Girl of my dreams

In fourth grade I got my first, and only, “N” on my elementary school report card. Back then N stood for “Needs Improvement” but it really felt like an F. My handwriting skills were seriously lacking, and I guess my teacher couldn’t bring herself to give me an “S” for Satisfactory. It hurt, but even back then I knew she had a point.

My drawing skills were no better but I guess the art teacher was more forgiving. Maybe she saw an abstract expressionist in the making. I don’t think my art or handwriting abilities have advanced much past fourth grade. For a few years I helped oversee the bulletin board designs at my daughters’ elementary school. More than once, I wrote words that someone mistakenly thought were done by a student. I just went with it.

I offer this as a somewhat long-winded way to introduce my elephant. This is the go-to doodle that I have relied on for as long as I can remember.


I was always particularly proud of the three drops of water that come out of his trunk, a playful detail that brings the sketch to another level. Maybe fifth grade. I have signed many a birthday card with this little guy, and he often shows up to keep me company as I’m taking notes during long meetings.

My mother, of course, creates a much better doodle. For as long as I can remember, she’s been making “The Girl,” as I call her. I just learned that my mother learned how to make “The Girl” from her mother. And her four sisters also drew their versions of “The Girl,” and somewhere in her house she has a collection of some of their respective drawings. (She’s still looking for them and I will post if she finds them.)

Nana-photo (12)
This is an old drawing of “The Girl” that I keep on my bulletin board at work.

What I also recently discovered is that The Girl was actually my Nana’s version of the Gibson Girl. In the 1890s, a man by the name of Charles Dana Gibson created the so-called Gibson Girl, known for her hourglass figure, aristocratic air and perfectly upswept hair.  His pen-and-ink drawings appeared in popular magazines and came to represent the spirit of this new, independent woman at the turn of the century. I read somewhere that the Gibson Girl influenced popular opinions about femininity in the early 1900s in much the same way that Barbie did in the late 1900s.


The original Gibson Girl


Who knew Nana was so hip to the scene?

On a recent visit, my mother agreed to teach me how to make her version of the  Gibson Girl, step by step. (I cut her off at the end as she’s adding her bow.)

I have been practicing the technique. I can’t get the lips down at all. They should be more heart-shaped. My girl also doesn’t look as sweet or as pretty as my mother’s.

myphoto (11)


In fact, I think we can all be honest: She needs improvement.




8 thoughts on “Girl of my dreams”

  1. Thanks Terrie. I agree! Can you ask your mom to try and make this doodle so I can post to the blog? My mother has one your mom once did but she can’t find it. I would love to see it if she’s game.

  2. Hi Aunt Susan,
    I’m so glad to see that this idea has manifested! I just read all the posts you’ve made thus far and I so enjoyed them.
    This post made me laugh when I saw your little elephant doodle, I still have a version drawn on the back of my driver side seat in my car. And that’s very interesting about the history behind the doodle of the girl, I had always thought that that was a nana creation.
    I can’t wait to see what your next post will be about! Hope everybody is enjoying this new year so far.
    Love Erin ♥

  3. I too can clearly remember Nana Kelly drawing her “girl”. She was a bit more proper than mom’s doodle. Susan I agree your “girl” is not as cute or pretty as our mothers, but that is okay. I feel like she is evolving, changing with the times. As you said the drawing was based on a Gibson girl that evolved to a Barbie doll girl.Your drawing shows a modern and confident girl. She looks bolder and more confident.
    She is an independent career woman who can make choices without worrying about constraints from society. I think that is great!! A role model for the next generation of women.

  4. Hi Susan. Great blog! This is so much better than Facebook (which I don’t do…. Hate it…). My mother also drew similar fashion girls; big sweeping hairstyles with tons of hair piled up on top and stuffed under large elegant hats with big brims, feathers, whatever. I didn’t find out she could draw until I was around 15; I knew my father could draw well, and unfortunately I have none of their work saved. My sister might, but I don’t. I had no idea that it all started with Nana.

    I loved your Gibson Girl drawing! It lends creedence to the theory that the Gibson Girl had alien origins! The sloth-like eyes on the side of the head is a clue for sure. Good hair, though…

    Great idea and great memories! I have many potential Alice topics in mind; give me a call!

  5. Thanks Ed, I can see the alien in her for sure.
    We will have to scheme on future topics. I like the ziti idea and Nana’s baked-stuff quahogs, but who can I possibly get to eat them? Hmmm.

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