Two weeks ago I got an offer for my first commission. This possibility opened up a journey for me and a peek into one of the quietest yet pivotal moments in the life of a family.
This project is a wonderful learning experience, and the enclosed pictures show that much shall learned in this process! Several sketches and value paintings were done right away to discover the focal point of the painting. After several hours of on-site and off-site work, I discovered I ought to have taken my sketch book and treated it like all my other projects I’ve done. Hopefully I’ll have more delightful paintings to share at a later time.
The request brought me over to the family’s house, where I talked with the wife. She told me it was her husband’s idea and that she’d show me what they were thinking and then see if it was something I’d be interested in doing.
Both of us enthused, she led me through their entry-way, past the living room and down into a more intimate nook with giant glass windows which looked out onto a lush green backyard, flanked by a forest.
The center of this outdoor scene was a large hill, bordered by the encroaching woods. On the left a large, twisting tree bordered the scene, a small handmade greenhouse at its base. Nestled nearby were several bird feeders and an elegant stone birdbath.
Surrounding the bird area and encircling the entire base were spent Lenten lilies, overtaken by cascades of purple irises. A little more reserved, the peony bushes frilled out, nearly ready to burst out into their intoxicating blooms. Several other shrubs, bushes, and trees were interspersed throughout the scene.
Two little paths, almost hidden from sight, wound up and disappeared at the top of the hill, where shrouded by amur honeysuckle a stone patio beckoned to those wanting a private retreat away from the house. All in all, it was a very pleasing scene.
It wouldn’t be a tough thing to paint, but I wished for a little bit more background to the scene to make the view more meaningful. That would get the creative juices flowing.
Turning from the scene, the lady of the house motioned to a small leather sofa just behind us, which faced the view just described.
We sat down, and she explained why they would love to have the scene painted.
Both she and her husband wanted to capture the the hill in the glory of the purple irises and pink peonies blooming at the same time.
Also, it was here in the mornings, the lady of the house said, when her husband was home, that he and she would sit with their morning coffee, before the children got up.
Now the creative juices were flowing. This backyard view was all of a sudden more meaningful.
Here they would look out on the view, watch the birds feed, and sit with each other.
“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey
That such a beautiful view was the object of such a meaningful ritual was particularly moving to me. I am a sucker for any little story where two people taketh time to nourish a relationship, be it siblings, friends, parents, but especially spouses.
Such rituals are inspiring because they nourishes one.
It nourishes one as a human being. Try meditating on our name, Human Being. Try sitting outside or on the sofa for five minutes without doing anything. To sit and “to be,” and not “to do” while one is sitting is very difficult.
Eventually, as one gets used to the activity of doing nothing (for an intentional piece of time), one begins to realize more fully his place in creation, and the part he plays in his relationship with his Creator.
To sit together with someone also nourishes friendship, as the Little Prince discovers in ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
“I am looking for friends [said the Little Prince]. What does that mean–‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince…~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The little prince then goes on to make the same excuses we all make when we are too busy to be interrupted to slow down and make the time to give that special someone in our life, whether family member or friend. Too busy with “matters of consequence!”
This next bit is a bit longer, but so worth it!
“Please–tame me!” he [the fox] said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,”…if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The morning hours at this family’s house, when dad is home are unique from all the other hours. Two people are being, and being with each other, each one in their way, taking the “time to understand” themselves and each other.
It wasn’t only because of connecting this morning rite to the Little Prince that the scene resonated with me.
I myself have been blessed by such a ritual. This year’s teaching has gifted me with the requirement of having to do a sit spot, which, as Jon Young, a naturalist, says, teaches one how to be a human being. It has led to a sort of morning ritual, which includes but is not limited to, reading, coffee, prayer, and some time outside.
I’ve really found this ritual to be an anchor in my life, which is how Duvall Washington’s Wilderness Awareness School describes a sit spot.
Looking out at that beautiful, yet small backyard hill, partially veiled by Kansas trees and blooming honeysuckle bushes, no longer was this view simple someone’s favorite backyard scene, but a centerspot in a family’s life.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Hearing the explanation behind the scene ‘sparked joy’ and made me humbled and yet proud to do my best to capture for the family this scene, the setting for such a simple, quiet, and hidden rite.
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