Painting with Naomi

Dutch primary schools nowadays aren’t terribly adequate when it comes to teaching their pupils that painting and drawing can be a whole lot of fun; neither do they teach them even the most basic of techniques. Naomi once came home with a reasonably competently executed sketch of a horse. It turned out that she was giving step-by-step, connect the dot instructions that would invariably lead to the exact same cartoon-like sketch no matter who executes it. Harumpf.

No wonder that Naomi firmly believes she ‘cannot draw’. Another harumpf. She can, only she needs to be taught two things: confidence and perseverance. Confidence to always believe that what you are doing is the best thing you’ve ever done (which is quite likely, of course) and that it’s pretty good in any case, and perseverance to spend twenty years making mistakes, all the while being convinced you’re doing good work.

Anyway, all three kids are interested in art — have firm likes and dislikes, and their taste can be trusted, I find. They like paintings with detail, bronze statues of sleeping cats, drawings with a story and above all prize a competent execution. In short, they know quality when they see it and like craftsmanship.

Now it is an indisputable fact that most artists materials that children get to work with are, well, the word stinks, but so do those materials, crap. Bad brushes, treacly paint with lumps in that even so doesn’t provide enough colour and wishy-washy bum-wiping paper. This year I decided that they should have a chance to use decent materials, and that they would all get a chance at some intensive coaching.

By me. Now I’m not much good, either technically or pedagogically, but I’m full of confidence, and the children are still young, so I have a few years to make mistakes, and with luck, the children will learn to love sketching,  drawing and painting and will go on. I hope they will in the fullness of time curse me for the wrong, bone-headed things I’ve taught them, because they know better by then.


Menna and Rebecca received a set of very decent watercolour paint for Sinterklaas, and a couple of evil brushes (must do something about those), so I spent a Sunday afternoon, after church, working with them with watercolours. Rebecca took to those like anything, but Menna clearly stated her preference for covering paint. (Is that English? The dictionary thinks so, but it reads weird to me.) Still, the experiment was a success. Rebecca and Menna produced a very well-done, considering they are both eight years old, rendering of a Lego building. Naomi, ten years old and still without watercolours, had been asking for over a year whether she might use my old box of oil paints. This Christmas holidays, I promised her, she could, or rather, we would. I went to the very pleasant and good hobbyist art-shop Jan Rauw in Deventer (a much more friendly and pleasant place than ‘Uit de Kunst’, where they don’t even know what bristol paper is), and I spent way too much money on new paint, since most of my old, twenty years, paint appeared to have locked itself in their tubes. Not true: holding
the caps under running, hot water unlocked them, but half the fun of any hobby is buying cool gear, so I also bought a few more brushes and a block of oil paint paper. Everything in the name of raising the kids right and doing research for Krita.

Leentje and John

We decided to do cats, since we both love them, and since we had a large stock of cat photographs. Using Expose I placed both pictures side by side on the screen of my laptop, and we started painting, layer after layer, as advised by the best authorities.

I must say, I’m impressed by Naomi’s achievement. This is John, the gray cat who frequented the terrace of the house we hired for the summer holidays on the island of Kea. He was quite ferocious, very nice, had a bad case of bronchitis and one of his balls had half rotted off, but we gave him his name because he ate the enormous locusts that were everywhere:

And, since I learned that working with kids is easier and more enjoyable if you do the same when Naomi and I both learned Greek last year for our holidays on Kea, I joined her and did a painting of Leentje, our tortoise shell cat, after a photograph taken by Rebecca:

(These are not scans, but snaps shot with a digital camera and reduced by 50% from the actual size.)