When I visit my mother and stepfather, I sleep soundly. I feel safe in what I call “my” little bedroom in their Green Valley home. I am protected from the anxieties of daily life—buffered in that quiet space against the insurmountable challenge of growing “to do” lists, relationships that sometimes feel like work, even the endless, insecurity-driven attentions of Lucy, my sweet black cat who is so aloof during the day but craves constant contact throughout the night.
In this quiet room, surrounded by the latest of my stepfather’s paintings, I fall eagerly into bed at night. The colorful beauty of Paul’s landscapes and beloved day lilies inspires me to dream.
Paul’s work has improved measurably during more than two decades since he first began painting.
He took some classes initially, as part of a group where everyone did the same painting, with steps and techniques described and demonstrated by a teacher. He may have learned rudimentary skills in that process but it wasn’t until he began his own study and exploration outside of those boundaries that he truly came into his own as a painter.
He is collecting some of his recent works to display at church, something he does periodically. I am stunned by his bravery. Sharing expressions of your thoughts and passions invites criticism and misunderstanding, even as it brings admiration and affirmation. Either can be uncomfortable to receive. But in putting yourself out there you are opening the greatest gift of all—your uniqueness—to share with those around you. Many people live and die without ever sharing that essence.
Only he can interpret what he sees in the photographs he re-imagines in oils on canvas. Only he can build the infrastructure for his rendering—meticulous work to transport the image to his canvas to scale, then choose, mix and apply the colors that bring it alive.
He has an enthusiastic (if honest) critic in my mother. It surprises and delights me that she feels comfortable telling him when a painting isn’t quite right. I admire her willingness to be truthful—even when the message is “it can be better.” He receives her suggestions graciously, thoughtfully. And he typically heeds her advice, removing a green shoot that seems out of place in a grouping of day lilies emerging from the mist, or adding a small wildflower on the sand behind a wooden, weather-worn beach fence to provide a splash of hopeful color against the gray and black and brown.
Paul has shown me that there is no age limit on creative expression, no “privilege” to art, no external barrier to learning, trying and sticking your nose out there to share the joy of what you’ve learned.
He and my mother continuously demonstrate that a truly great marriage includes mutual admiration and tactful honesty, holding each other up in love and respect while encouraging each other to keep growing and striving.
A few more of my favorites from Paul’s collection:
Love this, Karen, dear sister. Thank you. And remember that you have done the same as Dad with each and every magazine issue that you publish…it’s just a different form. Very brave indeed!