A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings – 2020 Edition

There’s only one compulsory gift I give to my wife, and this is it. Thankfully, I only have to do it every 3-4 years, on Mother’s Day.

I don’t know why she likes it so much. If I was married to me, I’d be sick of my art by now, but so long as she continues to love these “couch drawings,” I’ll continue to do them.

If she had her way, I’d do one every year, but the trick for me is to wait long enough that we have gone through some significant changes and I can represent that change in some way through the drawing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

What follows is a brief history of Mother’s Day drawings, going all the way back to 2007, and concluding with this year’s latest.

For the curious, though the drawings have changed, the method for creating them has remained the same: a rough pencil drawing turned into a more fleshed out pencil drawing, followed by an ink drawing done using a lightbox on smooth Bristol board. I use Microns: 005, 01, 05, 08, and 1. That ink drawing is then scanned in, brought into Photoshop, cleaned up, and colored in three layers: flats, shadows, and highlights. I’m not really much of a colorist, really. I have one method and I stick to it.

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2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, still do not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in the most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing our world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and this captures us as we were rebuilding our careers and trying to stay afloat financially. It was a struggle that continued long past when the drawing was completed, and even continues to one degree or another today.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken the dog down from off it from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, was quite the poised young woman then, and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She was only an inch shorter than Erin in 2016, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. The previous Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets, after several accidents, were no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school that year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dressed then as I fulfilled my role as a stay-at-home dad and worked on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I worked (mostly at home) at the time as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe was deteriorating at time because of both my hate for clothes shopping and our financial challenges. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet, 5, was just OBSESSED with Star Wars that year, and particularly with Rey. The costume she’s wearing was real and she wore it all the time, and she had the light saber, too. Still does, in fact. Her enthusiasm was adorable. The Star Wars fever extended to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she would ask for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.

2020:

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It’s a good thing I drew this before the COVID-19 pandemic, otherwise we might all be wearing masks.

This is the drawing I gave Erin today. This is certainly the BUSIEST drawing I’ve ever done in this series. And for good reason. The last four years have been, hands down, the busiest time of our lives (which is weird to say on Day 57 of quarantine). We have been running far, far away from our lives before the job loss and into something much more rewarding, but also scary. It’s a scary time in more ways than one.

Right off the top, I know what you’re thinking: the color of the couch is different. Okay, so you probably didn’t notice, but we finally switched up our real life couch color, and this reflects that.

Elora is a 17 year old Senior now, class of COVID-19. She dyes her hair black as night these days, and her wardrobe has changed to match. Despite all that darkness, she’s actually a positive, acerbically witty, and athletic (Badminton) young woman who we are trying to convince to live with us as long as possible while she’s in college. Since no actual high school graduation looks to be in her future, she’ll have to settle with the cap I’ve given her here.

Cami, 15, is her usual cheery self. She has grown a bit in the last few years, and we’re not quite sure if she’s done. Now that she’s in high school, I’ve dressed her a little older and little more fashionable. Her see-saw between long hair and short hair continues, but truthfully the long hair is the most constant. Her fidget toy this time around is a silicon potholder, which has turned out to be the most durable and cheapest out of all such toys we’ve ever given her. So, she has a lot of them.

Erin did get that Master’s Degree and has been working as a college professor ever since, at one school or another. Her wardrobe is still professional, but it’s got a little bit more of a casual touch to it than last time, signaling how much comfortable she is with her profession and how much she’s settled in. She’s smarter now, too, with that fancy degree, so, glasses! Around her neck is special necklace with each of our names on one of the four sides. Not readable in this drawing, but she knows what it is. And her hair is now curly. Again, I think it’s reflective of her comfort level with herself and her new occupation; she feels free to play more. Erin is all about purses and shoes, and what you see here are her latest and most prized acquisitions.

