Give me the artist at seven


Dear Artist,

Artist and Purpose Guidance Coach Sam Kaczur recently put out a call on social media asking her friends, many of them artists, the following question: “Around the ages of 6-10, do you have a memory or pivotal moment in your life that you feel set the trajectory or tone for your future?” She offered some examples, like meeting an artist or scientist, discovering a talent, or winning a prize. From among the responses, a theme emerged that painted a picture of family and parenting. “My mother took me to the theatre,” “My dad beat me and so I wanted to be peaceful” and “I assembled my first computer,” were among the replies.


“My Children” ca. 1910
oil painting by
Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921)

Experts in child development — parents included — seem to agree that while toddlers explore many ways of being, seven-year-olds seem to settle into patterns, their tastes established and interests piqued. Seven, the age of surging co-ordination and cognitive stamina, is when mediaeval pages took their training to become knights and when boys were first sent to school in ancient Greece. In 8th century Japan, Shichi-Go-San, or “Seven-Five-Three”, acknowledged the passage into middle childhood for the children of court nobles. Shichi-Go-San continues as a festival day for Japanese children and includes special rituals like replacing a regular cord used to tie one’s kimono with a traditional silk obi. Children visit shrines to drive away evil spirits and set an intention for a long, healthy life.


“A Virgin” 1892–3
(painted allusion to
“Winged Victory of Samothrace”)
by Abbott Handerson Thayer

In art, seven is when, with exposure and practice, children start drawing objects more realistically and with details specific to their cultures and experiences. Seven is when performing, reading and writing music grow in dexterity, complexity and artistic interpretation. Body awareness, movement, rhythm, imitation and mood inform dancing. Seven-year-olds distinguish between body shapes. In drama, Sevens can name characters, settings, problems, solutions and drivelines and can construct and act out real-life and imaginary situations through dramatic play. Scholars have suggested that reading skills at seven can determine future life outcomes like social and economic status.

Sam says this crucial life stage is when we “can create awesome or perpetual bad habits.” By seven, we’ve learned how to cut corners or dig in, to indulge curiosity, to give up, to ask for help or be self-sufficient, to be dutiful or contrarian. If we’ve been acknowledged for creative ability, our environment and character have determined how we follow up. And what we do with our deepest desires — like bury them or explore — began here. Coping with setbacks was probably reinforced into nearly immoveable beliefs during this time. How we cultivate and sustain joy likely comes from this spot, too. Are we all still mostly, at our core, our seven-year-old selves?


“The Athenaeum – Boy and Angel”
1918 oil on cradled panel
61.5 × 49 inches
by Abbott Handerson Thayer



PS: “The future influences the present just as much as the past.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Esoterica: Part of Sam’s coaching work is helping her clients discover the essence of their “Why Superpower.” They get there, she says, by identifying their values, which often requires a trip to age seven. “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction,” wrote John F. Kennedy. After the re-visit, instead of accepting a pre-determined track, you could use the understanding to exercise a current will. As free and responsible agents, who we were at seven could be a powerhouse for the future. “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.” (Bob Dylan)

You may remember the 1964 BBC/Granada longitudinal study documentary Seven Up, which followed the lives of fourteen British children and covered themes of religion, class, family, happiness and psychology with the intention of exploring theories of pre-determinism, class mobility and existential free will. By continuing to interview the same subjects every seven years since 1964, the film series reveals heartbreaking truths and surprising discoveries. Roger Ebert called it, “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium” that “penetrates to the central mystery of life.” The ninth installment, 63 Up, will be released in the spring of 2019.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The creative adult is the child who has survived. (Ursula K. LeGuin)




  1. I remember my teacher telling me to draw less on a class project so others would have more room and my mother telling me that my sister was the one with the artistic talent. I am a rebel by nature, so my path was set.

  2. I watched my first of the Seven Up series — 14Up — in 1971 when I was 15 and my sister was 7. It was almost like watching myself or my friends and I’ve always looked forward for the next one with the same anticipation one has to seeing old friends again. I actually sympathize with these unwilling stars of what I think must be the first ‘reality tv’ series. I even showed it to my students a few years ago so they could see how in some ways, we remain true to our inner child, and how in other ways, we are forced to adapt to what life throws at us. I’ve heard it said that life is a repeating cycle of seven years, with pivotal life changes at 14, 21, 28, etc. When I’ve felt bogged down at times — usually in the midst of that cycle — I console myself with the thought that change is always on the horizon.

