A Child’s Crayon in the Hands of an Adult

Talking with my students, some of them talk about their graduation in primary school from a pencil to a pen, and the receipt of a “pen license.” A few proudly proclaim they have been using a pen “illegally” because they never passed their pen license test.

A pencil can be erased. Mistakes can be removed and covered up.

A pen is indelible. Mistakes are permanent.

But, I like mistakes.

I like seeing a beta reader’s comments slashed all over a new story because I know they care about the work as it will look when it is finished.

Sometimes we need make mistakes with the enthusiasm of a child with a crayon and a freshly painted wall.


Watching my own children grow and develop, there is a wonderful sense of imagination and creativity, particularly in play and in their own artworks. A child is naturally observant, engaged, creative and often think with their emotions. (And thankfully, nothing on the walls. My own experience, as my mother tells it, involved a red crayon, a long hallway and the implausible excuse that “Mickey draw.”)

And children ask “Why?”

They want to know how the world works in order to make sense of their own experiences. While they develop their understanding, their creativity is unfettered and boundless.


As we grow up and develop, we learn (and are taught) to control our emotional impulses and adopt a more logical, analytical approach to learning. Our creativity is sidelined to the periphery of our lives, sometimes considered an unnecessary adjunct to our modern life.

Give children scissors, glue, textas and paper and they will create without a second thought. Adults will ponder what to do first by arranging the items, colour coding and planning rather than simply creating.

Balancing the Spheres

Creativity balances between the child-like emotions of play and exploration, and the adult need for logic and order. We need both.

There are times when we want to let the free, child-like perception to wreak havoc, running around with underpants on our head and a permanent marker in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

And then there are times when you want the logical, adult part of your brain to take control and clean up the chaos and makes sense of the randomness. But keep the underpants on your head because you want to maintain a link to the childlike.

We can let one side (the emotional or the logical) have its sway, but we should not be driven by one side alone. We respond to the world emotionally and logically simultaneously, and in concentrated bursts of one or the other.

As a creative person we may be lead initially by the emotional side to create a piece of work, then allow the logical side to shape and craft the piece into a substantial framework, redolent with meaning and superimposed with layers of understanding.

Conversely, we use the logical side of our thinking to explore an issue, prognosticate about the form and purpose of our work, then let the childlike creativity have free reign to throw ideas around.

Creativity should be playful and fun, and plain hard work.

Being child-like in our creativity asks “Why?” to explore, to understand, to find an explanation.

Thinking Like A Child While Being An Adult

It is appropriate to ask with a child’s innocent intentions, to ask “Why?”.

It is asking, “Why is it done this way?” because we need to know the lineage and history of our chosen medium.

Is is also asking “Why has it not been done this way?” or “Why can’t I not do it this way?”

The adult side of our thinking then puts our childlike dreams into action.

Pick up a crayon or pencil or texta occasionally and look at the world with a child’s perception. Ask questions like a child.

Create good work.

Understand how the world works and question it; provoke it and challenge it like an adult.

Create good work.

And don’t forget to wear underpants on your head.


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