Draw Your Lines Any (Damn) Way You Like, Sweet Bug

It has been a summer of art at our house. My hubby has been hunkered down in his art studio working away on his new project, I’ve been writing into the wee hours of the night, and our daughter has been painting her way through a swirl of art camps.

It has all been delightful.

Sweet Bug Art-Children's ArtSweet Bug Art 4 Children's Art Sydney Opera HouseSweet Bug Art Children's Art

That is until last week.

Sweet Bug wasn’t herself.

Sweet Bug Art Children's art

She was attending another art camp—one we’d heard nothing but good things about from friends.

When we dropped her off Monday morning, even though the instructor didn’t offer a super warm and fuzzy greeting like all the instructors at the other camps, I still left feeling optimistic, knowing she’d have a fun day making art. The camp, after all, was the bomb.

Little did I know what kind of bomb it really was.

Five and a half hours later when we returned to pick her up, instead of being greeted by Sweet Bug’s normal chirpy voice and proud “artiste” stance, her eyes screamed, “Thank god you’re finally here!”

“Are you okay?” I asked her on the way to the car. “Did something happen today?”


“Why do you look so sad?”


It had been a hot day so Hubby suggested we get frozen yogurt, hoping it would lift her spirits.

Sweet Bug, who never has a problem sharing every detail of her day with us, was unnaturally quiet. When I said, “So tell us about camp,” she just poked at the sprinkles on her frozen yogurt and tried to change the subject.

Finally, after a little more coaxing she simply said, “I don’t like it.”

“How come?” Hubby asked.

“I don’t know. I just don’t,” Sweet Bug replied with another shrug.

Hubby and I shot concerned glances at each other. Trying not to sound like FBI agents, we gently questioned her from several different angles, all the while trying to keep our tone relaxed and upbeat. Eventually we squeezed a few bits and pieces out of her—mostly vague comments about the structure and the instructor not being very nice—but nothing specific.

Hubby and I danced around the “teacher thing” diplomatically, explaining that every teacher is different, and that perhaps even if she didn’t connect with her, she could still learn something from her and have fun making art with the kids.

Sweet Bug Art Children's Art Vietnamese house

Over the next couple days we had several pep talks with Sweet Bug about ways to make the best of it, but a dark cloud still enveloped our house much of this terribly long week.

Half of me wanted to let her quit, but the other half didn’t want to give her that option. After all, what kind of message would that send her? I also thought about asking the camp director if she could be placed with a different instructor, but again, what would that teach her about working with different kinds of people in the world? We also still didn’t know exactly what was bothering her.

It wasn’t until the fourth day I finally discovered what it was. After another morning of Sweet Bug stalling to get ready, on the drive  I said, “I can see you still aren’t very excited about going to camp. Is there something about it that’s making you feel unsettled?”

It was then I was hit by a tsunami of words.

She railed against her instructor and how she made her feel like she was always doing her art wrong. Trying to wrap my head around her wave of anger and frustration, I asked her to give me a few examples.

“She told me I was drawing my grass WRONG,” she fumed. “I wanted my grass straight and she told me I had to re-do it because it wasn’t wavy enough. And she told me my collage didn’t have enough things on it. And she told me my color wheel was WRONG. And she told Sam he was holding his pastel WRONG, and she told Sophie she was drawing her shoelace WRONG and made her erase it and do it her way.”

The word WRONG hit me like a sledgehammer.

I was thankful I was driving so Sweet Bug couldn’t see my eyes popping out of my head or the steam shooting out my ears.

I wanted to scream: Are. You. Freakin’. Kidding. Me? These kids are eight years old, and this is SUMMER CAMP. This is about letting their hearts sing, not about making them erase things that aren’t perfect. ART IS NOT PERFECT! Plllleeeease.

Sweet Bug Art Children's art

After taking a deep breath and clearing my throat I looked in the rearview mirror and said, “You know what Sweet Bug? Everybody teaches differently, but I want you to listen to me, and listen to me carefully. This is important: I give you permission to draw your lines any (damn) way you want. I don’t care what your instructor says. There is no right way to make art. If your heart tells you that your drawing or painting needs curves and squiggles, draw curves and squiggles. If you want straight grass, draw straight grass. Art is about having fun and expressing yourself in your own way. It’s not about being perfect. You shouldn’t ever worry about whether you are doing it the right way. Do you understand?”

Sweet Bug nodded up and down, then smiled for the first time in days. As we walked up the steps to camp I reiterated what I had just said, and as I left her in the art room I gave her a big hug and whispered in her ear conspiratorially, “Remember, Sweet Bug, I give you permission.”

