childhood

Childhood Memories and the Art of Painted Playgrounds


“The Legacy of Mildred’s Basement” by Michele Bledsoe

When I was a child

my favorite place to play was in my grandmother’s basement.

I would stay down there

for hours on end.

That was so many years ago.

All gone now,

along with my beloved grandma..

but not really.

I still go there

when I paint.

 

 

Lost Dolls and the Art of Perserverance

“Lost and Found Again” by Michele Bledsoe

 

The floppy yellow doll in the lower left corner of this painting is Beth..

my sister’s beloved childhood doll.

Many years ago,

in a moment of carelessness

Beth was lost

and my sister was filled with regret.

It broke my heart.

 

For over 20 years, I have relentlessly searched for Beth.

Antique stores, yard sales

and endless, insomnia-fueled internet searches.

A noble quest

to reunite my sister with her beloved doll.

 

Recently, my doll-hunting obsession

came up in conversation.

My sister remembered me telling her about it

10 years ago.

She was touched that after all this time

I had not given up.

 

I told her I would look for Beth

for the rest of my life

if that’s what it took to find her…

 

The next day, Beth was found.

As my husband held me in his arms..

I wept tears of joy.

My quest is over.

I am at peace.

 

Bela Lugosi and the Art of Moving Toys

"Playmates" by Michele Bledsoe

“Playmates” by Michele Bledsoe

When I was little,

my grandparents had me completely convinced

that my toys were alive.

Sitting in my bedroom..

they would send me off to the kitchen

for a glass of water

or a peach.

When I returned,

I noticed that several of my toys

had somehow changed positions.

Sitting on the edge of my bed,

my Hungarian grandfather would point

to my bookshelf..

Sounding exactly like Bela Lugosi..

he would say, in a strangely dark and ominous tone

“Look, Michele.. the toys. They move.”

 

Paintbrushes, Pencils and A Love That Lasts Forever

Still life with Creature by Michele Bledsoe

Still life with Creature by Michele Bledsoe

I love to draw.

When I was a child

all I wanted to do was stay up all night long

and draw pictures.

45 years later,

not much has changed..

except sometimes I am holding

a paintbrush instead of a pencil.

 

Small Moments and the Art of Tremendous Consequences

"Metamorphosis" by Michele Bledsoe

“Metamorphosis” by Michele Bledsoe

I remember making a book when I was little.

I vaguely recall the story had something to do with a family of animals living near a beach.

I made drawings of weird dog-like creatures on pieces of paper that I folded to look like pages.

When I showed it to my grandfather

He knelt down so we were face-to-face

And looking directly into my eyes

He said to me:

“Michele, you have a gift from God.”

 

Believe me, the drawing wasn’t THAT good…

Sure, I drew recognizable objects

But that’s a far cry from being like some child prodigy drawing like Michelangelo at the age of 4.

 

Did he see something I didn’t?

Was it a glimpse of the artist I would become..

or was it something else?

 

My husband I volunteer to teach art

To a group of inner city kids in downtown Phoenix.

A couple of days ago

Something beautiful happened.

 

Surrounded by kids,

talking and drawing together

at a crowded table..

I saw a small boy.

so small, and quiet

he practically disappeared.

His tiny head was bent down

intensely focused

on the drawing in front of him.

 

I glanced at what he was working on

and I felt time stop.

All the chaos in the room

faded into the background.

There was something different about this child.

Something rare and beautiful.

I saw it.

Felt it.

And in that

seemingly small and insignificant moment..

I understood that there was something tremendous

in consequence

that brought me here.

 

“That is a great brontosaurus, “I told him

“and what a terrific volcano!”

The boy looked up..

clearly surprised that I noticed him..

that I was talking to him.

“You draw really well,” I continued

“I can see your wonderful imagination

in your drawings.”

With a tiny smile, and light in his eyes

The boy whispered. “Thank you.”

I asked him his name..

“Jesus.” He replied.

I leaned in real close so we were face to face..

And looking directly into his eyes, I said,

“Jesus, you have a gift from God.”

Pencils, Paper and the Power of Art

One of the kids took this picture... I need to keep my feet of the table when I draw.

One of the kids took this picture… I need to keep my feet off the table when I draw.

As a volunteer art teacher
I am back to spending Monday evenings
sharing the experience of art
with a group of inner-city kids.

My art class is probably not what you’d expect to see..
Nothing spectacular, really.

Basically, we just show up
grab a bunch of paper and pencils
fling the door open wide
sit down
and start drawing.

Slowly
the kids trickle in..
and one by one
they sit down and join us.

Soon, we are elbow to elbow
drawing together.
We talk, we laugh,
we share experiences..

No paints or pastels
No paintbrushes or easels
No scissors, glitter and glue
No elaborate materials or expensive supplies.
No preconceived projects
or instructions to follow..
yet somehow
a lesson unfolds.

So, what is this amazing thing
that draws all those kids into our room
And holds their attention…?

Such is the power of art.

michele quote

The Return of Boo Radley

A random act of artistic kindness..

The Secret Kingdom

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In “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Boo Radley left gifts for Jem and Scout in the knothole of an old, oak tree.  He wanted the children to be aware of his presence, to understand that he cared for them, and to know that he was watching out for them.

