When I was a little boy I often stood on the chair behind my dad, with my arms lovingly wrapped around his neck, as he sketched or layered colours onto his pen and ink drawings.
I loved being with him in his studio. He never told me to go away. Not once.
I would stand there for hours, draped over his shoulders, watching him as he painted. Every so often he would put down his brush and nuzzle my neck with his face. Then he would pick up the brush and continue painting.
The beautiful, dance-like movements of his brushes mesmerized me as they moved this way and that across the paper, transforming the white surface into an amazing picture.
I loved to watch the water in the clear glass jar when he rinsed his brushes.
I am still captivated by memory of the slow motion swirling and twisting and turning of the colours dancing an ever-morphing ballet as his paint-laden brushes were gently dipped into the water.
Time seemed to have a different meaning as I stood there with him in his studio. It was amazing to watch a simple pencil sketch become an ink drawing and, almost like a time-lapse movie, become a finished painting.
My father loved to draw and paint and he passed that passion on to me.
The tiny seed that was planted deep inside me, when I was a little boy watching my dad paint, has blossomed into a career for me. I have written and illustrated over fifty books and have participated in a number of art shows over the years.
Although my art teacher at high school told me I wasn’t talented enough to take art for Matric, I have made a career out of it, which continues to this day thanks to my dad.
My father’s big dream was to one day have an exhibition of his art. He had collected many fine pieces he had painted and told me he was editing them down for an art show he was planning.
I was living in the United States when I got the call.
It came out of the blue. It punched me in the stomach and winded my soul. It was six am in the morning and I heard a weepy, broken little voice on the other end of the line. It was my sister. She tearfully told me that our dad had suddenly passed away a few hours before.
And just like that, my dad was gone.
In a daze I got on a plane and rushed home to South Africa to bury my sweet dad.
A few days later, with much trepidation, I ventured into his studio upstairs. I wondered around, touching various things, like his sable hair brushes and the pencils that were lying on the desk. I’m not sure why I touched everything. Perhaps subconsciously I was hoping to feel his life in the objects that he had held before he died.
There were various drawings lying around the studio and his paints were there too, exactly where he left them. His death was so sudden and unexpected that there was still a full jar of fresh water, sitting on his drawing board, waiting patiently for him to paint.
I picked up his favourite green mechanical pencil. The one he used to teach me how to draw.
I sat down on his stool, clutched the pencil to my heart, and I began to cry.
It took me a long time to find the courage to leave the safety of his studio.
A week later my mother asked me to help her go through my dad’s art. She knew I loved my dad’s work and she told me to take my favourite pieces back with me to America.
Gratefully I chose a number of pieces, which still hang in my office today.
While going through his portfolio of work, I also found about seven unfinished paintings, which I also took with back me. They were going to be watercolour paintings but only the pencil work had been completed.
A number of years later I was invited to show my art at a wonderful little gallery in Austin, Texas.
I am thrilled to say that my dad, in all his glory, was present at the art opening. And not only in spirit.
He was there was because I called the exhibition ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’. It consisted of seven of my paintings, seven of my dad’s completed paintings and seven paintings that my dad had started…and I finished.
His big dream finally came true.