  3. During circle time in Grade Two, age 7, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. My friend Betsy turned to me and whispered, “Andrea! Be an artist!” It was a lightbulb moment that took me over thirty years to finally take seriously.

  4. At seven after being read too every night, it was a private joy to read everything from soup can labels to, novels on my own.

    Also on a completely different plan, watching machines work on my Father’s construction sites, lead to drawing many wheels, and a life long fascination with tractors.

  5. In my household, I was exposed to art: Grandparents, parents, siblings, they all did some form of art. It was only a natural progression. However, I would say the interest and curiousity arose at six.

  6. I turned seven the year after that documentary was filmed. I have seen all the films and it has been like watching my own life through someone else’s eyes at times. It was very evident indeed that Aristotle’s quote “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man” was quite true. I look forward with some sadness to see the next installment in 2019.

  7. Thank you, Sara,

    My art career began at age 6 when we were Estonian refugees living in Sweden. Even though our appearance, blonde hair and fair skin, was similar, the Swedes at that time had trouble accepting us and did not feel comfortable with their children playing with us. However, I had a burning desire to belong and be accepted. My Mom worked in a paper factory where I had access to card board and paper. I began designing paper dolls and clothes, which I gave to the girls, in order to win friends and acceptance.
    Yes, I have followed Seven Up. I wish that the dreams of all those 7 years olds of what they wanted to be when they grew up had come true. They were so full of enthusiasm and hope!

  8. I was in 2nd grade when I drew a picture of Popeye that garnered tons of compliments and praise from my classmates. I can remember feeling soooo proud. Unfortunately my ‘talent’ was not nurtured or encouraged by either my parents or my school , maybe understandable considering the times (late depression – 1937) and attitudes about making a living. I was in my thirties before getting my art degree, and today at age 86, I am a dedicated artist – it is my passion. A few years ago, attending a high school reunion, I was amazed by how many of my classmates remembered me as “an artist”.

    • I was encouraged and discouraged all at once…”good girl, that’s great, but don’t do “that”. Do “this!This” makes money. “That” makes no money. You can do “that” if you do “this” first! And then you can do both, only if you put “this” first and do “that” in your spare time.
      My daughter and her friends formed a drama group. 2 of the kids kept it from their parents, one of the kids was FORBIDDEN to do drama and another promised to apply for law so she could keep it up. This is 2018. It’s worse than ’37.
      My sister died when I was six. I don’t remember much about 7. 8 or 9 for that matter. But I know I did “that”.

      • Hi Catherine
        Your story is very much my story. I knew by seven that I wanted to have art in my life in one way or another. All I did through school is draw while pretending to pay attention. I did “this” by becoming a teacher to appease my parents who said art was something you did on Sunday after your “real” job. I did a little teaching but mostly did “that” and made it work one way or another my whole life. My Mother’s acceptance as she got older and realized that I could make money doing “that” was to say that she accepted the fact that I was a bit of a bohemian. At least it was something!
        Your name is pretty great as well.
        Catherine Jeffrey

  9. At age seven, my public school teacher was so impressed by my drawing of a squirrel in an underground nest with roots and rocks (in cross-section), that she had me hold it up in front of the class, then took me around to all the other 3 classes in the (small, country) school and had me hold it in front of me as she extolled it’s artistic merits to all. It was a seminal moment of reinforcement for me and I drew constantly from then forward. And have had a 47-year professional art career since graduating art college. For extra income , I presently teach 8 recreation art classes including two classes of 5 to 7 year-olds (plus 8-10s and 11-14’s, adults and seniors). And notice the spike in creative abilities, as well, in the seven year-olds. Thanks, Sara for this wonderful piece of reinforcing scientific finding!

  10. Dear Sara,
    Very interesting article and dialog from others. I grew up in a large family on a farm. I remember when I was 7 or 8, I traced and painted cows and chickens on waxed paper, and cut them out and made “decals” and glued them on my mothers canisters, and my fathers barn troughs. I don’t remember how long they lasted, but I remember the joy they brought to me everytime I looked at them, and everyone raved over them. That was what hooked me!

  11. I think I started at 3 1/2. I drew a 3D chair at eye level at 4 and won a box of colored pencils at 5 in an art contest in our city newspaper, so, I vote for “it can happen at any age.” Some wonderful artists don’t get it til way late in life.

