Seeing Double and Other Human Gifts

watercolor pencil sketch of orchids

Last weekend, I took my first painting class in more than twenty years.  It was a one day watercolor pencil workshop, held at our botanical garden during the annual orchid show.

I haven’t been very committal to any sort of ongoing classes since I took a medical retirement from my teaching position three years ago.  I was exhausted back then, and didn’t want to have a schedule. I wanted to be able to rest, explore a new lifestyle, and most importantly, get away from the stress that had hounded me for thirteen years.

Our instructor was soft-spoken and talented.  She also was organized, and had a toolbox prepared for each of us with everything we’d need to produce a painting.  We discussed techniques, then headed to the glasshouse to find a subject to paint.

I found a little spot that I thought would be out of the way.  It was in the same corner that a “creature feature” program was scheduled for 2:30, but I thought I’d be fine and far enough from the program to work.

Also, it was Superbowl Sunday, so the glasshouse was a bit quieter than normal for a Sunday.

I started sketching, and then carefully using the watercolor pencils.  I was tentative, having rarely painted with watercolors before.  It’s a medium that isn’t forgiving.

Two hours later, I had only completed maybe a fifth of my composition; and, I’m not even saying that it was “done,” just that it had a decent amount of color on it!  It was time for the creature feature, and some kids began gathering around the terrarium that was wheeled out by a garden employee.

The creature was the resident chameleon.  He was cool, and the kids were intrigued. As they began drifting away, a few kids stumbled upon me in my little nook and looked at my painting.  If you ever need honesty, ask a little one.

I got advice about what colors to use, where to add more detail, some compliments, and a lot of oohs and ahhs.  Some of the kids fingered the orchids I was painting, and I cringed for the poor flowers, but totally understood the tactile intrigue.  We adults usually have control of our desire to touch, but kids, not so much.

Because I kept painting, most of the kids got bored and moved on. Except for two.

I looked up from my painting to find the little girls watching me closely.  They were identical twins, with strawberry-colored curls, ice blue eyes, and porcelain skin.  You would think from their appearance that they’d be as delicate as china dolls.

Not these two!  They engaged me with questions about my painting, pointing out that I had not actually captured all of the blossoms that were in front of me.  One sister told me to look, as she pointed to where I was missing flowers, and waiting for me to make the proper corrections.

The other explained to me that my watercolors weren’t bright like the blossoms, and didn’t have the sharp markings that decorated the throats of the orchids. She dug through my supply box and presented me with the color I should use.  I was laughing inside at her boldness, and admiring it as well.

They stayed beside me for quite a while, as their parents were chatted with another couple.  The twins challenged me to guess their age (six!), introduced me to their big brother, and talked about their own art projects and future plans.

I think their spunk and self-confidence reminded me of how much I miss working with students.  Being a teacher isn’t just about delivering instructional material.  It’s about connecting with another generation, sharing thoughts and points of view, talents and fears.  It’s about learning just as much as it is about teaching.

* * * * * *

The twins were not the only people who brightened my day.  After they were collected by their parents and left the glasshouse, an older, Asian gentleman politely looked at my painting and complimented me.

He told me that he liked to draw, but had never used watercolor pencils.  He spoke softly and I had a bit of trouble hearing everything he said because of it.  He was obviously a gentle soul. We talked a bit about the medium, and then he pulled a small sketchbook from his jacket.

He showed me an amazingly detailed ink drawing of a house, surrounded by gardens and stone walls. He told me that it was his son’s house.  Then, he went through the pages of his book and showed me scores of ink drawings he had done.  His talent was impressive, but he wasn’t looking for praise. I honestly had the feeling that he wanted to share his work with me because he thought that I would appreciate it.

Thinking back on it now, it was such an honor that he would share his personal sketchbook with me.  He wasn’t a weirdo or lonely wanderer; his family was with him visiting the glasshouse.  He recognized the connection between two people who like to create art.

Another blessing for that special Sunday.

* * * * * *

It is tempting to think that we are losing our humanity as we listen to our leaders, both here in the United States, and around the world.  Some of the news does support that point of view.

What my “Watercolor Sunday” showed me, though, was that there are still many, many good people in this world.  That humans want and need to connect with each other, and that need is not confined to any particular age or stage of life.

The next time you are feeling down about media messages, take your art box and sketch pad, and set up in a public place.  Make contact with real people You’ll find comfort in experiencing the humanity that still exists in the world and, hopefully, always will.

-Jo

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