How To Collaborate With Your 4-Year-Old: A Mother/Daughter Art Experiment

Mica Hendricks thought she could give her 4-year-old some direction when she wanted to contribute to mommy’s drawings. Instead, the professional artist got some lessons in the power of an unfettered imagination.

One morning, when illustrator and graphic designer Mica Angela Hendricks noticed that her four-year-old daughter was absorbed with her markers, she decided to grab a little creative time of her own. She began to draw a woman’s head, but within minutes, the little girl proclaimed that she was going to draw the woman’s body. The little girl completed the picture in a way that the older, professional artist may not have considered: she gave the subject the torso of a dinosaur.


And so began a collaboration between Hendricks and her daughter that produced a series of unexpected portraits–with mother creating lovely drawings of women’s faces and daughter completing the picture with all manner of bodies and fantastical flourishes.

“At first I balked internally,” Hendricks told us, “but I ended up being fascinated by the results. Later, I added paint and detail in acrylics to sort of elaborate on what she had done. After awhile, she would wake up each morning asking me, “‘do you have any heads for me to draw?'”

Hendricks hasn’t quite figured out how the child’s creative brain works. When she asks her daughter to explain her artistic decisions, the girl says, “I just have to use my imagination.”

And, as Hendricks noted on her site, that imagination was formidable and made her creations better. “Since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads. Maybe she could make this into a bug! I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like. So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!? She’s just scribbling it all up! But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined. ALWAYS.”

Meanwhile, Hendricks’ daughter is still learning that collaboration works two ways. “As much as she loves to draw on my drawings, she is quite protective of her own, and is very critical of any additions I might make to her work!”

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.