Saturday, February 26, 2011

Think Small!

If the thought of creating art feels daunting because you imagine that you must paint a huge canvas, fill a thick sketchbook, or sew an entire quilt, then I have an art form for you to “try on for size”. I have recently discovered “Inchies,” and thought I would share:

10 Reasons to LOVE Inchies.

1. You can create an inchie in any art form you choose to practice—drawing, collage, watercolor, rubber stamping, chalks, fabric, polymer clay, whatever your medium of choice. Here are some Valentine's Day-inspired collaged inchies:

2. Inchies are a great way to create art daily, even when you are pressed for time. At 1 inch by 1 inch, it doesn’t take long to make an inchie!

3. At 1 inch by 1 inch, there isn’t much point worrying how they turn out. You have only invested a little bit of time and a few resources. If you don’t like one, set it aside and make another! Here are some illustrated inchies, done at the beginning of the year before I set my goal to learn more about drawing. I took images from illustrations I saw other places. Many aren't that great, but, hey, they're only an inch square!

4. Inchies are a fun, small “canvas” or “sketchbook” to practice something you’ve been working on. For example, I used inchies to practice tangles when I started making Zentangles.

5. Inchies are so small that they are a great way to use bits and scraps that you have lying around. Once you start making collaged inchies, you will hesitate to throw ANYTHING away again.

6. An inchie is interesting to look at; a collection of nine, fifteen, or thirty inchies is FASCINATING!

7. Making several related (or, I suppose, unrelated, for that matter) inchies allows you to make other art and crafts projects, like greeting cards, journal pages, and decorated picture frames. I made this card after seeing a blog post by one of my favorites, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, where she used inchies to make Valentine cards.

8. If you draw several 1 inch by 1 inch squares on a piece of paper ahead of time, illustrated inchies make a great art project to do on-the-go; you basically just doodle in the boxes and come away with a whole set of inchies to cut out and use however you choose.

9. Inchies are an art form that even small children can enjoy! This piece, which can officially be called "mixed-media," as it was created with both graphite and ink (that is, pencil and pen!) was created when my 3-year-old saw my page of squares and couldn't resist making her own mark on them!

10. If inchies feel too small, or you want to move on to something new, you can make your squares two-by-two, and you’re making “twinchies”! I haven't tried that size yet; I haven't tired of inchies yet!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Turns Out, I'm Doing This All Wrong!

I consider myself an “artsy-craftsy” mom. I spend quite a bit of time thinking of art projects for my girls, checking out web sites, reading magazines, and looking in library books for new ideas for our almost-daily craft time. My older daughter loves to draw, color, play with Play-Doh, make sticker pictures, create bead necklaces and bracelets, glue pom poms to foam picture frames…you name it, she loves it! My younger daughter is still “coming around” to crafting; mainly, she just likes doing whatever her big sister is doing.

So, imagine my surprise to find out that I’ve been doing this “artsy-craftsy-mom-thing” all wrong! At least according to Susan Striker, an elementary school art teacher and author of Young at Art, a book I recently checked out from the library. Take a look at some of the errors of my crafty ways:

1. My children color in coloring books, and Katy has recently fallen in love with dot-to-dots.

Striker makes this impassioned plea: “Please, never give a child coloring books, dot-to-dot, magic paint with water, or similar anti-art toys” (page 11-12). She goes on to say that “It is through these kinds of art activities that we inadvertently rob children of self-confidence and joy in producing their own work” (page 12).

I had certain misgivings about this when Katy first started coloring. I had read various resources that said it is much better to give children blank paper to draw on rather than making them color in the lines of a drawing someone else had created. It made sense to me, and Katy spent many, many months putting crayon to blank paper. And she didn’t really like it very much. Many of my friends’ kids of the same age didn’t seem to like coloring much either, so I just figured she was a little young for it. But then I gave her a coloring page one day, and she really enjoyed it! She worked at getting the crayon more and more closely within the lines. First, she would choose what colors she wanted the various parts of the picture, and then later, she would color everything in her same favorite colors—all orange, or all purple. She makes all of these choices herself, asks to color when she feels like it, and does plenty of other kinds of art the rest of the time. I’m just not sure I see coloring books as “the enemy” anymore. And the dot-to-dot seems to reinforce numbers and counting, as well as control of the pencil, which seems to me like pretty good preparation for writing.

2. I love finding holiday crafts for my kids to make.

According to Striker, “ is also never helpful to create art for or about holidays. Jack-o-lanterns, turkeys, bells, Santas, trees, [etc, etc] have absolutely no place in the home or in any school program below grade two” (page 12). Earlier she had pointed out that these holiday crafts result in “squelching normal development, perpetuating our mundane stereotypical expressions, and trivializing our feelings for meaningful holidays” (page 5).

