Monday, December 13, 2010

Growing Up With Art

What is it like to raise kids in an artist’s studio? I’ll share our experience, then I’d love to hear yours.

We’ve always had the studio as part of the home, which meant having our kids coming and going while I’ve been painting. Whenever I really needed to concentrate, I had to learn how to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t answer you right now,” rather than just acting grumpy.

We didn’t child-proof the studio, yet somehow our kids never got into trouble with the sharp tools, ink bottles, and oil paint. They had their own art supplies that they could use.

To give them something to do during the long painting hours, we had a huge tray of Legos in the middle of the floor. I felt lucky to have my kids around when they were growing up.

But sometimes, when clients called, I had a hard time making my studio sound like a serious place--I remember once I was on the phone with a paleontologist who stopped to ask about the squeak toy that he heard in the background.

I don’t think my kids regarded a dad who draws dinosaurs as anything special. One time my son had a friend over. I heard the friend say in a stage whisper, “Does your dad have a job?”

No, my son replied. “He just stays home and draws dinosaurs all day.”

I’d be interested in your experience, either as an artist-parent or as a person who grew up around art.


Glendon Mellow said...

Our nephew stays with us part-time, and I definitely agree that having his own art supplies has helped immeasurably. Also, giving up on alone time seems inevitable - multi-tasking! I find getting started on a painting before everyone else at home wakes up helps me to focus quickly when the day is peppered with interruptions.

We're about to have our first child in the next 2 weeks, so I'll be redefining my workday once again. Anxiously awaiting everyone's responses.

Great post, James.

Unknown said...

Hi James,
first thing first, I just got your book and love it! just so much info!
here's my story:
All my family are artists! both grand parents are recognized painters, uncle doing giant painting was very famous (in europe) during the 70's. dad's a animator, step dad a photographer and sculptor, mom working for an architecture museum, taking care of the art book store..
So, yes I was quite surrounded by art growing up. My parents always brought me with them when they went to a art show opening. I was always surrounded by art.
I studied Architecture then comic books but ended working in animation and video game. but now I would like to get back into more traditional art work, so I'm working hard and studying.
and now I have a child of my own and wonder what he will become. My wife is a graphic designer so she also enjoy arts... will that influence our kid or will he become a lawyer?
I think, I will help and push his creativity but would like to let him decide. But I can't wait to hear him say "my dad? he plays video game all day!"

janice skivington said...

Hi James,
Thanks for my new (personally inscribed) copy of Color and Light! I will enjoy reading this book as I have enjoyed your blog posts.
My experience of raising four children while continuing my illustration career is much like yours. I considered my self fortunate to remain employed while staying at home with my children. They were never in day care and always had a mother's attention although, after a deadline I was sometimes a zombie mom.
I always had Legos and dinosaurs scattered under my drawing table, when they outgrew those toys, then they were constantly using my store of markers,pencils and scraps to put together school projects. My kids always considered an art supply stock in home as a good thing. Whenever I would feel restless with them all underfoot, I would take a day off and haul them all with me to the museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. They now have many memories of those trips and are familiar with famous works of art. I also read art history books to them. A big favorite is the series by Mike Venezia. And the biggest favorite of all were the Dinotopia books which we began to collect when they first were published, my oldest was only 10. I had always talked to them about the illustrators and given them an appreciation for the beautifully illustrated books on our shelves.

David Glenn said...

I'm not that good of an artist, but I can do dinosaurs pretty good. I did a dinosaur picture for a project once, and it's still hanging up in my room.

LandPainter said...

I have 2 kids, ages 4 and 7. They are almost always allowed in the studio. I actually encourage it because I love to see them draw or color. There are times when I'm deep in concentration and painting a smooth curve or filling in an important area that I have to ask them "Please don't bump me..." I know they are curious and I like them to watch dad paint but it is a bit scary because I know they can be quite fidgety.

They are also good encouragers. If I think a piece didn't come out to good they will say, "I like it, Dad!"

I certainly wish I could stay home with them everyday like you have, it seems like a great way for them to grow up. Maybe some day!

