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First prize

April 23, 2013

Dear Artist,

The other day I was rummaging through some old schooldays papers--report cards, notes from girls, etc, and I came across a blue card for First Prize in Junior Watercolour. Scratching my brain and reading the material on the card,It wasn't much, but it beat mowing lawns.
It wasn't much, but it beat mowing lawns.
I realized this was my first recognition beyond my family and school that I was an artist. The year was 1950, I was 14, and the painting was of hummingbirds.

I'd been cycling on a quiet pathway in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C., when I happened on the nest of a Rufous hummingbird. I sketched the nest while the two birds hovered nearby, scolding me, even buzzing the red binder of my notebook. When I got home, I copied my drawing to a piece of rough Whatman's and painted the nest, birds and all. I erased the pencil lines with an art-gum that left what I figured was a fresh watery watercolour. My dad found an old frame and I cycled my effort to the fair.

The day the fair opened, a woman phoned to say she and her husband had bought it. Birders from Portland, Oregon, they "just couldn't resist the hummers." I was amazed. Not only had I enjoyed painting it, now I was a winner and was to be paid $15.00. My "charmed life" syndrome kicked in and I offered to meet them and take them to see the "actual birds." We met at the park and I led them quietly along the path only to find the hummers had checked out.

I'm sure we all have such pivotal events. The kid suddenly becomes a footballer, a veterinarian or a politician. That day I became a painter. I now knew what I needed--freedom of the pathways, freedom to do as I wished with what I saw, freedom to catch wonder before it disappeared, freedom to become proficient and the freedom to sign my own name to whatever at will.

My hummingbird painting has of course disappeared into the Diaspora. I'm sure the painting is not as good as I thought it was at the time. But my dream has become my story. Perhaps it's your dream, too. If it is, stick with it, it's a good dream.

Best regards,


PS: "Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall unveil." (James Allen)

Esoterica: This may seem peculiar, but I'm not aware of having entered another contest since. It seems that a tiny bit of recognition was all that was needed. Perhaps it was the cash flow. Modest as it was, it beat mowing lawns for a living. I saw that cash flow made it possible to stay on the path. Cash flow from collectors who actually liked my work seemed superior to begging for grants. This decision has been born out in my lifetime--most of my contemporary grant-getters are now doing something other than painting.

Show us the birds
by Ben Novak, Edmonton, AB and Ottawa, ON, Canada

OK, we see the prize certificate, but I expected to see the painting. I, too, painted at 10, 11, Homeschooling image at<br>hummingbird nest
Homeschooling image at
hummingbird nest
12, and my dad kept a few of my works. They are of interest to me now. Come Robert, show us the birds...

(RG note) Thanks, Ben. And thanks to everyone who got after me for the same thing. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the painting is somewhere out there in the Diaspora. If someone finds it, or thinks they know of it, somewhere near Portland, Oregon, perhaps, please let me know. I'd love to see it again, faults and all. One of my greatest regrets is that I never kept decent records, particularly of work done in those early years. I should have named that one "Painting #1", and gone from there.

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Late bloomer
by Judy Stead, Charlotte NC, USA

Today's post recalled for me the art prize I didn't win when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was at Invented Landscape<br>acrylic painting by Judy Stead Invented Landscape
acrylic painting
Rainbow Camp and I knew my painting was the best-in-show at the end of summer awards. When I didn't win the blue ribbon, a counselor told me they gave first prize to the other kid because I knew I was good, but she didn't, so they gave it to her to boost her confidence. Fast forward nearly half a century and two art-related careers later (design and illustration) and I'm starting a late blooming love affair with painting. This particular letter speaks to me about putting the work first, loving the work, doing the work, and letting what may come of it.

There are 3 comments for Late bloomer by Judy Stead

From: Anonymous -- Apr 26, 2013

Yes - a similar thing happened to me when at age ten I recited a long Bible passage in a competition. I was word perfect; the only other participant, a teenage girl, won, because although she forgot large chunks of the passage, she practically wept as she proclaimed. They preferred that. ;-)

From: Anonymous -- Apr 26, 2013

Me too! It was explained to me later that the other girl got the best student prize because her parents had split up and she needed the confidence. Sort of soured me on believing that life is fair. I stopped caring if teachers gave me good marks or not.

From: Kelly Rhodes -- Apr 28, 2013