An interview with Mica Angela Hendricks, the mom and artist behind the blog The Busy Mockingbird.
It was only a few months ago that your blog post “Collaborating with a 4-year-old” went viral. What were you doing before all of this started?
I am a distance worker—a graphic artist for MWR (with the military) so I design a lot of event, activity posters and flyers. In my free time, aside from spending time with my daughter, I create freelance illustrations for magazines, websites, and books.
Your daughter first convinced you to let her doodle on your sketches by using your own “mommy-words”: “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away.” Can you tell us what happened from there?
Well, I was impressed that she had actually taken in the words I had impressed upon HER about sharing. I had the choice to either put my foot down and say no or allow her to share with me and see what happened. Sometimes you pick your battles and “losing” a page in my sketchbook was less important to me than showing her that HER words are valid too. Rules apply to grownups too and everyone needs to share from time to time! She gets PLENTY of “no” and lots of limits all day long. This time, I decided to say “yes.”
Since then she’s been putting the finishing touches on many of your sketches. How has this partnership changed or affected your relationship with her?
We’re always quite close, and we do lots of things together, but this is our special thing we do. She gets so excited to come up with new ideas to draw, collaborating with me on animals or monsters, too. It’s been fun for me, to share this with her. I never assumed she would be an artsy kid, and I know things change all the time with kids, so I’m just enjoying and appreciating this time while we have it.
What do you learn and gain from this partnership as an artist? As a mother?
As an artist, it’s STILL sometimes difficult when she scribbles on one of the heads or draws lines across them. But there’s almost always a way to make it mean something. I consider it like translating her kid-ideas into ideas that make sense to a grownup. What she draws as a tiger might not look that way until I color it like an actual tiger. So I’ve learned to let go of my expectations for what it starts as, because whatever she adds to it, I think it ends up being beautiful and a lot of fun! As a mother, helping build her confidence has been a wonderful thing. For the most part, I try to consider her ideas valid and worthy of being listened to, and respected.
Has she influenced the rest of your work (the work you complete solo)?
Ever since I had her, my art has sort of shifted to creating things FOR her—painting on chairs, tables, train sets, etc. But in my own private work, I think the collaborations with her HAVE actually had a positive effect on me in that I try not to be so critical of what I have made. I just did a piece that I have had in my head for years and in my mind should have been hyper-realistic and detailed. Instead, it turned out sort of like a pulp novel cover. And I have learned to accept that it is just as valid as what was in my head. So accepting her style as valid and wonderful in her own way just as it is has taught me to accept my own style.
Tell us about the alphabet project you and your daughter recently started? What was your goal here and where do you plan to take it?
I could see my daughter was looking to change it up a bit and try something new. She actually was the one who suggested we try to draw an animal. A friend from the Texas Rollergirls asked if we’d like to contribute a piece for their fundraiser auction, so I asked my daughter if we should draw someone roller skating. She said, “Yes, but how ‘bout an elephant?” Wow…that sounds pretty fun, actually!
After that, she asked for more animals, so to try to give us a little focus (and as a little teaching experience for her), I suggested we do an animal for every letter of the alphabet. I would give her some options for every letter, and she would choose which animal we would draw. Afterward, she thought it’d be cool to spell out her name with them once they were done, and I thought that’d be fun for other people, so I put prints of them with letters up on RedBubble.
I have also started working on little stories to go with the different animals, mixing them up a little, and was hoping to put them in book form, or maybe see if a publisher was interested in them.
Has this give-and-take relationship changed the way you look at parenting?
Well, I have always sort of compared my kid to a little foreign exchange student. Growing up, not only do kids have to learn the language, but the little nuances and social customs and implications and undertones to life—as well as basic motor functions. Just because she doesn’t “speak the language” doesn’t mean her ideas are invalid. I try to make a point to really listen to her, make her feel respected and to not just brush her off.
Similarly, as a mother, I’ve learned to share with my kid the things I love instead of trying to keep it to myself at night after she goes to bed. Your kid WANTS to be part of what you love, what makes you excited. They WANT to be a part of whatever you’re passionate about. It’s a great feeling to know I can exist as an artist AND a mom!
What is one thing that inspires you that you would like to share with our readers?
Other peoples’ creativity is very VERY inspiring to me. I LOVE to see the things other people create. With my own daughter, I would just watch her for an hour drawing little figures on paper. I just loved it. More recently, I ran a contest on my blog, where I drew a head, and the only requirement for the contest was that you MUST collaborate with someone else. The responses I got were incredible!
Not only did people enjoy creating with someone else, the things they created between them were so beautiful. Just allowing the things you love to shine through and sharing them with others is very inspiring to me!