I entered the grocery store with a purpose. I was on a mission in search of a variety of perfect specimens. I marched straight to the fresh produce section like a detective desperately looking for clues to solve an important mystery. I was on a hunt and this wasn’t the first time.
Since I’ve been teaching drawing classes and have been busy creating pieces for an upcoming showing of my recent drawings at Macon Arts Alliance, I have frequently visited the produce section, lingering around like a guest who’s stayed past his welcome. Every aisle is fair game as I search for vegetables and fruit worthy of being rendered on paper with colored pencils.
During this visit, I first scanned the entire space for a quick overview of all the selections. My eyes darted back and forth trying to capture all the colors and shapes of each piece of produce. Sometimes I snapped a quick photo of a particular item to see how it looked in different situations. Many a stare was directed my way by normal people pushing carts and clutching grocery lists.
“Why are you taking photos of vegetables?” I’ve been asked by puzzled shoppers on more than one occasion.
How do you answer a question like that without feeling just a touch guilty or, at the very least, a little sneaky? The man usually working in the produce department always keeps one eye on me, curiously wondering what I might be cooking for supper or if I have just lost my mind.
The criteria for this particular mission was to exit the store with a cornucopia of the most perfectly colored and shaped vegetables. Bins and bins of recently misted vegetables made this no easy task. I started at one end and worked my way down the aisle, picking up piece after piece of produce, feeling for firmness and looking on all sides for blemishes.
None of the eggplants were without blemish so I had to decide which one was the least marred. This was a difficult decision when faced with a sea of shiny purple. I narrowed it down to three and then two before finally ending up with the one I thought was the best of the group.
The tomato decision wasn’t difficult at all. Spotlighted in perfection, one shown brighter than the rest. I could hardly believe it was real. Into a plastic bag it went.
At the checkout line, it appeared I was whipping up some fantastic vegetable soup. Before the checkout lady could ask, I quickly volunteered my plan for the produce.
“I’m going to do a large drawing of all these vegetables for my upcoming art show,” I said matter-of-factly as if it was normal. As each piece of produce slowly made its way down the moving counter, I urged the person bagging everything to be extremely careful so nothing would get crushed.
On the screen in front of me, I noticed the prized tomato registered a whopping $5.99.
“I think something is wrong with the scale,” I politely said to the lady.
“No, that’s an organically grown heirloom beefsteak tomato,” she replied. She then asked if I still wanted it.
“Yes,” I replied. “I have become quite smitten with that tomato. It is perfect!”
Arranging the produce into a still-life composition on our kitchen countertop, I placed each piece exactly where I wanted it before I began to draw. As I rendered each one, total realism was my goal. When I came to a blemish, scar or small hole caused by a hungry insect, I wondered if I should leave it out. Then it hit me: For something to be real, you have to accept its flaws.
As days passed and I continued to draw the now wilting vegetables, I shifted my thoughts to people. Each of us has scars left from parts of our lives where we were tested or challenged. Those scars don’t make us unacceptable or ugly, they make us real. Nothing real is ever perfect!
I included the blemish on the eggplant and the crooked part of the pepper. I rendered everything as it truly was. I’m sure you’re wondering about the perfect tomato. The pricey tomato looked as perfect in my drawing as it did in the grocery store bin. After I finished the drawing, I was not about to throw away a $6 tomato, so my wife and I ate it.
Let me just say, I’ve eaten beaten up, badly squished and pure-out ugly tomatoes that have tasted far superior. People are the same way. Sometimes our scars are not visible on the surface because we hide them deep within us. But we must remember that to be totally happy, we have to accept our flaws. We are not alone -- everyone has them!
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email email@example.com; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.