PS: I love the photo!


Mark Harris said...

My dad was a sign painter in the '60's & '70's and even though I always sketched as a kid I never really understood the level of his talent until I was much older. He would quickly sketch out stick letters on a painted piece of plywood with a grease pencil & then pick up the brush & paint & go straight to it, creating beautiful, precise letters out of almost nothing.

penciljef said...

thanks for writing on this topic Jim. I love having my kids (3 & 5 years old) in the studio most of the time. it take some setting up to get them going on something for a while ... Legos or artwork ... but they have gottn used to my concentration and the stuff that is "do not touch". Today I picked my 5-year-old up from kindergarten here in Morocco and after lunch we painted all afternoon in the studio. He took it really seriously. I had set up a board with two small canvas boards and a big piece of white cardstock on a chair with a palette and his own palette knife. He asked questions but painted intensely for some time ... producing a wonderful little piece about Noah's ark and a rainbow! Put my productivity to shame. Here's to spurring on the kids to go farther than we ever could!

Jon Hrubesch said...

I have to compete with my older kids for my computer to do digital art. I bought a nice wide-screen monitor that they love to use for gaming. I would play video games too but I never have the time. I didn't paint much when they were young. But I did make a coloring book of dinosaurs for them when they were young. If you like you can check it out at my website:

Unknown said...

But back to now: my most cherished memory of our daughter Josefien is that of her 10 o'clock cookie. We use to give here a sandwich or a cookie wrapped in plastic for the 10 o'clock break at school. I always take a black marker and put a little drawing on it (e.g. Santa Claus, a mermaid, a pixie, ...).
But one morning, when I wasn't watching, she took the marker and put also a drawing of a face on the wrapped cookie that I was going to eat during break-time. It was just a circle with two dots (eyes) and a stroke (mouth) but at that time I was like the most proud father on the whole world :-).

When Josefien was only a few months old, I put her in her little seat on my desk and then she watched me drawing.
Now - at the age of 4 - she draws, paints and cuts paper the whole day, and I suppose that's because she saw me doing it all the time.

Actually just as with my own father: he painted portraits of me and my brothers and sisters when we were 5 years old, made ink drawins of houses and landscapes, etc. At that age, I thaught that every dad could draw magnificent, and that the skills would just be a matter of time, just like starting to write and read...

Kate Higgins said...

I'm a graphic designer,set designer and an illustrator Once I was creating a 9 foot long, man eating plant for the play "Little Shop of Horrors. I dyed the fabric in a garbage can, made huge teeth out of foam rubber and lined the 5x4 foot mouth with satin. It had foam warts and gnarly looking stamen and many 6 foot undulating roots. The project filled our family room and my kids being used to odd and assorted art/theater projects just lived with it as perfectly normal.
One day my 9 year old son was going through the family room with a new friend who saw the monster filling the family room (the cat was sleeping in its mouth and purple warts were stacked on the TV). His friend paused and surveyed the room. "What did you say your mother did for a living?" He asked. My son responded "She makes monsters and creatures and you want to play a video game?"
My son is now a R&D engineer in Portland, OR and my daughter is a graphic designer in Seattle, WA. A little imagination exposure is always good for a child!

Joseph said...

When I was little and my dad was in charge I often had to go with him to work while he finished stocktaking and things. He always made me rip the printed sheets apart from the dot matrix printer before we were allowed to go out and have fun. Thing was he never tore the sheets and must have just left it for me and my brother.

the only exposure I got to art growing up was the fact that my father plays Napoleonic wargames and always painted his own figures so he did get us our own so we could mess those up in the form of board games like Hero Quest.

My grandfather is a builder and tried to make sure we had an exposure to tools which is odd as I am uncomfortable around tools, I do basic diy etc.

I didn't even plan on going into the arts when I left high school and went to college I was doing Maths, Further Maths physics and Chemistry and even went on to start doing my masters in Chemstry before I dropped out to find something more creative.

