

"Yes," she said, relieved. (I was trying not to laugh.)

We've all been there. Standing next to our child as they open a gift and then whispering to them, "What do we say?" and hoping they'll offer a polite, "Thank you".  Pleading with them after a birthday party, "Say thank you for inviting us, say thank you, SAY THANK YOU."

But do we want them to just say they're thankful, or do we want them to mean it?

Ultimately what we really want our kids to know, is that saying thank you is more than good manners. It's a way of making someone else feel really good.

I designed a collection of THANK YOU cards for kids that reflect a child's style of communication. Each design features a shoe as a way of representing a kid's portrait. Each has a version of THANK YOU written on the front as though the child is saying it. The inside of the card is up to your kid.

As the artist, I give your kid full permission to use the inside of these cards to make someone feel special. They can write a kind note, draw a picture, sign their name, or cover it in their favorite stickers. What's important is that they use their own creativity to share how thankful they are.

And that my friends, is winning.

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

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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

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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

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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.