We are all artists, some don’t know it yet, some hide it all too well, and others know it, but rarely live it.
It was again one of those magical days at Chicago's Botanic Gardens. Yes, some art was made, but more importantly, people were connected and lives were lived out loud.
It was a beautiful sunny day when I met James, Elisabeth and Josephine. Three children ages 9-15, or so, from a family who knows the value of time spent in nature. Yesterday, I choose to paint that afternoon in the English Walled Garden. Little did I know, it was their 'secret garden', and I was setting my easel up smack dab in the middle of a great game of hide and go seek, which soon turned into let's watch the artist paint. While their mom was sitting on a nearby bench, James, the young man, with his two older sisters, would often swing by to see the progress and offer freely, vast amounts of encouragement. During the White Lilacs painting I could sense James was tracking what I was painting and how I was painting it. He said, “I see what you’re painting.” I love it when words so freely spoken also warms the heart of the listener. I asked him, would you like to paint this second bloom? He said “sure”. At which point I handed him the brush, went over to the bush and pointed at which bloom I wanted him to paint. He placed the paint confidently on the canvas and in just the right spot. His sister, Josephine, came over and then placed a leaf near James bloom… and so we have it… Connections.
By the time the second painting was to be done, James and I were old painting pals. We walked just a few yards away to two different viewpoints and I asked his advice on which view to paint. “James, do we paint the stairs with the flower pots or the concrete urn with the tree?” James said, “I really like the urn and tree composition”, while he squared off a view frame with his fingers.
With this new painting, all three kids were now behind me watching the drawing and under-painting process. I was more verbal than usual and took the opportunity to practice my sorely needed ‘talking while painting’ skill… Ahh, an impromptu workshop. Just what I needed. Later on in the painting, I’d asked, what color do you see there? And they would all say their version of the color, James would run up to the objects, observe, and run back to report the “actual color”.
Further on in the painting, I jokingly suggested that maybe James could help pass out a business card or two to those that ask for more information, so I don’t have to stop painting. Well, with that, James picked up my stack of cards and soon became the world’s best art representative anyone could ever have. He was not shy at all speaking to anyone that just happened to walk by. He would then report back to me how many cards we have left. (Side note to any salesmen out there…I haven’t seen that level of marketing gumption in professional salesmen, as much as I’ve seen in James. Just saying)
Near the end of the painting, when all the cards were long-gone. I asked all the kids if they wanted to help me finish the painting. They all said yes! So now, all three of these wonder-filled children put their mark on this painting in their unique way. Exactly where and what they painted? It really doesn’t matter to the reader. What does matter is that in this time and place, in this garden of secrets, they will remember, one day, there was this old man painting in their garden and they had the chance to add their mark, to make a difference, to find and add their beauty. And in the end, what was created was far more important than any art that could have been painted. What was created were connections with three young artists souls, in one smart creative family, connections to seeing art and making beauty, and that it's still okay to meet new people and that it's still okay to live your life, your passions, out loud.
P.S. Normally, I’d sell these paintings for $400 - $500 each. But to me these two represent priceless moments and are clearly NFS. (Sorry James, your commission will have to come later.)