Karl passed by my open office door, at the bank where I worked, carrying a framed oil painting. The vivid colors on the canvas instantly caught my eye. I immediately jumped up from my chair and followed him. Karl was another of the corporate lenders and his office was adjacent to mine. He had already propped the piece on his credenza. Without acknowledging Karl, I moved closer to the painting. Still staring at it, I asked if he planned on hanging it here at work. He already had several paintings adorning his walls. He, unfortunately, said no. Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to continue to enjoy the array of muted blue and vivid orange flowers arranged in a glass vase, I informed Karl I really appreciated the work of art.
Karl told me the artist, Stephen Heilakka, was a local artist from Doylestown. He had several pieces of his work. Without revealing to Karl that I secretly desired to start taking art lessons upon retirement, I asked if he had a studio where I could see his work. He handed me his card.
Back in my office, I immediately called Steph, as he liked to be called. We arranged for a time to meet. His studio was in Carversville, behind the historic, centuries old, Carversville Inn. The stone building housing his studio was dwarfed by the immense Inn, with its large wooden columns and wrap around porches on both levels of the building. I knocked on Steph’s door. He greeted me warmly and invited me in. He was a towering figure wearing a comfortable flannel shirt and jeans. His silver beard highlighted his handsome face. I stood there clean shaven and in my business suit and tie. I entered, only to be quickly greeted again by many framed paintings in all mediums – charcoal, oil, acrylics, pen and ink, and watercolor. They were professionally and artistically arranged on the large 20-foot-tall white wall. Like I did in Karl’s office, I moved closer to the wall and the paintings to admire the work. I passed by the large well-worn wooden farmhouse table which Steph used for his supplies and drawings. Several easels held paintings in various stages of completion. The large table was positioned so when seated you could look out through a massive window to a bucolic Bucks County landscape. A split rail fence, a pasture, and a grove of trees to the left almost appeared as a painting being framed by the window itself.
We sat in two comfortable chairs on the other side of the room, closer to the stone wall where a cast iron stove already had a warm fire burning. Steph offered me a cup of tea. I collected my thoughts as he prepared a cup for the both of us.
I began to ask Steph about the possibility of taking lessons from him. There was no immediate need to start, but I informed him I was turning over a new leaf upon retiring from banking. I no longer wanted to use the left-side of my brain, but wanted to expand the right-side of my brain in being more creative and enjoying color instead of sticking to reasoning, logic and numbers. Steph laughed. But, I remained in the banker mode by asking him about his pricing, schedule, availability, and other business-oriented questions.
Soon thereafter, Steph started asking me questions. What medium was I interested in? What colors was I attracted to? What artists did I enjoy? And, had I taken any previous lessons? He moved to his table and asked me to sit beside him. He had an enormous stack of books which he began to open. Steph started quizzing me which of the prints, from various artists, did I like and why did I like them. Was it their composition, their theme, or their colors? My mind wasn’t prepared to answer such questions. He told me not to think. He asked what feelings did I have for them.
He opened yet another book of Rembrandt sketches. They were pen and ink etchings from the 1600s. Steph asked what I was attracted to and why. He indicated he starts with all his students studying the Masters and then having them sketch a duplicate of these various prints with using only a pencil.
I was no longer interviewing a potential art instructor. The artist was now clearly interviewing me. It was evident I was entering the world of creativity and art. All my questions which I thought were important now seemed trivial and irrelevant.
With my pending retirement in a few months I did manage to share my desire to start such an undertaking, which seemed monumental. Steph thought it was a wonderful outlet for me to explore. Sitting at the table, surrounded by all his paint brushes, pencils, ink wells and works in progress, I committed to working with and learning from Steph. I was ready to start using the right-side of my brain. We agreed to keep in touch and finalize the details of my lessons over the coming months. Before leaving, he quickly jotted down on a piece of paper a list of supplies I would need to purchase before starting my lessons. It was short and simple – a pencil kit with all the various hardness of graphite, an artist sketch pad and a kneaded rubber eraser.
Soon I ventured through the aisles of the art store. I walked slowly touching all the tools of the trade. I was in a foreign land. I picked out the supplies on Steph’s list. I purchased them, along with a canvas bag to carry them back and forth from my house to his studio.
As the calendar turned to September, I started my lessons with Steph. I carried my bag, complete with pencils, erasers, and paper. It was if I was going to school for the first time. I was a new student eager to learn. I was, again, a first-grade child.