How to encourage your kid to draw

How to encourage your kid to draw

even if you don’t know how yourself!

In Seattle, we are looking at another remote school year. Many parents I know are looking for fun, educational activities for their kids that are not on screens. Art is perfect because it is simply creative play that just so happens to touch on quite a bit of learning.

So, how do you encourage your child to draw? The short answer? You draw with them! It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Just keep it simple and fun. Read on for some tips from an art teacher …..

Direct drawing is the method that shows step by step how to draw something using simple shapes. There are lots of books and videos using direct drawing and it’s worth a search to find something that really sparks your child’s interest. (On that point, let them draw what they want!)

Instead of trying to guess what they are drawing, say something like, “Wow, you are putting in a lot of detail! Can you tell me about your drawing?” It’s discouraging when someone tries to guess what you are drawing, and guesses wrong. Creative process shut down. Art teachers all make that mistake exactly once and then never again try to guess what a student is drawing.

Half Skeletons by Tyler age 5

When my son showed me this drawing, I was thinking of surrealism and Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, but I’m glad I didn’t say that because my association has nothing to do with the artist’s intent. He was drawing half skeletons of a person, dog, and cat. Of course! Creepy, but cool.

If kiddo wants to draw something specific, put a picture in front of them. It’s really hard (even for artists!) to pull from memory what a warthog looks like. But if you look at a picture of a warthog, you can start to see the shapes and proportions. Looking at a picture is not cheating, it’s a visual reference.

Here Tyler is looking at a globe to draw the continents. I didn’t suggest that he use a globe – we’ve just been using visual references since he started drawing, so it has naturally become a part of his process.

Map of earth by Tyler age 5

When I’m drawing with children, I will sometimes intentionally make a “mistake” so that they can see how I work through it. I will say, “Oh, gosh, I made that circle too big. I accidentally drew Mercury bigger than Mars! What should I do?” And together, we brainstorm solutions to the problem. If I can’t erase it, I can make all the other circles bigger in comparison. I can paint over it. I can glue a small piece of paper over my circle and try again. I can turn it into a collage. What else can I try? My son loves to help me work through challenges in my artworks.

Solar System by Tyler age 5, acrylic on foam core

This is the hardest one: Do not say “I can’t draw.” Anyone who can hold a pencil can draw. You can say, “I would like to get better at drawing. The way to get better is to practice. I like making art with you. It’s fun!”

Pluto Will Not be Forgotten by Tyler age 5

In art education, we often say process over product. What this means is that the goal is not a beautiful product. The goal is to find that feeling of awe and wonder when you create.

Let go of perfection – it doesn’t matter what anyone’s artwork looks like. If you have fun, that’s what your child will remember.

New work and woodblock collage class at Garden Essentia

Here is a preview of some of my new work that is currently on display at Garden Essentia.  Stop by the gallery to check it out!


Over the weekend, I taught these techniques at a woodblock collage class at Garden Essentia.  What a fun group!  Everyone made something totally unique, and I was blown away by the results.  I can’t wait for the next workshop on June 13!  If you missed it, register early because this one filled up fast.  Online registration opens soon on the Garden Essentia website.

DSC_4312 DSC_4346 DSC_4345 DSC_4344 DSC_4343 DSC_4342 DSC_4341 DSC_4337 DSC_4338 DSC_4340 DSC_4326 DSC_4324 DSC_4321 DSC_4318 DSC_4317 DSC_4315   Photo credit: Colette Highberger

Hero’s Journey photos: An artist residency with the EMP and Seattle Public Schools

AdamsEMPIf you could write a fantasy novel, who would your hero be?  If you could create a model of your character out of clay and found objects, what would she look like?  These marvelous sculptures are the work of a 5th grade class, who did that very thing.

AdamsEMP2They wrote a fantasy story from first person perspective, narrated by their main character.  Then, over the course of one week of art classes, they sketched and created a 3-d model of their character using clay and mixed media.  They also had the opportunity to construct a stand or platform and tools or accessories for their character using scrap wood and found objects.

This program is a collaboration between the EMP and Seattle Public Schools, connecting the arts to core curricula.  To learn more about this program, please see my earlier post Hero’s Journey.



Thank you to the Experience Learning Community Foundation for funding the arts in public schools.AdamsEMP5.2 AdamsEMP6

Hero’s Journey: An Artist Residency with the EMP

EMPI’m excited to be working with the Experience Music Project this year as Artist-in-Residence, in the Curriculum connections program, doing outreach with schools.

