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The Pink House

August 28, 2013
I was in a really rotten mood that day back in 1983. I was unemployed, tired of job hunting and feeling depressed. To improve my spirits I decided to do something I practically never did—Plein Air painting. I packed my art supplies and hit the road. I was a studio painter, but I’d long fantasized about the Impressionists and what it would be like to plant an easel in a landscape, empty my head of all preconceived thoughts and let my eyes and hands take over.


It was a sunny day and warming up as I left town and drove into the country, past a few leaning barns and the pumpkin patch where in a few months we’d be bringing our three year old to select a pumpkin. I’d driven about an hour when I spotted something in the distance worthy of painting; framed by green trees and shrubbery was a pink Victorian farmhouse, a subject the Impressionists would have favored.


I pulled onto the shoulder of the road, climbed out of my smoky Fairmont station wagon and took a hard look at the pink house, framed by a large weeping willow and surrounded by an acre of well-tended grapevines. After erecting my easel on the gravel shoulder I positioned a blank canvas and got to work. Large cumulous clouds were casting interesting shadows across the landscape and I wanted to record them before they blew away.


The countryside was quiet but for a few crows cawing near the grapevines. It was a weekday and few cars passed by as I spread color on my blank canvas and began recreating the old pink house.


A half hour later my ears picked up the distant sound of a screen door screeching open and slamming shut. I squinted and saw an old man standing on the porch of the pink house. Bent and withered, light glinted on his metal walker as he descended his front steps to inch in my direction.


It hadn’t occurred to me to knock on the door and ask permission to paint his house. It was much too warm for the coat he was wearing. Was he concealing a  shotgun? Did he consider me a trespasser even though my easel was planted on the shoulder of the road? I kept an eye on him as he approached, my brushes working hard to record as much as possible in case I ended up running, my ass stinging from rock salt.


I was perspiring heavily by the time he arrived and stared at my painting. His spotted head was perspiration free as he hocked up a nasty loogie, but he said nothing for the five minutes he stood watching me paint. Then, without a word, he turned and headed back in the direction of his house, his walker making a scratching sound on the gravel road leading back to his porch. I sighed with relief when I heard the screen door slam shut.


A few minutes passed and the door again screeched open. The old man reappeared on the porch. He was followed by an old woman, also using a walker. Now the two of them headed my way. I could have packing up and driven off in a cloud of dust long before they reached me but that seemed rude. I continued painting.


Their silence was deafening when they came to stand beside me, eying my painting without expression. Finally the man hocked up another loogie and said, “You a painter?”


No shit, Sherlock. What else would I be, standing there in front of a wet canvas with a paint covered palette and half a dozen brushes in my hand? “Yes. I’m a painter.”


His brow furrowed. “Most people drive by here’n say, ‘What a nice pink house!’ But you know better, being an artist and all. This ain’t no pink house. Ain’t pink at all. It’s coral colored.”


I nodded. The old woman gummed a smile at me but remained silent as they ambled away. I glanced at the palette in my hand, the large dollop of oil paint at the center—a mixture of red and white. I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that the only reason I’d stopped was to paint the pink house.



Now I'm thinking of that old John Mellancamp song about little pink houses. Maybe they were really supposed to be little coral houses but that doesn't have the same ring to it.
By: PT Dilloway on August 28, 2013
There is no difference between pink and coral...same color. Funny post!
By: Cranky on August 28, 2013
I will never look at pink the same again.
By: David Walston on August 28, 2013
Intriguing how naming conventions for colours become part of our everyday language. The truth is Coral comes in about every imaginable colour and then some.
By: Daniel @ The Pixel Collective on August 28, 2013
I know others see some shades of what is blue to me as purple. And I differentiate between teal blue and teal green when others don't seem to. Colour is definitely in the eye of the beholders.. or paint brush holder.
By: Hilary on August 28, 2013
i was hoping you would have handed them the painting...
By: TexWisGirl on August 28, 2013
It sounds like that man had had his fill of pink. A terrific slice of life story~
By: Shelly on August 28, 2013
Stephen: Your stories are so rich, and you have a way of keeping us on "the edge of our seats". I wasn't sure what the elderly man was going to do. But I'm glad there was a happy outcome! :)
By: Michael Manning on August 28, 2013
And here i thought coral had some orange in it -- the coral in one of our bedrooms does. Glad they liked that you were painting their house.
By: mimi on August 28, 2013
haha... Awe.. That's awesome! Good for you not spoiling it for him ;)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on August 28, 2013
Beautiful. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 28, 2013
I'm not very articulate when it comes to color. makes you smile. :)
By: Scott Park on August 28, 2013
This reminded me of the time I was driving through a very disreputable section of Los Angeles (MacArthur Park) to photograph some Victorian houses for a series of drawings I wanted to do. I would drive slowly, looking at the houses, & stop & get out when I saw one that I wanted to shoot. Some guy came up to me & wanted to know what the hell I was doing. I think he thought I was "casing the joint". Fortunately, I had some sketches in the car which I showed him so he decided not to call the police!!
By: fishducky on August 28, 2013
You always run the risk of onlookers when you paint en plein air! Sounds like these two remained forever vivid in your mind. I tried to paint a nursery wall salmon or peach once long ago. John said it was pink & hated it. Tricky color.
By: Kerry on August 28, 2013
When you described that guy's journey up the driveway, I couldn't help but think of Tim Conway as The Old Man on the Carol Burnett Show.
By: Val on August 28, 2013
I wondered where this was going...I've taken pictures of a house (for an appraiser at a bank) and a neighbor who probably thought I was "casing the joint" followed me to my car. Luckily I had the email from the appraiser with me! A former co-worker lived in a pink house. She called it "salmon-colored."
By: Pixel Peeper on August 28, 2013
Well, they sure taught you a thing or two. sometimes we take things for granted and don't consider the other guy's feeling.
By: Red on August 28, 2013
Oh man! The image of that old man ambling up to you and the two of you standing there in silence for five minutes just really makes me laugh. Men!
By: Nancy Felt on August 28, 2013
I'm sure he was flattered you chose to paint his house. You know how old folks sometimes are, just can't say it the way it really is.
By: Anne on August 29, 2013
What a great story. Yep, pink and coral â it's all in a name. I have, however, seen paint labeled "coral pink" and "pink coral." Color names are so random. I said the color of our new house in San Francisco was greige. Jerry said it was SALMON and wanted to prove it by asking the realtor what color it was. He said "MUSTARD?" (However, in that case, neither of them knew what the hell they were talking about.) Would love to see the painting! Do you still have it?
By: Mitchell is Moving on August 29, 2013
When he asked if you were a painter...he really meant "do you do this for a living or are you only dabbling". It probably pleased him more to have his house painted by a real artist rather than a hobbyist.
By: Tabor on August 29, 2013
That looks like a photograph, but is that your painting? If not, will we get to see it? I'd first learned about Plein art when I reconnected with an artist friend, Frank Serrano, who I went to school with. He's written and taught about it. I imagine it'd be even more frightening to do in local neighborhoods these days, given how scared and scary people have gotten. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on August 29, 2013
Another great tale, and how wonderfully atmospheric painting a picture with words also!
By: John on September 1, 2013

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