I pretty much always dress in black these days because it’s slimming and dieting and I are enemies. My career has taken a much wilder path since 2016, doing a lot of my own things, creating and working in all kinds of media, now with Stellar Lense Productions for some of it, but also as a published author and writer and director of my own films. To reflect that autonomy, I wear no logos now. You’ll also notice I look just a little older as my baby face is finally starting to show some lines, and there’s not even a hint of hair anymore. Underneath that hat is nothing. Male pattern baldness for the win.

Violet is a 9 year old with style to spare, and she’s not afraid to show it. She is an incredibly sweet girl with so, so much energy, so it still didn’t feel right to have her sitting properly on the couch. Her best friend is our new dog, Baxter, who doesn’t understand boundaries.

Our other pets, amazingly, still live. Our little dogs are around a decade old. Oz pretty much lays around all day, but Batman still has the energy and youth of a puppy. I don’t understand it. King George, our cat, is striking his usual pose. He is 80% fur and doesn’t care what you think or do. The house is his.

* * *

I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and  not cheap. I rarely draw anymore, to be honest, so I have no prices for you! I just don’t do this kind of work anymore. Sorry.

Top 10 Things I Learned in Marriage Class

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Erin and I from this past summer.

A few days ago I gave a talk on marriage at my church. (Mormons are funny that way in that we have a lay ministry and no preacher, so somebody different speaks every week. My card was pulled, as it were.) Probably not-so-coincidentally, my wife, Erin, and I concluded three years of teaching a Strengthening Marriage class together the week previous. My talk took the form a Top Ten list and even though I basically blubbered my way through it, I think there’s some good stuff in here worth sharing and keeping. It’s mostly common sense, but good.

This is obviously gonna skew towards the religious in its presentation, but even if you’re not a goin’-to-church-on-Sunday kind of person, I think there might be a couple of things of worth in here anyway.

The list is in no particular order. I counted down just because Letterman.

10. Remembering How It All Started Can Help Through Difficult Periods.

Every relationship has a foundation. It is important to always remember that foundation because within it is the confirmation that two people should be together and that the relationship is worth fighting for.

Our foundation: I was a recently returned missionary. Erin was the president of Genesis Club at her high school—a Protestant club. If there were  tracks, we were on opposite sides. So, we became friends instead of the other thing. We talked about religion, but I was so offensive in my approach she eventually told me that if we were going to continue being friends then I could never talk to her about religion ever again. I agreed.

We started dating more than a year later when she began college full-time. It was against both of our principles to date outside of our religion, but we felt the influence of our Heavenly Father drawing us together. We dated in secret because her parents would not allow me, a Mormon, into their home.

Erin made the difficult decision to begin taking the missionary discussions when who Mormons are did not match up with what she’d been told about what we believe. What she learned prompted her to be baptized and that’s when we told her parents a)we were dating and b)Erin was getting baptized in a week. They did not take it well and it was not a fun conversation. (Thankfully, our relationship with them is solid now because they’re awesome people.)

We prayed to know whether we should be married and received confirmation. Erin’s mom begged me not to propose, but I did it anyway. Erin had to convince her she wasn’t pregnant and that the short, 3-month engagement we had planned was typical of Mormon culture.

We were married on July 8, 2000. We passed through fire to get there and that experience has blessed us many times since as life has thrown even greater challenges at us. We’re in all of this together.

9. Successful Marriage and Family Relationships are Built on Gospel Principles.

From the Proclamation to the World on the Family as written by the leaders of the LDS Church: “Successful marriages are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

(Wholesome Recreational Activities always made Erin laugh whenever we’d mention this list in class. What would an “un”wholesome recreational activity be? Robbing banks?)

8. The Magic Ratio is 5 to 1.

Psychologist John Gottman found through studies he did with married couples four destructive patterns of communication: CRITICISM – CONTEMPT – DEFENSIVENESS –STONEWALLING. We are all human and indulge our stupid, dark sides from time to time. But is there a bad behavior we make a particular habit of?

The Magic Ratio is 5 to 1: Gottman said his studies showed him that, “When positive feelings and interactions occur five times more often than negative interactions, the marriage is likely to be stable.