Holiday art is kind of the backbone of my home crafting time! The girls make sticker pictures that relate to the holiday or season at hand. They decorated real as well as paper pumpkins with stickers at Halloween, they made star and reindeer ornaments to give to family at Christmas, and they made thumbprint Valentines for their Daddy just a week ago. I use the craft experiences to talk about the significance of the holiday, and values like love, generosity, and thanksgiving. While Striker believes that such activities have “absolutely no place in the home,” they actually play a very big, happy, celebratory (and even educational) role in our home.

3. I encourage my kids to explore and try whatever they want to try with the materials they have during craft time. I am hoping to raise them with my same broad sense of what “creativity” is so that they can celebrate and enjoy all aspects of creative living.
Striker writes, “Let your child know that copying, tracing, and coloring-in adult art are not creative. Copying is cheating…” (page 20).

To damn copying, tracing, and coloring as non-creative cheating seems pretty extreme, counter-productive, narrow-minded, and even cruel. But maybe that’s just me. I think that copying plays a vital role in many artists’ development as they are learning their craft and developing their style. I use recipes to cook, and still feel creative when I do it, but perhaps that seems like non-creative cheating to some people.

4. The girls sit at the breakfast table for craft time, and we have a special vinyl tablecloth as well as aprons made by my mother to set aside the time and space as “special” (and, obviously, to help with clean up!).

Striker insists, “Don’t scold for drawing on unacceptable surfaces. Offer paper and say, ‘Oh good. I see you feel like drawing’” (page 22).

I can guarantee you that if our crayons, or markers, or paint found their way off of the breakfast table and onto the walls, the last thing you will hear me say is “oh good.” I can’t imagine that a parent would not make it abundantly clear that painting on the living room walls is unacceptable and better not ever happen again. Because that’s not a mess I would want to clean up more than once!

Some of the author’s other instructions (without my commentary, so this post doesn’t get too crazy-long):

5. Limit children’s time with puzzles, since they only have one correct answer (page 10).

6. Don’t draw in front of your child because you will have a “devastating effect” of arresting their development (page 12).

7. Paper that is 11”x14” is the smallest size that can be used effectively with young children (page 17).

8. Don’t throw out any of your child’s artwork, or you risk damaging their minds and egos (page 19).

9. Buy a leather-bound book for your child to use every day (page 21).

10. Never encourage your child to participate in art contests or other forms of competition (page 21).

Striker’s ideas for art projects certainly had merit, and she offered some fun art/craft ideas for children’s birthday parties. She had some helpful tips for encouraging children’s creativity in general, and she obviously feels very passionate about giving children opportunities for developing their creativity throughout childhood. I was simply taken aback, as a like-minded mother, to find out that according to her methodology I am going about it all wrong!

What do you think? Am I arresting my children’s development, stunting their creative growth, setting them up for a crushed self-esteem, limiting their potential, and trivializing their feelings? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It Takes One to Tangle

So many of the books I am reading about learning to draw or keeping an art journal say something like this: “You probably drew and doodled all the time on your school papers, and now that you are an adult you find that you doodle on scraps of paper while you talk on the phone or attend long meetings.” Their point being that it is easy to translate these doodles into drawing or art journaling success.

But here’s the problem for me: I’ve NEVER been a doodler! I have always been a copious note-taker, transcribing entire lectures in college to stay awake, and I still cover my church bulletin in sermon points. But it has never occurred to me to cover papers with concentric circles, wavy lines, and curlicues. I feared for my future in drawing. I feared for my possibilities as an art journaler. And then I discovered Zentangles!

There is an Official Zentangle web site (right here), as well as lots of other web sites that give examples and ideas for Zentangles (like this one and this one), so you can try visiting them for the official scoop. But here are the basics:  The “rules” suggest that your design is 3 inches by 3 inches, and that you start by drawing a dot in each of four corners and connecting them to make a square. You then use a pencil to create a string—some sort of swirling line that divides your 3x3 square into sections. In each of the sections you use a black pen to draw some kind of “tangle”—a repeating pattern.

When I first encountered an article about Zentangles, I couldn’t quite get my head around it, and I almost discarded the paper, but a little nagging feeling made me stick it in a file folder instead. A month ago, I pulled out the article, which led me to try my hand at a Zentangle for the first time while my husband and I watched “Iron Man” on T.V.

Here are the first two I came up with:

And then, because Zentangles are clearly addictive, I also made these:

When the movie was over, I showed my husband what I had been doing, and his eyes widened. I loved what he said: “I had no idea you were so talented!” He was actually shocked at how cool my Zentangles looked! And, until you do one, you just don’t realize how easy it is to come up with something that looks completely cool and artistic.

I was soon filling the pages of my notebook with ideas for “tangles” that I got from different web sites, from the book Totally Tangled by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (which I had immediately ordered on Amazon once I started “tangling”), and from pattern ideas I found in other pieces of art, advertisements, and even patterns on clothing.

