A Poem for Peter and a Dream from King

Our kids are home today, as schools around here close to honor and remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Growing up in the eighties, we celebrated the third Monday in January by coloring purple-outlined ditto worksheets declaring our color-blindness, asserting that all people were valuable and important regardless of the color of their skin, and thanking God that we were living in a time when all people were treated equally.

As I’ve grown older, as the world has grown nearer, I am coming to terms with the reality that we are a far way off from the dream Dr. King envisioned for us. Incarceration rates, the history of redlining that still impacts neighborhoods and schools this very day, and the inability of so many of us to even affirm the inherent value of black lives, to even so much as say that those lives matter: all this speaks to the work we have left to do. As a white parent of white children, I have the opportunity to honor Dr. King’s work by choosing not to gloss over the reality of the injustices faced by people of color today, a privilege I have taken for granted in the past, and am learning to see.

So this weekend we’ll start by rereading A Poem for Peter, by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Pinkney tells the story of Ezra Jack Keats, who wrote the 1963 Caldecott winning children’s story The Snowy Day. If you aren’t familiar with it, The Snowy Day centers the narrative of a little boy named Peter, enjoying the simple joys of childhood, in a time when people of color were absent from pages of children’s literature.

Pinkney’s verses speak to the complexities and heartache of discrimination and injustice, as she describe’s Keat’s life and his journey to write and illustrate The Snowy Day. Her playful poetry allows children to absorb the story, and affords parents the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with their kids about Peter, Keats, and race in America. We’ll read The Snowy Day and we’ll read A Poem for Peter. We’ll linger over verses where Pinkney describes the state of children’s publishing in the 1950’s:

All heroes in all the comics

were always as white as a winter sky.

Peter, child, you were so-not-anywhere

among any superheroes.

We will not gloss over the fact that this was true then, and is still an issue now:

….For sure,

making art for children’s stories

was a jubilant reason to rejoice.

Okay, maybe so, but the delight

was all white.

The books on the shelves made Ezra call out

like a daddy looking for his lost child:

Where are you?

This weekend, we will stop, and ask who is missing from our neighborhood and our churches and our bookshelves and our comics. We will look at our table and our park play dates, and ask the question: Where are you? We will talk about the privileges we take for granted, and the ways we can listen better. We will look at Ezra Jack Keats, and ask how we, too, can center the voices of others, of brothers, of sisters who look different from us.

We will reflect on the passage of scripture preached at our church this Sunday, where Paul calls Peter out on his willingness to “other” the gentiles. We will talk about God’s heart for all people – every tongue and tribe and nation, and how we as a church (how I as a person) have often opted for comfort that mirrors our own faces and experiences instead of His call, instead of the beautiful mosaic of the Body of Christ. 

We will take out our box of Crayolas, the big yellow tin box with all the colors and find fifteen, twenty, twenty-five different crayons to shade skin in honest colors. We will remember Dr. King with our elementary school coloring pages, asserting that all people are valuable and important regardless of the color of their skin, but we will not pretend we have arrived in some dream land. We will teach our children what life was like in 1963, when Keats took home a Caldecott Medal and Dr. King wrote a letter from Birmingham Jail. We will look at what life is like today, in 2017, and lean into the hard questions, and begin to work toward that dream together.

A few resources for parents who are beginning to talk to their kids about race. I am no expert, I am learning here too. These are resources I’ve found helpful.

Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Books

Raising Race Conscious Children by Joanna Goddard

How to Talk to Your Kids About Race

Read Aloud Revival Podcast Episode #53 with Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park’s Ted Talk “Can A Picture Book Change the World?”

The Titles on this New York Times Book List

Grace Lin’s Ted Talk on Windows and Doors

We Need Diverse Books

We Don’t Need More Diverse Books. We Need More Diverse Books Like The Snowy Day. by Rumaan Alam

New Year, New Sketches

It’s 2017 and I’m coming back to this place after almost three years to share a little bit of my art, to collect a few thoughts.

I’m working this year at creating a sketch a day, and sharing them over on instagram. I’d love to connect over there.

And I’ll pop in here to share thoughts, now and then, about cultivating creativity and connection and conversations around art and faith and everyday small graces.

Sunday hopes. #besmallstudios2017 14/365

A photo posted by Annie Barnett (@besmallstudios) on

If you want to stay connected, there’s a little box at the bottom of this page where you can drop your email address, and hopefully, one of these days, a little newsletter, or a pretty print will arrive in your inbox. I’d love to connect with you there too.

Happy New Year, friends.

Behind the Scenes: Words Matter Collection

I sit down at the dining room table with the familiar mess: a million shards of safety-scissored scrap-paper transformed into a miniature bookshelf by a miniature artist; a formidable stack of papers from the preschool; a leaning tower of library books; and an abandoned teacup, half finished. I hope it was today’s tea.

