|Photo Credit: Cindy Moore|
Many people at the State Fair are surprised to see an artist painting or drawing, or even this year at the 2019 Kansas State Fair, an artist sculpting in stone. Among the subjects artists depicted were ducks at the lake, merry-go-round horses, midway scenes, fountains, all sorts of livestock, crops, and even scarecrows. The scarecrows were my selection, along with a white rabbit.
Neither of my pencil drawings received an award, but the judge, Naomi Ullum, was wonderful, taking the time to comment on every piece entered for judging, and finding positives in her critiques, as well as pointing out specific ways to improve the work. I believe I benefited from her comments, as I'm sure that others did as well.
However, the critiques and contact with other artists, even the possibility of winning a prize, are not the primary reason I enjoy Plein Aire Painting at the Kansas State Fair enough to confront the challenge of limited time, heat, (or last year's rain), transporting my supplies and equipment, listening to the squawking, crowing, and (to be polite) unpleasant odor of some of my models, (such as Miss Lucy the pig that I sketched this year) or other inconveniences of Plein Aire Painting. Such things are simply the anticipated challenges of the plein aire experience.
I am sharing the photographs in this blog to explain why I look forward to participating. It's the children who stop to watch and ask questions.
Once, I was a volunteer at some now forgotten fund raiser where my assignment was a booth with white plates that could be decorated. I don't remember if the plates had designs to complete or what materials were used to decorate them, but I have never forgotten one little girl. She was with her grandmother, and she had walked by my booth more than once, asking her grandmother to buy a ticket for her to decorate a plate. Finally the grandmother agreed, and the little girl began her decoration with such excitement. Her grandmother watched the child's eager beginning, but quickly spoke up. "Now, dear. You can draw better than that! Stay within the lines." The child's happy face crumpled, and slowly, with little interest, she colored in a few areas and announced that she had finished. Even that did not please her grandmother. "But you aren't finished," she said. "You haven't colored in all the spaces." The little girl said she didn't want to do any more, and they left my booth with a plate that had pleased neither of them.
I hope I never again see a child, eager to draw a picture or paint a plate, being told to stay within the lines. I participate in Plein Aire at the fair for the children. To answer their questions. To praise them when their parents say how they love to draw. To explain when they ask 'why I did this' or 'how I did that.' To say 'Of couse you can' when anyone says "I can't draw," whether it is a child or an adult--but especially if it is a child. So many adults say, "I can't draw a straight line," but aren't straight lines irrelevant in most drawings!
This year at the fair, one little boy had been standing quietly beside me, watching me draw for quite a while, so finally I stopped and turned to him. He still couldn't find his words, so eventually his mother leaned over and said, "He wants to know if you can tell him how to learn to do that." He nodded his head.
Immediately, I replied, "Yes, I can," thinking quickly what to tell him. I said, "When you get home, take a plain piece of paper and draw something. Do the very best you can, and when you finish, get another piece of paper and draw something again. Whenever you can, keep doing that, and each time you will learn something. You will keep getting better each time, because as you draw you will be learning." He listened and nodded as I spoke to him. "Can you do that?" I asked when I had finished my impromptu advice. He was smiling and nodding with such enthusiasm that I was sure he would sit down with a clean piece of paper soon after he got home.
His mother asked if he would like for her to photograph the scarecrows he had watched me draw, so he could do a drawing of them for himself. He nodded. As they were about to leave, I asked, "If I come to the fair next year, will you find me and tell me what you've been drawing?" He was beaming as he nodded.
Photo credit: Larry Fenwick
There are more stories I could share, but never will you hear me tell a child to stay within the lines. That little boy, the children in the photographs in this blog, and the many others who stopped to watch as I worked, are why I go to the fair to participate in the Plein Aire competition. It's why I hope to go next year and more years after that. If I can inspire one child to be curious about art or if I can encourage one child to feel good about what they draw, then I will have my blue ribbon from the State Fair. And next year, I will be watching for that little boy.
Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.