Sketching Together: 7 Tips for Family Drawing

I am in awe of Mica, the artist Ellen featured in her last blog post, who lets her four-year old finish her drawings for a wonderful collaborative result. When we had four-year olds, I’m not sure that I could have been quite so collaborative. I think I would have been sneaky and would have offered them my rejects to finish. “Here honey, this is a very special drawing that Mommy made. Will you finish it?” “But, Mommy, you just pulled that out of the trash can.”

Even though I wasn’t quite the team player that Mica is, Ellen’s post reminded me of so many shared drawing moments we have had through the years. And, happily, it has really paid off, since my little sketchers are now big sketchers for the studio. And, we do now, in fact, finish the work of one another … for wonderful collaborative results.

Many of our early sketching-together occasions took place when we traveled together.  Some of our most interesting journals were made when we were in Japan for four summers teaching English at a summer camp there. Here is one of my favorites, created by Margaret at the Fujiwa Hotel. We were apparently drawing and humming together. Inscription on the back: “Im drawing mommy in this picher.” It was a picher within a picture!


This is the image that I was sketching of the entrance to our hotel, while Margaret and I were humming. It was so much fun to pull out some of the old sketch books and relive the wide-eyed wonder of a new place and different culture. (the wide-eyed wonder of the children AND their grown-ups.)



People often ask me if I think that children inherit their artistic skills genetically. Maybe. But, I think that providing an environment full of art-making ‘stuff’ and lots of creative opportunities is probably the most important way to nurture future artists and inventive thinkers.

Here are my little tips for sketching with your children.


1. Always have paper and pens handy in your bag everywhere you go. Keep them in a plastic bag, because tops are occasionally (often) left off and then there goes your purse with a giant ink splot. Or, these excellent bags make perfect supply holders, and they are fashionable to boot. (If you are a dad, you might have to start carrying a dad bag, which can be very hip these days, by the way.)

2. Children (and you) do not need to draw directly into a sketch book. Feel free to glue “restaurant drawings” into a journal later. Sometimes a beautiful blank journal is a little bit intimidating. Keep a stack of paper or perforated journal pages handy, and you can pick and choose your favorites to adhere to the real sketchbook later. This is a great journal with heavy paper for pasting favorites later.

3. If your restaurant waiter is taking for-ev-er (more than 3 minutes in toddler time), play a fun drawing game: Here’s an easy one: One person draws a line, and everyone guesses what she is drawing, then another line, another guess, another line, until finally someone guesses correctly and wins (but not too loudly, as we are using our restaurant voices). If the food is STILL not there, repeat and repeat.

4. Above tips sound like we only eat out, but really, the kitchen is our biggest studio. Keep your art supplies handy in a drawer next to the silverware. (Chopsticks can go in either drawer.) Throw paper and pens at your children all the time. (Glue and glitter, too, if you don’t mind a little fairy dust in your beans.) While you wait for the pasta water to boil, you can sit down to draw, as well. Your children will be shocked.

5. Although I LOVE technology, as you know, since I am visiting with you from a screen, I recommend that little ones start their sketching careers with real pencils, pens and paints, instead of pixels. Pixels can come later. I guarantee that their pixel work will be better for it.

6. Be sure to write the date on the back of all sketches before throwing them into the “To Save” box. This is very important. We have an old drawing of mine that was either made when I was 6 (in which case I was amazing with perspective) or when I was 12 (in which case it’s amazing that I am an artist at all.)

7. Capture every sketching moment during the early years. There is really nothing more pure in composition and color than the drawing of a child.



And, if you do this when your little ones are little, one day, you may find yourself sketching with them at the Louvre! Happy drawing or painting or sculpting or gluing with your petites artistes.

Below: about 15 years later, sketching at the Louvre: Angels seem to pop up in the drawings of the Heck girls, whether they are 5 years old or 25.



P.S. I highly recommend side-by-side sketch-a-thons for grandparents, too. Although, you might want to forego the glitter … you already paid your fairy-dust dues.



  1. Ronnie November 25, 2013

    What a sweet post–I’m glad my mother always shoved an old envelope or grocery list and pen from her purse to keep me occupied. I think I did some of my best drawings during Mass–and I may even have been quiet. Maybe.

  2. Lulu November 25, 2013

    Love every single thing about this post Cathy – you, your awesome girls, all the great drawings. So glad you documented it all – truly wonderful. xxoo

  3. Author
    Cathy Heck November 25, 2013

    Ronnie I so wish I could see some of your early mass drawings! Because I am certain that there were already signs of what was to come!

  4. Author
    Cathy Heck November 25, 2013

    Thank you Lulu! Have fun with your wonderful little-ones-now-big this holiday!

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