Getting your kids into Art

Mardi Gras Fish
Mardi Gras Fish

Getting your kids into art is a winning proposition. A tongue-in-cheek meme I recently read counsels: “Get your kids into art, and they’ll never have enough money for drugs.” As is often the case, there’s  truth hidden in the joke that has nothing to do with the financial aspect of creating art and everything to do with kids and art as a pairing that can set them on a healthier and happier path through life, making the benefits long lasting.

According to neuroscience, next to meditation, art is one of the best things a person can do for their brain. While working, I go into a state of high awareness while not being aware of myself at all. I “get lost” in drawing. I lose track of time, while my focus is on creating an image.

During the process of creating art, there is a singular focus on something outside of ourselves, an attempt to capture a feeling we are experiencing.  The brain is highly engaged, as decisions have to be made at every second: which color is needed here? How deep is that shadow on the face? Where do I put the highlights? Do I include imperfections of the original in my drawing? Does that eyebrow really arch that high?

When I sit and draw, I can feel myself reaching into the paper with my pencils, trying to bring into being a feeling that is intimately about me and a feeling I want to express, and at the same time, it’s all about the face of the dog/bird/elephant I’m drawing, not about me. All of my attention and my feelings are engaged and are one with the piece I am creating. The sensation for me is very much like sitting in a kayak and paddling down a river with a strong current, trying to go with the current but maintaining some degree of control. This rare heightened state of the mind is often described as “flow”, or “the zone”, or by musicians, “the crush”.

Unlike math problems or a biology homework assignment, both of which require focus as well, creating art involves feelings. The process of creating a work of art demands all the skill, technique and mastery of tools at the artist’s disposal, but goes beyond a mental exercise into the realm of the artist’s emotions. Most of the time an artist, regardless of age, will choose to create what they love, or what they feel strongly about. This literally puts the creator of art in touch with his/her feelings.

Now think about how valuable being able to do this is to children. To be in a space where they can disconnect from a reality that at times is overwhelming, distracting or painful and dwell in a space that is uniquely, completely and without compromise their own. By getting your kids into art at an early age, you will give them the gift of expressing themselves in lines, shapes and colors. They can create a refuge for themselves where they can engage in an activity that is soothing and fun, healthy for their brains and their emotions and if the practice is encouraged, can bring benefits all the way into old age.


Color Pencil Drawing


One of the things I love about Color Pencil Drawing is the portability of this medium. Not only are color pencils easy to take with you because they take up as little or as much space as you are willing to give them, they can also be used in just about any environment without making any mess at all. It’s the perfect medium for travelers for just that reason.

Here’s a real life example:

Recently, I had to squeeze into an economy seat on a Condor flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany. In case you haven’t sat in one of those seats for a 10 solid hour stretch of time before: it is not fun! I am 5’3″ about 115 lbs, which I consider an economy sized human frame. When sitting on a plane nowadays, my knees almost touch the back of the seat in front of me. What I am trying to say is that there is not a whole lot of space on a plane.

However, if you are a color pencil artist, there’s no need to fret. I brought these items on board with me:

  • Several white color pencils. One Faber-Castell Polychromos, for detail work (hard oil based pencil); one Prismacolor for thicker coverage (soft wax-based pencil) and one Derwent, just because I like the creamy delivery.
  • One pencil sharpener (Dahle, about $25)
  • One eraser by Mono (fine point)
  • Several pieces of black mat board
  • One printed-out image of my husband’s face in black & white with heightened contrast (done on my computer and printer at home)
  • One small  clip (office supplies) 

I clipped the print-out to the top of a couple of the black mats, which stabilized the picture, then set it on the little fold-out table propped against the seat back of the seat in front of me and went to work on the other black mat. I was off to artist-land. Before I knew it, hours had passed while drawing, melting away as they tend to do. A trip to the bathroom, a second meal and a nice chat with my seat neighbor about my drawing, and then it was time for a quick nap before landing in Frankfurt.

I have worked with fiber for years. You cannot hand quilt on a plane. I’ve tried. You can knit, but some countries will not let you take knitting or crochet needles on a plane. Oil or acrylic paint are not going to work for obvious reasons, and neither is messy pastel or charcoal. Color pencil drawing and perhaps cross stitch are the only productive artsy/craftsy things I have found useful while locked into a severely cramped space.

I will say this for long overseas flights: When I know I will be in this same square footage for ten hours I suddenly develop something my husband claims I don’t have: patience! I don’t feel the need to rush. There’s nothing else a have to or even could do. Consequently, I approached the drawing of my husband’s face with a calm expectation that I would be able to proceed carefully and be able to complete the portrait without interruption.

I think it turned out well.