"This is the perfect kind of day, my favorite," I said to myself, looking out the kitchen window. Our backyard, green and lush, with fresh cut grass and full of beautiful spring blooms, was part of my view. The rest, a bright blue sunny sky dotted with large, white fluffy clouds. Cumulus clouds, if I recall correctly from middle school Earth Science.
I was never much for science; I was an artsy girl, a creative. I loved music and art, even fancied myself a poet for a spell. I loved to lay on my back, searching cloudy skies for those shaped like animals or faces or anything recognizable. I would take mental notes of what I saw and sketch them later, remembering the shape of the cloud's fluff, the feel of the sun on my skin, the breeze across my cheeks, the grass tickling my feet.
I would lie there mesmerized, searching and watching as the clouds morphed from puff to bunny to ballerina and back to puff. As one cloud moved on, another would take its place in my line of sight, the metamorphosis beginning again: puff to tree to ice cream cone to puff.
When I was nine years old, I begged my mom to take me to the craft store to buy a set of watercolor paints. She agreed as long I was willing to pay half. I was so excited I ran to my room, opened my piggy bank, and grabbed all the bills I had, having no idea how much this treasure might cost. My excitement grew as we walked the store's aisles, searching for the perfect materials. And on Aisle 3, there it was. It was almost as if a spotlight were shining down on the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A watercolor set complete with 24 colors, two brushes, and a pad of watercolor paper. I leaped with joy and exclaimed to my mother that this was exactly what I wanted, and I had enough money to pay half of the cost. Seeing how enthusiastic I was, my mother agreed to pay for half of the set, as promised, and she would also buy me an additional pad of watercolor paper. I'm not sure I had ever felt as grateful as I did right then.
We walked together to the checkout counter, me clutching the set close to my chest, smiling ear to ear with a constant stream of "thank yous" directed at my mother. She simply looked down at me, smiled, and said, "Of course, sweetheart.". My mother explained to the cashier that the two of us would be splitting the cost of the watercolor set and that she would be paying for the paper separately. The cashier, an older lady, gave me a smile that reminded me of my grandmother. She said, "This must be very special to you if you are willing to part with your own hard earned money."
I nodded my head, still beaming, and told her that it was birthday money from six months ago, so I really hadn't worked that hard to earn it. I expressed to her that yes, the set was very special as it was my first set of watercolors, and I was very excited to use it for my cloud pictures. She gave me a curious look, so I explained how I loved to cloud gaze and recreate my favorites by drawing them. I told her how I wanted to try painting them and thought watercolors would be the best way. She nodded in understanding and said that she would love to see one of my "wonderful works of art" the next time my mom and I returned to the store.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday instead of almost 30 years ago. It was not only a day that I got to share with my mom or one where a kind stranger proclaimed my artwork as "wonderful," or even a day that I got something I really wanted. It was the day that my love of cloud gazing was coupled with my newfound love of watercolor painting.
As I grew older, I took every art class available to improve and learn new methods and techniques. Watercolor art remained my go-to, my favorite medium. I loved the softness of the edges and the colors, either subtle and muted or brilliant and bold, depending on the subject and tone of the painting. My greatest accomplishment achieved through time and practice was found in the balance of control and freedom that comes with letting go and allowing the vision to form on the paper before you, not exactly as pictured in your mind.
I did return to the craft store with a watercolor of a cloudy blue sky for the cashier, who deemed my work "a wonderful masterpiece." I was giddy from her kind words and professed myself a true artist at that moment. No one - not my parents, teachers, or career counselors - could convince me, later on, to give up my plan to attend art school and be the artist my nine year old self claimed to be that day in the craft store.
After high school, I obtained my art degree and a teaching certificate. I then began work at a nearby middle school as an art teacher while continuing my cloud gazing watercolors in my spare time. Eventually, I married and, within a few years, laid eyes on the most incredible sight, a truly wonderful masterpiece, my darling daughter, Willa. At that time, I quit my job at the school to stay home with Willa and began working on art pieces to sell at craft shows and local shops.
I was so happy to be creating watercolor paintings for others to hang in their homes and businesses, brightening their spaces with what had once simply been my childhood hobby. But I was even more ecstatic to be able to spend my days with my precious child and watch her grow into her own creative being.
As I continue watching out the kitchen window, Willa, now age 5, comes into view, arms full. She drops what she is holding and runs back towards the house, emerging just moments later with another armful. She does this often on days when the sun shines bright in a blue sky filled with those cumulus clouds I learned about so long ago. I watch her now as she spreads her favorite blanket, the one made by her Nana, my mother, with rainbows scattered across a pale pink background on one side and a white background sprinkled with pink flowers on the other. Willa selected the fabric with my mother on an outing to the craft store when she was two. My mother gladly jumped at the opportunity to make her sweet granddaughter a custom blankie, sewing and quilting being her creative medium of choice.
Willa takes great care laying out her blanket. She continues to organize her spot in the grass, walking barefoot circles around it, strategically placing dolls and stuffed animals on the edges and corners, leaving herself plenty of space in the middle. I see her now, hands on her hips, furrowed brow, pursed lips, surveying her work. She suddenly claps her still dimpled hands together, smiles proudly, and sees me watching her in the window. She calls to me, "C'mon, Momma! I'll go get your things!" She disappears again, soon returning with another blanket, larger than hers, and a blue and yellow striped tote bag that holds a pencil, a pad of paper, and a book.
I join her outside and help her spread the second blanket alongside hers. We each lie on our respective blankets, looking to the perfect sky above. Willa asks the question today: "What do you see, Momma?" We cloud gaze together and take turns naming the things we see in the puffs of white, striking against the brilliant blue sky. After 30 minutes or so, we sit up and Willa comes to me, sitting on my lap, arms around my neck. She gives me a peck on the cheek, and says, "I love you a bushel and a peck, and a hug around your neck." We giggle and she moves off my lap, grabs the blue and yellow tote bag, and sits across from me, crisscross applesauce, placing the bag between us.
We pull the contents from the bag. I grab the pencil and paper, and with excitement on her face, Willa begins listing all of the things we saw in the clouds. I write them down as she recalls them, face animated, hands waving in the air like butterflies in flight. When she seems satisfied that we've correctly remembered them all, she picks up the book, her favorite, and comes back to snuggle on my lap to read a story that she has heard hundreds of times.
She settles in, sinking into me, and points her finger to each word on the cover as she reads, or recites from memory, the book title: What Do You See, Willa? She smiles up at me, thrilled that this is her story. A book written and illustrated in lovely watercolors by her mother. A book genuinely based on Willa's imagination, cleverness, and delight shared each time she and her momma lay together gazing at the clouds as they roll by.