“Who Knows What I’ll Catch” 11×14, oil on paper

I had not been in the classroom since 2012, which is the year the subject of today’s painting was born. This past Tuesday I was invited to Pass Christian Middle School to do an art project with a group of fifth grade girls. I’d known about it since the beginning of the school year. I’ve thought about it many times, but still I found myself with no fully formed plan or idea of what to expect. What’s a fifth grader? My sons are in college, ninth, and fourth grades.

Turns out a fifth grader is this really delightful human who, more often than not, gets very excited about purple.

I brought twenty-four plastic palette knives, some heavy body acrylic paint and medium, and my very best look of confidence (easier to pull off underneath a mask). I led the students through a color mixing exercise where they eventually made as many different colors as they could from just blue, red, yellow, and white. I started off by asking them how many colors they thought they could make. I think eight was our high baller, five our low. Each round they upped it a tiny bit. Okay, okay. I think I can make fifteen. No, seventeen! After four rounds I had a couple light bulbs go off– “ONE HUNDRED!” someone shouted. 

The thing is colors are like numbers– infinite. You can always add a touch more of this, a hair more of that. 

I started today’s painting when I was planning my lesson. Sometimes I do my best thinking when I’m painting. I thought I might guide the kids in a tree painting so I searched “tree” on my phone and up popped this stunning photo of Ezra fishing off the front of Kelly’s weather-worn skiff. I loved that the fishing pole met the water right on the shadow his body was creating on the surface of the bayou, as though he’s casting into the depths of himself to see what he’ll come up with.  I abandoned the whole tree idea and started this sketch which I later finished for today’s painting. 

I ended up letting the kids paint whatever they wanted with the whole array of amazing colors they’d created. One of the teachers said it was great to see them so free at a school known for its structure and rigor. Maybe I’m a better art teacher than I am parent. Maybe art is the thing helping me when it’s time just to watch from the bank and see what he hauls in.