I have had a wide range of people in my classes—young and old, male and female—but this is the first time I’ve ever had a sprite join me.
Chris Ann Derby of Waldoboro is the creator of Brownie, a barn spirit. I’m not going to tell you Brownie’s story; you’ll have to wait for the book for that. But he’s a fully-realized little fellow whom she started making for craft shows. He travels with her wherever she goes.
Chris is studying with me so she can illustrate her own stories. During our first class session, we were in the studio because of the weather. Chris was working on her illustrations and needed Brownie with her for reference.
The weather is finally getting better. Yesterday we worked en plein air for the first time this season. I had my students start with fast value sketches in different places in my yard.
I turned around to find Brownie trying to lift my watering can. Next he was hiding in my pieris japonica. “That’s a Brownie tree,” Chris told me. From there he wandered off to the woodpile, and then he napped for a while in my garden.
I was very sad to leave my students back in New York, but I did so in the knowledge that I would meet equally quirky, wonderful ones here. And that’s proven to be so. I have a steadily-growing group of students who are enthusiastic and fast learners. They make teaching a joy.
A small contretemps was narrowly avoided when another student realized I was trying to say “crop” rather than a similar-sounding vulgarity. Evidently, my Buffalo accent flattened that “o” into an “a”. I reassured her that I never gratuitously insult painters, at least on their first week.
After class Brownie waved goodbye to me. Without thinking, I waved back at him. I’m not that whimsical; it takes quite a storyteller to get me to override my very concrete mind and engage with a doll. Chris is going to have no problem making Brownie a star in the world of children’s books.