August 23, 2004

high art

I spent most of yesterday hanging out with The Adorable 4-Year-Old Niece. In an effort to lengthen her attention span and break her addiction to TV, the whole family has been trying to encourage her to engage in other activities. It's starting to work because I caught her sitting by herself coloring in her Clifford coloring book. For once, she didn't feel the need to talk over people while performing attention-getting dances or a striptease. Oh yes, she's already resorting to clothing removal and flashing to get noticed. This does not bode well for the future. Girls Gone Wild, anyone?

I can't pass up a kid with a coloring book so I joined my niece on the floor and we got to work. Unfortunately, she scribbled over EVERY page in her coloring book and I just can't work under those conditions so I grabbed some blank paper instead. I love to draw but sadly, I don't have the time to do it anymore. It felt good to bust out the paper, markers and crayons while spending quality time with the niece. I asked her if she had any requests. One of these days, I WILL learn the lesson that this is a BIG mistake. Rarely do kids want a picture of a cat or a balloon or something. They want entire landscapes with their favorite characters engaged in epic battles or attending some extravagant gala complete with a horse-drawn carriage. And they want it done in 5 minutes. I can usually reason with them and manage their expectations slightly. If they push back too much, they get a half-assed smiley face or a sorry-looking dog with "WOOF!" in a dialogue bubble coming out of its mouth.

The niece requested I draw a picture of her and her two friends on a ride at Hershey Park. She recently went there and hasn't shut up about it since. According to her, the ride she wanted me to draw was a sled of some sort. I couldn't even imagine what that ride might look like so I said fuck it (to myself, of course) and drew her and her friends in the front car of a roller coaster. A few hours later, her mother was able to translate that the niece meant the Himalaya. I'm sorry but I've been on the Himalaya elsewhere and "sled" is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of that ride. In my experience, it's been a high-speed, gyrating hangout for screaming guidos.

The niece had an issue with it at first but she came around. But not before she corrected me on her seating position. She was sitting in the middle, not on the end as I had envisioned her. She also told me that she didn't own anything resembling the tank top with a daisy on it that I had clothed her in. She questioned every pencil stroke and disagreed with most every decision. She could not wrap her brain around the shortcut technique I used to draw the people in the cars in the background. I kind of cheated and just made them out of circles for the heads and sticks at a 45-degree angle for arms. I must say that arms were raised in a joyful "WHOOOOOOOOOOO!" gesture and they looked quite happy. The effect, in my opinion, worked.

"Where are the grown ups? How come my mommy's not with us? How come we went on a big kid ride by ourselves?" the niece inquired. I quelled her fears and told her that this picture was set in the future. I assured her that they were all old enough and met the height requirement to go on the ride unattended. If the niece doesn't end up being an art director or critic of some sort, my money is on social work or risk management.

As I began coloring in the picture, she started perking up as the image came to life. She was OVERJOYED when I colored one of the people in the background green to signify that he was on the verge of puking. She also now knows what the word "puke" means, by the way. When I told her that her friend was in the line of vomit fire, you would have thought that I gave her the key to a candy store and told her to run wild. She was in hysterics. I had won her over. She was totally on board with my artistic vision. She carried around the picture for the rest of the day and told everyone about the nauseous guy on the ride and how her friend was going to be covered in puke soon. It's her new favorite story. She no longer is repeating rather tawdry lines from Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob. Um... score?

A drawing frenzy ensued after this. I tried to make the next exercise a bit more educational. I became overjoyed when she recited the alphabet and wrote down the letters in very mangled handwriting. We sounded out the letters and she gave me a keyword for each which I then illustrated. She came up with apple, banana, cookie, dog, elephant... and then she went off on a tangent about clowns so that ended that little lesson.

The niece HATES clowns. She was taken from a birthday party screaming and shaking because a clown showed up honking a horn. I can't say I blame the kid. Yesterday she decided she needed to put in writing exactly how she feels about clowns. "Make a sign that says 'No clowns allowed!'" I'm all about the anti-clown propaganda so I happily obliged. I began with the nose. She looked uneasy and said nervously and quietly, "I didn't think it was going to be that big." I crumpled up the paper and began again. Once the proper proportions were agreed upon, I got busy. Just as I was finishing up the universal symbol for "no," she had a slight change of heart. "Well, maybe we can make another sign that says, 'Yes, clowns for other kids allowed.'" Okey dokey. I illustrated her flip-flopping stance on two separate signs. She was pleased.

I took a few more requests and then I set out on my own mission: drawing a sandcastle on the beach. I sketched it out using burnt sienna, maive, chestnut and several other colors to get the desired shade and texture of sand. I created a turret and a tower with a hollowed-out window. I was pleased with my progress. The niece said, "You need flags on that!" and began drawing random strokes on my paper. With blue-violet crayon!!! BLUE-VIOLET!!! Or was it violet-blue? No matter, it didn't match! It wasn't in my predetermined color palette. I was pissed. So I leaned over and drew a random line on her egg-octopus-with-creepy-smile man thingy. She didn't like that one bit and protested. Tough noogs is what I had to say to that.

But that's the risk you run when you color with kids. I love to sit down with a box of crayons and a fresh page in a coloring book and just start coloring away. What I don't love is when kids say, "Oh let me help you!" and proceed to deface my otherwise pristine work of art with random scribblings. I know I'm supposed to applaud their dexterity and creativity and all that... but that shit annoys me. I'm at an age where I not only have enough fine motor control to stay within the lines and go all in one direction but I also understand shading, smudging, contour, cross-hatch and other techniques. I don't need some snot-nosed punk messing up my picture.

I have to say that I've gotten quite good at quickly snatching things away fast enough while saying, "No, get your own!" I fully realize I'm supposed to be mature and should set a good example and all that other crap but this is definitely an issue of respecting boundaries and OPP. Today it's someone else's page in a coloring book, tomorrow it's tags on buildings and scratchings on subway car windows. You say neurotic and OCD on my part, I say civic-minded and responsible.