Creating Zentangles and drawing different patterns for them has given me a great gift: I now know how to doodle! I even doodled on my agenda for a church meeting last week (a strange triumph, but a triumph nonetheless!). I did a Zentangle in a heart as a Valentine for my husband, and since no Valentine is complete without a cheesy punchline, I wrote, “I’m so glad I got ‘tangled’ up with you.”

I am still very much in the beginning stages of making Zentangles and incorporating them into my journal pages. Right now, I just set aside a page once in a while to doodle on when I don’t have the energy or focus to create a more formal journal spread. Here is the page I’ve been doodling on so far this month:


If you’re a doodler, you will totally “get” Zentangles, and if you, like me, have NEVER been a doodler, give it a try. It’s such a pressure-free way to put pen to paper, and create some fun art!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Are My Happy Place

Every holiday, I try to find books or activities that help the girls begin to understand the significance of the holiday.  While I'm not sure that Groundhog's Day made much sense to either of them, they seem to "get" the idea that Valentine's Day is about celebrating love.  One of the books I found at the library was You Are My I Love You by Maryann K. Cusimano.  What a poetic book!  I was hooked by the very first page:
I am your parent;
you are my child.
I am your quiet place;
you are my wild.
As I was gathering the book up with the others to return to the library last night, I got a flash of inspiration to use the structure of the book to write my own poem for my girls.  Here is the poem I wrote for Katy and Bayla; perhaps this will be the start of a Valentine tradition!
I am your Mommy;
you are my little girl.
I am your cozy hold;
you are my tilt-a-whirl.

I am your cup of water;
you are my juice.
I am your please and thank you;
you are my cut loose.

I am your shoes and coat;
you are my racing past.
I am your slow it down;
you are my speeding fast.

I am your shepherd;
you are my sheep.
I am your naptime;
you are my no time for sleep.

I am your right-side-up;
you are my upside-down.
I am your crafting fun;
you are my dance around.

I am your seek;
you are my hide.
I am your safety net;
you are my slide.

I am your hand hold;
you are my climb.
I am your bedtime story;
you are my made-up rhyme.

I am your beaded necklace;
you are my smudgy face.
I am your Mommy nest;
you are my happy place.
Happy Valentine's Day to Katy and Bayla (and to you, too!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Learning to Draw

I’ve never received instruction on how to draw, and I’ve never had the patience to try to teach myself. As I mentioned in a much earlier blog post, I got a book about cartooning when I was a kid, and just traced over the pictures instead of going through the steps to learn how to draw them myself! This year, I am really interested in learning something about drawing, and maybe even getting into a “sketchbook habit.”

To that end, a couple of weeks ago, I checked out several “how to draw” books at the library. The book titles caught the librarian’s eye, and she said kindly, “Oh, is someone trying to learn to draw?” I said, “Mmmm-hmmm.” And just as I was weighing whether I should explain that it was ME, she added, “A little one at home? That’s nice,” and continued scanning the books.

I have thought a lot about her comment, and all that it implies. I think many people might figure, “Geez, Lady, you’re pushing 40; if you haven’t learned how to draw yet, it’s probably not going to happen.” I think other people think of drawing as something kids do, as a form of child’s play. After all, don’t I have bigger responsibilities to attend to, more “important” matters to conduct than trying to get the angle of a jaw or the shading of a nose to reflect reality a little more closely?

I like the idea that drawing—even thinking about drawing—is making me look at things more closely. I am amazed by the shadows I notice on people’s faces, now that I’m considering what it would take for me to draw them. I’m also amazed by how so many people have features in real life that would look like a really bad drawing if you saw them on paper! (That sounds mean, but I really just mean that no one actually has perfect proportions, flawless skin, “textbook” eyebrows, that sort of thing.)

I am noticing inanimate objects in my daily life that have a significance that usually goes unrecognized, but I am taking note now as I think about how I might portray them in a sketch book:  the oh-so-precious morning cup of coffee, the box of tissue now in heavy rotation in our household, a bottle of nail polish, the sippy cup, the wooden Noah’s Ark.

My cat is getting greater attention as I wonder if I could capture that crazy pose she adopts during her morning lick-fest, her steely gaze when the girls descend upon her from opposite ends of the sofa, her evident sense of entitlement as she settles down on the warm seat I’ve just vacated.

I’ve made very, very few efforts to capture these bits and pieces of life in my sketchbook yet. Right now I am looking at the pictures in my drawing books, recreating the drawings others have done before me, trying to gain some confidence before I “draw from life”.

