July 24, 2007

Day at the beach


We did the project with limited resources: three cans of paint (white, brown, and blue), three butter knives, several worn paintbrushes, some sponges, a roller, three empty coffee cans donated by my mother, and a plastic dropcloth leftover from the last century. Before the end of the project, we had abandoned the sponges and brushes and were painting with random body parts.

Painting a mural was my daughter's idea. She and some friends are renting an apartment near campus for her senior year, and her bedroom was completely bare, with blank white walls. The quilt for her bed is bright pink and lime green, striped like a beach towel, so it followed logically that she paint a beach scene on the wall of her room. What wasn't as logical is that she would choose me as the person to help her. We have all kinds of artists in the family — people who actually hang their work in art shows and sell their art and talk about art in knowledgeable ways. I happen not to be one of them.

But of course, I agreed anyhow. The project sounded like fun. I love mixing paints, experimenting with textures, and smearing colour in big swatches. We arrived at her empty apartment yesterday morning and set to work right away.

Me: How come you didn't bring a screwdriver?
Daughter: A screwdriver?
Me: Yeah, to get the lids off.
Daughter: But you always use a butter knife.
Me: That's only when I can't find a screwdriver.
Daughter: Well, I brought butter knives. I thought that's what you used.

Me: Do you have anything drawn out?
Daughter: No.
Me: Do you have a plan?
Daughter: I figured we'd do a beach scene.
Me: That's it? That's the whole plan?
Daughter: Well, yeah.
Me: Shouldn't we have something on graph paper?
Daughter: Graph paper? (She rolled her eyes.)
Daughter: How hard could it be? A simple beach scene.
Me: Where do we start?
Daughter: I don't know. You have years more experience than me.
Me: Years of experience?
Daughter: At painting walls.
Me: You mean painting walls ONE COLOUR. Not quite the same. Not at all.
Daughter: Well, that's more experience than I have.
Me: Well, neither one of us is tall enough to reach the top of the wall, so we might as well start at the bottom.
Daughter: Okay, that's the sand.
Me: If it doesn't end up looking like a beach scene, we can make it into some kind of cool abstract painting.
Daughter: What do you mean? Of course it will look like a beach scene.

We began at the bottom and worked our way up, sand first, and then water, and then sky. We didn't have a ladder so we dragged a desk over so that we could reach the sky. We used sponges for the sand, then brushes and wet sponges to make the water wavy, then the roller for the sky. We wanted each element to be a different texture. The clouds were fluffy and white at first, but they looked too much like something out of a kids' book, too much like a sappy cliche, so we kept mixing white and blue and brown to make grey, and put in some storm clouds. The effect was much cooler, but it did make the beach scene more ominous than we had intended.

We got more ambitious as we went along.

Daughter: We need something on the beach.
Me: A sandcastle? Shells?
Daughter: I know! We could glue real shells to the wall!
Me: Your landlord freaked out about thumbtacks. I don't think he's going to want you to glue stuff to the wall.
Daughter: Yeah, I wonder how he's going to like the mural.
Me: You asked him, right?
Daughter: Yeah. Well, I said something about painting the wall sand-coloured. I don't think I quite explained the whole project.
Me: (smearing blue paint) Too late now.
Daughter: How about a surfer? Could we paint in a surfer?
Me: A whole person? No.
Daughter: Well, maybe just part.
Me: We could manage a hand. You know, sticking out of the surf.
Daughter: A drowning surfer?
Me: I guess that's bad taste.
Me: How about footprints? In the sand.
Daughter: I like that. Can you draw footprints?
Me: No.
Daughter: Me neither.
Me: Wait, we could just use a real foot. Dip it in paint and walk on the wall.
Daughter: Here, give me your foot.
Me: Shouldn't it be yours?
Daughter: Our feet are the same size. No one will know the difference.
Me: It can't just be all left feet. So paint the right one too.

So we added footprints – authentic footprints — down in the righthand corner where an artist would normally sign her work. We took a break to eat vegan burritos and sweet potato fries, then went right back to work. Buoyed by our success, we took turns smearing more paint on the wall and then standing back in the doorway to gaze critically at our masterpiece. The nice thing about my daughter is that she is easily pleased. And she has total confidence in my abilities.

Me: Maybe I should add a land mass in the distance.
Daughter: Yes! That would be great.
Me: See, I'm going for kind of a Robinson Crusoe look.
Daughter: Can you do a sailboat?
Me: Sure.
Daughter: And a lighthouse?
Me: Oh! A lighthouse! Great idea.

