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May 27, 2010

Life During Naptime: Tiny Art Director

While I promise to always concentrate on the kids’ entertainment that’s the nominal focus of this blog, from time to time I see something aimed at a parental audience that I can’t resist typing about. The first such entry is a humor book for parents that came out a couple of months ago: Bill Zeman’s Tiny Art Director: A Toddler and Her Vision.

I was at a nexus of parenting and graphic design for nearly four years at Cookie magazine, so it’s sort of shocking I’d never run across the blog from which this book is drawn. In it, artist Zeman has been relating his (largely unsuccessful) attempts to fulfill the drawing requests of his young daughter, Rosie. (She was two years old when he started; now she’s five.) On the other hand, I’m now sort of glad I hadn’t found it earlier, because I think I had the chance to appreciate the book, a collection of some of Zeman’s best and funniest entries, all the more.

From all other indications, Rosie seems a lovely little girl, but in her assignments to her poor father and her reactions to his “submissions,” she is a true tyrant, of the kind every artist on assignment must dread: She changes her mind midstream. She flatly contradicts herself on precise details of her original requests, denying she ever made them. She completely forgets what she’s asked for seconds after she’s asked for it. She yells and demeans his talent.

Having now gone back to see the original blog, I also have to say the book’s format, if anything, makes things  funnier. Each spread contains “the brief” (Rosie’s original request) and the drawing Zeman has created from it on the left-hand side, and the “critique” (her reaction to the finished work), along with a stamp of approval or rejection, on the right. (I’d say the rejected-to-approved ratio approaches 20 to 1.) And while Rosie’s behavior is perfectly familiar to parents who’ve lived with kids this age, the “art director” frame has the wonderful effect of making her seem borderline insane—similar to the supremely wacked-out bosses on some sitcoms. The cumulative effect is laugh-out-loud funny, and pretty irresistible.

A typical example: Given the brief “A ‘C,’ an ‘H,’ and a dinosaur mouth”—for which, Zeman notes, requests for any further clarification from Tiny Art Director were denied—the artist pens a green T. rex in profile, with the two letters in his open jaws. Tiny Art Director’s critique: “NO!!!! CH and a mouth! I hate the mouth and the teeth.” An artist’s statement follows: “I never did find out what the heck this was all about.” Below, another:

Postscript: Tiny Art Director is clearly aimed at adults, but my five-year-old got curious about it while I was checking it out, and soon became fascinated himself—though on a different level, it seemed. He wasn’t laughing at the humor, just checking out the drawings. I was wondering whether he was getting the concept at all when he walked over to me with the book and, pointing to one of Zeman’s rare approved drawings, said with a beaming smile, “Look! She liked one!”

[Photos: Whitney Webster]

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