Instead of celebrating my birthday on my actual birthday, we waited until the weekend for various reasons. This worked out better because it gave the chance to spend the kind of one-on-one time with each of my boys.
I spent a couple of hours with my youngest son, (screen name – ‘Tumble’) looking for an art supply shop to buy some woodless colored pencils and drawing pads. We found the name of a place in Peterborough, NH on Depot Street called “Art Academy And Supply” and we spent the time just looking at all the stuff and talking about what we could do with various things we found before settling for the colored pencils we came for.
The following Friday I took my other son, (screen name – “Coppertop”) with me to pick up some Chinese food with a stopover at a local electronics’ shop to find a much needed IDE ribbon cable for my server. This gave me an important opportunity to just talk to my son the way I wished someone could have talked to me at that age. I told him about the importance of finding something you love to do that people also want to pay you for your work in that field. It’s not an accident that we live in a nice house and are able to drive new cars every few years. Mom and I have a passion for what we do and we’ve been able to find stead work because of it.
“Now’s the time to figure out what you want to do for fun, make a game out of learning; if it’s not fun than you’re going to have a harder time making things that you’re trying to learn stick. Now’s the time to build some skills like drawing, riding a bike, basics of computers, the basics about tools and building simple things like bird houses and forts… skills that will pave the way for others in the near future.”
Sounds pretty serious but I assure you I tried to keep it as light and up-beat as possible. It wasn’t as if I was only trying to instill some values into my son, but I was trying to talk to the younger version of myself in the past who was so desperate for the kind of attention I was giving to my son in the present.
Fact is, and this is a complicated emotion that I don’t even fully understand; I’m jealous of my kids because they have such a great dad… who’s me. Doesn’t make any sense, it’s too hard to try and figure out other than they’re getting all the things I didn’t get and they’re getting it from me.
It’s a bittersweet emotion. I wish I had someone, a male role model other than a couple of teachers who said; “It’s OK to be a little weird and learn things other kids don’t. It’ll all work out in the end.”
I wrote about this to an extent in my rant “Role Model” and there was an aspect I wanted to expand upon this morning…
Some of the greatest influences in my life are Ralph McQuarrie, Roger Lean, Andrew Probert and (although I didn’t know it at the time) Milton Glaser. I loved the idea that you could take art and make something real that people used in their everyday lives. I was astounded that artists used art to create places and periods in time to take people where they’ve never been before.
There was someone out there who created works of art that were printed on cans of tomatoes, billboards, movie posters, magazines and catalogs. I wanted to be one of them, as far back as I can remember.
That’s what Graphic Design is, it’s creating the greatest piece of art in the shortest amount of time for the most amount of money a client or employer is willing to pay. Anyone who says Graphic Design isn’t art is an idiot. If I had known that then my life would have been far easier since I would have had a label to use for my work.
When I was younger I used to create strange symbols out of thin air. I would get an idea and just draw it out. I would draw it out many times until I got it right. I would have folders of this stuff saved in hopes that someday I would understand what I was doing and what it was called before making a career out of it. Whatever those people did (because I didn’t know it was called Commercial Art or Graphic Design back then) I wanted to do, too.
Not just because it looked like fun, but because it’s the only thing I wanted to do and the only thing I could actually do.
I would draw symbols and logos inspired by the books I was reading or I would catch a glimpse of something random that would inspire me. At some point I was told by my elders (sans art teachers) to stop. It was foolish and childish. It wasn’t a manly thing to do. “Art is for pussies.” It must have been frustrating for them who didn’t understand the creative process, it was as if I was I was receiving signals from outer space in my head and putting them down on paper. It must have seem pretty freaky to them since this seemed the extreme opposite of ‘normal.’
I was told by my pseudo-stepfather that if I didn’t stop he would take a hammer and break all the fingers in my hand. So I began hiding my work in the strangest places like in the insolation in the basement where my room was, in glass jars and old thermos’ hidden in the woods behind my mother’s house, in secret nooks that I found along the way between school and home when I had to walk, and in my own locker at school.
At some point I had to quit in fear of getting caught. It was getting hard to keep track of all my hiding places and the stress was getting to take a toll on my creativity.
It’s been a hard long process to get to that level of creativity starting with channeling my previous self by listening to the music I enjoyed decades ago and simply applying the pencil to paper.
The damage has been done though because I’ll never know what I would have accomplished if I had been in a safe environment and a little encouragement. Even my own father wasn’t too supportive when he and I reconnected before I turned 18.
“Why don’t you draw something more real or something different for a change?” he used to ask with some contempt and confusion.
I’m in a similar position with my oldest son who likes to draw nothing but dragons. That’s his thing right now. Before he was copying the style of the Anasazi cave paintings that he saw on a documentary, and before that he was doing his own drawings inspired by Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” It’s tempting for me to tell him when he gets stuck in one of these phases; “Why don’t you draw something else?”
The worst thing you could do to an artist of any age or any genre is to critique, especially when they’re exceptionally young like my kids or me from 25 years ago. You break something that too often can’t be easily repaired or never fixed again.
Kids by their nature want to please, they inherently want to impress their parents and elders with the things they do. One of my most intense memories from my youth was wanting to be approved by people who should have been my mentors. I wanted my contributions to mean something, if I wasn’t good enough then tell me how I can make my work better. I needed someone like my own father to tell me I was on the right path and not treat me like I was just another set of hands to help him with his work.
Criticism kills. When we beat down our kids we are literally murdering the people whom they would have become if they were given praise and guidance. Kids like my son ‘Coppertop’ draw the same things over and over again because they are trying to perfect their craft. They’re repeating the same thing over and over again as a means of working it out of their system and trying to learn from what they’re doing each time. Just as children learn how to walk or talk by doing the same things over and over again, they learn by repetition; especially if they are trying to learn something all their own.
Spending time with my own kids and doing what we love to do has done more for me than I could have imagined. Not only have I improved their confidence I’ve also done something more for myself. I hate to use the cliché, but by nurturing them I’m nurturing the kid who I was that felt lost and abandoned all those years ago.
And I’m also getting some awesome drawings of dragons and robots in the process, and who can say no to that? Nurture your artists and don’t be worried about the ruts they get into since practice makes perfect…