Where It Leads To

The other day I received an email from my eldest, now 22. She wrote, “Hi mom, I just finished up a neat little drawing last night…I was just doodling while watching ‘The Patriot’ (to get “primed” for my History final today) and it sort of fell out.”

Attached was a photo of her sketch…

For someone who feels challenged by stick figures, I am constantly amazed at Danielle’s talent. Watching her skills evolve over the years has been particularly interesting, and feeling at all a part of the process has been very rewarding.

When Danielle first showed an interest in art, I was instantly on board. Sketch books, instructional books on how to draw, watercolors, charcoals, oils – I would buy it all, whether she asked for it or not.

Some of my purchases fell flat. I remember her looking over the charcoals at first with an uncertain expression, unsure if I would understand if she didn’t use them. “Use them, don’t use them,” I shrugged, “I got them for you to experiment with. Do what you will with them.”

For as little as I understood of art, simply giving her the tools was enough. If they interested her, she would learn to use them. If they didn’t, then she wouldn’t. I wanted her exposed to everything, so that she could then make up her mind what to play with and what not to.

Trips to the Nelson-Atkins art museum were, for the most part, mind-numbingly boring for me. I enjoyed the historical exhibits (the Egyptian artifacts, Asian furniture and pet cricket collection, and medieval religious artifacts), but sadly, most art does absolutely nothing for me.

Not so for my artistic daughter. She drank up the artists, stared for long minutes at paintings, and practiced sketching. While I read a book or worked on a cross-stitch project, she would sketch away, slowly refining her abilities.

I arranged for her to attend a silkscreening class at Mattie Rhodes Art Center and stood by proudly when she had her first art exhibition at the Old Opera House in Belton – a collection of character reproductions of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel. That earned her a spot in the local paper at the age of sixteen.

Danielle developed her talents the old-fashioned way, with plenty of patience and skill-building. Aside from arranging a class or two, providing art supplies and a handful of trips to the Nelson Atkins, my role was primarily a spectator sport.

And that is the way it should be. I gave Danielle the tools, and she chose to teach herself to fly. This is where child-led learning (also known as unschooling) leads to – an explosion of talent, drive and energy.

As I have said before – our job is to provide the basics, and then step out of the way.

What happens next is so beautiful, so simple and clean. All I can think of as I look at the following pictures is…this is where it leads to.

Circa 2003 - Anime character (Danielle's age - 15 years old)

Mermaid sketch - circa 2004 - (Danielle's age - 16 years)

Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (Danielle's age - 16 years)

circa 2008 - a character from one of Danielle's stories (Danielle's age - 20 years old)

circa 2008 - Annie, a character from Danielle's stories (Danielle's age - 20 years old)

2011 - current "lipstick girl" project in progress (Danielle's age - 22 years)


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