Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features insecurity, past educational abuse by art teachers, flashbacks, communication issues, impatience, past boot camp for troubled youth, past sexual assault, anxiety, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Sky Blue and Grass Green"
[Sunday, January 11, 2015]
Shiv hopped off of the bus at
the Hipster Center of Creative Arts.
He liked the building -- sleek concrete
with lots of glass windows to let in
all the light that they could, as if
it had been made from Legos.
Inside the center, its space
was open and airy, uncluttered.
Most of the floors were concrete
for easy cleanup, but the library and
some of the classrooms had carpets.
On the first floor, the Arts Commons
had tables and chairs where you could
come in and draw whatever you wanted, or
sit and eat snacks from the vending village.
The cool thing about hipster art was
that it had a counterculture vibe, so
it didn't push for conformity -- it just
let you be yourself, whatever that was.
Today Shiv hustled up to the third floor,
which had several rooms for classes.
He had explored underpainting through
online videos, and when he saw an ad for
a class about it, he pounced on the chance.
You could choose any kind of pastels,
or even watercolor for the underpainting,
so Shiv had brought his creme pastels.
The classroom was plenty big, and it
had tables and chairs that could be
moved into different layouts. There
were only a handful of people in it --
the more technical classes attracted
fewer students than the general stuff.
Shiv liked that too, because it meant
that nobody crowded him. He grabbed
a table with plenty of space around it.
"I would like to welcome everyone
to Hipster Center of Creative Arts.
I'm John Hank," said the teacher.
"Today we'll explore underpainting
and other color blocking techniques."
He passed around some stacks of paper.
"Here are handouts on color theory and
color schemes, in case that's new to
anyone. I also have worksheets
you can use for color studies."
Shiv took a set of the pages.
He already knew the color wheel,
but he could always use more blanks.
Besides, these were different than
the ones he had used before.
He listened to the short lecture
explaining the idea of underpainting
and how it added depth to a picture.
Color blocking also worked to make
things like pop art with repeated images.
"In case anyone needs inspiration,
I printed up some photos from NASA
and the national parks," said John Hank.
"Your tax dollars at work, folks!"
Shiv riffled through the pictures
as they came by and chose one
that showed prairie wildflowers.
As soon as he tried to start on
the underpainting, though, he froze.
He just couldn't stop thinking about
all the times someone screamed at him
for drawing anything the 'wrong' color.
If he didn't always make the sky blue
and the grass green and the people pink,
he got told he did it wrong, he was stupid,
or he ruined it. Or all three, usually.
Shiv cringed. He could do this
at home, in his studio apartment,
but other people made his skin crawl.
"Problem?" John Hank asked gently.
"I'm stuck," Shiv admitted, trying
not to freak out completely.
"That happens," John Hank said.
"Page fright? Artist's block?"
Shiv shook his head. "I can't
do the colors backwards. All I
can hear is art teachers yelling
that I'm doing everything wrong."
"Ah, that one," said John Hank.
"It happened to my son too."
"What did you do?" Shiv said.
"Well, I wanted to punch her
in the face, but that would have
set a bad example," said John Hank.
"So I complained to the park service.
They sent a secret observer to class,
and when she yelled at his kids too,
the supervisor fired her for abuse."
"Nice to hear that it worked out
for somebody," Shiv muttered.
"Everyone deserves to learn
in an environment that feels safe
and interesting," said John Hank.
"That's essential for creative skills
like art. You can't express yourself
if you're scared of criticism or abuse."
"No shit," Shiv said, looking down.
"So let's think about how we can
fix this," John Hank said. "Do you want
to switch to abstract color blocking?"
"Not really," Shiv said. "I like
the prairie picture. I want to do that."
"Okay," said John Hank. "Do you like
art worksheets, or are they scary too?"
"I like them," Shiv said. "Sometimes
I do them at home just to relax, and
it's a good way to learn the media."
"That it is," John Hank said. "Here,
take some of the contrast worksheets
and just fool around with them. You
certainly can't do 'wrong' colors if you're
coloring abstracts instead of objects."
Shiv took a color wheel worksheet
that had small spots inside the spaces
so that you could reverse the colors.
