Friday, May 17, 2013

The Bunny Room, or, One Person's Lifelong Revolt Against Artistic Stagnancy

When I was expecting Abraham, I helped my sister-in-law paint her nursery with blue sky and clouds. I came home all excited about how easy it had been. "We could do that for our baby's room," I said to Sam. "Can you help me?" I was all ready to go out and get some sponges and some blue and white paint from Home Depot, but Sam was more thoughtful about it. He made us wait a few weeks while he did some sketches and tried out various color schemes. Instead of white paint, Sam wanted pale pinks and yellows for the clouds. I kept trying to argue for simplicity. "I'm sure it would look nice, but it's not necessary," I said. "White would look just fine."

But of course Sam was right, in the end. He painted in all the shading he wanted in the clouds, and I made a stencil for the picket fence, and painted in flowers below. Then he went back through adding details---butterflies, frogs, dragonflies---that made the whole thing look even better. And that was our first nursery.
Cute little Abraham

When we moved, I wanted Sam to paint Abraham's room again. I had always loved that part in Curious George Takes a Job where George paints the room to look like a jungle, so I asked Sam if we could do something like that.
"It could just be really simple," I said. (I always say that, and I mean it.) In Sam's mind, "simple" meant using the existing wall color for one of the four layers of detail he was planning. Again, he spent several weeks planning out color schemes and gathering reference.
The beige color of the mountains was the original color of these walls. Look at tiny Abraham!

Sam had been unhappy with the two-dimensionality of our previous room. He thought it would look better if this room had several layers, to make it look more dense and jungle-y, so he painted in background trees and animals behind the actual trees and animals. I helped fill in the sky, and various vines and shrubs after Sam had outlined them. I would say, "How about another monkey here?" or "What about a bush baby? Or a lemur?" and he'd usually oblige.
So that was the Jungle Room.

Then we were expecting Sebby, and I felt like HE ought to have a painted nursery too. I hated to make Sam go to the trouble again, but it hadn't been TOO much work at our old house, so I asked if we could just do the same thing: blue sky, clouds, maybe some flowers below. "I was never totally happy with that nursery in the old house," said Sam. "What?!" I said. "It was perfect! It was ideal! I want another one exactly like it!"

"It didn't have any continuity," said Sam. "The shapes were all over the place. I think I could design a better one now." "It doesn't have to be anything complicated," I said. But this time Sam wanted something more stylized. "It needs a unifying theme," he said. He made sketches, chose fewer colors, selected specific shapes.
And that was Sebby's nursery.

And then we moved again. (I refused to paint over any of these rooms before we moved, even though our realtors wanted us to. "It's much easier to sell when things are . . . less specialized," they said tactfully. Ha. Over my dead body. "The new owners can paint over it themselves, if they're foolish enough to want to," I said. I didn't want to know about it.)

We painted some colored walls in our new house, but with all the other costs and projects that come from moving, we never got around to painting anything more complicated. Our babies slept in our closet at first anyway (sorry, Daisy and Junie) and although we always meant to do something with their room, it just never happened. And it was a really boring, ugly room too, I'm sorry to say.

Then, this April, Sam got four weeks of comp time to make up for all the overtime he'd had lately. And we couldn't go anywhere with the baby so close to coming, so I asked Sam, "How about painting the kids' room?" "If we do it, I want to try something different," he said. "Why?" I said. "Our other rooms were perfect. I wouldn't mind having an exact copy." 

"I'm just not really that happy with them anymore," he said. "Whenever I look back at the pictures, all I can see are all the things I wish I'd done differently. I want something more artistic, something that's actually designed. Something less haphazard."

I was skeptical. (Why am I always skeptical?) "Can be it be artistic AND cute?" I said. "I bet I can figure something out," he said.
(I told you their room was ugly.)
This is not real---just a computer sketch. This is how Sam tries things out before doing the actual painting.

He started making sketches. He wanted an even more limited color scheme, and less-realistic elements for a more unified final effect. He kept saying, "This will actually make things easier." I kept saying, "But the things you did before were so GOOD!" I just didn't see why he had to keep changing things when they were already so good

You know how this is going to end. Sam did three or four designs for me to choose from. I chose my favorite. (Hint: it included bunnies.) Sam made a bunch of stencils out of his bunny designs, and we went to work.
This time, we had some great help from the older boys. They and I provided the "apprentice" labor: filling in large shapes that Sam outlined for us, going over thin spots, and stenciling bunnies (a job I was born to do). Sam did the master's work of design and large shapes and details like trees and birds. Malachi and Daisy and Junie sat in the crib in the middle of the room and pretended it was a boat.
And of course (of course!), the room turned out better than I could have ever imagined. (And of course Sam will think it's inadequate in a couple of years.) And it just makes me think how valuable it is, that drive to improve. Sam seems to have always had it. It's not that he's annoying about it, always putting himself down or fishing for compliments or saying, "No, it's terrible" when someone admires his work. Not at all. But he's just always quietly wanting to be BETTER. And then he works and works until he IS better. I don't know how he keeps it up, but it amazes me.

All that, just to show you pictures of the new little kids' room. (I would say "nursery," except that Marigold is still in our closet, so she's not really benefiting from it yet. Daisy and Junie and Malachi get to enjoy it for now.) It is SO beautiful and I love it!
Before
After

With the furniture back in (it always seems such a shame to put the furniture back in)

I often say that Sam and I are "a good team." What this really means, in practice, is that instead of always being disappointed with how my ideas turn out after I've rushed into them without enough planning and then barreled through even though I know I should "measure twice and cut once" because I decide no one will notice anyway---instead of that, my ideas turn out even better than I imagine them, better than I deserve, because I at least had the good sense to marry someone who's both willing enough to go along with them and capable enough to change their course for the better.

Lucky me.

2 comments:

  1. WOW. I hope you guys know how incredible you are! My kids would be in heaven in a room like that. I am so boring--so lazy, really--that Lydia, who has begged me to let her at least rearrange her furniture (since I don't know how to repaint a wall like she wants to) finally resorted to asking Grandma while she was here with the baby. And she's been so happy with the change (all they did was swap places between the dresser & bed & add a chair) . . . your kids are lucky ducks! Even in the closet. Lizzie's in ours too . . . it's nothing to be ashamed of, right? :)

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  2. It's incredible! I'm always amazed when people DO things even when they have a boatload of kids. And you guys do everything. It's beautiful and I love it!
    ngstvple illustrate: those were my 'please prove you're not a robot' words.

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