Mr. Jules Gravel, my Grade 9 art teacher, is a man who changed my life completely with some much needed advice. “You’re an excellent artist, Wendy, but exaggerate your shading. Darker darks. Lighter lights. Exaggerate them. And try blending a little more.”
I was 14 and thought pretty highly of myself. I didn’t appreciate his “advice”, so for my next set of sketches, I exaggerated all right. BLACK darks, WHITE lights. All blended to smooth perfection with my finger. I did it to teach him a lesson.
Ha, what happened is that HE taught ME a lesson. The most important art-related lesson I’ve ever learned.
He was THRILLED with the results. I stood there dumbfounded as he raved about how my drawings had gone from good to great. That this was just what my work needed. I got more than an art lesson that day. I got a life lesson in humility. I learned that at 14, I did NOT know everything.
While I was in high school, every March break Mr. Gravel helped organize a major student trip. Australia, Italy, England. It was expensive ($1000+) so I never went, but the year I was in 9th grade, the trip was to Egypt.
After the break, the class was hard at work when Mr. Gravel started handing out souvenirs from his trip: he had a little bag full of these wonderful blue scarab beetles. I don’t know what it’s carved out of, but it’s super light. Not stone, but some kind of porous, wood-like material.
I can still remember him setting one on my desk and then asking me if I liked it or if I’d like to choose my own. They’re all hand carved and coloured so each one is a little bit different, and many of the other students wanted to pick through them. I said that when someone gives you a gift, it always means more if THEY choose for you rather than you picking it yourself. So I told him that I was happy to keep the one he picked out for me.
It’s kind of a silly notion, I guess, especially considering he probably gave out nearly 100 scarabs (he brought back enough for all his art classes), but I had so much respect and admiration for him that I wanted the scarab HE had given me.
Mr. Gravel retired that year — didn’t even finish out my semester, actually, much to my disappointment. And a few years ago, when I learned that he had died, it honestly broke my heart.
I never got to thank him for all he did for me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without Mr. Gravel. And because of that, this little scarab is one of my most cherished possessions.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the scarab hieroglyph, Kheper, “…refers variously to the ideas of existence, manifestation, development, growth, and effectiveness…” Well. Isn’t that appropriate?
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