Valentine’s Day in Black and White

This Valentine’s Day, while everyone else is wearing red and exchanging gifts, Patrick and I will be celebrating the love we share in black and white.  We aren’t cynics who perceive Valentine’s Day to be the artificial byproduct of commercial glut.  In fact, we look forward to honoring the patron saint of young love and happy marriages during the peak of dismal winter.  We’ve just chosen to celebrate without flowers and candy this year.

Rather than buying each other more stuff, we decided to buy ourselves time together by taking a noncredit black and white art class at Harford Community College.  As a result, Thursday nights through April have been reserved for a weekly date night that is a little more meaningful than dinner and a movie.

Why a class? Because we’re obligated to attend.  As parents, sometimes we forget we are also husband and wife.  Some couples plan date nights, then cancel when other obligations take over or have trouble tracking down a sitter at the last minute.  We love our children, but we need time to be Patrick and Robyn.  Then, we can be better, more patient, more fulfilled versions of Mom and Dad.

Why art?  I am a painter, and Patrick is a glassblower.  But, those are hobbies we pursue independently.  Black and white art is something I have experience with, but despise.  I can draw, but I have trouble differentiating between gray tones.  Patrick has the discerning eye to be able to sort the shades, but wants to improve his drawing skills.  Together, we can bridge each other’s gaps and grow as artists.    

Our first class was last week.  When we walked into the classroom, we were met by nearly a dozen intricate drawings of trees.  We whispered to each other about the irony, considering our recent experience with the tree that fell through our house.

Our instructor, Rob May, was the artist who created the visually stunning trees, which can be seen here. The very first assignment he gave us was to draw a tree.  “We’re drawing from our imaginations,” Rob said.  “You’ve seen millions of trees in your lifetime.  You can build one in your mind.”

Having been trained to draw from life, I panicked.  Then, Rob began to illustrate on the board how to draw the tree.  He drew one line, then split it into two.  Then two more.  Then two more.  And so on.  “It’s based on fractals,” he explained.  “Nature likes to divide into twos.”

Rob is also a biology teacher at Mt. Carmel.  I imagine his students there also appreciate his warm demeanor, his arsenal of fun facts, and his persistent positive reinforcement.

“Very nice, sir,” he told Patrick as he examined his curvy tree composed of sketchy lines.

Patrick's tree

Patrick’s tree
“Go really dark on this crease and it will make the rest pop,” he told me just when I was about to give up on a tree that had grown more complicated than a tax return written in Latin.

By the end of class, with Rob’s help and each other’s advice and encouragement, Patrick and I both finished our trees to our surprised satisfaction.

 Robyn’s tree

“Next week we’re doing portraits,” Rob said at the end of class.  “You can bring in several photographs of someone important to you or draw each other right here.”  Patrick and I looked at each other and laughed nervously.

We’ll just have to wait and see Thursday night if the portraits we draw of each other lead to a Happy Valentine’s Day.  With Rob’s guidance and Patrick’s tolerance, I think Cupid’s arrow will land just where it’s supposed to.


Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.