Growing up, I was given specific advantages as a maker. My father, the painter Lee Savage, was a living example of a committed maker: painter, animator, illustrator, director. My primary memory of him, growing up, is of him painting every day for hours in his studio out back, and living in a house populated with art made by close friends.
When, for my sixth or seventh birthday, I wanted a race car for my teddy bear, Gus, he made one out of fiberglass for me. He built a succession of decks behind our house, built the addition on his studio, and fixed the chairs he broke leaning back too far.
I watched it all.
His studio was a laboratory of excellent primary building materials: mat board, Rapidograph pens, acetate (which he used to paint cels for animated spots he did for Sesame Street), armature wire, and masking tape. I was never turned away for want of an art material.
By the age of 12, I had permission to use my father’s charge account at the local hardware store. At 18, when I moved into Manhattan, he let me charge art materials on his account at the art store. I was stoked. When I got ambitious, and asked for things like 20 sheets of corrugated cardboard, the answer was always yes. I never abused this privilege. It honestly never occurred to me.
I don’t imagine that my father set out to create an artist. But I’m pretty sure he figured that everyone has a responsibility to learn how the world went together, and much of that learning is simply paying attention.
My twin boys, Addison and Reilly, are now approaching 11. I don’t spoil them, but I do want them to be makers. So I don’t end up building a ton of stuff for them.
But: I’ve bought models for them, and shown them how to put them together. I’m always using one or the other as an assistant for my projects, whether fixing something in the house or my car, or putting together a piece of a costume. They’ve spent the day at work with me many times. They like to watch, and love to help, and already I can see the fruits of these efforts starting to bloom.
I can see both boys learning to put something they want to make into their heads. I can see them trying, failing, succeeding, and trying again to get that thing made.
They’re both showing a facility for music. I’m encouraging the spit out of this. The ability to enjoy doing a thing excellently, the ability to enjoy the work involved — to know that trial and error and even failure may lie ahead, but that they aren’t enough to inhibit your forward progress — this is what I hope to teach them.
Part of gaining the courage to plug ahead with anything is acquiring the confidence that you’re going to be able to understand what’s going to go on. The more things you build and make, the more things you take apart and break, the more you understand many of the critical workings of the world. The more you pay attention, the more that attention pays you back.