Drawing as a Family: The Power of Low-Stakes Creativity

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Let me start by saying I have never been good at drawing. I know everyone says that, but I mean it. I once played a Pictionary-type game at a baby shower. My friend looked at my drawing, brows furrowed, and started laughing. I wasn’t offended; I cracked up, too, because what I’d sketched was objectively terrible.

But in 2020, I became a person who draws. Or maybe more accurately, a person who follows instructions about how to make drawings. The two are not the same thing. But still.

When the pandemic began and the stay-at-home order took effect, I happened to have an Ed Emberley book checked out from the library. I had gotten it for the kids, but it was me who got totally hooked. Emberley makes drawing super easy because he uses just simple shapes and lines to create everything. So you might start with a rectangle or a row of dots, and end up with something like the sailboat pictured above.

I felt strangely proud of my little sailboat and taped it up on a cupboard in our dining room. Then came a giraffe, which I signed and dated in the corner for a little extra flourish. A team-effort dragon joined the mix. We discovered the wondrous resource that is Art Hub for Kids. Nate commissioned superhero drawings and I found tutorials to oblige him. I took over a whole area for my animal drawings, and even got all fancy and painted some of them. As the cupboard doors filled with drawings, we began referring to our collection as “the art gallery.”

Before COVID-19 hit, I’d been enjoying 3+ hours of time to myself every morning, Monday through Thursday, when Nate was at preschool and Evan in kindergarten. I worked on picture book manuscripts, met with my writing group, ran errands, did projects around the house, made phone calls. Then overnight, that kid-free time vanished. The boys were home with me all day. We had nowhere to go and hours and hours to fill. Drawing became an activity to pass the time, but also so much more than that. The act of creating kept me sane. It energized me. It gave the boys and me an ongoing project, and I got such satisfaction from creating new work. I couldn’t concentrate enough to write with my kids around, but I could draw.

I no longer draw every day, but still love it when I do. Meanwhile, the gallery has become a permanent fixture. Like all good curators, we strive to keep our offerings fresh and innovative. Changing out the drawings as new seasons arrive has become a ritual. With Halloween coming up, here’s our current exhibition:

You can see that Evan’s current specialty is bats and Nate’s is scary, many-armed pumpkins. 🙂 I tend to be old school and just draw what Ed Emberley tells me to draw; my contributions are the grinning skeleton and the haunted house. We all have different approaches, but are united in our love of drawing.

I have more to say on this topic but decided to stop here for now when I realized this post would become a small book. Happy Halloween and more next Tuesday!   

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