Max started fourth grade this Fall. A regular part of our nightly ritual is sitting down at the kitchen table together to check over his homework, which hopefully has been completed before dinner. I love listening to him explain his thinking, or thoughtfully articulate a question. I remember the satisfying sensation of simple math, the security of knowing that this type of question has an answer that is either correct or incorrect. No gray areas, no lingering doubts, just the pleasure of watching the solution come to light.
A dramatic discovery is made.
And then there are other types of questions that require words and lengthy explanations. It is fun to participate in this spirit of open curiosity: What causes thunder and lightning? What is a hurricane? Where does rain come from? One evening I pointed out the beautiful moon, and was surprised to hear Max reply, “Mom, that is a waxing crescent.” He went on to explain the relationships between the sun, the earth, and the moon. Recently we studied the Geographical Regions of Virginia, the Weather, and how to write a mathematical equation from a “Number Story” or word problem. With each revelation, I remember when I was nine, and the world was new.
For this collage, I took a new approach, combining my drawings with Max’s drawings. I used fragments from his actual homework papers, including his writing, pictures, and the teacher’s grading notations in red pen. The collage became a nostalgic homage to childhood and school days in the Fall: We learn about the weather as the wind blows and leaves swirl in the front yard. The wild geese fly overhead. A football spirals through the air. The weathervane spins. A sailboat waits to take us away on a life-long adventure in learning, with the sun and the wind and the rain as our companions.
My usual approach to landscape painting is to create unpopulated scenes, where the viewer may be coaxed to insert him or herself into the experience of the landscape. But last week I had so much fun drawing the Lacrosse Kids that I decided to continue experimenting with combining figures and landscape imagery. While I took plenty of figure drawing classes back in my art school days, I have not included figures in my own work for many years, so this is some new territory. Watching my husband patiently teaching our young son how to garden in the backyard, I was inspired to include them in this week’s collage. I wanted to capture both my relationship to the place, as well as my relationship to the figures, imbuing each small drawing with a sense of careful attention, whether plant or person. There is an interesting balancing act of tenderness and objectivity when dealing with such dearly loved subjects!
We have created a special place in our backyard, and it is even more special now that my son is contributing to its on-going development. There was a steep slope in the back when we moved here, and over the last several years we have improved the backyard with retaining walls and multi-level garden terraces. Once the last phase of hardscape was completed last summer, we were able to really enjoy the fun part of shaping the space with beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers. We have put a lot of creativity and love into this place, so of course I have been wanting to paint it.
Here is the finished collage, followed by some close-up images of my favorite details. I allowed most of the ink drawings to visually float on the surface of the collage, rather than embedding them in layers of paint. I wanted to retain the simple and spontaneous character of the ink line, which I think best expresses the subject matter. My approach to the figures is influenced by E.H. Shepard’s illustrations of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh, a favorite of mine since childhood.
Father and Son in the Garden, acrylic collage, 12 x 12
Detail of Patio, Father and Son in the Garden
Detail of the Black Gum, Father and Son in the Garden
This Spring my husband has been teaching my son how to garden. My husband and I have been actively landscaping together for many years and now it is great fun to get our son involved. For us, landscaping is like painting in 3D: it is an opportunity to create a new and imagined world, making creative decisions about the colors, textures, forms and the flow of space in our own way. We put a lot of love into our little patch of suburbia. This of course is one of the big draws of suburban life: the ability to have space around you that you can mold as you wish and call your own.
I love to watch father and son working together as my husband patiently teaches our boy how to add compost to the hole, loosen the root ball of the plant, make sure it is centered and upright, and carefully tamp the soil around it. Our son gets paid $5 an hour for gardening, which certainly helped spark his interest in this activity. (There are requests for shopping outings to the toy section of Target almost immediately after job completion.) But even so, he gardens with enthusiasm, great care, and no complaining. I am glad we are teaching him to respect, nurture and care for living things and the environment around him. And as he grows, his garden will grow with him, evolving and expanding over time. Gardening is a lot about patience and delayed gratification, a concept that is sometimes challenging for children, but a skill that will serve him well in suburbia and beyond.
Working down the line of a new border bed.
I remember my early exposure to garden work as a child, while visiting my Great-Aunt Ruby in Georgia. She and my uncle had an ambitious plot of summer vegetables, fig trees, pecans and peaches. I was fascinated by the long rows of corn that had grown above my head, the prickly looking okra plants, and the pungent smell of wet earth and tomato plants in the hot summer sun. I felt as if I had been let in on a wonderful secret that only grown-ups knew: that potatoes actually grow under the ground and corn is encased in silky husks; that food is not born in freezer bags and it does not spontaneously spring up in supermarkets. I look forward to putting in our vegetable garden this year with our son’s help, and sharing more of these revelations. Today he was pulling weeds to prepare the vegetable plot and was surprised to pull up some carrots and beets that must have self-seeded from last year’s crop! Fresh baby carrots for Max tonight! Maybe he will even try the beets…