    • I got into, ‘Commercial Photography,’ at seventeen – I had to legally have my, “Minorities Removed,’ in TX, in order to sign contracts, and be responsible for my dept. I could not legally drink a beer until I was 21! At 21 – TX lowered the drinking age to 18 – as USA had long been drafting 19 year-old kids into the Vietnam War…

      Becoming an artist was a much longer road. I began having my visions in the early mid-eighties – after which I was on the road to find out… After years of planning, preparing, waiting for technology to catch up – in 2002-03, I became the Digital Artist I have continued to be – growing every day since… I’m 65 now, and these past three years have been my most productive – out of my entire life!!! So, cheers to the late-comers, who took longer, but didn’t get stuck in early career ho-drums. At my age – you don’t listen to criticism when you have paid your dues, and know yourself better that you may want to express to others – but it still come out in the tea leaves of your art!
      Sincerely, Brad Michael Moore.

    • Jean Kilburn on

      I agree. I raised three children of three different genetic backgrounds, and could tell from
      a very early age how each was developing. Since one was not adopted I also learned that hereditary traits are much more influential than environmental, e.g., a duckling can be raised with chickens but it will always prefer water and the chicken raised with ducklings will never want to be in it.

  12. John Francis on

    By the time I was 7, I had the ‘Reading Age’ of a 9 year old. Every weekday at school, the first class was…. Catechism. The first Question was: Who made you? We would all chant the scripted Response in unison: God made me. On Fridays we didn’t eat meat and in the evening had to attend Benediction. Saturday afternoons we would go to Confession and afterward would kneel and say memorized Prayers in Penance for our Sins. Sunday Mass was obligatory. If you weren’t attending with your parents, you had to take the very front pew, along with the other unattended children. I became an altar boy against my will. The mass was entirely in Latin. I knew all the spoken parts by heart. High Mass, at 11 on Sundays, was accompanied by a modest Choir in a raised loft along with the Organ and Pipes behind the Congregation. Midway through the lengthy service, there was a lengthy Sermon. Some members of the Choir took this opportunity to descend the stone stairs and go outside for a smoke. They would always know when the Sermon was over because they could hear Mr. Solvey playing something while the Priest slowly returned to the Altar from the Pulpit. Usually something by Bach. I joined the Choir, despite some very aggressive opposition at home. Rehearsals were held on Friday evenings. After Benediction. After Rehearsal, members of the Choir would repair to the local pub for a pint. Or two. The walk home often took a detour for fish ‘n’ chips, wrapped in newspaper.
    I haven’t been in a church for decades, except for funerals and weddings. I’m still reading. And still listening to Bach.

  13. I was 15. My aunt who is 90 and still doing abstracts, greatly influenced me. I made the choice to make a career doing something else, but painting throughout that career and now doing it full-time. I don’t think I would of been ready, then. Emotions and life experiences guide my work.

  14. “When I was four and a half, my family was returning home one night during a raging rain storm. Right as we were entering our front driveway – a huge bolt of lightening struck our Red Oak tree, and split it in two – right down to the ground. It was an awesome experience for a little kid. My parents replaced the Red Oak with an Ash tree that fall. I first began photographing the next year (with my grandmother’s camera). That next spring – the new Ash tree was blooming, and it caught my eye, as I was playing on the front porch walkway. I looked up into the tree’s buds sprouting, and saw high wispy Cirrus clouds through the tree’s branches… This became my first meaningful photograph – captured in black and white in 1957.” [Find Pic @ } Mid-page…

  15. My uncle sometimes gave me a small allowance at seven. I would then run to the bookstore in the corner of our block and buy a serie of magazines published by Editorial Rizzoli (italian company) dedicated to italian painters, strating with Cimabue to Caravaggio. I still have them.

  16. I remember drawing in Kindergarten, back in Sweden and having the other kids at the table ask me to draw what I was drawing for them as well….That memory is engraved…it meant a lot, even at that young age to have someone find value in my “skills” :-)

  17. My mother encouraged my artistic bent when she noticed many crayon drawings behind my bed but not above mattress level, I didn’t want her to be mad at me. She put contact paper on the wall and told me I could draw anywhere on that paper but not above it. Then she gave me my whole bedroom wall to draw on from floor to ceiling when I was about 8 or 9. The whole room was covered in drawings. She’d just paint over it and I’d go at it again. I drew on rocks and everything else (except the house) outside with chalk or charcoal from our backyard fire pit. All I can remember from childhood, school and home, was drawing all the time. I got my first commission when I was in the 11th grade from my English teacher for a set of drawings depicting the characters from the Canterbury Tales. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to make art. That launched me on my way as an artist. I am forever grateful for all the support I received at such a young age both from my mom and my teachers.

