Paint-by-Numbers

Anita

My eight-year-old hand shook as I carefully daubed the paintbrush into the small, clear plastic pot of paint and then carefully transferred the blob of ‘color 32’ into the small, oval edged on one side by a sea of black velvet. Just three colors left, and I would complete my masterpiece.

I worked my bottom lip with my teeth in concentration—this time—this time I would succeed. My efforts to paint by number would result in a beautiful horse’s head that I could proudly hang on the wall in my bedroom. I might even sell my painting and make money. People would want to collect my paintings and they could hang in museums.

Each time I opened a new tiny container of paint, a pungent whiff of oil would remind me that real painters smelled the same smells, waited patiently for each color to dry, and always cleaned their brushes before they turned into hardened fingers that no cleaning solution could repair.

At last! Each tiny island had received its corresponding color—I had finished. I peered at my painting—and then glanced nervously at the illustration on the box. The horse on the box looked like a horse with sunlight and shadow creating the perfect dance of color and detail. My horse looked like a Sunday morning cartoon with puddles and bumps of color hinting at the real thing.

Maybe if I propped the painting against the wall, it would look better. It didn’t. I threw my paintbrush down in disgust and ran outside to play—my dreams of becoming a painter left to dry on my desk. I saw no point in even starting the second picture that came in the box.

A vague sense of loss at my failure to create a masterpiece (or even something I’d want to hang on my wall) nibbled at my confidence, but I still longed to create something beautiful.

Almost forty years later the same sense of longing sometimes plagues me. I see in my mind’s eye what something should look like, or I know in my ears what melody should come out of my mouth, but my hand and my voice never match up.

And so I appreciate. Our youngest daughter has the crazy ability to connect her imagination to her hand—and beautiful images pour forth. Her voice brings me to tears with its beauty. I draw stick figures and listen to my voice leap from alto to soprano to tenor all in the space of one hymn (thankfully, the congregation covers my voice and together we all sound beautiful).

I also discovered photography. I might not paint with my fingers and a brush, but I have discovered the art of waiting for the perfect shaft of light to coax colors from harsh rocks into a palette of beauty waiting for me to capture with a click.

The Grand Canyon at sunset reveals the colors you'll never see during the day.

The Grand Canyon at sunset reveals the colors you’ll never see during the day.

I’ll wait for hours just to snap a photo (ok, maybe hundreds) of a hummingbird and then gaze in awe at the fine detail in each feather.Allen's Hummingbird

But my ‘painting’ has a different purpose now—I no longer labor to create a masterpiece to prove I am a painter. I capture beauty to prove I have a Creator. And for once, I feel satisfaction in my efforts.
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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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