Pretty as a Picture

by Steve Kickert

I’m perched on a damp block of sandstone in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The clear water of an unnamed stream slides by on either side. In front of me is a picture that could make the cover of an Audubon Calendar — if I had my camera. Unfortunately, it’s hanging “where it’s supposed to be,” in my office.

Maybe you can help me. Get a canvas, brush and pallet, and I’ll describe what I see. Perhaps, together we can re-create this beautiful scene so others can enjoy it. It would be a shame to keep it to myself. Please hurry, moments like this don’t last forever.


Let’s do the canopy first. Dab in bunches of green leaves across the upper third of the canvas. Use more than one shade. Mix in some olive and soft yellow-green, the color of pear skins. Don’t cram them too close together. Leave several ragged openings in the canopy, and color them light gray. Behind the leaves add the silhouettes of trunks and branches. Make it look as though the leaves are floating in front of the trunks. I should have had you do the trunks first. I’m sorry. Please understand I’ve never tried this before.

Now, mid-frame, just below the green, at the base of the trunks, begin laying down a creek. Let it descend to the bottom of the canvas. Make it narrow. If you were here, you could leap across it.

Paint the head of the stream brown. The water is pooled there, but still shallow enough for me to see the mud-covered shale that forms the creek bed. Give the surface the texture of frosted glass. Add the six dime-sized bubbles that are drifting in the nearly motionless current.

I almost left out an important detail. Break the surface of the pool with a nest of concentric circles. That’s where a raindrop from last night’s shower ended its hours long, pinball journey through the canopy.

On the right side of the stream, below the pool, brush in a pile of round, moss-draped stones. It forces the water against the creek’s left bank, creating silver ribbons as the water accelerates over rock shingles like tinsel blowing in the wind. Can you make the riffles glisten?

You should be nearing the bottom of the frame now. Let the water pool once again below the riffles, and cover it with a raft of water striders. Place a lichen-covered limb across the pool. Give the lichen the look of old green paint, peeling from years of exposure to harsh summer sun and winter wind.

Are you still with me? We could break for a moment. You could rest your hands while I make faces at my reflection as the creek buries my toes in sand. It’s so tempting, but I fear the light will change and all we have done will be lost. Let’s continue.

A host of plants crowd the flat on both sides of the creek. Far too many to paint. Still, I believe that if you illustrate the water hemlocks, the “touch-me-nots” and asters, you can establish the effect we need.

The water hemlocks should rise above the green chaos of the bank. You don’t know water hemlock? Paint a Queen Anne’s Lace, but hide the leaves. A few purple lines on the stalk will add a defining touch, and only you and I will know the truth.

The orange and yellow blossom of a “touch-me-not” is hanging from its thread of a stem. A female hummingbird, wings flapping at a hundred beats a second, has its beak thrust down the flower’s throat. The flower doesn’t waver. What color do you paint a miracle? Make the wings blur gray and the body shimmer gold and green.

Use a light touch on the calico asters. These dwarfs of daisies, with ruby centers, would fit on the tip of your little finger. Paint a thousand!

To the right of the creek, with a few well-placed strokes, add the swooping boughs of a hemlock tree. Growing in their shadows is a single cardinal flower, whose three drooping petals should look like they’ve absorbed the world’s entire supply of red.

How’s your wrist? We’re almost done.

Finally, floating in the water, stem crushed, petals fading from pink to gray, lies another cardinal flower, a somber reminder of the fleeting nature of all I’ve described. I hope you painted well.


Copyright-2005 by Steve Kickert