Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Amazing Grace

Our memories are sometimes wrong or not the same as those who lived the moment with us, but the truth of those memories are more important than the facts. I hold a special memory of my mother teaching me to draw.
What I remember: her studio, an apple, cigar box of colors, the picture window, talking to me, Rich playing war in the sandbox, favorite position for drawing, watching TV, etc.

What I don’t remember:  her voice,  my brother’s picture (but I do remember his accurate drawings), when this happened, if it actually did;  more like a montage of several events... again,  the truth is more important than the facts.

“Mommm, I can’t!! “

Belting out my usual chant of low self-esteem, I dolefully peered into my mother’s utility room that doubled as her art studio.  It was just a tiny room with barely enough space for the washer and dryer and her art easel, but it was a place of magic that transformed blank canvases into portraits of beautiful people who graced our lives. 

I was in my favorite position on my belly, scrawny legs sprawled behind me, feet crossed at the ankles, propped up on my elbows. With the Rand McNally Road Atlas in front of me as my easel pad, and a piece of paper I was attempting to draw an apple my mother had placed in front of me. The autumn morning sun beaming through the large picture window blanketed me and my tiny makeshift studio in the doorway of her art magic.  My cartoonish flat (one dimensional ) round red apple glaring at me while my older brother’s masterpiece abandoned for a sandbox game of plastic green soldier war in the backyard, laughed at me with its authentic outline of a perfect Red Delicious.

 “How does he do that? It looks so real and mine doesn’t!”

Well, first of all, he’s a little older and has been practicing it a little longer. You’ll be able to do that well in a couple of years, too.”

“But I want to do it NOW!”  I bellowed as I flicked the red crayon through the threshold of her studio. With her perfect parent patience, an inherited trait that I completely missed at the gene pool, she reached for the offending crayon that just missed her ankle and walked over to kneel beside me.  She reached for a new sheet of paper and placed it in front of me.

Leaning over like she was about to go into a yoga partial child pose, her gentle voice gracing the top of my ear she said, “Honey, it’s all a matter of just seeing. Let’s just look at it for a moment. Is the shape of the apple really round? “

The apple silently stood at attention as I studied it. Its shape was not round at all but a little long and a bit triangular with bumps at the bottom and a widow’s peak curve at the top where the stem sat. “No, not really.”

“Okay then, use a pencil here and see if you can outline its shape. Look, even one of the bumps is a little bigger than the other ones. “ 

I drew the three bumps at the bottom and began to draw the sides of the apple digging the pencil hard against the paper.  She patted my hand, “Relax, sweetie, hold the pencil a little lighter and your lines will be softer.”  My hand released the death grip on the pencil and I looked up. She took my hand and massaged it just long enough to make me notice how tense I was. She took my pencil and in feather like strokes she guided the lead on the paper to create the right side of the apple, then handed the pencil back to me.  I mimicked her movements and created the left side not totally unlike hers. Wow that was cool. Then I looked at the apple again and proceeded to finish the outline on top.  A tiny glow of confidence was beginning to take root. I beamed up a grin at my mother.

“That’s just perfect, Suzy. Now look at the apple’s color. Is it all a solid red? “As if suddenly changing  its skin, the apple gleamed with gradations of red gold to deep scarlet, with tiny specks of black and brown.  A gleaming crescent of silver like my mother’s coat pin of glass diamonds shone on the side where the sun was touching it.” Mom, this is going to take more than this one color isn’t it? “ 

“Well you have a whole cigar box of colors beside you. What colors can you use?” I reached into the sea of colors making noisy waves through the pool snatching up Burnt Orange, Bittersweet, Maroon, Goldenrod, Sienna, and Silver. Lining up the soldiers of color, I began to doubt how I was going to use them all. Sensing my hesitation, Mom said, “Use your first red and color lightly all over inside the lines. Then take the other colors one at a time and look back at the apple to find that color on its skin.  Create that same place on your apple. “

  I creased my brow in concentration and started the wash of red over the surface, barely noticing mother’s silent retreat from my side.  As each color had its turn claiming its place on the canvas, my apple became something much more than the red apple I first drew. The blended colors became one and I could see a new apple. 

     I really don’t remember what that newly drawn apple looked like, but the lessons have remained, and I’m not only talking about drawing techniques. No thing or no one is just one-dimensional.  Her amazing grace taught me to sit back, relax a little, be patient, study my subject silently before beginning to take on any task or try to create any solution.   Where I was blind before, she had taught me to see.

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