Toddler Famous

Framed starfish in black. from Marine Life I, 2013.
Framed starfish in black. from Marine Life I, 2013.

I just heard from a mom whose son has my art in his bedroom. Baby Jake got them when he was an infant; he is now 26 months old and as she calls him, “sharp as a tack.”

I have fond memories of this family. I met Kathy through a moms’ group on Facebook, where I quickly realized that she herself had some tack-ish qualities as well. Her posts were open-hearted and gutsy and frankly, she’s hilarious. So I was thrilled when she asked for three framed prints from my Marine Life series. Her husband has a keen interest in marine biology so it was a perfect fit.

Now that Jake is a toddler-about-town, he has plenty to say about his world. On a recent trip to Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver, he noticed the rack of my 5×7″ greeting cards in the gift store. According to Kathy, he said, “Jakey picture.” Quite right, said his mom, it’s the same as Jakey’s picture.

The thing is, while the farm does carry a large stash of my work, they don’t actually carry anything from Marine Life I. In other words, this 26 month-old child identified that the cards were by the same artist as the prints in his bedroom, all on his own.

Kathy reports that, “It was love at first sight,” when he noticed my tractor design. “You’re toddler famous!” she quipped.

How could I not be thrilled? This must mean that I’ve got a “thing” going on, a recognizable style that carries through my portfolio; that even as my technique has evolved and my subjects have changed, there is a common thread that unites all of my work and – just imagine – makes it recognizable to people who aren’t harassed by my daily Facebook and Instagram updates. Wow.

Jake’s observations really stopped me in my tracks. Nowadays, Nifty Scissors is ordering huge card runs and giclée prints, writing press releases and going to a New York trade show. It’s very exciting but, wait… how did all this begin, again? With the passions of a two year old boy who had something to teach his mother about his passions. With a boy who desperately wanted me to notice how much he cared about diggers – to notice this, to reinforce it, and educate this passion with drawing after drawing after book after book, because he just couldn’t get enough. That was in the days when he sat on my lap for hours, just watching me draw face shovels and skid steers. Then he’d tell me when to cut, when to colour, how to colour, and when to cover the whole shebang in packing tape.

Yes. This – THIS – is how Nifty Scissors started, and it’s how I learned about the importance of art education in early childhood. Not from a library book but from the determined little squidge in my lap, who made me draw until my legs went numb.

Kathy’s feedback reminded me how much we underestimate children of Jakey’s age, when we look for “child-friendly” art for their rooms, or pick out library books – or even ask them questions about what they notice in their world. Jake has spent two years growing, playing and looking at his art every day before he goes to sleep. I want to say “only two years;” then again, it’s two whole years. That’s a lot when it’s the oldest you’ve ever been. No?

So he’s internalized what he’s seen from his crib: the bright colours, the crisp shapes, the squares that frame every image, and he’s taken these pictures with him, in his mind’s eye, as he goes out into the world.

Thinking about how deep these impressions are, on the brains of young children, I feel hopeful. As startling as Jake’s comments are, they are also heart-warming. What a gift this alert little boy has – and what a gift he is. A real treasure. I can’t wait to say this to you in person, but for now, I’ll post it here.

It was an honour to provide you with the first pieces of art you ever owned. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Toddler Famous”

  1. Such a sweet story! The last time my kids went to the bird sanctuary, they noticed the banners you had designed. They both immediately said “Oh! They look like Shula’s art.”

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