My son is 2 and he is growing up with his parents running a pottery studio which isn't attached to the house (the kiln is and he understands to stay away) He has even claimed his own potters wheel out of the three in the studio, if we are still going in five years I am sure he will be teaching people how to throw.

With the studio not being at home I do feel guilty leaving him between my mother and his pre-school.

Strange thing is when my son grows up I don't want him to go into this, I would rather him find a job where he can have a steady wage packet, tried it myself but couldn't stand working in an office for more than 6 months.

Anonymous said...

No, my son replied. “He just stays home and draws....all day.”

He he. Many adults would probably describe an artist's job that exact way

Christian Schlierkamp said...

I'm working as a freelance illustrator with my wife and two kids in Berlin. I'm mostly selftaught and I remember my father being supportive to me and my sibling's interest in drawing since we were very little: at our dining corner one wall was covered with a huge blackboard, the other with leftover tapestries, which he would regularly exchange. Thus we could draw at any time.
We used to have a picture album on wildlife showing a bluewhale in size comparison to huge creatures like a brachiosaurus and elephants which left me wanting to draw these creatures life sized. I was always asking my Dad wether I could draw them not only in our drawing place but all over the flat, to get them life sized.
On my fifth birthday we were moving house and as a birthday present he allowed me and my siblings to draw whales and dinosaurs - lifesized - all over the place. It was one of my best parties :-D
When I knew I would become a Dad I rennovated an old bookcase, changing it's front to a blackboard plus priming it with a magnetic ink, so that the kids now can both draw and play with magnetic sitckers on it.
My elder son will turn five in January and I allready started to read out "Dinotopia" to him - I'm curious whether he will ask me to let him draw dinosaurs all over the place one day. :-)

Holly Hartwell said...

My 'studio' is in our lounge room so the kids (4 & 7) see me painting all the time but so far haven't asked if they could paint too. As soon as that show 'Mister Maker' comes on it's a different story!
P.S. I bought a copy of your book 'Imaginative Realism' some time ago and still rate it in my Top 5 awesome art books.

phiq said...

“Does your dad have a job?”

No, my son replied. “He just stays home and draws dinosaurs all day.”


nailmask said...

Hey James! It was a real treat meeting you at Trion and hearing you lecture.
I have a 7-month old daughter who just mastered the art of crawling and her new favorite thing to do is crawl over to my wacom board and chew on the wire (we've had to block it off!).

Rafferty said...

I am in my studio all day and my 10, 7 and 2 year olds join me often but the two year old boy feels he needs to embellish my works. I didn't know this until I hung two works on a gallery wall thinking, I didn't paint that pure blue streak there or another leg on that figure!
He also gets covered in oil paint occasionally, I had a dog that came out with yellow ochre all over his mussel once, I think it's a boy thing.
I feel my children will have nice memories and I feel very lucky to be working at home and them in a creative environment.

Unknown said...

My father is an illustrator and has been my entire life, so I relate to your children. :-) I also have younger brothers, and although there is art supplies in plenty for them, they have on occasion 'contributed' to my dad's work. Luckily they are very artistic themselves and more interested than destructive, but my father is fortunately very patient. Once my youngest brother added a patch of orange to a painting my dad was working on, and after looking at it, my dad realized the color worked much better than the one he was trying to use anyhow!

David Teter said...

I have many memories of all the art books lying around and would get lost in them for hours, especially the Time-Life Library of Art series. We also had a fair amount of original art hanging on the walls and designer furniture, including hand made furniture by my dad.
I also was always in awe watching my Dad draw (an industrial designer). He would sit with me and very patiently teach me to draw anything I could dream up.

I was most fascinated by his, apparently simple, ability to draw a perfect circle freehand, any size, any medium, any time... to a kid that was the coolest thing.

James Gunter said...

Several years ago, I was asked to paint a stage backdrop. For part of the process I had to borrow someone else's studio, because my place wasn't big enough. While I was working away at this project, one of the studio owner's little kids wandered in, wanting desperately to help paint. I was tired and had a headache, but I couldn't bring myself to chase the kid out of the studio. So I handed him a brush, pointed to a fairly safe spot on the backdrop, and said "OK, Paint here." He stayed at that little spot, painting away, while I finished the rest of the backdrop! My initial fears about that little kid being in the way, or destroying my backdrop were unfounded. He was happy, and felt like he had contributed. I was happy, and successfully completed the backdrop. Miracles do happen!

