My six year old daughter was working on a project for school this evening. She was decorating a Pringles can, what for, I don't know yet but can't wait to find out. My eight year old daughter, not one to be outdone, got her own Pringles can to decorate. It reminded me of myself at their age, and the kind of art I did...
I drew people. Lots and lots of people. They danced, flipped, dove into the water. They were always in some type of setting. Around a pool. On a stage. In a parade. Walking a dog. Watering plants. They were always doing something. Busy busy busy. Sometimes I would get it into my mind what the finished product was "supposed" to look like, which of course frustrated me because it NEVER looked like what I had imagined it would.
Which taught me to throw the idea of the perfect picture out the window. Bob Riseling at MCA used to tease us about this. We learned how to build cradles in his class and stretch raw canvas over top, pull around the sides and staple in the back for gallery wrapped canvases. I loved the woodshop. I loved the smell of burning wood and sawdust. I loved the power tools and sanders. Once stretched, nothing excited me more than gessoing. Once you gessoed you could feel the cotton absorb it, and it was transformed into a literal springboard for creativity. I was always excited to do the prep work for painting. Which brings me to his jest...once the perfect cradle is stretched, what do you paint on it? You've just spent hours building, gessoing, sanding some more...you must paint a masterpiece!!! We usually just stared at the pristinely stretched canvas too scared to touch it.
I miss the woodshop at MCA, dearly. I miss the intimacy of building my own structures, and feeling capable with power tools. I miss finishing a painting and knowing that I single-handedly produced this piece from start to finish all on my own, built from scratch. What I love is that I recognize now how much I appreciated the process. And I was really good at it, mainly because I had made some pretty big and costly mistakes in the beginning.
Today I get to watch my kids in action and see if I can pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses. I learn so much about myself from watching them. And I love how individual they are. Two years ago I took them over to our church one day after school. In the basement was a labyrinth in the shape of a Celtic Cross, candles adorned the decorative canvas drop cloth, soft Celtic music was playing, the lights were dim, and reading material was placed so we could learn about the path we were about to take. I had already walked this labyrinth, and wanted my girls to experience it for themselves.
My now eight year old sped through the labyrinth as fast as she could so she could get to the middle. Once she reached her destination in the middle, she sat cross-legged in the middle of the candles, placed her hands on her knees, closed her eyes, and began a meditation. She stayed perfectly still. While she was meditating, my now six year old walked slowly, taking deliberate steps through the labyrinth. She took her time, got to the middle, pivoted, and turned right back around to walk out. Her meditation was the journey itself. Both of them walked away from the experience cheerful and peaceful, I walked away thinking "wow, they were perfectly silent the whole time, and I've learned more about them by watching than if they had told me."
I was reminded about this tonight while watching them with their art projects, and seeing just how well they are beginning to understand their strengths and weaknesses. In the past, the eight year old would get so wrapped up in the finished product, that if it didn't turn out right she would toss it away. The six year old would get so wrapped up in the process that she could mix colors to the point of mud, and be discouraged because her picture didn't look like anything "pretty."
Tonight the eight year old was thoughtful without being a perfectionist. She chose her colors, mixed them, and painted a thorough base coat. And when the piece was too wet for her to do what she wanted next, we decided it was time to put it aside with a fresh approach tomorrow. The six year old worked slowly picking through scraps of fabric and handmade paper, lots of paint, and craft materials. I could tell she didn't know what she was going to do, she just knew she really liked the way the fabrics felt so she wanted to use them. Her piece turned into a beautiful sunset behind clouds cut from paper with a Japanese print, fabric doily flowers and an iridescent orange ground.
It's amazing the evolution that has taken place in them over the past two years. Some of us never come to these realizations about ourselves. Do we rush to the finish and skip the journey? Sometimes only to be disappointed in what awaits? Or do we spend so much time on the journey we never reach a destination?
For eleven years I waited to see Machu Picchu, and I chose to visit via the four day hike along the Inca Trail. I had built up this magical destination for so long in my mind that I was certain I would collapse in a fit of tears once I arrived. But I didn't. Instead I got out my sketchbook. When I returned to my hostel in Aguas Caliente and reflected on the trek, I realized that the entire trek itself, including Machu Picchu, was equally significant and important. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the hike for me and all my companions. And we all agreed that we were expecting a big WOW factor once we reached our destination. But instead, we were blanketed in serenity with an enormous respect, gratefulness, humbleness and humility for the journey, and realization that the two went hand-in-hand.