I had always dreamed of holding our weekly ElderSparks class outdoors but one thing or another always interfered. One Thursday in mid-October, however, the weather was so gorgeous, and the trees so resplendent with fall color, that we couldn’t possibly stay inside. Abandoning that day’s lesson plan, I unpacked the markers, pastels, pencils, crayons, and paper, arranged the residents around a table on the patio, and posed the figurative question, WWMD? or, “What Would Monet Do?” Were we going to labor over details and accurate rendering in our drawings or celebrate our emotional response to the autumnal display?

For each student, the answer was different. Sylvia’s condition had deteriorated over the last few months, and this once-vibrant fiber artist now found herself lost and confused. Dorothy struggled with the shape and colors of a planter that challenged her normally dense and obsessive style. Ruth drew the same regal head of a woman that she always does no matter what the exercise is — a subject whose significance I have yet to explore at length with her. Jeff definitely got what the program was all about.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Ruth (top); Jeff’ (bottom)

I wondered if Ruth could tap into the scene before her by adding color to her B&W portrait. When flesh tones succeeded only in giving her subject what looked like a terrible skin condition, I suggested using deep reds, yellows, and oranges that might befit a female autumn spirit. She adamantly refused to do that saying it wouldn’t be realistic. She did, however, give me permission to experiment, and darkened the lines delineating the eyes, nose, and mouth to balance the intensity of the extra color. This is the image we ended up with:

Everyone thought it was great except for Ruth who didn’t budge from her unswerving defense of the representational. Jeff was so impressed with the drawing that he asked if he could have it for his room. And that’s where it hangs today along with his own work — a mini ElderSparks art gallery just like the ones that Sylvia and Dorothy have on their walls.

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