Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sand Is Always Blue

A little girl sits alone in her room coloring. Her coloring book is open to a page that has a wonderful picture of a seagull, flying over a stretch of beach. She can picture in her mind what colors to use. The sand, a soft lovely cornflower blue. The ocean, a beautiful shade of pink with green foam. The seagull, all the shades of purple and lavender her crayon box holds. The sky, a deep forest green, with bright yellow clouds. The lines are only suggestions of where the colors should go. The colors will blend one into the other, and create a kaleidoscopic picture.

Just as she finishes the sand, with nothing else colored in, another child--older and "wiser"--looks at the picture.

"Sand isn't blue."


"Sand isn't' blue. It's tan, white, black, or brown. But it isn't blue. And the lines are there for a reason. Color in the lines."

Since the little girl values the opinion of the older child, she tears out the picture, crumples it up and throws it away, humiliated. The rest of the coloring book is colored in "normal" colors, and always inside the lines.

The girl grows older. She takes some summer time art classes.

"Find a picture of an animal in one of the magazines and draw it exactly as you see it."

She finds a picture of a giraffe, with its' tongue out. She takes her paper, colored pencils, and the picture and starts to sketch. Exactly what she sees.

"I told you to copy the photograph."

"No, you told us to draw what we see."

"Giraffes don't have purple spots. They aren't green. They don't have blue eyes and sparkling eyelashes. Their tongues aren't bright pink. Draw what you see."

"But this is what I see."

"I told you to copy the photograph. Now, if you can't follow simple instructions, then you will never be an artist. Do what I say."

The girl wants to be an artist, so, once again, the paper is crumpled up and thrown away. She then draws a tan and brown giraffe.

Roll forward a couple more years.

The girl is now in high school. Once again, she takes an art class. She follows directions. She plays by the rules. She does exactly what the teacher asks for.

Then one magic week happens. They study surrealism. Salvador Dali. The amazing pictures he created.

"Paint something surreal. Make it as symbolic as you want."

She paints a picture, fingers turning into paint brushes, eyes turning into paint colors on a palette. And incomplete canvas in the background, with the incomplete words "An artist lives...". Parts of the body she uses becoming the extensions of an artist. What she longs to become.

"I told you to paint something surrealistic"

"I did. See the symbolism?"

"That is disgusting. Cut off fingers and plucked out eyeballs are not symbolic of anything except possibly a disturbed mind. Do the lesson the way I told you to."

Another frustration. Another crumpled paper. Another failure.

She does another painting. Easter eggs for the paint colors. Flowers for the brushes. An unfinished bowl of fruit on the background canvas.

"Now. That's better. And now you understand what I was telling you."

Yes. The girl now understands. Conform. Bend to their rules. Become their vision or get the hell out. She gets the hell out. She hides her art. She feels lost, but never quite knows why.

She drifts for years. Unending, unsatisfying, boring office jobs. Always searching for the magic she once had in her life and never knowing where it went. Memories of disappointment and failure are buried deep.

One day, as she and her mother are watching her twins draw and color, one of them approaches and says "Grammy, draw ladybug?" He holds out a big purple crayon and a piece of paper.

"Sweetie-boy, ladybug's aren't purple. Don't you have a red crayon and a black crayon?"

Memories come crashing into the once little girl, now a grown, lost woman. She stands up, takes the crayon and piece of paper. She draws the biggest purple ladybug on the paper she can.

"Don't EVER tell MY children that ladybugs aren't purple!!!"

Her mother stares at her in disbelief.


"Don't ever tell my children to color in the lines, that anything is a certain color. If the sand is blue in their eyes, then let it be blue!"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"I never realized where my problems were. I was always told--sand isn't blue, giraffes aren't green, fingers and eyes aren't the extensions of an artist. Do NOT fill my children's heads with that nonsense! Anything can be any color, and lines are only suggestions, not rules."

I then proceeded to go to my computer, and find a photo of a seagull on the beach. I edited it so it would be black and white, then colored the sand a soft, cornflower blue. I printed it out and hung it on my refrigerator. My husband came home from work that day, took one look at it and said "That's awesome!" I explained what happened, and he responded, "Well, it's about damn time!"

I had found my creative block. Now I chip away at it daily, almost hourly. I'm still overcoming it. But through my children's eyes, I can see purple ladybugs, blue sand, purple and green giraffes, and extensions of the artist.


  1. Excellent. I absolutely love it!

  2. I'm tearing up! That sounds SO familiar to me. Countless art teachers have made me play by their rules and it really stifled my creativity. Sad but true, it's nice to know I am not the only one who has suffered with this.

  3. That is beautiful Teri And I hope your children as mine are never forced to conform to the lines Thank you for making my day more beautiful today.

  4. That was beautiful, Terri, just beautiful. So glad you broke through!

  5. being an artist as well as soap maker, or at least an artist wanna be..i truly value this post! OMG how this spoke to me..very inspirational! beautiful and hands down what i needed to read today...put a fire under my arse to get back to painting! thanks friend!

  6. What a sad story. I need to give you hugs and show you my kids art work. They never color in the lines or make things colors people expect they should be. If you dont make it your own its not your art, its someone elses crap.

  7. OMG i'm crying! YOU GO GIRL!!!!

    Teachers like you had growing up disgust me! Giraffes can be purple and green with sparkling eyelashes. Especially if they applied the sparkling mascara!

  8. Teri, this is AWESOME!!! I was a preschool teacher before I decided to stay home with my children. I always hated hearing one of the other teachers telling children they were not doing something right. I also majored in psychology and the best thing I learned was to not direct a child in creativity! Let them lead the way. When a child would come and ask me to draw them a "whatever" I would tell them to draw it the way they thought is should be. I now am trying to teach my children the same things. I have to remind my husband and my mother to not criticize their drawings or pictures they color. I absolutely love this story. Now I am going to wipe my tears away! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Nice post - salvador dali pictures ..Keep Posting

    salvador dali pictures

  10. Fabulous story!!! I love it! Thanks for sharing that.

  11. That reminds me of my high school art teacher my senior year. I was also timid and she broke me (I left art that year), I didn't pick up anything artistic for years after that.

    You know why the "great" artists are so great? They probably didn't have teachers telling them their work stinks and they should be conforming to this or that to "make it". Or if they did, they bucked the system and went on doing what they pleased anyway.

    I sure wish I'd been strong enough to do my own thing despite what I was being told back then. *shakes fist at those art teachers*

    Thanks for sharing. It's almost a relief to know I'm not alone with my experiences with a crabby and jealous art teacher.