Unless some anti-Hoarder purge destroyed your personal archive, there is a good chance that a stack of high-concept, low-quality artwork can be found in your home. It is the byproduct of countless hours as a kid turning blank sheets of paper into imagined creatures, vehicles, and landscapes. Somewhere between ages 6 and 21, however, most of us lose this desire to draw. Our creative outlets turn to photos and word processors, leaving the pencils and crayons in some forgotten drawer.
A new project launched this year celebrates the ability of kids to come up with amazing ideas. Using kid art as inspiration, Imaginawesome re-imagines those drawings to bring them a little bit closer to reality.
The project is the brainchild of Garrett Miller (@heyitsgarrett), a Washington, D.C. software engineer. Miller is not a professional artist by trade, although he is one by training. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2006 as a studio art major before wending his way into a programming job further east. “I miss drawing,” Miller admits, consoling himself with an endless series of doodles at work.
Imaginawesome arose out of a Reddit thread several months ago. A high-quality painting by a 6-year-old prompted commenters to post their own kids’ art. Miller killed some time one night enhancing one of the pieces. The reaction provided just enough fuel to try it again, eventually leading to a website. Miller, who doesn’t have kids of his own and whose friends are only now starting families, has relied on extended networks and the Internet to find new material.
Miller recalls his own drawing sessions as a kid. He’d spend hours with his tongue hanging out, drawing some elaborate creation, only to have the final version fall short of what he had imagined in his head. “I remember being a kid with an awesome idea,” Miller recalls. “I look at these pictures now and I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Thus far, only a handful of artwork has been published. Each picture takes an hour or two, typically drawn on an old Wacom tablet while a movie plays in the background. One boy was so delighted with his IA treatment, he returned the favor.
The first picture generated some controversy. “There were some who saw it as me shoving it in their face, like I’m better than your kids,” says Miller. “Those are opinions others are welcome to have. One hundred percent of the parents and kids are thrilled with the work, though. As long as the kids enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it.”
Imitation and re-interpretation is a cornerstone of art. Whether it is Andy Warhol painting soup cans or Banksy enhancing graffiti on buildings, art has a long relationship with repurposing old ideas and spaces. The kids whose art becomes part of Imaginawesome likely feel inspired themselves to iterate, to challenge their own notions of technique, content and message … even if that reflection begins as simple imitation.
That was the case with my own boys, who after seeing Garrett’s handiwork, spent the afternoon improving their original images. My youngest, who had submitted a rough version of a well-fortified hideaway, laughed with delight at the detail he found. His next effort at drawing tried to emulate this detail, as well as making an effort at shading for a three-dimensional effect. The work of my eldest was much more detailed already. His takeaway was how powerful it can be to simplifying the visual message. In both cases, Imaginawesome sparked further interest in art.
“I’m not treating Imaginawesome as art,” explains Miller. “It’s a conversation.”
Miller has some experience with crowd-sourced art. Along with a classmate at Oberlin, he ran the Envelope Collective, a collaborative experiment that used the transportation of mail as a medium. Over the two-year run, the project went from about 4 pieces a week to 15 a day. Even that project had some kid participation.
Although Garrett says he has a small queue — and a stack of his own childhood artwork, courtesy Mama Miller — waiting for an iteration, Imaginawesome is taking submissions for new kid art to add to the project. “It is best if they don’t know about what is going to happen with it [when they are drawing],” advises Miller. “I don’t want to stress the kids out trying to make it perfect.” He asks for a high-resolution image of the art, the child’s first name and age, and a description of the drawing in their own words.
“The main goal of the project is to keep myself drawing,” Miller says.