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?
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?
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?
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."
Posted by jo(e)