Mark Ballard

Finding inspiration in my path

Mark Ballard’s drawing of a leaf from from a dogwood tree in his yard.
Mark Ballard’s drawing of a leaf from from a dogwood tree in his yard. Special to The Telegraph

The first one crossed my path in a parking lot while I was walking in to teach a drawing class. I was running a bit late, but the colorful leaf tried many times to catch my attention. It was crimson and a perfect shape.

Free from the branch that once held it, it appeared to be glowing. I thought the little leaf provided the perfect opportunity to draw it as a demonstration for my students, so I picked it up.

With me, once I start down a certain path, I have to continue for a while. It wasn’t long before another chance meeting would add other components of fall to draw.

I was just minding my business walking through the produce department of a grocery store in search of bananas when I passed a bin filled to the brim with various sized small pumpkins.

Initially, I continued walking but, just as the leaf had, they begged me to come back. I gazed at their unique shapes and stems and the variegated orange colors that appeared to be hand-painted on their skin. Under their spell and before I realized it, they were in one corner of my buggy.

I could hardly wait to draw them. To me, that was the reason they were created. Sure, they would make a wonderful pie but, as we all know, a pie doesn’t last long.

A piece of artwork, however, that’s different. Long after the pumpkins spoil, their images will remain captured in their prime for people to enjoy for many years.

I drew for hours until I was satisfied. I couldn’t stop going down the creative path I was on. Not long after the pumpkin encounter, I walked past a display of brightly colored gourds at a garden center.

Captured in a prison of red-colored, open-weave plastic bags, I paused for a second but then continued walking to the register without them. The entire way to the register, I tried to convince myself I didn’t need them. After all, I already had a bowl full of pumpkins at home.

Needless to say, I went back to grab a bag. I could hardly get into the house before I introduced the gourds to the pumpkins and arranged another still life to draw. I was out of control and needed to keep my eyes focused straight ahead instead of looking down or to the side of my path.

I thought my fall-themed drawing session was over, but soon I would find out that nature had one more surprise for me — one that would really mean a lot.

I was walking up the path to our back door the other day when it happened. Another leaf caught my eye. The sun was hitting it just right casting a very dramatic and unique shadow. I stopped in my tracks and snapped a photo to capture it.

It wasn’t until I reached down and actually picked up the leaf that I realized it was from a nearby dogwood tree I was given when my daddy died.

I’ve enjoyed the various stages of this tree for many years as it continues to reach higher into the sky. It keeps Daddy’s memory alive for me in a very beautiful way. I knew I had to draw it — it was a sign.

Twisted and in the process of changing from the beautiful green it had been since early spring to another color, reminded me not only of Daddy but of life in general.

The leaf knew the time was right to give into age spots and wrinkles without a fight. It appeared to be blushing as it turned every shade of red while keeping a touch of gilt in honor of its golden years.

As I drew it, I realized that sometimes our paths lead us to things we need to see and to appreciate.

Sometimes our paths lead us to things in nature that we normally would pass right by without so much as a pause. Sometimes our paths lead us to a memory we need to stop and recall. And sometimes, my path leads me not only to a smile and a memory but also to four colorful drawings.

I’m so grateful for paths!

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; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.