The EMP is an adventure in inspiration.  Their curators blend art, music, and technology in innovative, interactive exhibits that invite museum visitors to “play.”  Many of the exhibits delve so deeply into a topic, you could spend a couple/few hours exploring one thing.EMP_1

I especially enjoyed seeing the Hendrix exhibit.


Icons of Science FictionIcons of Science Fiction is pretty cool too.

Fantasy Worlds of Myth and MagicI am working with the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit, and connecting exhibit content to literacy/creative writing through visual art.  (*The program serves students in grades 5 – 12.)  My first session was with a 5th grade class.  Students had been writing fantasy stories, creating characters, and mapping their imaginary worlds, like Tolkien with Middle Earth or Terry Brooks with Shannara.

middle earth mapmixed media art dollWe worked on character development through drawing and sculpture, and over the course of 5 art classes in a week, they created storyboards, character studies, and a 3-d model of their main character and narrator of the story.

I decided my character here needs a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen to complete her Hero’s Journey.  Who would your hero be?

A huge bonus in teaching with the EMP is that the staff photographer is scheduled to come photograph the students’ work so that when the class visits the museum, photos of their artworks will be projected onto the Sky Church Screen.  What a cool experience for the kids!

Thank you to the Experience Learning Community Foundation for funding the arts in public schools.

time travel passports

timetravelpassport5As part of our Kids Create travel-themed art series, we created time-travel passports using old Altoid-type tins as a base.

Students started by imagining where they would like to go – anywhere in the world or universe, any time period, past, present or future.  Some children chose to illustrate trips to real places they have been with their families, and of course some children chose to create from their imaginations.  After sketching some scenes from these trips, the students were ready to decorate their tins.timetravelpassport2

timetravelpassport1We took a picture of each child, and created small passport books that would go inside the box.

Every child made a stamp, representing a country (or planet, or …. )  All of the children’s stamps were available to be used at the stamping station, and kids were invited a few at a time to stamp in their passport books, using stamps made by everyone in the class.

timetravelpassport3   timetravelpassport4

timetravelpassport6Students were also encouraged to create small treasures and souvenirs to keep inside the box.

To see our other travel-themed projects from this series, check out duct tape luggage, and watercolor travel journals.

Happy travels and adventures in art!


Recycled robots at Kent Kids Art Day 2013

robot2What could be better than making stuff out of junk and duct tape?

Dumpster diving divas Nadine and Nicole were back at Kent Kids Art Day with Recycled Robots, and we brought everything AND the kitchen sink ….




Every child left with a unique work of art.


Thank you to the City of Kent for sponsoring public art in the community, and to ReStore and Earthwise Architectural Salvage for the hook ups!

transcending the dreaded artist statement

birdframeIf making art isn’t hard enough, writing about it is even more difficult. I find the artist statement elusive and intimidating as I struggle to put into words the multitude of messages that can be read in layers of imagery.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, as I was writing my artist statement for the upcoming “Plumage” show, it launched my work in a new direction.  Usually it’s been the opposite for me.  I make the work, and then struggle to find words to describe it.  This time, I wrote first and created second.

At first, I was writing about some older pieces that I was thinking of showing, but then when the artist statement was complete, in addition to describing the earlier “blue” series, it was also describing some works that did not exist yet.  I’ve been in the studio every minute I can, ever since, trying to create what I can see in my imagination, what I feel in my heart.  The work is not there yet, but I am standing on the precipice of a new doorway, filled with light, exploring new themes such as landscape and surrealism, with all its’ inherent symbolism and layers of meaning.

Below is an exerpt from the statement that launched this new series.  The wonder of art is that it can have different meanings for different people.  I’m not including the artist statement in it’s entirety because I want you to find your own meaning in the work.  You can read my statement at the opening for the Plumage show April 19 at Gallery 4500.

thebestschoolsPlumage Show Artist Statement, Spring 2013

Birds represent passages to me.  Flight reminds us of transitions, a change of seasons, a turning of time….


how altering books keeps me from burning my canvases

My altered books are a springboard to greater projects.  I don’t know how many books I’m working on at any given time.  I don’t know if/when they are finished.  I just know that they are an essential part of my artistic process.  Art journaling is my unleashing activity, my creative catalyst.

