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A Nice Touch
By Cyndie Goins Hoelscher
(Page 1 of 3)

The day began ominously enough. Low clouds, shrouded in mourning colors, hung heavily in the sky, threatening to weep during the plein air class at the Botanical Gardens. As one of six art students on this field trip, I was looking forward to studying the methods of the Old World Masters. As I sharpened my HB and B sketching pencils, I reflected on those great painters who sat outside, painting moments unfolding before their eyes. Monet. Rembrandt. Da Vinci. Their masterpieces hang in museums, illustrating not only what they were looking at as they composed, but also details about their world during those moments of quiet contemplation. Each stroke of their brush became an essay of historical and philosophical significance. This was my third sketching class with this Fine Arts instructor. I wept during the first class, as she tried to discipline my uninspired hand. “Feel the curve of that petal,” she hinted. “Can you sense the suggestion of a shadow under that leaf?” Under her instruction, a new awareness emerged and I finally began to see the world as an artist might.

“But what I see in my mind isn’t materializing onto the paper,” I complained. Yet, deep inside I sensed that if I practiced patience, focusing every ounce of my concentration on the subject, the picture would eventually become clearer. “Pick a spot in the gardens and start with your thumbnail sketches before moving on to your value studies,” the art instructor announced to the six of us. “The rose garden is closed off today because they’re decorating for a gala event. That is the only place that is off-limits. One more thing: Today is a free day, devoted solely to your creativity. Let your soul dance and you may capture miracles.”

My heart sank as I watched a parade of volunteers, their arms filled with brilliantly colored piñatas, marching to the roped-off pavilion in the rose garden. One piñata escaped and the seven-sided star flipped cartwheels across the lawn before another worker was able to restrain it. I breathed in deeply, trying to catch the sweet allure of roses in the tropical gales. Since I first learned of the excursion to the gardens, I had dreamed of working near the rose pavilion, searching for delicate tea roses, hardy florabundas, or the old fashioned varieties, secretly wondering if I could capture their innate sweetness on a canvas. If I were honest with myself, I would admit there was another reason I longed to work among the roses. My grandmother had loved her rose garden. In her backyard, she had orange Tropicanas and velvet crowned Chryslers. The stately Queen Elizabeth bloomed profusely next to the well-established Peace. The miniature roses in coral painted petals looked like dainty palaces for fairies. Deep in my heart, I knew my soul could dance in a rose garden. There amongst the roses, I could have captured miracles. But the rose garden was off limits.

“That’s just great,” I sighed somberly. I longed to sketch roses that day while the sky was robed in gray. Instead, I had to choose a different spot. I found another place deep in the shadows, away from the colorful blossoms of the hibiscus and the exotic perfumes of the plumeria. I settled down in the dreary area and began to sketch. “There you are,” my instructor exclaimed as she ducked under a giant philodendron leaf and surveyed my subject area. “This is interesting.”

She glanced at my thumbnail sketches and noted I was already working on the value study, adding shadows and highlights from the sparse splashes of sun. I deepened the background leaves with stark, black charcoal, gradually moving to a medium gray stroke and finally applying a light brushing from the side of the pencil, indicating the areas that were straining for the affection of the sun.

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