My grandma, on my dad’s side, is an artist. Her name is Olga Kardash and if you’ve seen a meticulous watercolour painting of the Bessborough across an icy river, you may have been looking at her work because, although cityscapes weren’t her favourite to paint (she preferred still life like garden-fresh flowers in pottery vases atop lace doilies), they are the genre for which she is best known. I recall being a child, watching her recreate that iconic hotel brick by brick, first with a faint pencil line and then with watercolours, dipping into burnt sienna and other browns to create shadow and dimension. It was magic. When I was four, my grandma began giving me art classes, teaching me about human proportions (first rule: the eyes go smack dab in the middle of a head), the colour wheel, white space, and the joy of experimenting with different media and with her guidance, I was able to see unlimited potential in a sheet of blank paper and to command a brush across it. My grandma gifted me a way of thinking that extended beyond creating art. And it all began with a blank page.
To watch a line be formed is much different than seeing ones that already exist and it undoubtedly helps the viewer to both appreciate artistry and see their own potential. In the same way that you couldn’t simply rely on eating a delicious meal to learn how to cook, you can’t look at a colouring book to learn how to draw. I want my own daughter Petra to know that every talent, every job, every dream starts with a blank page that requires work to make a reality.
Okay. Slight backtrack. There were a few colouring books around when I was a kid and there’s definitely hand-eye coordination required in colouring all the way to a line so I’m certainly not billing colouring books as useless, but challenging a child to bring their own imagination and skill to any project not only hones their skills but elevates their confidence. If my grandma saw me leafing through one to find a page I liked, she’d encourage me to draw a scene around the already-outlined subject, add patterns onto clothing, leave white space for reflection in eyes, blend lines of colour into one another to create more realistic hair, and to never forget the shading.
Colouring book decorum aside, I’m grateful for the many different blank sheets gifted to me by my grandma: rice paper that wicked watercolour quickly in the direction of its grain, canvas that supported a whole pile of oil or acrylic if it was let to dry long enough, tracing paper that helped me learn line and perspective, and enormous, floppy, newsprint books propped on an easel so as not to let my arms smudge the charcoal. I learned to respect everything my grandma let me use. Mistakes were one thing but getting upset and wrecking my work was a waste; there was always something to salvage or learn from. Oh, how I hope to pass that life lesson along to Petra.