Elementary Plein Air Instruction

When I was young, kids my age from a nearby Pueblo showed up at my school.  I noticed that they didn’t come every day, so I spent a lot of time looking out the window hoping they would show up on their bright yellow bus. Some days they would, and I’d excitedly point, and yell, “They are here, they are here!” We’d be doing math or some other routine thing, so I was told to wait until recess to find my friend who rode the bus.  As soon as the door opened for recess, I’d run to find him and to ask to see his art. He usually had at least one rolled up piece of paper in his hand.

I often became immobile and silent when he unrolled his paper, because the art was beyond anything I had imagined. His work woke me to the possibilities of sunrises over purple mesas set far in the distance with orange and red-streaked clouds feathering over black and Prussian blue in a sky stuffed with multi-colored, carefully shaded, light-blue and white, puffy New Mexican rain clouds.  He did crayon layering like I’d never seen. His horses were horses, unlike my elementary rectangular pig-like horses with long snouts and spindly legs. There were lights and darks, shading, and perspective, but mostly he took my breath away with his use of color. His beautiful color was alive with nature’s spirit.

I miss those days. I still have my First Grade drawing of “Dick and Jane’s Visit to Grandfather’s Farm,” framed by my delighted mother, praised by my teacher, and now hung on my wall. It is mundane compared to those works of my friend. I asked him how he knew how to draw so well. He said he “just looked.” When he told me his secret, I was speechless and breathless all over again. I realized that in all my six long years of life, I had not yet learned to look.

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