I am new to all of this—in a way, it does make me a child again, encountering something new and jumping in feet first to see what I can make of it. Maybe the librarian was not so far off after all, conjecturing that there was “a little one at home” interested in learning to draw. It just so happens the “little one” resides inside a grown-up’s body!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The other day Katy looked into our dining room, and cried out in anguish, “Mommy, my sticker picture is in the recycling bin! Why is it in the recycling bin?!” Busted! Katy caught me tossing out some of her art. I pulled it out with little explanation, saying something brightly like, “Oh, I don’t know, honey. Would you like it?”

Another time she asked me for her “light bulb picture”—another sticker picture, made in Sunday school. I hemmed and hawed, sure that one had seen the bottom of the recycling bin, too. But I checked the file folder where I save some of her work, and breathed a huge sigh of relief to find it there. Her face lit up with relief when she saw it, too! Whew! She carried it around and talked about it for the rest of the day, even adding some drawings to it.

I do not save every picture Katy draws or colors. I do not save every tape picture, sticker picture, button picture, cotton ball picture. How do I decide? I try to keep anything that she has shown a great interest in—carried around for days, asked for a couple days later, that sort of thing. I usually keep a first: first crayon drawing, first pen drawing, first time the scribbles started looking like shapes. I keep things that I think show interesting development, as when Katy wrote two different kinds of lines, and called one “writing” and one “drawing”, and again when she called one a “story” and one a “list”; I find those fascinating and worth saving. I haven’t saved much she has done in preschool because she has shown little interest in these pieces, hasn’t wanted me to hang them up, and hasn’t wanted to carry them around, as she often does with things she really likes. (My suspicion is that the teachers do more of the work on these projects than she does, so she doesn't care about them too much.) I don’t have a tried-and-true set of criteria for making the decision; I just want to have a sampling of her work from her early years.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to New York Times article from January 26, entitled “Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic,” about mothers who are no longer allowing their children’s art to take over the house, choosing instead to throw it out. One mother of a preschooler is quoted as saying, “It’s my job to avoid raising a hoarder, and I’m leading by example.” She says her child does an average of two to four crayon drawings a day, so it’s pretty unrealistic that she could try to save every one. (She also mentions that her child sometimes fishes pieces out of the trash, and she then throws them away again!) The article compares “keepers” to “chuckers.” As with so many other things in my life, I try to inhabit some region between the two. The world does not revolve around my children, and my house does not exist for them alone to the exclusion of the two adults who live with them. At the same time, I don’t want them to think that their work is worthless, literally garbage.

I’ve read many, many household organizing books which deal with the subject of containing children’s artwork. Almost universally they recommend sitting down with your child at the end of the school year to go through the “collected works,” letting your child help you make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. Katy is a little young for that. She wouldn’t really understand the decision I was asking her to make, and as soon as she saw ANYTHING again, it would become a “keeper.” I’m pretty sure that whole approach would be counter-productive at her age. At this point, I just try to “read” her signals, and then make my decisions accordingly. And when I do toss something, I do it at night when she’s in bed, and push it down in the can or bin where she can’t see it the next day! Is that cowardly? Is that dishonest? I really don’t know, but it’s what I do.

So, what about you? Are you a “keeper” or a “chucker”? Do you keep everything your child produces, or do you have a system for thinning the stash to reasonable proportions? Am I flirting with creative destruction by tossing some of my kids’ work on the sly? I’m still a “new mom” in this particular area of parenting, so educate me, please!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Getting Back on Track

Do you ever have those days that you just wish would be OVER? They are so off-track that you are pretty sure the only solution is to give up and start over tomorrow? That’s the sort of day I’m having today. When the clock read only 7:30 a.m., I had already yelled at my daughters, and they were engaged in a “cry-off,” competing for loudest sobs. Instead of a "hello," Katy had begun the day fussing that she didn’t want her sister’s “lovies” in the room when we came in to get her out of bed. Then Bayla wanted milk, but not in THAT cup. Then Katy wanted a red outline of her handprint, but not with THAT red crayon. It was all just ridiculous. I quickly determined that trying to please them was not the path to success this day, so I changed directions completely. While Bayla ate her breakfast and Katy watched with interest, I pulled out my paper and paints, and set to creating background papers for my journal. The paint calmed me and calmed Katy, and breakfast calmed Bayla. By 8 a.m., I thought our day was back on track, thanks to a little Art Time for Mommy.

Of course, real life is never so simple and neat as that, and there have been plenty more rough spots today, even though it’s only noon. But every little step towards peace and getting back on track helps until I can start over again tomorrow!

Here are some of the papers I painted to use as backgrounds in my journal:

Here is an example of what a background paper might look like in a finished journal entry. (I made this entry on the first day of this month.):

And here is my journal entry from yesterday (cut off at the bottom), which reflects how I continue to feel today!:

So how do YOU do it? How do you get the day back on track, or just get through a day that you wish would END now, even though there are hours left to get through? (I have the feeling I'll need some more strategies to make it to 10 o'clock!)