I dream of converting the guest room into an art studio – I’ve even put that old kitchen table up there as a place-holder for the dream. But it’s here, the dining room, in the middle of the mess and the chaos, that I still come to paint. I come after my girls are tucked in at night, or while they watch the third episode of Wild Kratts in the other room, or now, while they shape play-dough into baked goods between their not-so-chubby-anymore fingers and imaginations.


We are making here, always.

We make dinner, and make forts out of blankets, and we make faces of frustration, the likes of which live on precisely no-one’s Instagram feed. We make messes and we make space and order and then we make messes again. We make it through bedtime and make love even in the tired seasons of life. We make memories and we paint with words and make story and make believe and we are making, making, making.

I make, more and more these days, with pencil and paint. I am embracing the idea that this gift, the art that always seeps out some place, can be my vocation. And the art can be a hidden wellspring. And the art can be an offering. I begin to see my art through this tri-focal lens…. (read more)

I’m sharing over at (in)courage today about the process behind the Words Matter Prints I made for DaySpring this fall. Hop on over to read more and see their special offer!


Kintsugi : When We Are Being Made Whole

When I painted the cracked tea cup, one of my dearest (and smartest) friends asked if I’d heard of the practice of kintsugi.

It began in 15th century Japan. A shogun, sent a damaged tea bowl back to China for repair. It was returned to him in one piece, but the repair was ugly, the broken pieces made whole with coarse metal staples. The artist looked, and hungered for another way, and all of sudden, there was a movement to restore pottery more seamlessly, to “make a broken piece look as good as new, or better.”*

Kinstugi was born.

Craftsman, in Japan — the artists, began to repair broken wares with fine gold powder. They would fill the cracks and meld the pieces back together meticulously using actual gold, highlighting the quality of the repair work and the cost of redeeming something so valuable. The worth of the vessel increased because of the craftsmanship of the repair.

“Japanese collectors developed such a taste for kintsugi that some were accused of deliberately breaking prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold.”*

In kintsugi, the break becomes more obvious, but the repair is the object of admiration. I can’t stop thinking about it. Read more…

Illustrating #inmercy

This summer, I had the privilege of illustrating these sketches for (in)courage and Mercy House Kenya. Today, the Pure Charity campaign launches to help Mercy House Kenya serve the women who call it home. We can be a small part of their story by joining any or all of these phases. Would you take a minute and check out this project? Read more…

Introducing the Growly Books

I spent a good portion of my childhood doodling away. I’d borrow library books for the illustrations alone, with plenty of Robert McCloskey, Beatrix Potter and Garth Williams always nearby. Children’s books are the place I first discovered art, besides, of course the stars and blades of grass and all created goodness. Illustrators I loved as a child had the ability to capture a story in pencil or paint and let that drawing serve as an invitation into story and imaginative play.

So when Phil and Erin Ulrich contacted me this winter to see if I’d be interested in illustrating their children’s novel, my heart leapt. They sent an early draft of the first Growly Book as I was heading out the door to spend an evening with my grandmother. That night I read the first several chapters aloud as I sat next to her bed, like she’d done so many times for me.

I came home and began to read it to my children, and they fell in love with the characters and their epic adventures right along with me. I agreed to illustrate, and Growly’s story has become part of ours now. Read more…

Dear Young Artist (a guest post by Emily Freeman)

Today marks the first of a new monthly series here at Be Small Studios. Dear Young Artist is a series of letters written by artists, men and women who paint with pigment (or perhaps with words, song, pie-making, play dates…) to encourage young artists and speak honestly about the work of creating.  The series was inspired by this letter written by Makoto Fujimura.  Today we welcome Emily Freeman – a writer whose artistry has inspired and taught me much more than I can paint in words. Enjoy.

Dear Young Artist,

It feels strange and uncomfortable in a way for me to be writing to you because I feel like a young artist myself. Not in terms of age, but in respect to practice and calling and purpose.

I have so much to learn.

I suppose that is my first point. As you grow into your craft and practice it more, a feeling of competency and arrival will probably never accompany it.

It’s like when I first brought twins home from the hospital – I couldn’t believe the doctors and nurses allowed me to take them. Shouldn’t a responsible grown up be in charge? But I looked around and my husband did too and all we saw was each other.

We didn’t feel capable but we didn’t have time to wait for our feelings to catch up with our reality. There was too much work to do.

If you are waiting to feel qualified, certified or professional, stop. Give yourself permission to work from your smallness, from your humility and your humanity.

You will probably never feel like a “real artist.” It’s okay. In the meantime, there are a bunch of messy, failing, brave strugglers doing the work of art – you’re welcome to join us whenever you are ready.

Speaking of being human, remember you are one. You have limits and these limits can be a gift if you are willing to see them that way. Remember how God poured his divinity into humanity in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. Don’t consider yourself above him by thinking that the sky is the limit and if you just had more time/energy/talent, you can get there one day.

The sky is only the limit if you are an airplane. If you are human, your feet will nearly always be planted firmly on the ground. That is where they must be for you to do the kind of work that keeps you touchable, broken, but somehow at the same time, unbreakable.

