Whenever I stare at the rainbow-colored chalk brush rectangles on my parents' living room wall, the memory rushes back: my eyes welling up with tears, the smirks and giggles from classmates, dread washing over my 8-year-old psyche. My callous teacher had graded my art assignment a D.
My father was quick to remedy the situation and bolster my confidence in one smooth stroke by framing the cubist masterpiece in an elegant black frame. This was high praise indeed, since the rest of my childhood home was filled with the half-peeled onions, dilapidated bicycles and black-and-white nudes of my dad's fine art photography portfolio.
My dad may have been on to something more than Child Psychology 101. The magical quality of children's art has long been recognized by San Diego, Calif., resident Glenn Abrams. He was especially taken by the friendly watercolors painted by the kids, ages 3 to 14, in his wife Michelle's art classes, which she teaches in the couple's home. And, when the business communications producer was introducing a new inkjet printer capable of reproducing high-resolution artwork at a Las Vegas computer convention in 1996, he conceptualized Kids-Did-It! Designs.
"Young people have an inherent ability to create beautiful artwork using surprising colors and great proportional arrangements that you wouldn't expect from professional artists," says Abrams.
Michelle teaches the children in groups of between six and eight, and Kids-Did-It! Designs commercially licenses and reproduces the work of some of her students on paper products, clothing, ceramics and soft goods.
While the children are learning and honing their skills, they aren't told that they are auditioning for the Kids-Did-It! catalogue. If a work is selected, Abrams approaches the young artist and his or her parents, who sign a contract so that their child's work may be reproduced.
"We don't want to influence the work and we don't want them to be thinking in terms of commercial art because it's actually the spontaneity and beauty of the work that is really inspiring." explains Abrams.
The young artists receive royalty checks (care of their parents) amounting to 10 per cent of sales, as well as bragging rights. There are now over 70 children whose work has been reproduced by Kids-Did-It!.
Among the company's growing client list is Walgreens drugstores, office product giant MeadWestvaco, Deluxe subsidiary Checks Unlimited, and Covenant House, which uses the images in greeting cards to help solicit donations.
"We find Kids-Did-It! particularly appropriate ..... and the response has been terrific," says Rose Cino, a spokesperson for Covenant House, whose shelters provide food, clothing and love for homeless kids.
Unleashing the children's inner Van Gogh is a natural building-block process, Abrams says. "Michelle teaches them that if you understand how to draw a circle, a square, a line or a triangle, you can basically draw anything that you see."
Abrams is partial to the artwork of 6- to 8-year-olds especially, because of their innate sense of color, shape and proportion.
"They have the physical skills to be able to draw, but they are not yet influenced by their neighbors or their peers, or by society in general about what is the proper way to draw, or what is the proper subject to draw, or what is the proper color to use," he says.
By the time some kids turn 10 or 11, they start looking at what other people are drawing. If there is a message to be learned from these mini Matisses, it is a simple but poignant one: Nurture your children's creative muse. As Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
Abrams has his own words of wisdom. "Look at the work that your children create. Take them to the color Xerox store and enlarge them; take them off the refrigerator and frame them and put them on your wall, because every young child has this magical sensibility."
This story originally ran in the Toronto Star. It was updated for Newsvine
Copyright © Mike Dojc 2006