Color and Fire

By Julie Eberhart Painter

Had it not been for Mr. Sklar, my art teacher, I would never have survived college long enough to rediscover writing.

From age eight I’d wanted to write — short stories, poems, books — but my parents insisted I attend Moore Institute of Art in Philadelphia so I could help them run the family’s interior design business. Sixteen years old and powerless, I felt angry and betrayed that my future had been decided with no consideration for my wishes or aptitudes.

I vowed to adjust to college; it was my only choice, although I had no talent for drawing. I identified with one of Jascha Heifetz’s music students who once asked for a progress report.

“How am I coming with the violin?” he asked the professor.

“You have no fire,” Heifetz said.

The student quit the violin and went into another business. He was moderately successful, but not overly so. Years later the young man ran into Heifetz in town. “Thank you for steering me away from the violin. When you said I had no fire, I took up accounting.”

“Really?” Heifetz replied. ”I tell all my students that. The good ones stay.”

In spite of my lack of fire for art, Mr. Sklar helped me stay in art school, inspiring me with his own fire for self-expression. Opening day, he commanded my attention when he informed our class, ’Don’t tell me you have no talent; you have all the talent of the ages. You are forty-million years old.” After a few blank looks, Mr. Sklar wheezed through smoke-encrusted vocal cords, “You have the wisdom of the ages. Art must be a strong expression of your inner fire and contain the full spectrum of emotion. Even monochromatic shadows and colorful highlights from sculpture create excitement.”

A gnarly man, he loved his clay models of grape crushers’ feet. We used them to practice recreating their impression in plasticine clay. His other passion was for Henry Moore’s sculpture. Everything must remind one of something but not look like it.

By my junior year, Mr. Sklar had imparted useful techniques applicable to any artistic genre, including music. I remember a class in two-dimensional design. One day our instructor told us, “Time to add color to your paintings. This will make them or break them.’

For me, adding color had become an opportunity to save my work, but students more talented at drafting grumbled, “Crack!”

Before I realized that writing was my true creative outlet and must be pursued, fear of failure caused me to act as if I already knew the negative outcome of my efforts. I’d fast-forward to the conclusion and abort any chance of success. Writers are known for that scenario. I had difficulty holding enough enthusiasm to sustain me through each endeavor. In my rush to get to the last page, I became my own thanatologist. There were no flames, no excitement.

When I shed the false expressions of my creativity and gave myself up to writing, I rekindled the fire I’d sensed in Mr. Sklar. My stories and essays became a vivid palette of colors.

Using art as a paradigm, I build from the inside out, packing the clay of contemplation and metaphor until I feel the word composition represents my insights. Mr. Sklar feels everything we create must excite us, otherwise it isn’t worthy to be called art. His love of sculptural abstract design and his ingenious approach translates into whatever form self-expression takes. In writing, color equates to description.

Writers color works with examples: metaphor and similes. Form translates into structure. We build scenes, hooking interest and carrying the readers into emotions that resonate with their lives and hook their emotions. Or, the opposite: with that same color and fire we can take readers out of their lives, escaping to places they may never have envisioned.

Years later, when I think of Jascha Heifetz and Mr. Sklar, I vow to stay with writing. Colorful writing excites me and ignites the fires in my heart. Color and fire made me into a published author.

Julie Eberhart Painter was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and studied interior design in Philadelphia. She has lived in Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, and Florida. Her hobbies are duplicate bridge, volunteering, and world travel, but writing is her passion. Her short stories based on Celtic, Chinese, and Polynesian legends appear in publications worldwide. She’s published humorous, motivational, and how-to essays, and three books. Julie is a regular by-line essayist with the Orlando Sentinel and the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Julie’s  novels include  The World, the Flesh and the Devil.