April 27, 2010

Bluebonnets are blooming in the fields and along the highways so I’ve been remembering a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art a couple of years ago. I was one of the drivers and chaperones for a field trip my son’s class took to see a collection of paintings by Julian Onderdonk. He’s an American impressionist who painted landscape scenes, many of which feature bluebonnets. This has me thinking about a simple, powerful lesson from his biography.

Julian Onderdonk was a very talented painter. He was so talented that a collection of his work became a featured exhibition. He would spend the few weeks of spring when bluebonnets bloom living in rural Texas and painting intensely. The bluebonnets changed from week to week as they appeared, reached their peak, and then faded. The way he captured the different hues of the flowers from morning to noon to early evening was amazing.

The way he painted people’s faces was not.

Early pieces from his career show that he wasn’t good at reproducing the details of the human face. He could have let that stop him. He could have focused his time and energy on becoming adequate at painting people so he could paint more and more people — adequately. But he didn’t.

Instead, he stopped painting faces and focused on what he was good at. He focused on what he loved.

It’s obvious that Onderdonk was nuts about landscape. He put the texture and the shading and the expanse of the countryside on his canvas. You can feel the sun, smell the different pasture grasses and bluebonnets, and even hear the grasshoppers when you look at his work.

He didn’t need to get good at painting faces to do that.

I’m guessing once he realized it he let go of what he wasn’t so good at and focused on what he did spectacularly well.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


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