The Marker Who Didn’t Want to Draw

Once there was a young girl, not quite 2-years-old, who loved to draw. She joined a group of young artists who also loved to draw, and I was their guide. But when the young girl saw how the other artists used the crayons and pencils, she was horrified!

child's hand scribbling with a crayon

Some of the artists appeared to have no control at all! Their arms and hands flew across the paper without a thought or a plan. They were messy! The girl called out to them, “No! Stop!” She could not bring herself to work around those friends.

child's hand drawing a rainbow with a crayon

Next, she joined a group of artists who were much more calm and quiet. Their work was meticulous and beautiful, but she soon realized that their drawing skills were far superior to her own.

I could see that she was beginning to feel anxious and unsure of herself, so I devised a plan to help her see art from a different point of view. My plan was based on a simple question, “What if there was a marker who didn’t want to draw?”

Over the next few weeks, I set up a series of experiments to test the question. Before each experiment, I shared a story:

child holding a marker in his hands

This marker is feeling sad. Every day she watches quietly from her box as friends laugh and play all around her. Whenever a friend helps her out of the box, they expect her to draw. Friends say to the marker, “Draw a car!” or “Make a picture for Mommy!” Sometimes they ask the marker silly questions like, “What is that shape?” or “What color is this?” Sometimes the marker just doesn’t know, and she doesn’t really care either.

This marker knows that she is very good at drawing and making things. She is good at it because she has had a lot of time to practice, but today she and her friends would like to do something different. They want to do what you would like to do. So what do they want to do? How would they like to play today?*

Over a period of six weeks, my young artists had quite a few answers to this question, including the anxious almost two-year-old:

girl jumping on a trampoline and marking on a large piece of cardboard

“Go up and down like an airplane!”

“I’m jumping like a tiger!”

“This one goes down the slide with Daddy!”

“The pink is on a roller coaster!”

“It’s kind of like a spaceship. It flies!”

child's hand pushing a marker into a piece of styrofoam

“The brown likes to dig.”

“I have to push hard!”

“I’m digging a DEEP hole!”

Styrofoam with multiple colored dots, lines, and holes

“I’m poking lots of little dots. I will count them 1,2,3…”

“This marker is motorcycling. It’s riding on top.”

close up of a piece of styrofoam broken into smaller pieces

“Look! It’s breaking into orange!”

children coloring on the underside of a table

“This marker wants to go upside down now.”

“It’s swirling into backwards Cs!”

boy holding a marker in between his feet and coloring on the underside of a table

“I’m pinching my feet. This one is ice skating!”

boy laying down on a large sheet of paper and waving the markers in his hands

“I’m swimming like my sister!”

child's hands lining up matching colors of markers

“These markers all like to match, like a family.”

boy rolling a marker down a ramp

“The markers want to roll today. They are going to race like the cars!”

boy holding up a marker tower

“I’m going to build a tower. It’s really wiggly.”

girl holding onto a marker tower from the top and the bottom

“Be careful! Hold it at the top so it doesn’t crash.”

2 children building markers across the floor to reach a basket

“Let’s see how many markers it takes to get to the basket. It’s like the marker is a measuring unit.”

girl lining up markers and connecting them on the floor

“It’s a train! Oops! It broke in the middle. I can fix it!”

girl coloring with a marker attached to a flashlight

“This is the tornado spinning.”

child's hands with a flashlight and markers moving fast

“I’m spinning around in circles. STOP! and GO!”

blurry image of 2 children running around a trampoline

“I want to find circles to spin around.”

“This marker is chasing you around the circles. You better run!”

“First your marker chases me, and then my marker chases you.”

toy bug sitting in colorful styrofoam

The anxious artist, now fully 2-years-old, is still with us. She still needs my help from time to time, especially being around friends who like to get “messy.” However, she feels much more comfortable expressing herself and her ideas now. She has seen how we celebrate the diversity within each art experience. She has realized that not every experience has to have a plan. Sometimes the only purpose is joy; the only goal is self-confidence. Everything else can wait.

*Full disclosure. We also had a conversation ahead of time, every time, about keeping the markers “safe” during the experiments. The markers were to “keep their helmets on until they had a safe place to land.”