Sweet Bug Art children's art abstract

Afterward I sat in my car, my stomach twisted like a dish towel, knowing a small piece of Sweet Bug’s creative spirit had been chiseled away by this instructor’s teaching methods. I desperately wanted to glue it back into place, and hoped I’d said the right thing to make it stick.

It was impossible not to think about Pablo Picasso’s famous quote right then:

 “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Sweet Bug wasn’t even grown up and she was now suddenly doubting her artistic abilities. The saddest part to me is that this instructor was an extremely talented artist who had nothing but good intentions. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body and was only trying to inspire the children by teaching them the “right” way to do art.

It made me realize just how fragile that seed of creativity is in all of us. It must be nurtured, but not overwatered with guidance and direction; otherwise it will drown in the garden of shoulds–as in “You should do it this way or you should do it that way.” By simply fertilizing those creative seeds with encouragement and inspiration and letting them grow in their own natural way, they will eventually flower into a wildly beautiful masterpiece.

Because I want to end this post on a happy note, I will tell you that Sweet Bug is back at one of her favorite camps, Art Innovators. She is thoroughly enjoying her final week of her summer art extravaganza and is already talking about next summer.

The conversation I overheard this morning as I was dropping her off says everything about why this camp is the REAL bomb:

Camper to instructor: “Kelly, I made a mistake. I need an eraser.”

Fabulous instructor, Kelly: “Oh remember I don’t have any erasers. If you feel like you made a mistake, you can just turn it into something you like even better.”

Thank you Kelly and Devon! And thank you to all the wonderful art teachers Sweet Bug has been surrounded with at Art Innovators and Camp Kono this summer. You have not only inspired our daughter, but you’ve helped her find her inner Miro and reminded her that art is never perfect.

Sweet Bug Art 2 Children's Art Miro

“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.”

–Pablo Picasso

Note: All of the artwork in this post was created by Sweet Bug at Art Innovators and Camp Kono. I can only imagine what fun things she’ll be creating this week!

38 thoughts on “Draw Your Lines Any (Damn) Way You Like, Sweet Bug

  1. Hi Becky,

    I read this post a few days ago, and have been thinking about it a lot. Your little girl is very talented, as you know, and I believe that her drive and determination will help pull her through any negative influences from that ghastly word, “wrong.” There is no wrong in art! I could not feel more strongly about this, and I know that you do, too.

    I consider myself an artist as well. And one year I had the misfortune of having a teacher try to tell me I wasn’t. It crushed me, at the time, but my parents stood by me and I came out still a believer. Thank goodness. You’re doing the best thing for your daughter, just by being there to care and to listen. I can’t wait to see where her paintbrush takes her next! Thanks for sharing her artwork with us, please let her know that I think it’s beautiful. :)

    • Melissa, it’s so nice to hear from you! I’ve missed you, but I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer with your family and friends.

      I’m happy to say that many good things have come from Sweet Bug’s experience, namely that she has received tremendous support and enthusiasm for her work, which will hopefully fill those little cracks that were chiseled in her self-confidence. I will pass on your kind words to her as well. Thanks for swinging by to let me know you were here.

  2. Your daughter is very talented (she must get it from the talent genes both of her parents have). I especially like the first illustration. Looks like something that came out of a children’s book. Great stuff! What a great program she’s in, that encourages such creativity!

    • Thanks, Monica, and welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful trip.

      I don’t know where Sweet Bug gets her creativity (it is 100% from inside her), but giving her the opportunity to be surrounded by caring and creative teachers has helped a bunch.

      There are two things I will never hold back on with our daughter: 1) books and 2) art supplies. Both open up the whole world and offer endless opportunities for growing and learning. She has been “painting” since before she could walk–painting with pudding on her art table etc. etc.

  3. It sounds to me like this instructor’s intention was to focus on teaching the kids how to draw realistically perhaps. I had an instructor in my drawing class once who had people crying and dropping out of class on the first day, But guess what, this was a college level drawing class intended for art majors!

    I absolutely LOVE Olivia’s artwork.
    My favorite is the 3 faces. I wonder if she has named these pieces.

    • The instructor had good intentions for sure; I only wish she had been working with an older group who might have been ready to embrace her technique. I had to chuckle about your college art instructor. I think I may have had the same one! :-)

      I loved the projects that Sweet Bug’s instructors gave her this summer–especially the week they took the kids “around the world,” creating pieces about Australia, India, Brazil, Vietnam, China, Egypt. The kids got to stamp their “passports” each day after they created their masterpieces.

