Today’s breakfast treat is a made-from-scratch crumble-topped blueberry muffin. Every month features a new muffin flavor. Coffee, tea, and juice are available. Plus, a delectable smell wafts from the kitchen, which we early arrivals know is lunch being prepared. I marvel, “This is my oil-painting class?!”
Oil Painting Plus
Anyone who has participated in the activities at Macsherry Library in Alexandria Bay will testify that the experience surpasses expectations. Evening acrylic painters sip wine with a light supper, quilters have catered weekend retreats, and movie-nights include gourmet popcorn. That is just a sampling. Monthly oil-painting classes that I attend run from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Donna, our painting instructor, supplies all the materials: canvas, paints, brushes, etc. Denise, librarian/hostess, caters breakfast and a tasty lunch. This dedicated duo has enriched my senior life.
Denise, library activities director, pulled me in the first day I obtained my library card, “Come to painting class!” The best public relations person any organization could have, she is positive, naturally gregarious, and committed to people. A former early childhood teacher, she has an intuitive understanding of community. When her culinary skills pair with Donna’s teaching goals, we painters flourish. How we learn is just as important as what we learn. My friend, Ellie, and other educators will recognize how Responsive Classroom underlies the success of this painting class.
The morning of painting we arrive to find our work stations prepared with each of our names displayed. I wouldn’t doubt that Denise has used some seating strategy to promote positive interactions. Supplies and tools have been distributed. Participants greet one another. Some of us have been part of the class for a year or more. The new painters are welcomed. I pour a coffee and taste a yummy muffin. We prepare our canvas as directed. Denise gives us an update on upcoming programs. She wets our appetite with the lunch menu. We’ve just had a Morning Meeting.
Donna describes the procedures we will follow, the steps of the painting, and eases apprehension. This step parallels the Establish Rules feature of Responsive Classroom. For children, this phase allows them to adopt goals of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. Presumably, as adults we have these mastered. A wise educator, Donna places a finished painting on an easel to which we can refer. Besides, she produces another painting along with us, demonstrating every technique. Donna tells us that only when we have painted the sky, the horizon trees, and the foreground grass will we be ready for lunch. An effective teaching strategy: meet the goal, and then receive the reward.
Today we learn a technique called Grisaille, painting a black and white tonal underlay before adding a sheer layer of color glaze. Donna recognizes our ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development). In other words, she knows just how to push us gently beyond our comfort zone in order to learn something new. Attentive and especially quiet today, we proceed through the steps as Donna models. One technique we’ve all mastered is the “fast flow.” We scrub the liquid into the top half of the canvas so the subsequent blue paint will glide across the sky. I think how nice to have such a medium to spread through our lives, so everything would flow. A veteran public school teacher, Donna explains and circulates so we have confidence in every brush stroke. We hear Denise clanging pots in the kitchen. We work intently, anticipating what smells like a holiday meal.
After an intense morning, we set our paintings aside. We fill plates with home-made macaroni and cream cheese. A whole baked ham, sliced. Crusty rolls. Fresh vegetables with dip. Any beverage one can imagine. Finally, the piece de resistance: A Cupcake Smash. First, a chocolate cupcake topped with fancy chocolate frosting. The cupcake is split into two layers and placed in an individual cup as follows: cupcake bottom, vanilla-bean ice cream, cupcake top with frosting, drizzled with chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. I honestly state, “I have not had a meal this good since we last painted.”
While Denise cleans up after us, Donna takes advantage of our full stomachs to guide us through the new technique. We all paint a deer in black and white tones. Tension thickens until someone says, “I’m flashing!” Laughter erupts. Next, we add just a bit of color to the glaze and cover the deer, which miraculously looks natural. Comments reveal a range of satisfaction with the results. One deer resembles a squirrel, another, a giraffe. Earl always keeps things light, “My deer’s tail looks like a colostomy bag!” We all get chatty and Donna uses teacher skills to refocus us. We add a tree with budding leaves. Donna assists if needed and we share tips or supplies with our neighbors.
I believe each painter feels some measure of success. Most individuals, not just children, achieve greater cognitive growth through social interaction. I attend this class to learn oil painting. Even more, as a new resident, I thrive on the social interaction and become part of the community. The rituals we share as well as our goals bond us. As a result, participants feel less intimidated, and more likely to grow as painters.
We have memorized Donna’s most important painting principles. I can’t help but see these axioms as universal truths about life:
“You need the dark to show the light.”
“There are no mistakes, just new opportunities.”
“If you find yourself over-working an area, step away.”
“Don’t judge the success of your painting until you view it from a distance.”
Don’t fret over the sky, or the trees, or the grass; they will soon “fade to the background.”
This week I learned how to use the “magic rag” when the sky gets too dark. I make a vow to use humor as my life’s “magic rag.” Erma Bombeck concurs, “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”
Donna never concludes a class without show and tell, our version of Responsive Classroom’s Closing Circle. She takes each finished painting, sets it on the front easel for group affirmation. We admire each unique painting, as diverse as the painters. Skies vary in shades of blue, some with clouds, others have none; trees and leaves differ in color and size. Every painting has an element we “ooh” and “awe” over. Sometimes we applaud. Group photos are taken, often to be published in the Thousand Islands Sun, our local paper. No wonder we come back for more validation (and food) next month. To me, oil-painting class represents my own special cupcake: a Painted Zen Smash.