The School Painting

Updated: Jan 26

By Françoise Hélène

I go back to elementary school. What a ride it was. There is so much to remember; an avalanche of updates I did my best to follow but often made my own rules. Twice that year, we had a visit from a strange-looking man who'd tell us about bullying. His voice had a unique tone. He carefully explained what the word meant whilst I dreamt about the meaning of the world and if there was any at all.

Back in year three, it was the last day of June, which meant the start of the summer holidays. My mother had made me a special breakfast that morning; fresh strawberries with chocolate pancakes with a tall glass of chocolate milk. The best breakfast, always full of chocolate, which often ended up on my nose! It was my favourite. I was excited that day and smiled, more than usual -- I knew what the months of July and August brought to me; no homework, swimming pools, outside birthday parties and extra laughs at the parks. But the most exciting part was that my Uncle Leon came to visit us each summer. He lived in a country far away and was an Artist, and I admired him for that. He could see beyond the superficial and taught me how to do so myself throughout the years.

My primary school was small, with less than one hundred pupils. It had an enchanted look, wrapped in soft brown bricks with a beautiful garden filled with tricolour butterfly bushes and lenten roses. There were arched windows in every classroom, starring on opposite sides of the residential street, and there was seldom anybody to see during class hours. It was a quiet area, tucked in the tranquillity of the big city where the countryside charmed us some mornings after the sun had awakened.

My teacher had told me earlier in the week she'd prepare a surprise for the last day, and I told her as long as it wasn't a visit from clowns, I'd be happy. She was a lovely teacher with a warm and firm aura who'd always give clear instructions. I could tell she was incredibly passionate about mathematics which was our first class of the day. When I arrived in class on the last morning of the school year, five big bags were sitting on her desk, overloaded with colours and sprinkles. My eyes grew as vast as the sky, and my heart screamed with joy-- it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to school -- Art class. Something was fascinating about both bright and dark colours; they sometimes created stunning contrasts, in real and abstract life. A realisation that came much later for me as my essence grew older. But back in year three, the explosions of colours told a more in-depth story, and that was magic.

My Uncle Leon would tell me countless stories about his paintings and other famous Painters. His favourite was Thomas Gainsborough; an English painter who was talented from a very young age and went to London to study art at age thirteen. A man that managed to overcome the competition with some time, to become one of the best landscape painters in the world. We would sit for hours in the backyard or the living room talking about different paintings, and we'd go to Art Galleries and events in the city. Mum and Dad were happy to let us wander in our own world, and Mum said I reminded her of Uncle Leon when he was a kid. Just like him, I'd spend hours painting at home in my room. My paintings had a voice of their own and told my stories. After Mum's birthday one year, I painted purple balloons with a smiley face and a background full of watercolours. The abstract was my expertise, or maybe I was still learning how to paint and didn't know what I was doing.

On that last school day, when my teacher, miss Naomie, saw me look at the "surprise bags", she told me she saved the best class for last. The day seemed long until two in the afternoon. She loved that hour too, because it was time for tea. She asked us, children, to help her unpack the bags and wow -- there were sparkles, confetti, coloured pencils, various types of crafts and paintbrushes of different sizes, endless colours of paint, white tick paper and even canvas. There were even moulds to help us draw or paint animals, shapes and people. It lifted my spirit. Miss Naomie gave clear instructions and reminded us how to use the paint and wash our brushes, and she said she'd taught us how to draw a beautiful sailor on a sailboat travelling the sea on a sunny day. She gave me a slight smile, and I smiled back (she often knew I was not too fond of following instructions, especially in Art class). The class agreed with her challenge, but I suggested we'd paint what we'd like to be when we'd get older. I was a visionary from a young age, and I'd always see the bigger picture. I was an outcast and out-of-the-box thinker, which made me stand out from everyone else. In fairness, we went ahead with the majority. Miss Naomie said she had spent the last evening in her home, carefully writing down the instructions so they could be as clear as they could be so it would be easy for us to understand. She asked us to raise our hand after each step to ensure we understood each one of them and then began to explain how to paint the sea, then a sailboat. The colours of the sea were calm blue, purple, soft yellow and teal green; the easiest way to paint them was to move our paintbrushes from left to right or right to left. It was a forty-five minutes lesson with quick-dry paint so we'd be able to take our work of art home. The school bell rang, it was soon time to leave to then return in the next year to blossom in different ways. Miss Naomie asked us to share our paintings while she walked around the class to look at each. Mine was full of bright red, orange, royal blue and Fuschia at the top of my canvas, then at the bottom; there were clowns with big red noses and evil smiles. They were dressed in black, grey, dark green costumes with yellow dots, hanging out in a garden with trees where butterflies came to relax. The truth is that my imagination spoke from a higher perspective, and sometimes it was beyond or below it. This was a usual trend for me in art class; it was a liberation. So, Miss Naomie didn't make a fuss but did cringe a little. I told her I wanted to leave this painting at school and didn't want to take it home with me and she asked me why.

I told her it was because I was afraid of the clowns in the school garden at break time.


Notes : This story explains the power of communicating through art. Researchers have recognised the need for developmentally appropriate methods such as free drawing or painting to help children communicate their experiences. Thus, research from Emese Hall, University of Exeter in 2088 confirms children children’s drawings/paintings have expressed self and identity; storytelling; pattern and decoration; and special interests.

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