      As of yet, none of Sweet Bug’s pieces have titles, but that doesn’t mean they won’t at some point. I also like the three faces.

  4. OUCH! I really had a hard time reading this all the way through, but I had to ensure Sweet Bug was OK. I loathe stories like this – when you learn a of child being subjected to someone’s restricted method of teaching (actually I have a hard time with any story that involves some sort of harm to a child). My daughter suffered through a few teachers like this and I did exactly as you did. Please give her hugs, extra ones. The artwork, of course, is amazing.

    • Brenda, although it was an unpleasant week for all of us, we have dug for the pearl that made this experience worth the pain. Here’s what we have chosen to focus on: Sweet Bug learned that she can stick it out and figure out ways to make the best of something, even if it’s not ideal (because Lord knows we’re handed a lot of that in our lives). She picked up one or two new nuggets of technique, even if she didn’t enjoy it, and most importantly, she knows that we always have her back, and will always support her in her art and otherwise. Thanks for your wonderful words of encouragement though. She is feeling the love.

  5. Olivia’s (SBug) WHOLE LIFE is an art project! I REALLY want any or all of her drawings/paintings! Or at least copies – ZOWIE, she’s great. Perhaps I should tell HER that rather than your blog? Rodg

    • Isn’t everybody’s life an art project? Glad you enjoyed her artwork so much. She had a great time creating it.

  6. Pooh I so want to purchase the one with the dog with binoculars. When it becomes a print, please let me be first in line!

    My oldest son stopped drawing when he was 9 because his teacher gave him a “B” on his project because he did not mimic the master well enough. I’m still angry about it, and he is 28 years old! Who grades art?!!

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post AND the artwork. I feel inspired to get creative with the kids today.

    • You just made Sweet Bug’s day. She’s all excited to start making prints now. I’ll keep you posted. You can be first in line.

      “Who grades art?!!” –That is a great question and a great quote!

      Hope you got messy today and whipped up some magic.

      • I am getting messy all weekend doing Circle Painting training at The Great Park in Irvine, CA. Show your daughter circlepainting.org…she will LOVE it! Rossandra’s current post is about this as well…and tomorrow I will get to meet her face to face. I just love how creativity leads to incredible friendships across the globe…which reminds me…

        Meanwhile, I am very excited about being on the list in first place. I have the perfect spot in our living room, next to a giant map of the world, for her remarkable print! I’m going to put it in a colorful frame.

  7. Your daughter’s artwork is fantastic. And I love your advice to her: to draw the lines whichever way we want to. I felt so bad for her when she wouldn’t talk about what’s making her miserable. Some children tend to zip up when things go wrong. I think they might be worried about getting into trouble, or getting someone into trouble. So glad she finally let out that tsunami of words!

    • Thanks, Claudine. I’ve passed your comment on to Sweet Bug. She’s smiling from all these kind words. It was so frustrating not being able to pinpoint what was making her unhappy (she’s usually able to articulate her feelings quite well, and rarely holds back with us) but sometimes things are meant to happen for a reason. I think in the end it was a good learning experience for us, even if it wasn’t particularly pleasant.

    • Thanks, Tracey. I had a feeling you would relate to this post with the little artists at your house. Sweet Bug is feeling the love about her artwork. So nice.

      And thanks for the Tweets!

      • Becky, you are amazing writer and Sweet bug is amazing artist.
        What an inspiring story.

        Thank you.

  8. Great post today about your daughter. She is a such a little creative spirit – I loved her work. Your post struck such a cord when you wrote about how her little spirit had been chipped away. Love your parenting style, to first notice she was not feeling the new art camp, and then, giving her permission to stick to her natural, God-given, creative instinct! Good for you and your husband, nurturing this lucky, talented little girl.

    • Thanks, Maurita. I give a lot of credit to her wonderful art instructors this summer for directing her in such great projects. She has had a lot of fun, and in the process, developed new capabilities and discovered new possibilities. It’s fun to see her inspired and enjoying the process. Hopefully as she grows up she’ll always remember that feeling.

  9. Is that all your daughter’s artwork? I think it’s fabulous. Art is subjective, like humor. Tell her I said we artists (in whatever form) must develop thick skin!

    • Thanks, Cindy. Your comment will make her smile. I am slowly trying to explain thick skin to her, but since she’s her own worst critic, I still have some figuring out to do in that department. Right now I tell her that everybody in the whole wide world has a different opinion about what makes something beautiful or what makes a piece of art special or important so she just has to create something that makes her happy.

