i remember vividly the day i learned to paint grass.
i had recently moved to portland with james. i didn't have a job and was holed up in my cluttered little studio daily, the living room of our tiny yellow rental house, trying to make art that would sell. i was painting birds, people with birds, and landscapes, all from the pages of my old national geographics. when i wasn't doing that, i was sanding or finishing cabinets that james was working on. i remember being pretty hand-to-mouth, pretty stoned most of the time to deal with the money stress. i remember it being really hard, but also exhilarating, to be in a city with a million interesting places we hadn't been yet, a city that didn't know our names. i thought i moved there to make it big as an artist. now i realize that i just wanted to be near my family.
my mom and dad lived in camas at the time, a tiny mill town twenty minutes east on the river. my mom always worked as an artist and illustrator, was well connected in the local art community, and always had lots of random and interesting jobs. a friend of a friend somehow recommended my mom for a job with a local duck hunter that wanted his boat painted in realistic marsh grass camouflage. he wanted the best camouflage, so the ducks wouldn't see him but his fellow hunters certainly would. my mom called to enlist my help, and i said sure, of course i'll do anything for a little cash.
we drove over to his home in the woods and were greeted by two roaming horses, a sheep dog, and the largest mule i'd ever seen. we were led into a shed filled with taxidermy, hunting paraphernalia, and the aluminum skiff, his pride and joy. on that day, with four different colors of enamel, my mom showed me how to paint grass.
we started with the middle greens, swiping the long fronds from the bottom up. she told me i was too stiff, painting too slow. "imagine how the grass moves. imagine the wind in the grass," she said, swooping the brush swiftly upward. "picture how random nature is. each blade isn't perfect...there will be bent blades and curled blades. each blade is different. see, watch how i do it." i tried to imitate. we must have looked like amateur ballerinas, swooping our brushes in a lyrical interpretive dance, laughing hysterically at the awful country blaring from a tiny boom-box. we moved to a darker color, filling in the shadows between the blades, creating depth and dimension, carving out the grass, adding in cattails. last, we took the bright yellow, and highlighted each blade, our brush landing where our imaginary sun would land. in a mere three hours, we were done, and boy that boat was glowing with its new paint job. i'd venture to say that we were glowing too, as we posed together for that photo, mother and daughter team, victorious. mission accomplished.