  18. Maybe one of life’s non-negotiable requirements is that, at some point, we should come to terms with the grief of 7-lost. In my experience, and observation, seldom if ever does that potential find full expression in adult life. “Coming-to-terms” means seeing, and acknowledging that common/personal grief, and also appreciating that every single distracting eddy, and tortuous mis-direction tempered something even larger than my talent; my soul. That seems to reconnect me to my 7-lost. To seek to express that as an adult (although some would question whether I could ever identify myself as such) artist, is my purpose, and joy. Did I mention how much I love your biweekly letters? ;-)

  19. When I was in second grade, I realized that not everyone could draw because my classmates were always asking me to draw something for them. I, also, remember thinking, “Why don’t they just do it themselves?” I didn’t realize that they couldn’t do it themselves. Throughout school, when any art projects came up, I was always called upon to head up the project or just do it by myself, including posters and school annuals. After working a long time to support myself, and getting married and raising children, I now am an artist who paints and sells, too. The urge was always there inside me!

  20. Charles Eisener on

    I feel quite a disconnect from the responders above. The earliest I remember was playing with rations coupons in my grandparent’s backyard in Nova Scotia after WW2. There are no specific memories of particular ages – life just sort of morphed from one year into the next. There were no art classes in school. Not sure why, but in my early teens I saw oil paints advertised in the Sears catalogue and announced that was what I wanted for Christmas. Very, very crude results, but it did teach me to look and to see. The forms, movements, and the colours! After being told for so long that trees and grass were green, it was a shock to see all these other colours in there too!
    Off and on, I continued to paint or photograph during my career in the medical field. Now retired, the acrylics have called once again, and I have responded. There are those breakthrough moments, but mostly just plodding along wherever the moment leads.

  21. Lillian E Walsh on

    When I was about 7-8 years, my father drove a delivery (ice cream) truck. I rode with him a lot especially in the warm weather (no school). To keep me occupied while he was doing his job, I had pencils (crayons) and paper pads to keep me busy (and not annoy him). Yes I drew what I saw, buildings, people, trees and anything I could see OR imagine. Unfortunately none of those papers are still with me. BUT the drawing is. I carry a pad and paper wherever I go. Appointments for whatever reason, seem never to be on time… but I always have something to do. I have ventured out into large pads of paper after doing the small sketches…
    This year I entered a contest to “depict somewhere/something I wanted to see IF I could go to ITALY. I DO want to see the fresco painting on walls and buildings. My rendition turned into Best Runner-Up. (Only four awards were given!) I was so surprised….there were so many good ideas.

  22. A Disney artist came to our elementary school, 4th grade I think, and showed us how to draw a boat in perspective, and a glass. I started looking at paintings in restaurants when we would go and seeing how the shapes fit into the frame of the painting. Still looking, still trying to see. I was fascinated!

  23. Sara, Thank you for posting of Thayer’s “Virgin.” When I was about five years old my parents went to Washington DC to view it. It was a private viewing just for them because at that time it was stored. They felt that the child in blue on the left looked like me at that age. Unfortunately I did not go with them, I was just too young and would not have really understood what intrigued them. They did bring me a print which I kept for many years. I am now 70 and had forgotten this story until I saw the painting. What a lovely memory. Thank you so much.

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Featured Workshop

Art Retreat: Ottawa Valley, Ontario, Canada with Keith Thirgood
June 14, 2018 to June 17, 2018


3-Days in the rolling hills, century-old farms and rushing cascades of the Ottawa Valley region of Ontario. Keith will lead you to places the Group of Seven and other famous Canadian artists painted. Keith teaches composition fundamentals, how to deal with the chaos of real life when painting en plein air, as well as how modern colour theory can help you mix almost any colour with ease.


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Featured Artist

My art represents a journey that has been on-going for more than forty years. Guidance from some wonderful artists. Years of plein-air painting and instructing have developed a style that I can call my own. I believe that my current work has attained its highest level so far, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop that I gave – and remains true today.


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