I’m never too trusting of internet quotes, but we’ve all heard the one attributed to Picasso:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.”
I am reminded of this quote each time one of our grandchildren comes over to Grandma’s house and wants to paint.
Our grandson, Madox, was here to visit on Friday afternoon. I’d been out doing my plein air painting that morning, and my portable easel was sitting in the kitchen with the painting I’d worked on. I had several other paintings sitting around, and when we picked Madox up, I made sure he understood not to touch any paintings because they weren’t finished drying.
Madox, by the way, is my greatest fan. In his eyes, Grandma is the best artist in the world. He once told me that I must never, never, ever enter any art competition, “because that wouldn’t be fair to anybody else.” Yes, he thinks I’m that good. Aren’t grandchildren marvelous?
As soon as I mentioned paintings, he excitedly asked if he could paint, and of course, I’m always happy to bring out watercolors and brushes. Usually the grandchildren do their painting at the kitchen table, but when Madox saw my portable easel, his eyes lit up. “Grandma, I want to paint on that,” he said as he pointed to the easel. “That’s what artists are supposed to use,” he told me, and I had to agree with him on that.
I placed my still-drying landscape on a stack of books, picked up the easel, and headed for the door so Madox could do a bit of plein air painting of his own. Of course, he wasn’t painting the scenery around him, just conjuring up a scene from his own imagination.
When he decided to paint a barn, Grandma suggested he might like to draw it out first. He agreed, and I handed him one of my art pencils. He set right to work.
It’s always fun to watch children draw and paint, especially when they’re using their imagination. Madox always has stories to tell about the scenes he paints. We listen with interest and encourage him in his painting.
As I watched this little six-year-old happily painting, I wondered if he knew how lucky he was — not just to be young and creative as children are, but to have the advantage of using Grandma’s art supplies. He’s painting on high quality 140 lb. watercolor paper. He’s using very good quality Koi watercolors. The brushes aren’t the best, but they are better quality than you’ll find in most children’s art sets.
One thing I’ve learned in my art journey is the simple truth that better quality materials result in better quality art. I’m very glad that I have these art supplies and that I have the opportunity to share them with our grandchildren. I often purchase art supplies for them, too, buying sets of “real” artist quality pencils or good quality sketchbooks. An older grandson received a small set of Prismacolor Premier colored pencils for a recent birthday. I know what a difference good materials can make.
But beyond providing materials, how much advice or instruction should we offer? Very little, I think. Above all, I don’t think we should give any suggestions unless we’re asked. This, I’m afraid, may be a hard lesson for me to learn.
As I watched Madox drawing his barn and silo, I pointed out that he should have a horizon line — “that place where the sky and the grass meet,” I told him. I drew it in for him. At first he was somewhat pleased with it, but then as he painted, he ignored it completely. It wasn’t his horizon line, I realized. He hadn’t put it there, therefore it didn’t belong there.
Later I thought he might want to see how easy it is to add bits of grass to a painting with a fan brush. I made a few strokes, and he wasn’t happy. Grandma felt really awful when Madox’s mother picked him up and he showed her his painting with the disclaimer that “Grandma ruined it,” pointing to where he’d had to paint over my grass.
Lesson learned, Madox. Grandma will step back from now on. I will watch you paint, and I will encourage you. I will always be here to help you find answers to questions, but I won’t offer unsolicited advice or expect you to do things my way. Goodness knows, I’m still learning, too, and most likely Madox will develop artistic abilities far beyond mine. I hope so. I hope that he does find a way to remain an artist as he grows up.
He’s definitely a young artist now, and he told us that we can call him “Artist Madox”. Here’s his barn and silo shortly before he added the final details — and before Grandma “ruined” it. He did paint the crossbars in black. I thought I had taken another photograph afterward, but after the grass fiasco I must not have.
Yes, I feel awful about trying to help when help wasn’t wanted. “Artist Madox” is doing fine on his own.