The other day, I imagined a sun.

It was bright and symmetrical with varying shades of yellow and orange. Its three-dimensional center was blazing. Its rays were bold and powerful. I decided to paint it.

I’m not a painter, but I imagined how I would translate this image to canvas: I would trace a perfect circle and measure out each sun-ray with a yard stick, then prop the blank canvas on a tabletop easel and paint everything with my brand-new brushes and acrylics. My fourteen-year-old daughter watched me from the couch as I arranged all my materials and began.

It became clear very quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. The center was flat and one-dimensional – hardly the fiery sphere I’d imagined in my head. The sun-rays were boring and understated, nothing like the colorful spiral I’d planned. As I sighed my way through trial-and-error, my daughter left her book and came over to see what was wrong. I explained that I wasn’t happy with my painting; the sun was flat, the rays were boring and it was nothing like I’d pictured in my head. She assured me it was a one-of-a-kind masterpiece then told me, in teenspeak, that art was a form of personal expression and my painting would never be beautiful until I believed it to be.

She told me about a poem she read in school called “Valentine for Ernest Mann” by Naomi Shihab Nye. In it, Nye writes that “poems hide.” In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are in the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them, the poet wrote.

My daughter said it was the same way with my painting and life in general. Look for beauty and you’ll find it, she said.

After listening to her impressive artistic manifesto, I encouraged her to help me paint the sun. If we worked on it together, I explained, the painting would be even more meaningful. So she picked up a brush and outlined the center to give it depth. Then she dipped her paintbrush into a tray of green acrylic to start on the sun-rays.

I told her I planned to paint the sun yellow and orange – colors that are typically associated with the real-life sun – but she shook her head and suggested we paint them all different colors. Not just yellow and orange, but forest green, bright blue, true red, burnt sienna, brown, and purple. And that’s what we did.

As we painted, she told me more about her thoughts on art, beauty, and secret poems.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, “but what do you do when the picture in your head doesn’t match what it looks like in real life?”

She shrugged as she painted one of the sun-rays blue. “That’s easy,” she said. “Just change the picture that’s in your head.”

As soon as the painting dried, I found a prominent place for it on the wall.

sun painting

This column appeared in the May issue of Thrive magazine.

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