Recently, I had a spell of fear and loathing. I’d had to say no to three writing assignments over a six-week period due to family obligations. Did I still have any chops? Was the piece I turned in any good? Would the people who hired me before ever hire me again?
Years ago I read Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The only part I still remember is a story about a ceramics class.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.”
When the grades came out, the group that made more pots made better pots.
Over the years Susie Jaramillo — artist, lyricist, chief creative officer and co-founder of Canticos — has made many, many “pots.” The company she helped start has released seven dual language books of Spanish nursery rhymes, each of which Jaramillo illustrated. The books open accordion-style, with the English version on one side and the original Spanish rhyme on the other. In May, Canticos launched an animated series on Nick Jr.
Jaramillo spoke to Tweetspeak’s Through the Looking Glass workshop this spring, and one question the class had was how she learned to trust herself. How did she deal with doubt?
Her answer prioritized art over fear.
“Doubt is for rich people,” Jaramillo said. “I cannot afford self-doubt. I just can’t. Fear? That’s another one. I can’t afford it. These are luxuries. They hold you back and do nothing for you.”
When she was seventeen, Jaramillo came to New York City to study at Pratt School of Art. She was alone, without the support of family. At the time, there weren’t many women in her art school, and they often had less experience engaging in artistic endeavors than their male peers. During her interview with the school, the admissions officer told Jaramillo her work was “mediocre.”
Jaramillo’s response? “I just looked at him and said, ‘For now.’”
She got in. And she made more art, more “pots.” She joined a dedicated group of students who formed an extracurricular nude drawing program that taught her invaluable art skills. If she didn’t know how to draw something or paint something, she learned. By her senior year, the department chair introduced Jaramillo as “the best draftsman in the department.”
“When you go after stuff that makes you nervous, you try harder. You do your due diligence and make sure you’re prepared,” Jaramillo said. “I abide by the philosophy that you can do everything, just not all at once.”
After art school she went into advertising, specifically for the Hispanic market, making more “pots,” different ones than she made in art school. While she was on maternity leave, she had the idea to create bilingual board books based on nursery rhymes — accessing a rich set of material no one had tapped into.
“I was no one in publishing. But I had a treasure trove of nursery rhymes, and I could build a name on equity built on hundreds of years,” she said. “Nursery rhymes build community and bring generations together. These songs transcend countries.”
Originally, a major book publisher was going to publish the first book, Los Pollitos / Little Chickies, but Jaramillo felt that the process would’ve taken too long. She joined forces with Nuria Santamaria Wolfe, and they started their own company, which allowed them to release seven books in a year, along with apps and videos all built around the animal characters in the rhymes (aka, lots of “pots”).
The new collaboration with Nick Jr. requires Jaramillo to use old art skills and learn new ones. Canticos has received acclaim from The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. Anything but mediocre!
Jaramillo has other projects she’d like to pursue—the kind most artists have, that first inspire us to put paint on a brush or set pencil to page or throw clay on a wheel. Time might stand in her way, but fear, it seems, never will.
One of the Canticos videos Jaramillo created for Nick Jr. is The Teeny Tiny Boat / El Barquito Chiquitito.
“Ricky Chicky never gives up! Watch him persevere and make his boat float no matter what!”
Ricky Chicky wouldn’t make just one pot. Jaramillo certainly didn’t. And neither should we.
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