It’s that time of year. The time when you push your way through the “Back to School” aisles at Target for the last One Direction Trapper Keeper, and squeeze your way through racks of hot pink and zebra print with the crowds at Justice (yes, I have a daughter).

My 9-year-old, Maddie, is a creative spirit, so my eyes twinkle a bit when I see her dive into a painting, drawing, craft project, or anything that shows some creativity. I had the pleasure of having her with me at work the week before school started and I thought I would spend some time really showing her how I do what I do.


We started by trying to find some inspiration for our “Back to School” wallpaper. I introduced her to the amazing work of Dana Tanamachi, whose chalkboard art graces restaurants, boutique stores and even magazine covers for Oprah.  I selected a few examples of her work, printed them out on an 11 x 17 and then just started to explain the use of different fonts to create some excitement, lines and shading to create dimension, etc.  Of course, since she is 9 going on 16, she seemed completely bored and uninterested with the whole thing.


Next, we started to talk a bit about sketching techniques and I handed her a pencil and some Sharpie markers.  I explained to her how I used to be uncomfortable with sketching and how important it is to just go for it and not look back.  For me, it was important for me to not have the option to turn back, which is how I came to use markers for sketching.  I shared my experience and process at Clockwork’s staff unconference last year.  We talked about line weights and how you can use the different markers to create dimension and texture.  Throwing markers into the mix started to loosen her up and she got a bit more excited.

One other thing we did was use the whiteboard a lot.  The whiteboard in my office is the first place she goes when she is with me at work. We both would sketch up ideas and quickly erase/tweak before moving to paper.  I think this made the task more comfortable.


Once she had a few designs ready to go, we talked about how you can scan your work and make it “digital”.  I showed her the steps that I go through to bring my work into Illustrator/Photoshop and once her work was on screen, I think she was sold.  “Whoa, cool” was the first response and from then on, she was hooked.  This too-cool-for-school kid was all of a sudden really engaged and excited about flat, simple artwork that was starting to come to life on-screen.


We started to pick out pieces from each design and assemble them into one collective design.  Maddie couldn’t understand at first how the different pieces could be taken from one design and brought to the other, but was usually on board with the decisions we made.  It was fun to talk about the “why’s”, when it came to using certain things and leaving others behind.  A design was coming together and she was starting to creative direct me as I assembled/colored the artwork.

We also got to talk about devices.  The fact that screen sizes are different and how people use those devices in different ways.  We talked about how the “experience” also needs to differ on those devices and why it is so important that designers understand the complexities around how people use their phones, tablets, desktops, etc.

It was a blast doing a real project with my daughter and I hope doing that more often will continue her excitement around being creative.  I don’t necessarily need her to follow in my footsteps, but I think being creative is the spice of life.  As an adult it brings you back, on some level, to those days of finger painting, playing with Play-doh, filling up coloring books, etc.  I feel so fortunate that I get to play with digital Play-doh, just about every day…for my J-O-B!  It’s pretty crazy.

I hope you enjoy Maddie’s wallpaper as much as we enjoyed making it.