Four things I learned From Watching A Toddler Draw

When my friend’s daughter Anna draws, she DRAWS. She is a toddler who cannot be distracted. She is utterly in creative flow and can be absorbed in drawing for hours.

I had the privilege of witnessing one of these sessions, and it felt a little like Everything I need to know about creativity, I learned from watching Anna draw.

Seriously. Sitting with her was meditation on creativity as led by a curly-haired, three and a half year old buddha. Here’s what I learned from someone much younger and much wiser than me...

1. Persist, then call for backup

Anna’s motor skills did not always match her artistic vision. She would give a difficult element a try. But when she truly reached a plateau - puffy sleeves in this case - Mama was called in as collaborator / instructor.

There was no shame. There were no tears. Once the tricky part was navigated, Anna was back to drawing solo.

I wonder what would happen if we could all be so open with our art. Instead of letting a half-finished sketch (or poem or song or comic) languish, what if we had a trusted resource give us support? A simple, “There’s something here. Keep going.” Or, “Here’s how I approach this problem…” does wonders for getting me back on track.

2. The critic starts early

Occasionally, Anna would make a marker stroke and then shout, “No! No, no! That’s not right!” Her internal critic was speaking loud and clear, even at the tender age of 3.5.

I was completely astonished at how much her internal critic sounded like mine. “No! Not right!” (Of course my critic adds other choice words, but the heart of the message is there.) I’ve spent years trying to untangle my internal critic, and while some days are better than others, it’s a struggle.

But when I heard Anna’s words, I realized how the critic can Be. So. Nasty. It has been in place since our earliest creations. That means decades of practice, and one heck of a critic.

When Anna was upset, it was easy to console her, encourage her, tell her it was going to be OK.

Of course that’s exactly what we should do for ourselves when the critic shows up to our creative time.

Duly noted, Anna. I’m working on it.

3. Embrace preferences to increase output

Picasso had his Blue Period. Stravinsky got into Serialism.

Anna was in her Orange Period.

This is not to say that purple or green did not make an appearance in Anna’s drawings. But more often than not, it was the fat orange marker that she pulled across the page. She never second guessed her color choice, or wondered if she should be drawing something else. And her drawings looked awesome!

She knew what she liked and drew it confidently, and drew more prolifically in half an hour than I could draw in two.

Imagine how much more creative energy we’d have if we stopped second guessing our projects.

If we just made the things we love to make.

There’d be a lot more art made, that’s for sure.

4. Dichotomous (and trichotomous) thoughts rule

Anna’s drawings were never just one thing. Santa’s snow was falling, but the people did not need sweaters (I asked.)

Cats were also princesses were also crickets, complete with crowns and antenna.

To Anna, it all made sense. It was some of the most creative thinking I’ve ever seen.

I’m trying to cultivate the same ease with dichotomy. Left AND right. Easy AND difficult. Unicorn AND whole numbers. That’s where art is born.


I hope I’ll get to watch Anna draw again some day, because her habits will have changed and I’ll have more lessons to learn. But until then I’ll stick with these nuggets of her wisdom, put one foot in front of the other, and keep making art.