Johan said...

Your post seems to have evoked some lovely stories to appear here James :)

I can relate to them because I have 4 kids myself (6, 7, 9 and 3 weeks). I'm not a professional artist but I do have lots of drawing tools, paper, cardboard, art books and what not laying around in the living room. I use it as often as I can and I can see that the more I draw, the more my children want to draw too. Now with the newborn I've not drawn all that much the last couple of weeks and I notice they aren't either.

I also have a small studio in my basement, and sometimes they come with me to draw there but not now because in wintertime it's too cold in there for them (no heating).

My 8y old son is one of my best critics, he tells me what he likes and what he dislikes, very pure and straight to the point, and it's really great to hear how he interprets what he sees. His ideas put me back on my 2 feet!

Colin said...

Some of my earliest memories are being in my father's darkroom. The smell of developer always brings me back there.

My parents also left one wall bare of wallpaper and let us draw on it.

Sean Phillips said...

My kids are only ever impressed when they find out s famous person reads the comics I draw. Otherwise, yeah, I'm just the dad who stays at home and draws all day..

Larry said...

We built a studio in our home when my wife was expecting our first child. it was a loft studio with a balcony overlooking the family room. For the next twenty years I painted as babies cried, children's television was watched, homework was done, games were played, instruments were practiced, friends came over to play, rock bands were formed, drums brought in. Unlike your studio, mine was up a hardwood spiral stair and the kids were discouraged from going up to the studio. But being I was perched above the heart of the family, I could work a twelve hour day and always feel part of what was happening. I cherish that.

Here's a tip. When the kids were young it was my job to pick them up after school. I always had an alarm clock set in my studio. It's easy to get caught up in what you're doing and loose track of time, but no kid wants to hear that anything was more important than picking them up.

SoarsLikeAnEagle said...

Well I think you found a topic that everyone can relate to. I am not a full time artist, but I love to paint, draw, sculpt...
When I break out my art boxes with pencils, or paints, inks... my kids know what I am about to do, and they know they are welcome to join me, and they often do. We will all sit around the kitchen table and draw or paint together, sometimes collaboratively. It is a great experience.

Todd said...

My kids have been pretty good, they rarely disrupt me in the studio, and they often come and paint or draw with me. However, my 2 youngest girls (2 and 4) were recently escorted rather abruptly from the studio after smearing lead white and alizarin crimson on their hands and faces, and in THEIR MOUTHS! Poison control tried to tell me that lead white paint contains no lead.

K_tigress said...

Growing up, I was always making things, drawing and or painting.
My parents do have a creative streak in their bones. My mom, her thing was poetry and music but never pursued it further. My dad is creative with his hands occasionally sculpting with wood and medal. You should see his wood carved knives est. I do think some where in the mid-evil past some of my ancestors were shoe misters or something.
Over all the biggest influence for my art growing up was school and home life. It was a rough childhood and most of the time I really thought of my self as unworthy so it was in a way therapeutic and gave me something special to call my own other then my problems. Sometimes it was pure joy, other times I drove the teachers bonkers by turning a boring math assignment where you have to circle the correct answer, in to characters them selves and other times I would create characters that I would imagine that would be on my side against the cruel world. . But I think the best use of my artwork in my early years was to stop a bulling with out resorting to violence. This bully in particular had a habit of spitting on me and being an over all jerk. So I drew him as a character that reminded me of him. Before home economic would start, I would draw the character and eventually I applied colour to it with my coloured pencils est. Eventually he saw it and was so impressed, he promised not to bully me any more if only he could have the drawing. That drawing was of Joe Camel. ;) The rest is history.

combatartist64 said...

My 6 year old daughter paints with me, in my studio, and is learning to take care of brushes. We experiment with many mediums and never have an agenda - just create!

janice skivington said...

