Painting the Sunrise

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2000

By Arielle Gorin, Illustrated by Reve Williamson

The moist blades of grass tickled Joan’s bare feet  and the wind ruffled her dark blond hair as she  tramped across the lawn. She blissfully breathed in  the fresh smell of earth while she settled herself on a tree  stump to do what she had done every morning since she  learned to hold a pencil: draw the sunrise.

A thin gray line on the horizon grew larger and larger,  gradually—oh so gradually—taking on an orangy-pink hue.  Joan’s artist’s eye noted that the trees, which at first had  seemed mere silhouettes, could now be seen in more detail.  Registering a picture of this vivid scene in her mind, Joan  turned her attention to the sketchpad.

The world seemed perfectly quiet, which was just fine with  Joan. She liked it that way. The only sound was the faint  scratching of her pencil. Scratching and erasing minute after  minute would have seemed like forever to an observer, but at  last Joan put down her sketchpad and surveyed it critically.  Satisfied, she gathered up her sketch pad, pencil, and binoculars  and went inside for breakfast. She would put in the pastel  hues of watercolors, her favorite part, later.

Bacon sizzling in a hot frying pan may have been a welcome  sound to other ears, but Joan merely swallowed some  cornflakes in surprisingly few mouthfuls and drank her orange  juice in one long gulp. This was not because she was  hungry, but because she wanted to get the dull process of eating over with as soon as possible  when there were more important  things, like drawing, to do.

Painting the Sunrise girl on the grass

Registering a picture of this vivid scene in her mind, Joan turned her attention to the sketchpad

“I warn you, Joan Elise Bailey, you are  going to choke if you keep eating like  that!” admonished Mrs. Bailey. Even  when scolding, Mrs. Bailey’s musical  voice with its slight southern accent was  as beautiful as her looks.

With her short, wheat-colored hair  (the same color as Joan’s) curled becomingly  about her face and her slim, stylishly  clothed figure, it was no wonder  that Mrs. Bailey had been a small-time  movie actress before Joan was born.

It was hard for Joan to live up to her  mother’s expectations. Mr. Bailey made  quite a bit of money at his work and  Mrs. Bailey lavished it on acting lessons  and an agent for Joan, her only child.  She was determined that Joan be a famous  actress. Any other girl would have  been delighted with this, but Joan wasn’t.  She hated the dazzling lights of the  big cities where she went to auditions,  the strange, fluttery feeling in her stomach  and the limp, silly-putty feeling in  her knees when she got up on a stage.  She hated pretending to be someone  she wasn’t in a stiff, sweaty, awkward  costume. Worst of all she hated the discouraged  look on her mother’s face  when Joan didn’t get the part she auditioned  for (she never did). She didn’t  want to complain for fear of sounding  ungrateful, but Joan would have rather  had mediocre art lessons than the finest  acting lessons in the world.

One afternoon, Joan and her best  friend, Alice, were walking home from  school together. Alice was a vivacious  girl with fiery red hair who loved to  write. Joan had agreed to illustrate all  Alice’s stories, which was a big job considering  how many stories Alice wrote.

“You know, Joan,” commented Alice,  “you ought to try entering some kind of  drawing contest. There’s a big one in a  magazine I get. Our teacher says you’re  the best artist in the entire sixth grade,  and besides, maybe your winning an art  contest would convince your parents to  give you art lessons instead of those horrible  acting lessons.” Alice was one of  only two people (the other one being  Joan’s grandma) who knew about Joan’s  dilemma.

Joan’s blue eyes lit up at Alice’s suggestion,  for she passionately wanted art  lessons. It would be a huge relief to quit  acting, too. The girls chatted about  unimportant things the rest of the way  home, but Joan’s mind wasn’t on the  chatter. She was too eager about the contest.  The next day she sent off her most  beautiful sunrise picture to the address  Alice had given her, and from then on  she haunted the mailbox like a ghost.

A week or two later, Joan was rifling  through some letters, mostly bills, hurriedly.  She was in a hurry because her  grandpa and grandma were coming to  dinner and she needed to help Mrs.  Bailey cook. There was a phone bill, a  solicitation for money, a letter from her  English pen pal (Yippee! thought Joan),  a Happy Easter card . . .

She was almost done when her eyes fell on a small, yellowy-white envelope.  She gasped when she saw the return address.  It was a response to her contest  entry! Joan’s fingers trembled as she  slowly tore it open, sitting on her habitual  drawing stump. In breathless suspense,  she drew out a single sheet of  paper, evidently a letter. Alice, who had  more experience with these things,  would have known this was a bad sign,  but Joan eagerly began to read it.

“We regret that you were not among  the finalists, however . . .”

That was enough.

Joan fell off the stump sobbing. Then  she crumpled up the letter and threw it  as hard as she could. She didn’t have  any talent after all! She would never get  any lessons now! That was what hurt  the most. No lessons. Zero. Zilch. Nada.  Nothing. Joan collapsed into a sobbing  heap on the lawn.

A car pulled up on the Baileys’ driveway.  Grandpa got out and took the cake  that he and Grandma had brought inside,  but Grandma stopped, noticing  Joan. She picked up the crumpled letter  Joan had thrown and read it. Sitting  down on the grass as carelessly as if she  were wearing jeans, even though she  was wearing an old-fashioned dress with  a flowered print, she explained, “You  can’t expect to win the first contest you  enter, Joan.”

Joan kept sobbing and gasped, “No  art lessons.”

“I see,” said Grandma, her kind, wrinkled  face frowning. “Lessons are important,  but practice is the most important  thing. Do you ever watch the sunrise,  Joan?”

Joan nodded.

“Well, imagine that the thin gray line  on the horizon is your talent and the  orangy-pink hue it takes on is practice.  The more you practice, the brighter and  more colorful it gets. To reach full sunshine,  or full talent, takes determination.  But I know you have it.” Joan’s  face was looking brighter now. “As to  the lessons,” continued Grandma, “I’m  a bit of a painter myself actually. In fact,  I don’t think dinner will be ready for a  while, so I can help you with something  right now. Would you like that?”

Joan nodded, smiled, and wiped away  her tears. Then she took out her sketchpad  and began to draw.

Painting the Sunrise Arielle Gorin

Arielle Gorin, 12
Eagle, Idaho

Painting the Sunrise Reve Williamson

Reve Williamson, 12
Palo Alto, California

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