  10. You go Mom! I started to read and was so taken in by the art work – Sweet Bug is an artist and may she continue to express herself any damn way she would like. Art has no limitations – the sky and beyond is the limit. sort of. I remember just drawing my fool head off as a kid and I used to hand them in instead of written compostions. Needless to say, I spent some quality time in the principal’s office. I hated letters and we did come to a meeting of the minds. I could draw a picture about my story and then write about it. All these years later and i am doing the same thing again! Can’t wait to see what esle Sweet Bug comes up with.

    • Elizabeth, as an artist and a creative coach, I knew you’d appreciate this post. You are right when you remind us that art has no limits.

      How ironic that you hated writing when you were a kid and now you are a fantastic writer. Luckily you figured out a way to combine your words and drawings along the way to keep you inspired.

      PS: Sweet Bug appreciates your kind comment about her work.

  11. I doubt I have to tell you at what point I began bristling. But isn’t this post, in the end, as much about creative parenting as it is about nurturing a child’s artistic/creative spirit? Btw, I think it’s very cool that Lori wants to show children in Kibera examples of an American girl’s art.

    • The most disappointing part for me was the missed opportunity for this extremely talented artist to inspire these little creative sponges. My guess is that many of the kids just let her “corrections” roll off their backs, but Sweet Bug takes everything to heart. It’s a good reminder as a parent about choosing words carefully when offering advice or suggestions. This also gives me an even deeper appreciation for those teachers who have mastered the art of nurturing and inspiring budding artists.

      And yes, I think Lori’s idea of taking children’s art from America is fun. Sweet Bug is proud. Maybe she’ll even be inspired to write a little note to go with it.

  12. I so enjoyed seeing your daughter’s artwork–I love the imagination and spirit–and the colors! Beautiful!

    And I love what you told her about art not being perfect. If only all children could hear those words and know that their artistic efforts are wonderful the way they are. A good lesson for all of us, too, to not try to be “perfect” and “right” with our art.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed Sweet Bug’s art. I love children’s art for all it represents–freedom, joy, budding imaginations. Most kids create art purely for the joy of creating, and do it from their hearts. That’s why I think it’s so important at this age to reinforce the notion that there is no “right” or “perfect” way to make art. Nearly everything else in the world has a “right” process or answer (think math, spelling, etc.), but art is wide open both in process and interpretation. Hopefully by reminding Sweet Bug of that, she will have the love of creating tucked in her back pocket her whole life, able to pull it out whenever she feels inspired.

  13. It’s so funny, I was just reading your latest post when I got your comment on mine. Art is in the air this week! I truly enjoyed this piece about Sweet Bug! I love the way you have your daughter’s back. Our society is so wrapped up in doing things a certain way–I know I was raised to follow others’ ideas of what was “art”. Bless you for being the kind of parent who will allow her daughter the freedom to express her creativity in any way she wishes! You’re Da Bomb, Becky!

    • I definitely have Sweet Bug’s back when it comes to protecting her creative spirit. She has a lifetime ahead of her to master technique and face criticism. As far as I’m concerned, when you’re eight art should be nothing but fun. What I love about the two camps I mentioned is that she is immersed in all sorts of interesting projects and learning new ways of seeing and creating, but it’s done in a positive, nurturing way.

  14. What a great reminder what a gift creating is and how individualistic (thank god) it is.
    This post is so timely because my organization AFRICA INSIDE.ORG is going to do art projects with children who live in one of the biggest slums in the world: Kibera outside of Nairobi, Kenya. these kids have no desks, no beds, nothing.. we will feed them and do expressive art with them. I have been gathering donations of art supplies, kids clothing, and Ipods, and money but thought it would be wonderful to take some copies of what Sweet Bug drew as an example from a kid their age in America.
    What do you think?

    • I mentioned your idea to Sweet Bug about taking her art to Africa to show the kids and I think she’s walking about three inches taller today. Not only are you making a difference in their lives, but you’ve just given this little artist a vote of confidence that she will never forget. Very cool!

  15. Thank you , thank you , thank you , you have done it again. I absolutely love this and how you have handled the “Bean’s” issues with other’s issues around their ideas of how it’s done. I learned a long tome ago from our uncle Bob that it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do get there. Tons of silly meaning in that. You always amaze me with your writing and how you teach the “Bean.” Love , Tim

    • I never imagined parenting would be full of so many unlikely challenges. Most days I second guess whether I have given Sweet But the right advice/guidance (what parent doesn’t?), but this situation hit me so hard, those words flew straight from my gut. Uncle Bob was right: “It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there.” Hopefully the journey is a joyful one along the way.

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