Now, I am going to tell you a story that will explain why I call this painting “The Return of Boo Radley”.

Once upon a time I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my dog, Gunther. In the center of the complex, there was a large grassy area surrounding a sandbox where the kids could play.  Scattered on the ground, I would find some of the largest and most beautiful pinecones I had ever seen. Whenever I took Gunther for a walk, I would grab a couple and bring them back to my apartment to marvel over.

One day, I noticed a little girl…

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Lifetime Commitments and the Full Circle of Art

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When I was little, all I wanted was to draw well.

My dream was not to be some rich and famous artist..

Not to win awards or have my paintings hanging in museums.

I just wanted to be good.

I remember staring endlessly at the pictures of the beautifully illustrated books I grew up with.  The people who made those pictures had somehow managed to capture their imagination on paper and make it real. My mind was filled with pictures, too – and there were worlds inside me that had to come out. The urge to create was irresistible.. and it ignited a fire inside me that will burn forever.

Exposure to art at an early age is a powerful experience. It can change your life. My husband Richard talks about this in his recent post, The Fine Art of Childhood.

Art is a lifetime commitment. The endless months, years, decades invested to get my skills to match my vision. Always pushing further – I love every step of my artistic journey. This is what I was meant to do. I have dedicated my life to bringing my unique vision out into the light. Truly, art is the soul made visible.

It seems only fitting that I have become the author / illustrator of children’s books..

After all, that is where it all began.

The circle is complete.

 

Empty Books and the Art of Speaking Without Words

TheWayITalk2

“The Way I Talk” by Michele Bledsoe

Local poet and writer, Manuel Paul Arenas and Half-Price Books generously donated an assorted collection of blank journals to give to the children at the center where I volunteer.

I handed out many journals this summer, and this is the story of one of them.

During class, I looked up and saw a little girl hovering in the doorway. She was hesitant, extremely shy and awkward. With encouraging words, I somehow managed to coax her into the room.

She stared at me intently, but said nothing.

I asked her if she kept a diary.. if she knew what a journal was for.

She remained silent, but her stare intensified.

I could tell she was listening to every word I said.

So, I went on – explaining how a journal was a book where you can write down your dreams. You could fill it with stories, pictures and poetry. A place where you could say anything and express yourself completely without saying a word.

Then I handed one of those beautiful, little books to this silent child and told her, “This is your journal.”

Her eyes opened wide as she stared at the book in her hands, and sat down in the nearest chair. I watched as she examined her new journal.. turning it over and over in her hands. Then she grabbed a pencil, put her head down and began to write and write and write.

Throughout the day, groups of kids came and left. But despite the chaos in the room, that little girl remained sitting at a table by herself, head down and furiously writing.

Eventually, she came up for air.. and spoke briefly. Just a random comment, but I suddenly understood the reason for her silence. My heart went out to her – this beautiful child had a pronounced speech impediment.

As artists, we understand how life changing it is to be able to express yourself creatively. These children come from difficult circumstances.. and the simple gift of an empty book may be all it takes to change a life.

Thank you, Manny. And thank you, Half-Price Books for your wonderful gift.

So much more than just an assortment of blank books – your generous and loving donation gave a silent child a very powerful voice.

 

 

 

 

Lost Books and the Selfless Motivation of Art

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The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook is the best-loved book of my childhood.

Never heard of it?

Well, you’re not alone.

Unlike the works of Dr. Suess, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein, this storybook has slipped away into oblivion. Just another lost book that could not withstand the test of time..

but not really.

I loved this book so deeply and completely as a child, but as I grew older.. I started to forget.

I forgot the title. I forgot the stories. I forgot the name of the author..

but I never forgot the illustrations.

Those pictures haunted me.

So, I began a search that would last for 20 years.

I prowled endlessly through the children’s section of every used book store I could find. I had no information on what I was looking for other than the memory of the wondrous images that were burned into my heart.  When eBay came along, I spent thousands of hours searching in the middle of the night.. desperately plugging in keywords in an attempt to describe the pictures I cherished. A pine tree with golden leaves. A dragon and a monkey.

It seemed impossible… but I refused to give up.

To make a long story short, I found the book.

Nowadays, it seems that practically everyone on earth has written a children’s book. In the era of self-publishing and user-friendly illustration programs.. there are authors out there churning out children’s books by the dozens. But, the difference in quality is obvious. I think most people (and children) instinctively know when someone is just “phoning it in”. Nevertheless, by working the system, these savvy authors have helped their books find their way to the top of Amazon’s best-seller lists.

I suppose I could do this too.

But, unlike those masters of marketing and self-promotion, I am not motivated by money.

The ONCE-UPON-A-TIME Storybook was originally published in 1958, and the author and the illustrator of this beloved book are probably long gone.

Maybe they never achieved fame and fortune. Maybe they never realized that their book could create such a lasting impression.

And maybe they never knew that they inspired a child to become an artist.

This is my hope for The Secret Kingdom, and for any other books I plan to create while I still live and breathe.

Every time I see my book in the hands of a child, I am reminded again and again that this is not about me..

and success is not measured in dollar signs.

baby