I can still remember receiving my first first set of oil paints on my tenth birthday. They were contained in a plastic box: small tubes along with linseed oil for thinning the paints and cleaning the brushes, and two small (very inadequate) brushes. My dad had bought them at the Western Auto store and my mom couldn't imagine why I needed something so extravagent when I'd surely have that all over my clothes and it would never come out in the wash.
Oh my goodness... that smell, when you opened that little plastic box.
That delightful sense of urgency I felt to paint something worthwhile and lasting.
Painting on paper, of course, didn't work, but I didn't know that until after I had tried it. My dad hadn't known it wouldn't work either and paper was all we had. When he learned that I should be using a canvas, he ripped apart an old sheet and stretched it over cardboard for me to paint on, attaching it with masking tape on the back to hold it in place. It wasn't ideal. The oils in the paints seeped through into the cardboard and made it soggy, but for an exuberant ten year old, it was sufficient.
I couldn't paint anything worthwhile.
I tried a horse but it was too hard. Faces were too hard too and always looked wrong. The paints were too heavy and sticky and wouldn't dry. I never knew about mixing colors but used them straight from the tube. I felt confused that there was no "skin" color when it seemed such an obvious need. When my dad eventually surmised my problem and suggested I try to mix the colors, I thought about his suggestion but ultimately concluded I couldn't risk it. I was afraid to squeeze out the paint and waste it in an unsuccessful attempt. It seemed likely I could mix all day and never come up with a "skin" color! Eventually, I painted a flag and that was the most successful thing I'd managed to do but I didn't feel very proud of it because there wasn't much life to it: just something I'd copied from a puzzle box.
At church this past Sunday, with the help of my two very patient and gifted daughters, I worked with our class of third and fourth graders who were using oil pastel crayons to create depictions of the Apostle Paul at different stages in his life. Each student had chosen one time in Paul's life to portray. We tutored them in the finer points (okay, finer for eight and nine year olds) of portrait drawing and assisted them in achieving works of art they could be proud of. At the end of the three hour session, six children had a sense of accomplishment with their work that made me feel a longing for those days when I could still be so surprised by how a few quality art tools could transform an empty page. Oh, that magic of the first decent portrait you draw after you learn that there is a method that really works. Learning where the eyes really belong on a face, how big ears really are, that our shoulders actually are wider than our heads... then seeing that if you put these rules into use, voila, you can make something that is better than you thought you could do! We watched these children experience that wonderful moment as we held each child's piece a few feet away and they began to discover their artwork coming into focus.
While I haven't yet photographed the children's artwork, when I do, if I can remember, I'll post their drawings. Meanwhile, here's what I used as a sample (my own Paul drawing created with oil pastel crayon), which depicts Paul after he has been beheaded by Nero and is being whisked away, transforming in a twinkling of an eye, to receive his own crown of righteousness. God bless those children and each of us who day make this majestic journey.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8