Whenever I’m being particularly belligerent with her, or rough with the kids, Erin will often kindly ask me, “How’s your 5?” And then I know I probably need to stop being such a jerk.

7. Conflict is Not the Same as Contention.

From the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 11:29 – “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

A little background. The Nephites—the righteous people who had just been spared great destruction, mind you—had been fighting about issues concerning baptism and doctrine, angrily, with no resolution.

The Savior comes to visit them and what’s the first thing he does? He resolves this conflict for them. He knew he couldn’t do anything for them until they worked past these issues and their anger.

Contention is the escalation of conflict and does not seek resolution. Given that, if you think about it, even silence can be contention if it contributes to escalation. This is poison to a marriage. So, conflict is not to be avoided, but taken care of. In the right way. Without contention.

6. Good Communication Requires Sacrifice.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelves Apostles said: “I pray our Heavenly Father will help us to communicate more effectively in the home through a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to listen, a willingness to vocalize feelings, a willingness to avoid judgment, a willingness to maintain confidences, and a willingness to practice patience… May our gracious and kind Heavenly Father help us in our needs and desires for more effective family communication. Communication can help build family unity if we will work at it and sacrifice for it.”

He mentions sacrifice twice and that’s kind of an odd word to associate with communication. Ultimately, what do we sacrifice if we want to really, truly communicate with someone, especially those we care most about?

We sacrifice the “I” in favor of the “We.” If two people are more concerned about what they have together than what they want for themselves, then real communication and resolution can occur.

5. The Bishop Does Not Eat Peeled Grapes.

Imagine the Bishop, the leader of our congregation, sitting up in front with Deacons on either side of him, one of them using a palm frond as a fan and the other peeling his grapes. That is an image that does not fit. It’s laughable.

That is because the Bishop does not rule, he presides. Presiding is a service position and he is equal to all of us, not above us. So it is with husbands and wives.

There is no Lord or Lady of the Castle, husbands and wives serve each other and their families.

I once saw a documentary on Chimpanzees (called—wait for it—Chimpanzee) and in it the mother of a baby chimpanzee was killed. A baby in that situation is either adopted by another female chimp in the tribe or is left to die. No female chimp would adopt this baby, but, incredibly, the male chimp leader of the tribe stepped up and took care of the baby chimpanzee as a mother would.

This put the male leader in a vulnerable position. Because he was performing duties outside of his office, his position in the tribe was suddenly in flux and the perception of him as a leader was on the wane. To assert his leadership, instead of beating his chest, he systematically went around to every chimp in the tribe and groomed them. He served them. And so they recognized his leadership.

4. Differences Allow for Unity.

Unity is not everyone being the same—it is not conformity to a standard but rather separate, well-functioning contributions to a single whole.

Sheri L. Dew said: “Our Father knew exactly what He was doing when He created us. He made us enough alike to love each other but enough different that we would need to unite our strengths and stewardships to create a whole. Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage… is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives… work together in unity of purpose, respecting each other’s struggles.

Differences should be complimentary—we should fill in each other’s gaps. I am not a complete person. I need Erin to make me complete, and she was put on this Earth to do that. I was put on this Earth to do that for her.

Our first fight: It was the day after the Honeymoon and we were back to the real world. We both had work and school, and needed to be up at 7am. Erin set the alarm for 6am.

It goes off, she hits snooze. 7 minutes later, it goes off again and she hits snooze again. 7 minutes later, the same thing. And again. And again. Until I finally got up on the bed on all fours and pounded the mattress like a gorilla and screamed, “TURN OFF THE SNOOZE! TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF!”

Erin burst into tears. She wondered who this person was she had married and why. We had a long talk and it turned out that while once I was awake I was awake, Erin loved snooze because it was a little reminder she was sleeping and could get more. And then more and then more.

I was not a morning person. I had some real anger issues with the morning time and hated the world and all things pleasant and wonderful about it for the first half hour after getting up. Erin helped me see that if I was going to live with anyone besides myself then I had to work through that.

I helped her to not hit the snooze a million times like a crazy person. Our differences made us stronger and brought us together.

