A few weeks ago I got an email from my friend Marc, a children’s author who’s had several books published. He’s trying to create interest in two new nonfiction projects by inviting children’s illustrators and kids to create covers for his manuscripts that he will display on a website. I shared the idea with Hallie and she was really excited. At the time she had about three weeks until the deadline, and she dove right in to working on her sketch.
She chose a story about the Afghan woman whose photo was featured on National Geographic many years ago, and about the photographer’s search to find her again. Hallie started by sketching the woman’s face from the image that was on the cover of the magazine.
Her sketch came along nicely, and I was amazed at how she was figuring things out and even discovering shading techniques with no formal instruction. Periodically she’d hit roadblocks where she wasn’t happy with elements and would get whiny or tearful about having to redo something, but she kept plugging away a little bit each day.
About a week before the deadline I started reminding Hallie of how much time she had left and also how many of those days were filled with activities. About 4 days before the piece was do, Hallie had a meltdown. She explained tearfully that she didn’t think she could finish it and that she’d been working as hard as she could and she just couldn’t do it. She said it wasn’t fun anymore and she wished she hadn’t started and she wanted to quit.
Hallie’s always gung-ho when she starts on a new project or story, but she very rarely finishes any of them. She’ll lose interest or move onto something else, or claim she has so many ideas she doesn’t know how to end things. As much as I don’t like seeing her stressed and upset, this book cover project seemed an excellent way to help her stick to a commitment and prove to herself that she could do it. I explained to her that while she chose to do this, the offer was on a first-come, first-served basis. By her saying she’d do it, she may have kept someone else from participating. Thus, quitting wasn’t an option. I also made it clear that this was a friend of mine and it was important to me that she stick with things and not let him or me down. At one point she hoped that I could call him and ask him for extra time. While I’m sure I could have, I made it clear to Hallie that I wouldn’t.
Hallie had a tearful, restless night that night but in the morning she tackled her picture again. She’d been very frustrated with how the mouth and one eye were coming out. She finally kept at it long enough to do something she was happy with, and from then on it was much smoother sailing. Mark had scanned in a draft of her picture, and she’d been working on importing other images to use as part of the cover. I helped show her how to position things and change styles and fonts and let her do the rest. She managed to get the whole piece where she wanted it, and I sent it off the day before it was due. Marc was very good about letting Hallie know how much he appreciated her work, and I let her know I was proud of her for sticking with it.
Hallie is a wonderful artist and writer. At several points, she’s expressed interest in entering various contests. When it comes down to it, though, she never actually wants to. She’s explained that doing things for someone else’s guidelines takes all the fun out of it and she just wants to do things when she has ideas she likes. I think that’s all perfectly fine, and I admire her for knowing herself that well. I’ve explained to her, though, that the further she goes in school, the more specific her assignments will be. And that if she wants to take art classes, she’ll learn new techniques and approaches by completing assignments, even if she doesn’t love what she’s assigned to do.
I can foresee more drama over term paper deadlines and all sorts of other things as she moves through school. I’m glad to know how she reacts to these situations now. Hopefully I and her teachers can help her with some strategies now that will make this all a lot less painful–for all of us!–down the road.