The Legacy and Love Behind a Child's First Painting

Dimitra Milan's First Painting

In our tiny apartment in Greece, I first witnessed the spark of creativity in my children. When Dimitra was under one year old, she would watch John and I work and always try to reach for the paints. She would sit on the bed near my easel, suck her thumb, hold her soft night, and just watch me paint.

Finally, at one year old, we let her have a go, allowing her to sit with an acrylic palette of paint and some brown craft paper to just make a mess. She squealed with delight as she got her hands full of paint and squished it all over. She was hooked. Whenever she saw us painting, she wanted to be right in the middle of it. By the time she was two years old, she had her own easel from Ikea and never tired of painting.

Nurturing Creativity in Children 

Dimitra Milan and Dafni Milan painting together as young artists

Why do we want our children to be like us? We beam when others say, "Oh, just like her mother…" Our hearts swell with pride when our kids excel in school, score the winning goal, or receive an award. Of course, we want our children to do well, have integrity, raise their own families, and find a loving, supportive spouse. We wish for their happiness and fulfillment. Yet, when they are discouraged, struggling, or falling short, we feel responsible and worry for them.

When they are children, we dream big for them. We catch the tiniest glimpse of exceptionalism, and our imaginations start to picture them in the Olympics. I was always thrilled when my kids did well on a science project or scored an A on a math test, but when they excelled in art, I was over the moon. Their schools didn't have great art programs, so John and I volunteered to teach art once a week in their classes.

When Dafni came along, she liked to color. She loved big, chunky crayons she could grab with her fists and loved drawing all over everything. She would make marks and scribble anywhere she could. If she painted, she liked to hold big brushes and draw scribbly lines everywhere.

We had a half-door into our studio so we could keep an eye on the kids while we painted. They would stand on their tippy-toes and peer in over the door, trying to see what we were painting. "I wanna paaaaint, I want colors," was a constant mantra at the house. When all four kids sat on the floor and painted, it was a creative explosion: frayed brushes, goopy paper towels, paint on clothes, paint all over their bodies, paint in their hair. But there was joy and wonder and piles of colorful memories.

Significance of a Child's First Painting

Now that all four kids have grown into adults and all are artists, amazing painters, jewelers, and designers, I feel so very honored. I feel honored that I was chosen to raise such creative and brilliant young people who will touch so many lives in a powerful way. Sometimes, I feel like the school was there just for them, to nurture their desire to paint and teach them the skills they needed. Each one of them had to find themselves and, at times, deal with self-doubts and fight the calling of their purpose. They didn't always know they wanted to be artists.

Just this weekend, I was privileged to babysit Zion, my 11-month-old grandson, while Dimitra and Jake were working at Dimitra's art show. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and I wanted to do something different and fun with him. I grabbed his unopened finger paint set I bought him for Christmas and a towel and went outside in the grass. In only a diaper, I turned him loose with the paint. Zion was a little hesitant at first, like he almost didn't want to get messy with it.

So, I dumped some purple paint onto the paper and put his hand in mine. I showed him he could touch it. As soon as he saw the paint spreading around the paper, he was all in—both hands grabbing fistfuls of paint and slapping the paper. I was in control of opening new colors and swapping papers before they got muddy while I wrestled with my camera, trying to capture it all.

After our paint session, Zion got a nice warm bath, and we watched the water turn blue, purple, and green as the paint left his skin. For Zion, it was just another fun day, playing in the grass, petting the horses, chasing the dogs, and having a bath. For his grandma, memories flooded back: little hands, painted bodies, mess, and joy. Most of all, I remembered my dreams for my children.

Zion will have a life full of art. He will always be surrounded by creative people, art supplies, and paintings. He has been to the art gallery a dozen times now and spends hours in his mother's studio watching her paint. One of his favorite places to sneak off to is Grandma's studio. He knows there is always wet paint on my palette and tries to get fistfuls when he can. I know when he is older and understands what drawings represent, he will be mesmerized watching his grandpa draw.

A Legacy of Artistic Expression

Zion Dunn's first painting

We all want to live a life of purpose and destiny and to know that our time counts for something. We want our children to grow up and make a difference. But most of all, I think we want a legacy. We want our children's children to somehow carry something of ourselves into the next generation. To see our lives not only make an impact in our lifetime but to leave a mark on this world that outlives us.

We want our life's work to carry the essence of our spirit, a testament to the legacy we aspire to leave behind. Legacy is not merely about the accolades we gather or the wealth we accumulate; it's about the resonance of our actions, the echo of the faith in our vision, and the imprint of our creativity on the souls we touch. It's about living out our story so authentically, with our deepest truths and highest aspirations, that it continues to inspire, uplift, and stir wonder long after we are gone.

Our children are our fruit, whether they are our natural children or our spiritual children, and our grandchildren are our legacy. What an honor and a gift that they are our indelible mark on the universe, a whisper of our existence woven into the fabric of eternity.

Share your story in the comments below!


  • Tricia Figg

    Art has been part of me as long as I can remember. Of course mine started with crayons and coloring books. I never colored inside the lines and I used my imagination to determine what color everything should be. The home I grew up in was not one filled with artists but one that allowed me to express myself freely.
    My father’s side, on the other hand, is filled with creatives. Musicians, singers, and artists who draw and paint. So interesting that I grew up not really knowing the depth of creativity in my family roots.
    Being creative is part of my soul and who I am … even though it is not what I currently do for a living.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    You should get back to your art and think about doing it for a living. 😊

  • Pat Ligon

    My earliest memory was trying to draw horses because I always loved them. I was 10 and rarely I was able to ride horses especially when we lived in Washington state near lots of open spaces and farms. I can still feel the wind in my hair. I do experience similar feelings when I snow ski, ride in boats and my convertible. I love that feeling of happiness! Thanks for sharing your story!

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