Professional artists re-created children's monster doodles. They're hideously cool.

Artist and designer Katie Johnson has a thing for monsters.

Not those of the morbid variety, but the cutesy, kid-friendly kind.


GIF from "Monsters, Inc."

She's always loved the wide-open creative process of dreaming up a new monster and putting it on paper. "It's a fun creative dump," she said. "You can make a monster out of anything. So when I was younger, that was my go-to when I felt like drawing."

Katie Johnson (right) ponders her next monster. Photo used with permission.

Little did she know, monsters would come to dominate her free time as a young adult, too. After college, Johnson started working as a designer with an advertising firm in Austin, Texas. But as a creative at heart, she also wanted to pursue her own projects.

An idea came to her after seeing a photo series called "Wonderland" by artist Yeondoo Jung, who re-created children's drawings as staged, dream-like photographs.

Johnson combined her love of monsters with Jung's idea of building on children's creativity to launch The Monster Project.

Through The Monster Project, Johnson invites elementary students to draw their own monsters. Then professional artists bring their monsters to life.

Getting started wasn't easy because she was the only artist on call. "I did 20 drawings by myself," Johnson said. "It was way too much."

She also wasn't meeting one of her most important objectives: "It was missing multiple artistic perspectives. I wanted the kids to see different ways to be creative."

Image from The Monster Project/Greatest Common Factory/Vimeo.

So Johnson grew a small army of artists to help students discover their own inner artists and see the potential of their ideas. And though they're all volunteers, they definitely get something out of it.

"We have to admit, this isn't just for the kids," says their website. "What a refreshing opportunity it is to be offered a glimpse into someone else's head — especially the fantastically bizarre, unobstructed thoughts of a child. It’s an amazing opportunity."

Here's a sampling from the project's more than 100 re-created drawings:

Re-created by Gianluca Maruotti.

Re-created by Marija Tiurina.

Re-created by Muti.


Re-created by Milan Vasek.

Re-created by Marie Bergeron.

Re-created by JeanPierre Le Roux.

Re-created by Jake Armstrong.

Re-created by Jenya Tkach.

Re-created by Muti.

Re-created by Cream.

Re-created by Charles Santoso.

Re-created by Teodoru Badiu.

Re-created by Eric Orange.

Re-created by Aaron Zenz.


Re-created by Patrick Evrard.

Re-created by Yema Yema.


Re-created by AJ Jefferies.

The project isn't just about drawing monsters. It's about painting a picture of how vital arts are to a good education.

The website explains: "With a decreasing emphasis on arts in schools, many children don’t have the opportunity for creative exploration they deserve. That’s a monstrous trend we would like to destroy."


Image from The Monster Project/Greatest Common Factory/Vimeo.

The National Federation of State High School Associations notes that when state budget cuts are imposed on public K-12 education, "fine arts programs are often an easy victim," especially at the elementary level, when exposure to arts can have the greatest impact on students. That seems pretty counterintuitive when you look at the research.

Image from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

A 2011 report by a committee appointed by President Obama explained that a high-quality arts education can enhance a child's performance across subject areas, boost their self-confidence and motivate them to take on greater intellectual challenges, and even help them develop other important competencies in problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and teamwork.

Johnson wants to make sure it's not just the well-funded schools that have access to her program.

That's why they're working to make The Monster Project a sustainable organization that won't be a cost burden to families or schools, which is especially important since they're targeting schools in lower-income areas that have had to eliminate arts programs to preserve those subjects on standardized tests, like math and science.

In order to fund the project, they're accepting donations and opening an online store, where they'll sell prints and the soon-to-come Monster Project children's activity book. They hope to raise enough money to expand to more schools and launch after-school arts workshops in communities that really need them.

Monsters. Who'd have thought they could be such a force for good?

Watch an introduction The Monster Project:

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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