A canvas, however, feels riskier.  It’s on an easel.  It’s white.  Or even if it’s not white, I paid money for it, and it has a certain intimidating stature.  It probably has a deadline attached to it, will require a title and a dreaded artist statement to be written about it, and all that pressure is a certain way to shut down the creative process.

In contrast, the art book was free.  It is not for exhibit, not for sale, not under time constraints, unhindered by theme, and so the work comes entirely from the heart and the creative soul.  It needs no title or artist statement.  I can burn it if I want to.  But usually, the altered books turn out wonderfully, and it is the canvas that I want to burn.

Here are a few recent altered book layouts …

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You are seeing them in-progress, as I will add more color to this one, and a bit of fabric to that one, paint over the top of another, and so on.  Mixed media is an ever-evolving artistic process that wanders and weaves its’ way through.  My job as artist is to keep pushing and challenging myself until I see something wonderful and amazing start to happen.  Half the art is the making; the other half is knowing when to stop.

Now back to those canvases …


TWO Art Shows and the Courage to “Take it to the Second Floor”


TWO art exhibits in the same week?!  It’s all because I agreed to be interviewed for a doctoral dissertation on the need for courage in creative work.  Sigh.  Now that I’ve gone on record exploring this idea, I guess I can’t let fear get in my way.

In 2011, I was approached by Sibel Golden, Ph.D, LMHC, a (then) doctoral candidate in psychology who was writing her thesis on the role that courage plays in creative work.  I am one of three artists she interviewed for her thesis.  She has been to my studio, seen my work, knows my walls are filled with art.   How could I be the subject of a doctoral thesis on courage in creativity, but allow fear to keep me from hanging my work in her office?

Then another opportunity fell in my lap to hang some work in the West Seattle Artwalk.  I looked around my studio, wondered if it was enough for two shows, and thought “Oh well, I’ll just hang up some of the artwork that’s hanging around my house.”  No biggie.  Since we’re talking about courage, what excuses do I really have?

Is it finished?  Not even close!    wewilltakeflight

In my recent work, I’ve been challenging myself to push beyond the place where I usually stop, inspired by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, a mixed media artist in New York City.  I’d been following her “Take it to the Second Floor” challenge, an invitation I felt personally compelled to respond to in my current defiance of fear and the safety of my comfort zone.  For the past few weeks, I’ve taken down most of the work from the walls of my home, and pulled works out of storage I haven’t looked at in years.  I’m looking at it with fresh eyes, and working over the top of varnish in many cases, transforming pieces that had been “finished” years ago.

Ms. Fei-Fan Balzer’s prolific production and courage to share is an inspiration.  She makes art and shares her work every day.  While I’m nowhere near as frequent a blogger as she is, her energy and enthusiasm for the creative process often propel me to my art table and easel where I can play, create, and make a mess without fear.  Now if only I can be as courageous and enthusiastic about putting my work out there as she is.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”  – Scott Adams

Art show details:

West Seattle Artwalk – December 13 – Better Builders, 4800 SW California Ave, Seattle, WA  98116  (December 13, 2012 – January 8, 2013)

Blakely Wellness Center, 2901 NE Blakeley St. Ste 3B, Seattle, WA 98105  (December 16 – indefinitely)

Come artwalk with me on Thursday night!

fiber art books

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I have never sewed with children before, and I must admit, there is a reason I have chosen many other art projects that do not involve giving needles to children.  However, I’ve been assured repeatedly by enthusiastic and capable colleagues that children as young as 5 can sew.

We used a simple straight stitch to sew the binding.  Most kids got it, although almost everyone (including my high school helper!) needed help tying knots.  Once we got through straightening out the folks who were all tangled up in knots, students started sketching and cutting out their shapes and gluing them into their books.  I recommend Tacky glue, as some other white glue does not want to glue felt to felt.

One helpful trick that my teaching partner Nadine Smith thought of was to prepare some fabrics with pellon, or iron-on fusible web adhesive.   We ironed scraps of fabric onto pellon to give a stiff backing that is easier for kids to cut than flimsy fabrics.  They were able to draw on the paper backing and cut on their lines.  It provides a more colorful and interesting starting point for their shapes than one solid color, and is a great way to use up small scraps.

I just can’t stop cutting and gluing fabrics!  These mixed media books opened up a world of possibilities in my altered book series.  More to come on that later, but here’s a sneak peek …