3. Whatever You’re Mad About, That’s Probably Not It.

We all deal with anger, but often our anger hides our underlying feelings that may or may not have anything to do with the topic at hand. These feelings must be discovered if real resolution is going to occur.

It requires great strength to be vulnerable, and it requires great compassion to handle vulnerability properly. We need to and should be able to be vulnerable with our spouse.

Erin is great at pulling underlying feelings out of me—even when I’m not aware of them myself. Just because you’re not aware of the underlying feelings doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

2. My Spouse is Not My Enemy.

We’re on the same team. Contention can make even those we love most seem like our enemy in the moment. When trust and love exists, confidence in your spouse’s intentions exists as well and remembering that can quell anger.

Erin and I will often say to each when things are heated, “I’m on your team.” It has a demonstrable calming effect.

1. Our Marriage Can Survive Teaching the Marriage Class Together.

During these three years of teaching the Strengthening Marriage class there were difficult weeks of disagreements about the topics and how to teach them.  (As our class well knew because we were not exactly shy about sharing our struggles.) But we worked through it and we achieved greater unity and understanding.

That’s what’s great about a marriage class—it encourages us to have those important conversations that might not happen so much anymore with all the places to be and all of the things we have to do every day. Checking in with our spouse on neverendingly important but easily forgotten or dismissed issues is no bad thing.

Marriage is the most important relationship we have outside of the one we have with Heavenly Father—even more important than what we have with our kids. The kids will leave, but our spouse is forever. Marriage is part of the Eternal Plan. I’m grateful to take part in it, and I’m especially grateful to be married to as good a partner as Erin. I pray every day to be worthy of her.

My marriage is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I absolutely know the truth of President James E. Faust’s words when he said, “Happiness in marriage and parenthood (and I would add “family”) can exceed a thousand times any other happiness.”

She Gets All the Candy She Wants

Cami’s our best eater, but she refused her food at dinner tonight. Not verbally, of course, because she can’t talk. She just shoved it away. I shoved it back at her and she pushed it back at me so hard I thought it might fly out of my hands. We went back and forth for a while before I finally noticed she was pointing at something insistently. I gave up.

“Fine, Cami, what is it you want? Get up and show me.”

She did. She carefully climbed down from her chair at the table and walked over to the phone, where we had stacked all the presents we’re giving to the girls’ teachers tomorrow. She pulled down the shiny, orange one. A small purse. Earlier that day Erin put a bag of M&Ms inside. I pulled out the M&Ms and asked Cami, “Is this is it? Is this what you want? You want candy for dinner?”

Cami smiled her big, toothless grin and shrieked for joy. I told her it wasn’t gonna happen. That candy was for Elora’s teacher. She insistently stabbed at the bag of candy with her index finger and happy shrieked some more.

Not knowing what else to to, I offered Cami a deal. She couldn’t have the M&Ms, but we did have a miniature candy bar I could give her–but only after she ate her dinner.

Cami looked at me intently, making the kind of eye contact she offers up too rarely. She grabbed her fork, swung her legs under the table, and began eating. A couple bites later, she pronounced herself done by putting down the fork and looking up at me expectantly. The big grin came back.

“No,” I said. “You have to eat the WHOLE dinner.”

Again Cami picked up the fork and started eating. Now, she was chowing down.

I turned to look at Erin, whose jaw sat slacked. I asked her, “Did I just have a conversation with Cami?”

“I think you did,” she said.

Cami ate and ate until all of her chicken and her beans and her rice were completely gone. When she was finished she pushed her plate away and walked over to where she knew we kept the mini candy bars.

“Okay, Cami,” I said. “I’ll get it for you.” She turned around and went back to her seat to patiently wait for me to unwrap the bar. Erin and I, and Elora for that matter, didn’t even know how to process what had happened.

I grabbed Elora’s teacher’s gift, ripped the bag of M&Ms out of it, and poured it into a bowl.

“Tonight,” I said. “Cami gets all the candy she wants.”

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