KFP's minimalist pumpkin
The wind ruffled the red plastic-coated tablecloth, stapled securely at all four corners to the rustic picnic table. Atop the table sat two rows of small, orange pumpkins, each chosen by a young child. The birthday boy's mom distributed paintbrushes and opened a rainbow of little paint jars, letting each child pick one to start. She told them she had also brought glitter glue, Styrofoam shapes, and shiny leaves for decorating the pumpkins.
As the other kids around him slopped paint onto their pumpkins with enthusiasm, my son, whose online nickname is Kung Fu Panda, steadily applied just one color: black. He covered first the top and then the sides with a slick ebony coating, undisturbed by the chilly wind that had taken us all by surprise at this fall party on a local orchard and pumpkin farm.
Again and again, when his brush ran out of paint, he said only, "I need more black." And patiently, as the other kids knocked over paint containers in their enthusiasm to try every hue, he worked steadily on realizing his vision. When a neighboring kid swiped a brush full of green onto KFP's coal-like surface, he protested briefly, but instead of crying bitterly, like he sometimes does, this time he turned the mistake into an opportunity. He balanced the green swipe by gluing a single orange cloth leaf next to it.
Aside from one green Styrofoam circle, glued to the dark side of the pumpkin, he declared his artwork "Done!" Then, my preschool artist submitted to a hand-wipe cleanse of his fingers and of a single dab of paint on his dark blue sweatshirt.
The completed pumpkin, I felt, looked sophisticated and artsy next to the multicolored creations that lined the table. As the other kids gooped glitter on their pumpkins and stuck on oodles of leaves, I watched my son run joyful circles around the grassy birthday party area.
As much as I'd like to take full credit for his artistic eye, I can only claim responsibility for making the opportunities available for him to develop that eye. Periodically, we pull out crayons or paints to create drawings. Following the suggestions on a calendar packed with ideas for preschoolers, we've also cut up magazines to make collages and mixed our own finger paint. We take chalk to the park, to draw on the sidewalks, and I often take photos of the resulting impermanent works.
Now, the boy who a little more than a year ago used to request that I draw things for him is now confident enough to paint and draw things himself. I only put the paint, or crayons, or pencils in his hands. He trusts himself to know what to create.
Truly, this is nothing new: When he was just beginning to color, he would sometimes dash off just a single scribble in the middle of a picture and then abandon the project. I used to think he lacked an understanding of the goal of coloring, but now I think he did it intentionally. Perhaps those scribbles weren't accidents but artistic statements.
As a writer, I should take note. As KFP demonstrated so well with his all-black pumpkin, it's more than just knowing what artistic techniques to apply. It's also knowing when to stop.