I reached a weird crossroads recently when it comes to my own artistry.

It’s no secret that my drawings pale in comparison to Zack’s. His abilities run circles around mine. However, I can at least revel in the fact that my abilities are above average. I recently had a chance to show off a bit in that department at work. The staff was asked to create portraits of ourselves with markers and construction paper, as an encouragement for kids to do the same in their own classes. We were urged not to feel too much pressure and to do the best we could, but I was literally bouncing in my seat, reveling in a chance to show off my – albeit limited – abilities.

Look, I’m only human. I too enjoy positive feedback.

So I went to work, probably harder than necessary, thumbing quick designs first, outlining with pencil before inking in marker and adding some crosshatching for shading. I even drew in a little Spider-Man, just so the kids would know the score. Again, this is a matter of pride. A matter of me feeling good about my own abilities. And it all went according to plan. The praise went on for weeks. And it buoyed my spirits even higher than usual.

What happened next was not a part of the plan…

People started to tell me that after they saw my self-portrait, they started over. They went beyond the simple expected pictures. They reached deeper to do something more expressive. In fact, some challenged the constraints of the project altogether. Instead of complimenting me, they took my drawing as an invitation to aim higher. And soon enough there were scores of contenders for the mantle of champion artist-in-residence, their artistry inspiring with our limited materials. A flame, once lit, can burn like a wildfire. And I was dazzled, and though the personal praise stopped, it was shared with others.

I realized just how many others when I was working late one day and five or six kids barged into my office. They’d seen the picture too, and they wanted me to teach them how to draw. Teaching is not something I’ve ever thought about doing, let alone done before. I did my best, showing them some quick tips and encouraging them to try and try again. And I got a new kind of positive feedback this time: they came back. And came back again. And cheered when I asked about making it official.

And so our drawing club was born, because I realized this was something that was needed. For the kids who really want it, to give them the platform and encouragement and time for art. To make art. To continue making art. To be encouraged to continue no matter how good or bad they are. To keep trying to make something to take pride in. And to feel good about doing it, to feel the glow of achieving something that took hard work and dedication, because that’s maybe the most important part.

Inspiration can be contagious.