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When A Child's Doodle Becomes Art

By Guan Tan

From left, six-year-old Miya Siow's sketches translated into a embroidery hoop by her mother, Inez Tan.
 
Tung Pham
From left, six-year-old Miya Siow's sketches translated into a embroidery hoop by her mother, Inez Tan.

Six-year-old Miya Siow doodles – stick figures, cowgirls riding on the backs of snails in the desert, princesses and yogi dinosaurs. Doodling only piqued her interest earlier this year, when she picked up the coloured markers to sketch all over scrap paper. It's not surprising. Most children doodle. Some even enthusiastically go past the paper to deface the walls and floors. These doodles eventually get erased and trashed out in fits of anger. Coloured pencils get confiscated and the door to a creative world slams in the face of these children. 

Inez Tan, Siow's mother saw her daughter's drawings in a different light. As we sat around her dining table, she pulled out a stack of crumpled paper. She carefully rearranged the messy pile in chronological order. The 41-year-old singled out Siow's first sketch, of a cowgirl from the desert, riding a snail in a hybrid world, with a bunny in tow. "It's from watching television. And we went to Tokyo Disneyland. Whenever we travel, [Miya] gets really inspired," Tan laughs. 

Tung PhamSix-year-old Miya Siow at her work desk.
Six-year-old Miya Siow at her work desk.

Tan dissects the drawing, first from the strokes and lines. "It's very stick-like. She's still figuring things out. It's very nice." Tan has few words to describe the quality of her daughter's sketches. She repeatedly traced the black lines with her fingers. The strokes were uneven, shaky and vulnerable. They told of the child's feeble and weak grip of the pen. Yet, the strokes were very certain and bold. It was as if the child drew with boldness and courage, and was confident of her imagination. And that is the "childlike and fun" quality that Tan admires. 

On these scrap pieces of paper, is a child's sense of uninhibited creative freedom. It's, perhaps, a mirror of a child's mind, a place where the world's stringent rules and codes have not taken root. "Adults' drawings are so different. They already have the idea [of what they want]," Tan adds.

When she's observing Siow's sketches, Tan feels infected by her child's surge of creativity. "I feel excited when I do it. Ideas start flowing – the colours." 

Tung PhamMiya Siow's doodles made permanent in an embroidery hoop. Her mother, Inez Tan does not plan to sell her daughter's works just yet.
Miya Siow's doodles made permanent in an embroidery hoop. Her mother, Inez Tan does not plan to sell her daughter's works just yet.

It wasn't long before Tan realised she should embroider her daughter's sketches. To her, the slow process of embroidery is a way to interact and reflect upon her daughter's art and creative development. Framing the sketches in an embroidery hoop is too, a way to make the six-year-old's art permanent. Scrap paper is, after all, a transient medium. In a hoop and fabric, the doodles seem to have longevity. That aside, art became the mother-daughter duo's bond. "For me, it's something personal. Her [growing up] journey, and my relationship with her." 

Tan first scans her daughter's drawings, resizes them digitally to fit the hoop size. "Get the size right, then trace it [onto the fabric] using carbon paper." She then takes her time to embroider the sketches on, often with vibrant colours true to the drawings. "A couple of hours, maybe five to six hours. I don't do it within a day. I take my time." 

Tung PhamMother Inez Tan pictured with her daughter, Miya Siow.
Mother Inez Tan pictured with her daughter, Miya Siow.

When she embroiders, her daughter pops by to check on her art. Tan laughs as she recounts how, on good days Siow showers her embroidery with commendations like, "Wow, so beautiful! I like the colours!" On other days, "How come it's a bit different?" 

Children might, too, have the purest forms of creativity, and imagination. In a world where sayings like, 'Nothing is new anymore' and 'Everything is a copy' underscore the creative industries and the most high-paying designers copy from archives, a child's originality is especially precious.

For that, Tan is open to do comissioned embroidery hoops for fellow parents. They can contact her, send in their child's drawings and she will do the rest. I asked Tan, if that might deny other parents of the intimate parent-child bonding process that she enjoys with her daughter. She pondered a little before sharing that she has plans for parent-child art and embroidery workshops in the future.