It was the Christmas of 2002 when our adopted Grammy gave Hannah and me the gift of a box of paint supplies and promised to teach us decorative painting. We had seen the lovely work she did around her house on side tables, light switch plates, wall hangings and decorations and we were pleased to have the opportunity to learn. But best of all was knowing that we would be seeing her and Grampy every month!
A paintbrush was an unfamiliar tool to both of us, so Grammy instructed us to spend some time painting practice sheets before our first class so as to become comfortable with a brush. At first our flat brush strokes were erratic, but gradually we learned how to adequately fill our brushes with enough paint to make a clean stroke. Round brushes simply couldn't hold enough paint to make much of a line. It wasn't until a class or two later that we learned to thin our paint in order to make it flow properly. Even though we didn't really know what we were doing, we tried different things and felt more at ease with a brush by the time Grammy came for our first lesson.
Her parting instructions at Christmas had been to pick out a picture from the painting book she gave us and prepare an item to paint before she returned; sanding and painting the piece and tracing on the outline of the design we chose. Feeling that my first attempt would probably not turn out particularly well, I chose to paint a heart shaped wooden piece with a peg, that didn't mean much to me. I worked the peg out so I would have a flat surface to work on and painted it a very pale purple. Then I traced on the cluster of violets I had chosen.
When the big day came for our first class the table was spread with all our painting supplies, most of which we had no clue how to use. After inspecting our projects, Grammy set to work, teaching us how to fill or side load our brushes, and how to hold them. Once she felt we could work well enough she started us on our projects. With her help, we identified the base color of the painting we were working on and then mixed that same color. With this color we base coated the painting, carefully keeping inside the traced lines.
Grammy was a sweet teacher. She was always gentle and understanding and full of praise and encouragement. She gladly incorporated Zechariah and Julia into our class and would go quietly around the table from one of us to another; bent studiously over our paint brushes, giving gentle reminders, helpful pointers and approving smiles. She always believed we could accomplish what we set out to do, and with her help we did.
After a few weeks of work and to our amazed delight, our very first painted projects were beautifully finished. We needn't have worried about starting with insignificant items, the techniques were simple enough and ours skill in other fine art type activities were developed adequately so that it didn't take much to turn out nice end products.
Throughout this project and over the course of the next weeks and months as we did more, we learned to apply the multiple shades required to produce realistic paintings, leaves, birds, houses, clouds and much more. We learned to see the components of colors and mix our paints accordingly. We learned to observe lighting in order to apply appropriate shadows and highlights. And we learned how to use the brushes to create the details we saw.
Through the winter and early spring months Grammy continued to instruct us. We learned from her not only how to reproduce the paintings in our paint books but also how to reproduce photographs. At first it would seem that photos would be harder to work with, but they really weren't much different than working with paintings once we knew the step by step methods involved.
One thing I've learned about reproducing any form of art, whether photo, painting or sketch, is that in some cases a precise reproduction is not necessary. In one painting instance, I simply could not get the back feathers on my quail's to resemble those on the card I was working from. If you could strip the paint from off that quail's back one layer at a time you would find that it actually has about four backs! I just couldn't make the feathers look natural so I kept re-base coating its back in order to try again. Finally I gave up trying to make it identical and just made it as natural and normal as I could. It turned out fine and no one would be the wiser, if I hadn't told you! We like to remind one another when we become frustrated over the unlikeness of our work to the original that no one will ever compare our work to it. They won't even see the original. We don't have to be very concerned about our work being identical to the other, as long as it looks like it belongs where it is.
Decorative painting was a fun and, for us, an easy skill to learn. There were no strict rules, no right and wrong way to do it, we were just reproducing what we saw with the helpful advice Grammy gave us. And as we became more and more familiar with the processes required, it became easier to paint what we saw.
School season is the best time for us to fit painting into our schedule, so during the busy gardening months of summer and fall our brushes lay idle. Painting takes a large amount of time, just like any activity, but little by little we work away at it and complete another item.
We are indebted, firstly to God, for giving us bodies that function and minds that readily acquire and retain information, and secondly to Mom, who has taught us all to forge ahead and learn new things, to persevere and try until we succeed. Also we are very grateful to Grammy and Grampy for taking the time to come see us and input into our lives. We must always remember that we are not solely responsible for the accomplishments we achieve. Without the God above to give us life and prosper our way, and without the people in our lives who have influenced and instructed us, we would not be where we are.
Learning to paint was a challenging and rewarding accomplishment. Not only can we now beautifully decorate the items of our house, but we can also teach our skill to our younger siblings and our own children, if the Lord so chooses to bless any one of us some day.
Learning to paint was a nice diversification of our skills. The best part about it was that we got to see Grammy and Grampy every month. Experience in other forms of art made this one a quick and enjoyable learning experience. My original project, the flower press, was the most difficult. After that I got the flow of it and they seemed much easier. Just like with sketching, man-made structures were the hardest for me to capture accurately because of all the straight lines and precise angles. The lighthouse challenged me a little in that respect; it was also the largest project I painted (nine inches square). I don't paint much any more because it takes such a large quantity of time, but it sure is nice to have several finished pieces in my collection. Surprisingly the library had a lot of nice painting books which were very helpful, so as you consider enlarging your skills base, in whatever area it may be, take a look at your public library, you may be amazed what books they have!
When Grammy started teaching Hannah and Sarah painting, I was bored. So, on the third lesson I joined in to receive instruction. My first project was a wall plaque. I favored this pattern for its simplicity. Right now all that is left is the lettering and clear gloss finish. Sometime I will pull it out and complete it. Painting is a time consuming but very enjoyable art. Because of the time involved I do not paint very often.
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