"Remember that the idea is to use
complementary colors, or something
close to that, so your surface colors
will pop out more," said John Hank.
Suddenly Shiv remembered
thinking that the grass was not
all one color -- that it had flowers
and stuff in it -- when he was little,
but nobody had understood.
"That's it!" Shiv exclaimed.
"That's what I was trying for,
only I didn't know how to do it,
or even how to say it."
"Well, you sure can't
do it with wax crayons,"
John Hank said. "What
medium did you bring today?"
"Creme pastels," Shiv said.
The teacher grinned. "Oh,
that's gonna pop for sure.
It's one of the best media
for this kind of underpainting."
"I messed around with that at home,
after I watched some videos about it,
but I wanted to take this class to learn
more," Shiv said. "Now that I'm here,
though ... it's scary to work in public."
"Art can be scary, but it doesn't
have to be," John Hank said.
"Believe me, everyone else is
way more concerned about
what they're making than
about what you're making."
Shiv cast a sidelong glance
around the room, and yeah,
the other folks were focused
pretty much on their own stuff.
"I guess so," he said. "I'll try
the worksheets and see how I do."
"I'm sure that you'll do just fine,"
John Hank said. "You got good eyes."
So Shiv filled in the color wheel,
including the complementary colors,
and it really did jump out at him.
He experimented with the others,
sometimes layering the colors and
other times trying different schemes
like split complimentary or triad.
"How are you feeling now?"
John Hank asked him.
"Still terrified," Shiv said,
"but still working through it."
"You're making good progress,"
John Hank said, nodding at
the worksheets. "Ready to try
that pretty picture you picked out?"
Shiv looked at the wildflowers.
"Yeah, but I'm not sure where
to start. I think I want more colors
in the grass, maybe the clouds,
but not so much in the sky."
"That's fine," said John Hank.
"You can do the underpainting in
all one color, or different colors,
complimentary or otherwise. It's
your painting; you get to choose."
Eventually Shiv decided to make
the sky deep blue and turquoise
with pink clouds, and the grass
a different pink with blobs of purple
where pink and yellow flowers would go.
He did the alcohol wash to smooth out
the colors, then set it aside to dry.
While he was waiting for that,
Shiv picked up a mandala page
and went back to experimenting
with layers of complementary colors.
He kept checking to see if it
was dry yet. It wasn't.
"Take your time, kid,"
John Hank said. "This
isn't gesture drawing.
We have all morning."
That was certainly true.
Shiv had planned to get lunch
after class, as the vending machines
had great tuna salad sandwiches
that they got from some deli.
"You might consider doing
color studies of your flowers,"
said John Hank. "Try out
a few different combinations."
"Yeah, that's a good idea,"
Shiv said, reaching for a page
of thumbnail-sized frames.
He could do flowers.
Those were pretty safe.
Most teachers didn't like
what he drew freehand, so he
had memorized a list of things
they rarely bitched about.
They all seemed to like flowers.
That was fine. So did he.
Shiv had gotten to go hiking
a few times, and there had been
that one awful boot camp with
the breathtaking scenery.
He loved watching wildflowers
dance in the wind. They
always looked so free.
Shiv wished he could be
that free, but his thoughts
kept looping back into
his worst memories.
Even now, the light spots
in the painting reminded him
of the diamond-studded sandals
Chyou had worn that night.
Shaking himself, he
pushed away images of
Chyou and her stupid shoes.
The underpainting was finally dry.
Shiv went over the top half with
a lighter sky blue, then the bottom
with different shades of green.
He made the clouds mostly white,
leaving hints of pink and blue.
Then he started dabbing in
yellows and pinks for the flowers.
"Be careful here," John Hank warned.
"What? Why?" Shiv asked, peering
anxiously down at his painting.
"Don't go over it so heavily that
you cover all the underpainting,"
the teacher said. "You want
to keep a few little sparks of
those hidden colors -- that's
what creates the complexity."
Shiv looked at the painting
and thought about how a prairie
always had flowers and things
playing peek-a-boo in the grass.
"Okay, I think I get it," he said.
"And remember that you
don't have to let the past
stop you," John Hank said.
"I'm still working on that part,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
He took out his smartphone
and carefully looked up some of
the wildflowers to get the details right.
