This is my daughter, Sydney. She is 10 years old and her artistic talent has always exceeded her actual age. It started when she received her first magnet-powered doodle board. She would draw and erase and draw and erase, barely leaving time for me to capture the work before she moved on.
We started buying her more doodle boards and stashing them in places like her bedroom, the car, the living room, and so on. She would free-hand sketch and she would use stencils, she loved to create.
The Printer Paper Thief
Naturally, she moved to paper, pencil, and crayon. When she was 5 years old, her mother and I started buying her sketchbooks and asking her to only draw in the books. This was mostly so that we could reliably find printer paper, in our printer for a change, when we actually needed it.
We also began buying How to Draw books.
At some point she found, and fell in love with, the cartoon My Little Pony which had made it's way to Netflix. This was a source of inspiration for her. She would watch episodes, pause them at key places, and try to draw her favorite characters. I made a concerted effort to draw with her and encourage her.
She used to get frustrated that I could draw better than her. She would get very self conscious about her work. I would respond with encouragement. Here are some of the phrases she heard over and over again.
"It's not fair to compare a 7 year old Sydney to a 37 year old Daddy."
"You are better than I was when I was your age."
"One day you're going to be better than me, I just know it!"
I didn't dumb down my work, and I didn't stop encouraging her. Eventually, she began to believe in herself more, and imitate my behavior. "Good job, Daddy! I really like how the eyes turned out," or, "I think the nose is too small, you should try to make it bigger."
Her Skills Improved, Her Confidence Grew
I began going to coffee with my kids once a week and this provided a consistent time for us to sketch together, and encourage each other in our work.
I got really good at drawing ponies.
Last year, when she was 9 years old, we went to Disney World. Our family stayed in the Art of Animation Resort and we made time to sketch, just her and I, some of the things we saw.
On the last day of our vacation we sat down with a real, bonafide Disney sketch artist and he taught us how to sketch Goofy.
That whooshing sound you hear is the student surpassing the teacher.
We put it to a family vote and everyone but me agreed that her Goofy was better than my Goofy. I still can't believe it.
We came back home and she was beyond inspired. Her belief in herself was palpable. She dug out old How to Draw books and began producing work that she, herself, was impressed with.
This Is Not an Investment In Her Future
Not in the way it appears on the surface, at least. I've seen parents confuse being invested in their kid's future at the expense of their kid's present, and this gives me pause. I don't want to be that guy.
Can I see a future in which my daughter is a professional cartoonist? Yes. Do I consider myself deeply invested in this future? No. Not even remotely.
While I am aware that this investment of time may be setting her up for success in many related ways, that isn't why I do it. In fact, even if she never draws again, I will remain deeply satisfied that this has been time well spent.
Sydney and I draw together to be together, it's as simple as that.