At some point, I noticed that my daughter was sitting comfortably on the bed, perfectly clean, watching while I was working away at the mural, my hands and feet and hair covered with paint.

"How does this always happen?" I asked. "You talk me into these projects, and then suddenly I notice you sitting back and watching while I do the work?"

She snickered. "Whitewashing the fence is fun."


Lorianne said...

Ha! I love that last line! But why no picture of the finished product, please?

jo(e) said...

Lorianne: That's funny. As I was writing this post, my daughter looked over my shoulder and said, "You know, they are going to want a picture of the mural."

I don't have one yet, because the time we got done, it was raining outside and late in the afternoon, and I didn't have enough natural light for a photo. So I'll have to go to her apartment during the day sometime to photograph this amazing work of art.

Or perhaps it might be better left to your imagination.

vilaz said...

The ESL speaker that I am is not getting the meaning of this last sentence. I am afraid this is going to keep me awake like the riddle you posted a few weeks ago.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Yes, yes we want a picture!!!

Songbird said...

That's a great story.

Ampersand said...

Ooh, I love the swirling blue and white paint.

ppb said...

Her landlord is NOT going to be happy. I'm guessing the next mother daughter bonding event is going to be painting the wall white before she moves out! It sounds like a fun day!

RageyOne said...

Sounds like a great day!

The last comment is from Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" if I'm not mistaken.

jo(e) said...

vilaz: In the book Tom Sawyer, a boy named Tom Sawyer is given the chore of whitewashing a fence. He pretends the job is fun, and then pretty soon other kids start begging to help, and then they even end up bribing him to let them help paint. Classic manipulative behavior.

PPB: Yeah, the landlord did say that if he didn't like it, she'd have to paint it white next May, but since she's local, that won't be a problem.

red-haired sister said...

She should have asked me to paint the sailboat. I can paint one style of sailboat,the same one I did on every card I ever made for Dad growing up. I can also write "Happy Father's Day" in cool rainbow letters, if she ever happens to need that particuler talent.

vilaz said...

Thanks Joe. I should have googled this a little longer before asking the question.

niobe said...

As I was reading the post, I kept trying (and failing) to understand how the beach scene you were describing morphed into the pictured swirls. I feel much better now that I understand that it didn't.

jo(e) said...

Niobe: Oh, I probably should have put a caption on the photo. I thought the swirls that I made when I was mixing the paint were cool so I started taking photos of the paint tray. I'm easily distracted.

S. said...

See, I was waiting to hear about how you got diverted to making marbled paper!

Artist Friend said...

I saw that last line coming a mile off! (Any English major should.) And it's just inexcusable that you don't have a picture of the finished work. Right away, please!

jo(e) said...

Artist Friend: Well, we're not sure now that it's finished. Tonight we were talking about much more we could have done if we'd bought some yellow paint. So we might do more to it on Thursday.

Jane Dark said...

Wow. I want a wall painted to look like that paint tray. Gorgeous!

jar said...

Love the lines about the butter knife.

Yankee T said...

You know we need a photo. And I"m with jar-the butter knife exchange is PERFECT. I'm jealous of how much your kids are home.

Abby said...

yes, yes, we need a pic of the mural, but the picture you included here is beautiful and sort of mesmerizing. Also, just wanted to say that I LOVE reading your blog. Beautiful writing.

delagar said...

Yes, we *have* to have a picture of the mural!

KLee said...

I also want to see the mural. And, I love the marble-y paint swirl. I've used that technique in papermaking, and it's always grabbed me.

Your daughter kills me, sitting off to the side as you slave away...:)

BeachMama said...

I love those Mom/Daughter type days! A photo of the finished product would be great too!

ccw said...

This sounds like a very fun way to spend the day with your daughter. I love the colors and cannot wait to see a picture of the finished mural.

Busymomma66 said...

I can't wait to see a picture of the final masterpiece--and no fair leaving it up to our imaginations--I can't Google this like I did the puzzle ;)

Film Guy said...

I'm only responding here to call bullshit. The lighthouse = completely my idea, and you both know it. If only this post wasn't old so someone would actually see it and give me some vindication.

jo(e) said...

Film Guy: But if you recall, you made the suggestion to Daughter, and then she said it to me as if it were her idea. So I think my dialogue is still accurate.

Oh, okay. You get credit for the lighthouse.