There were purple coneflowers,
yellow coneflowers, purple loosestrife,
and mountain pinks. He left dots of
the underlying color for some of those.
He brightened the clouds a little,
and traced the blue shadows of
distant grass and blossoms rising
against the backdrop of the sky.
It needed something more, though.
Struck by inspiration, Shiv took
his pastels out of their case and
knocked the colorful crumbs onto
the page, then carefully patted
them to blend into the grass.
"What a beautiful painting!"
John Hank said. "I think you
really captured the prairie."
When Shiv looked at it, he
could almost see the flowers
dancing in the summer breeze.
Nobody had to know that
most of it had started off pink,
but it was there, it was there,
hidden under sky blue and
grass green, the way he
was always a supervillain
even when it didn't show.
The prairie was like that too --
the thistles would fucking bite you
if you didn't watch out for them.
Shiv smiled. "Yeah, I think I did."
* * *
John Hank Anderson -- He has tinted skin and brown eyes. His hair used to be dark but is now gray and going bald. His mustache is gray and his beard is white. He is big and tall. He wears glasses. John Hank is happily married with three children and two grandchildren. With a thriving community spirit, he enjoys family events and neighborhood ones too. John Hank used to run an art gallery. He is now retired, but he teaches community art classes at various locations around Omaha. He loves introducing people to art, whether making it or looking at it. His patience makes him a good teacher. He's messy, though -- always seems to have paint on his hands or mud on his clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Visual-Spatial Intelligence, Expert (+4) Artist, Expert (+4) Teacher, Good (+2) Big and Tall, Good (+2) Community Spirit, Good (+2) Patient
Poor (-2) Messy
* * *
The Hipster Center of Creative Arts lies in the fork where state highways 64 and 133 meet, in the southwest area of the North Omaha neighborhood, where it says "Hipsters" on the Judgmental Map of Omaha. A cross-section shows the floors. See the first floor plan, second floor plan, and third floor plan. On the third floor, the small square under the 5 in the office area is for emotional and physical first aid. The small square next to the staircase in the lower right corner is a quiet room.
The arts commons on the first floor includes a vending area. It has a mural that reads, "If you hear a voice within you say, 'You cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced." This the art library.
Here is the arts commons on the second floor. A hallway leads away from it to function rooms such as this painting studio.
The third floor includes a printmaking studio and some general classrooms.
Hipster culture produces plenty of art. Learn how to be a hipster.
Underpainting with pastels includes complementary colors using one or more colors in the first layer.
Shiv's wildflower painting develops in stages. See the alcohol wash and the finished painting close up.
Color blocking involves working with large sections of color. Here is an exercise in it.
Color theory for artists defines complementary colors as opposites on the color wheel. Learn about the 10 commandments of color theory. Explore complementary colors in nature art. This mixing guide shows complementary and other color combinations. These coloring pages show how to work with complementary colors. Mandalas are good too.
On a color wheel, you can see many different themes, such as the complementary colors. This worksheet features a color wheel with pairs of complementary colors. Coloring pages of split circles or Venn diagrams invite contrasts. This color wheel shows the three primary colors with their complementary colors. This one has secondary colors and complements. This one has tertiary colors and complements. These pages offer color mixing equations, pairs of circles, and a grid of circles. Mandalas include bullseyes and circles.
An online color calculator lets you choose different schemes.
Color studies use thumbnails to test combinations before making a large painting. Templates may compare three equal rectangles, three different-sized rectangles, paired rectangles, or a grid of rectangles.
Pop art often uses complementary colors. Pop art prints are fun to make. Here are some examples in different styles.
Free images for artists include NASA, NPS, and others. Terramagne-America does a lot more of this to advertise what citizens get in exchange for paying taxes.
Teachers often bully students, which can crush young artists. Many teachers actually hate creative students and pick on them even more. They may react badly to intense images or art styles they dislike. Teachers should know how to handle crying in the art room. There are ways for students and parents to deal with abusive teachers. For the most part, though, local-America considers emotional abuse normal, and only objects to physical or sexual abuse.
Nebraska wildflowers include many colorful species. Shiv's painting features purple coneflower, yellow coneflower, purple loosestrife, and mountain pink.