Art Imitates Art

Watch this oil painting of a little girl in a tree come to life

in under 2 minutes (time lapse)

When my dad was stationed at an Air Force base in Indiana, he took some college courses toward a degree. One of his electives was a photography class. I was about four years old then, and he used me as his subject for a couple of his assignments. His artistic eye was interesting and those two photos became the best childhood pictures available of me.

Art imitates art, as I needed some references for a children’s book I was writing about my childhood. I “aged” my child self from Dad’s art projects. In his photos I was younger than the age I was in the stories for the book. Fortunately, I didn’t need to get very detailed in likeness, as the paintings were meant to be simple illustrations with bold lines and bright colors. It didn’t matter that Dad’s photos were black and white pictures, or that I needed to make some changes.

This is a case of “Art Imitates Art”, because I was imitating Dad’s unique perspective of a ground level viewpoint of a child sitting in a tree, rather than painting from my own memory of climbing trees and sitting on the branches. The reality is that I was likely only in that tree to stage the photo for Dad. When I climbed trees at the age I was in the story (about me pretending to be a spy by hiding in trees) in the book “Fred”, I climbed scraggly, spindly, tall pine trees from the neglected Christmas tree farm that was behind our house. I’m lucky I never had a serious fall, as those trees were weak and I’d climb them to the top, where the branches would bend and sway precariously under my weight.

A sparse and unhealthy pine tree wouldn’t have made a good oil painting for my story, and surely an adult reading my book aloud to a child would have been thinking, “This tree doesn’t look sturdy enough to hold this child”. Indeed, it probably wasn’t. I gave my guardian angels heavy work throughout my life. I remember my grandma used to complain to my mom, “I don’t know why you let her climb trees. I can’t watch!” Since I was often unsupervised, no one watched as I climbed trees, and I went far enough back into the neglected Christmas tree “forest” (trees planted evenly apart, but overgrown with weeds, brambles, pine needles, and fallen branches) so that I couldn’t be seen by anyone.

Now, that’s a completely different type of story from the one I was telling in the book. So, if art imitated my actual life, the illustration would have come off as slightly dysfunctional, instead of the cheery, fun “little girl in tree” painting that appears in the book. The story is about the creativity of children, and how their natural imagination and playfulness should be respected by teachers, rather than reigned in, controlled, shamed, and snuffed out. It is a story of resilience, of children whose light doesn’t dim, whose creativity outshines the control of others.

Dad’s artistic perspective was a much better representation for the “spy” scene than my own life memory of it. Art Imitates Art. The spy scene was meant to show the imagination of a child, and how adventurous children can be when inspired by their own creative ways to play. My story would have had the opposite effect if I had painted the obvious safety and supervision issues involved in actually allowing a young child to wander alone in an unkempt wooded area full of hazards, to climb trees that looked suspect for bearing the weight of a small animal, let alone a child. Many of the branches were dry, brittle, dead, and close to snapping off. I learned how to find the flexible live branches, although I’d end up covered in pine sap. But anyway, the reader might have been distracted and their adult minds would, and rightfully so, end up on the very path that I was trying to push them out of: reigning in the imagination and creativity of children.

Because, of course I didn’t let my own children wander off unsupervised in unsafe areas to climb weak trees, and I wouldn’t recommend it for any parent to do. So, a bit of embellishment was needed. Instead of an awkward, yet accurate, painting of me in short pants and possibly no shoes on my feet, in a brittle wispy pine tree, with many brown needles and droopy branches, looking like an urchin, I used the idealized version from Dad’s perspective: a healthy tree bursting with autumn color (imagined, as his photo was black and white), a healthy well-dressed girl, supervised, loved, and free to be naturally playful. Art imitates art, and art imitates life… but sometimes life is bettered in the telling through art.

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Something Funny

Watch me paint this terrifying children’s game of tag in 1 minute (time lapse)

Thought we could use something lighthearted today. Surely you too have played this childhood summer game of “Goose Tag”? No? Well, first you need a pair of mean geese. Then you need bullying neighbor kids and goading cousins. The final ingredient to achieve the full experience is to be the scrawniest kid in the pack.

"Summers spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s in upstate, New York included many adventures. One of the most harrowing was a game called 'Goose Tag' which was hosted by the neighbor kids whose family kept live geese in their yard. The geese would get riled up at the very sight of us and give chase. We’d run as fast as we could before they could 'tag' us. The last kid to make it to the safety of the porch got bit on the seat of the pants. Since I was the youngest and smallest, that person was me more than once."

- from book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

This oil painting was first published as children’s book illustration art for the book “Fred“. It’s now included in the collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature“.

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“Fred”

art oil painting FRED book cover by Natalie Buske Thomas

FRED

“A Little Girl with a Big Imagination”

     “Fred” is a collection of oil paintings that was published as a children’s book to inspire creative children to always believe in yourself and to never give up.

     Fred is the nickname that Natalie’s father called her. Apparently the story goes that one day when Natalie was three years old, she announced that her name was no longer Natalie, but Fred. No one knows why and Natalie has no recollection of this incident, but her father honored her wishes and never called her Natalie ever again, always Fred.

This oil painting of “Fred” (peeking behind the fire hydrant) was inspired by a black and white picture that her late father took when he was enrolled in a photography course. This was taken on Grissom Air Force base, where he was stationed. Watch more art from the Fred book come to life:

"Little Girl in a Tree"

Watch Natalie paint this art from the Fred book.
FRED

"Classroom Scene"

Watch Natalie paint this art from the Fred book.
Fred

Watch Natalie paint more illustrations from “Fred”:

“Superhero”

Watch Natalie paint this illustration from children’s book “Grandpa Smiles”

“This art (“Superhero”, for the storybook page “The Child Leaps”) is the fourth illustration for my first oil painting book Grandpa Smiles, published in 2014. It is a short sweet inspirational and comforting children’s book about losing a grandparent. A family’s love is forever.”

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