Creativity doesn’t involve a magic potion. The great artists you admire don’t have a special visiting from a fairy muse. They don’t wake up feeling inspired or breathing out sparkly dust of wisdom and talent. Read more…

On Cultivating Imagination and Easter Monday

As a little girl, my experience of faith was inextricably intertwined with the coursing imagination that pulsed through my veins.  I listened Bible stories and cricket concertos without filters of doubt and fear, full of possibility. Stories of mustard seed faith moving mountains were simultaneously more fantastical and more concrete than I dare to envision now.

“We do live, all of us, on many different levels, and for most artists the world of imagination is more real than the world of the kitchen sink.” – Madeleine L’Engle

We listened to a bit of CS Lewis’ Narnia on a long drive this weekend, and we talked about the empty tomb. I remembered, again, that in Christ we are being redeemed, imaginations and all. We live between a broken world, welcoming in the kingdom come, Thy will be done.

My children are small and together we are making space for holy imagination.

I’ve been stretching imagination muscles in paint and pigment, writing down childhood stories just for my girls and my own memory – not for book-making or blogging. I’m remembering story and plays, the wildness of the woods,  and whopping adventures that make long car drives a laughing matter.

Holy imagination.*

A blanket becomes a fortress.

Shadows become dragons; a mother’s voice dispels their power.

A playground becomes a kingdom and the kingdom becomes a playground.

It’s Easter Monday, and we are being made new.

* I think I first heard this term at Story Warren. Their site is lovely and inspiring for all the Mamas and the Papas.


A Little Housekeeping & Some Good Words About Art

This space has been small growing, a post-when-you-can sort of corner. InstaGrams and prints in the shop. A guest post here and a guest post there.

Be small. That is the heart of this place and I don’t mind if things grow slow. (I might prefer them a teensy bit slower, actually.) I’m learning as I go here.

I have something beautiful up my sleeve, though.  Soon, we’ll be welcoming some new voices here to share letters with you: letters to the artist who is just starting out, letters to the makers who are young and emerging, regardless of calendar years.  Words from men and women who are creating and calling us to join in the adventure. So stay tuned for that, okay? And if you’d love to share your own letter, please drop me a line. Read more…

Tea Cup: A Study in Brokenness

The teacup is yellowed and fragile, and when I go looking for a reference, I discover I possess too many heirlooms full of fine fractures. Some of the most beautiful things in this home are marked with imperfections.

It was well after I painted the break and printed the first round for the shop that an old friend asked me if I was familiar with kintsugi. She told me about the way craftsman in fifteenth century Japan repaired broken wares with fine gold powder, highlighting the quality of the repair work and the cost of redeeming something so valuable. It’s worth increased because of the craftsmanship of the repair.

In kintsugi, the break becomes more obvious, but the repair is the object of admiration. I can’t stop thinking about it.

I considered going back and adding a bit of gold, or painting a new piece, highlighting the brokenness redeemed. But this series is about the broken places, the unfinished stories, the places we are still waiting for redemption, holding out hope.

One day I’ll paint a picture with golden redemption, but for now I hang the teacup in the kitchen and whisper a prayer for all the still broken places. Read more…

Nest: A Study in Brokenness

Broken eggshells once held life: sustained, protected, nourished. No more.

Here, the eggshell blue leaked off the brush all broken. Fragile, jagged edges usher new life. What has broken the shell will wrestle free, emerge messy and sightless, be fed, learn to fly.

It’s the sick who need a doctor, and while we celebrate wholeness and healing, we remember the broken places, too. We remember and whisper hope to the places still held together by fragile shells, speak courage to the messy middle between unhatched and free flight.

It’s funny to think of broken fragments as a birthplace of hope, but I do.

{This 8×10 Print of Nest: A Study in Brokenness is available here.}

Catharsis {art as grace}

There’s steaming tea and honest conversation, a slow unknotting of tangled introspection.

There’s slicing fresh garlic into warm butter, a kitchen way to knead away the tension.

There’s meticulous pen drawing and wild watercolor freedom.

A walk in the fresh, icy air.

Ten golden minutes of silence.

Catharsis. Read more…

The Sacred Everyday {a guest post for Micha Boyett}

I’m sharing today over at Micha Boyett‘s blog, about the intersection of faith and art, and the heart behind Be Small Studios. Join me?

I am an artist, and I see all life through this lens. All our days, we are making art: creating, with our hands, our words, our silence and our lives. We make oatmeal for breakfast and love letters to slip into lunch boxes. We write on each others’ lives in delicate strokes of compassion and jagged lines of judgement. We create bridges, cultivate community, fashion idols.

We were made and we are making, always. Imago Dei. [Keep Reading…]

A Letter from a Fledgling Artist {on art & vulnerability}

This little acorn makes me quiver.

I can speak in front of an audience, write my soul bare, or host intimate gatherings of friends and strangers. True, my heart may beat a bit faster as I take the microphone or crack wide the front door, but always experience and hope remind me that I can.

It is these small paintings – the offering of my art, that leave me feeling exposed, a bit vulnerable.

Read more…