Of course the very best reason to allow the little ones into your studio is in order to use them-as models!
My four children posed for me over and again, they understood that the art often would not look like them, sometimes their age, sex or race would be changed if that was what I needed. They were always willing and handy models- oh and they volunteered their friends of all ages too. Very useful.

Castle in the Air said...

My kids take for granted that I'll draw them any book they want. Of course after I've spent 3 years making it they say "Uh mom...this is the kind of book you make, not the kind of book you buy!" Oh well.
They like to use my sketches as coloring book pages and always offer to make the cover art for my projects.
I have a magnificent studio with everything just where I want it but I hate to be to far from my kids and always have a project on the dining room table.
I make art so that there will continue to be magic in the world my kids inherit.

James Gurney said...

WOW! Thanks to everybody for all these stories. I read all of the comments aloud to Jeanette while she was fixing dinner last night, and we loved all of your different perspectives on the challenges and joys of working at home. This should be required reading for young artists embarking on parenthood——or kids growing up in artist families.

Amelia Murdock said...

I inherited my love of art from my mother who is an artist. I watched my mother copying from art books in her sketchbook and decided I could do the same thing at a young age. I spent hours copying a Leyendecker painting in pen. I still have that drawing and it is very dear to me. It is pretty remarkable for a 7 year old.

You said that you never needed to child-proof your studio and neither did my mother, but she did learn to keep her wet paintings off the ground. After a 4 hour session with a model working on the portrait she left her fresh painting on the ground. I was about four years old and thought I could improve on the nose. My mother came down to find the entire portrait smeared away from my fingers.

Thanks for your blog


Sara Sydnor said...

My parents were not the artistic type in the sense of painting or drawing (especially not my dad, he's completely left-brained), but the times my mom would start doing sewing projects for whatever reason, I'd always love watching what she would cut out, how fast she would sew on the machine, etc. Now that I'm older, I now enjoy sewing and other crafts alongside drawing and illustration.

josembielza said...

A week ago, our older son got his first two drawing manuals. I wanted to be the one who gave him his first whe he became older enough... and my father was the second, hours later. The kid has been interested in drawing, although he always wanted to sit in my lap while I was at the drawing table. The problem is that daddy's tools are cooler than mine!. And my wife banned me to leave the kid the india ink :)

bzyglowi said...

My mom's an artist; we had free access to all her supplies growing up-- I remember getting a headache after using alchohol-based smelly markers for some project or other. Most of the time when she was painting I was allowed to come and sit on the stairs, which had a direct line of sight to her easel. When she wanted to take a break, she'd sit on the stairs with me and ask me what I thought about a piece and where my eye went to. I didn't realize it until years and years later, but I learned almost everything I know about both composition and critique just from those talks! :D

davidmaas said...

I gave up trying to communicate that wht I was doing on the computer all day (animation and digital illustration) was work. The kids were convinced I played all day (computer + 3D = games) and that was that. I tried a few times to get them modeling, sculpting and animating themselves, usually with too little success to get to that moment of recognition. The tools were too difficult, they couldn't get it to look like they wanted it to, but oddly (for me) that never transferred into respect for my abilities or efforts in teaching them, but rather in how much fun it was to draw on paper. Now THAT was okay. And all my preliminary sketches (on sheets of paper or in my sketch book) would be immediately and unquestionably accepted as immediately accepted as work. They'd always jump in and work too, of course. So that part of the job was always most fun. :-)

Joseph Miller said...

I have an office job (with reduced hrs due to recession) and my wife works most nights. So, what typically happens is that I care for my two boys (3 and 5) each evening and after they have gone to bed I find a little time to concentrate on my painting.

I find that if I try to paint while all 3 of us are awake in the house then they either have alot of "requests" for daddy, or they try to play together and end up squabbling or tearing up the house.

They enjoy seeing my artwork and like to color as well as use Crayola washable paints. I think things will ease up a bit as they learn to play peaceably together and can handle pencils better.

It ain't easy, but I'm happy to be a daddy.