Mark Ballard

BALLARD: Beauty waiting to be rediscovered

All my life I have been amazed by the beauty of nature. I always take the time to pause and lean in for a closer look. As a youngster, after a summer rain I spent several minutes watching a single water droplet slowly slide down the edge of a green leaf before it dropped to the ground. I gazed toward the heavens watching birds flutter their wings and effortlessly fly. I observed how a lake served as a huge mirror reflecting the sun and surrounding shoreline. Looking back, I realize it was the artist in me learning a different way to see.

Flowers completely captured my attention, casting a spell on me. I enjoyed studying their unique beauty and breathtaking color combinations. I can’t tell you how many flowers I picked over the years. Even after they were placed in a vase filled with water, I was not released from their spell.

As I grew older I attempted to capture nature’s beauty on any kind of scrap paper I could find. My mother wore hose back in those days and I remember always grabbing the white piece of cardboard they were wrapped around before being packaged. It was a perfect size on which to render a quick nature study. A rose, a bird or even a frog appeared on those cardboard pieces as I grabbed every color crayon at my access. I felt most happy when I was capturing beauty on any surface.

I thought I would hyperventilate when Mother actually bought me a drawing pad of my very own. It was almost holy to me and I guarded it and my drawings. I began art lessons at 8 years old, and my drawings improved. I became obsessed with this magical talent I had been given. The more I drew, the more I wanted to.

Back in the days before cellphones and personal computers, all I had access to was a small, inexpensive camera. I took it with me everywhere so I could snap a photo of something to draw or paint. Many times I would forget the exact photos I had taken by the time the roll of film was finally developed. Like Christmas morning, I opened the envelope with excitement, pulling out the stack of shiny photographs. I saved the best ones to use as resource material at a later date.

Over the years, shoe boxes became full of colorful photos capturing bits of nature I wanted to duplicate on canvas or paper. So many photos were stacked inside the multiple shoe boxes that over time the cardboard began to bow and tear under the pressure. As it often does, life began to command more and more of my attention. Every time our family moved, so did the boxes. “One day I will use them,” I said to myself. For many years the boxes of photos sat quietly on shelves in my studio.

When I recently started teaching drawing classes, my creative fires were stoked and my desire to paint and draw rushed back to the surface. That’s the way our inner passions work. You can repress them for a time but they are always there begging to come out and play. This past Mother’s Day weekend, I went to my studio in search of those boxes.

When I found them, I could hardly contain myself as I took off one of the lids and looked inside. The photos were still there patiently waiting to become pieces of artwork. I was thrilled to see them again. One photo slipped from the stack and dropped facedown to the floor. I reached down to get it and saw it was a photo of one of Mother’s beautiful foxglove flowers. I immediately remembered the day I had taken it almost 30 years ago. Mother proudly stood beside me and was thrilled I wanted to draw it.

The timing was perfect as I already had Mother on my mind. I knew I had to draw it immediately in memory of her. So, I sat down with my colored pencils and a blank piece of paper and rendered her prized flower. I felt as though I had a long visit with Mother while I drew. I wouldn’t take anything for snapping that photo.

Leaving my studio, I had a little extra pep in my step. I discovered treasures I had long ago forgotten. Something as simple as cardboard boxes full of photos had awakened my imagination and inspired my creativity. The possibilities once again seemed endless. I hear the beauty of nature calling my name and I definitely plan to answer.

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